Sunday, 15 November 2009

A Mediterranean Odyssey, part 1

Mmm, yes, again, apologies for the delay, stuff keeps happening and getting in the way of writing about it! So, where was I? Oh yes the med......

We set off from Southampton once again and had one day at sea cleaning tenders, followed by cocktails and a show. Over the three months I have attended innumerable cocktail parties on board, the thrill of which I have to admit, palled somewhat by the end of my time, but it was nice sometimes to put on a bit of make-up and heels and remind myself that I was a girl. We were allowed to sneak in at the back of the shows when they were about to start, on this occasion there weren't any seats free so we stood to watch Apassionanta, and I tell you, those dancers can go some!

I was rather excited the next morning at stations, as we were coming into Lisbon, one of the places I sailed into 10 years previously when sailing in the Tall Ships Race on Astrid. This time we made our way up the river at dawn and I was treated to a beautiful sunrise with the bridge's silhouette coming closer and closer. Passing beneath it we heard the most bizarre roaring noise, caused by the traffic above. The bridge isn't tarmacked, it's just metal grilling, so you can actually see the traffic as it passes above you, which I found slightly disconcerting. I didn't get ashore in Lisbon, my day was spent cleaning out the tenders ready for use in Gibraltar the next day instead.

Gibraltar was slightly more exciting, I had yet another lovely sunrise, this time with the Rock silhouetted in front of it and I then spent most of the day on the pontoons, telling passengers to mind their step and please could they not try and barge the people in front of them on. It's like they think the boat's on a timer and if they don't get on as fast as possible it'll go without them. There's also the people, mostly men, who, when offered a helping hand when bridging the gap between a stable platform and a bobbing boat, take it as a personal affront and huffily snatch their hand away. It's always them who nearly go flying as the boat lurches too. Small victories.

Anyway the lovely part of the day was getting to go ashore and visit my friend N for lunch, she'd been away from the homeland for a while so we spent a fabulous 3 hours nattering about life and it's myriad of complications. And, I got to wear the dress. I bought the dress in Swansea when I was doing my first trip on the THV Patricia. I'd wandered into a shop called Blue Banana selling the most divine retro and alternative clothing, the kind of stuff I'd love to buy and wear on a regular basis if I could a) afford it and b) wasn't so lazy and actually put in the effort to do hair and make up and such things that are needed to make it look good, most of the time I live in jeans and only wear make up for parties. I oohed and aahed over the dresses for a while and was then pounced upon by one of the shop assistants who demanded I try the object of my affections on. I did, and while it was nice, I wasn't convinced, mainly due to my socks and bad hair. She then produced the most glorious pair of black patent leather peep toe wedge heels with a red trim. Needless to say I bought the lot.

I digress, sorry, I am a girl after all.

I didn't wear the shoes that day but the dress needed to be shown to N as she is my Dita Von Teasesque icon. I did however, wear the dress for the next two days ashore, (I only had the one smart thing to wear) which felt delightfully subversive as I was escorting tours and therefore representing the ship. Razor blades and 1940's pin-ups never struck me as a Cunard look, but they didn't seem to mind when I rocked up in it, after all, I was wearing my badge.

My first big day out was Rome, I collected my tour group from the theatre and led them to the bus with my little placard. The worst part was having to stand at the front and say in my best posh voice (which I do very well, I would point out) "Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen, I am your escort for the day". I then tried to point out that I was not the tour guide and knew nothing about the places we were going to see as I had never been there either. I was just there in case someone lost something or fell over. This didn't stop people from asking me everything from how long it was going to take us to get there, to which things we were going to see. Some people just don't listen, but hey, I was seeing Rome for free!!

After an hour and a bit on the bus from Civitavecchia, during which I gazed out of the window wistfully at olive groves and umbrella pines, we arrived in the city, making our way through narrow streets on foot to the Trevi Fountain. As you round the corner and see it you realise that the term fountain doesn't really accurately describe it, not at all in fact, it takes up the entire side of a square, and most of the middle of it too, it is the side of a building, not some small architectural afterthought added on later. From there we were taken to Venice Square, past the huge white building known unaffectionally by the locals as "the wedding cake" and on to the Forum. I can't possibly do justice to any of these places with description, and truth be told, I am writing this many months later, but I have photos, many, many photos, which, will one day make it onto my flickr account when I have had time to tweak them. I wouldn't hold your breath though as I am still behind on photo editing by over a year!

We moved on to the Colosseum before lunch, it is a splendid ruin, though horribly over-crowded by tourists, which I hate, especially when I am aware that I am one of them. I managed to get most of my photos without people in them and so left happy. We were all hot and flagging by then, and I was discovering which of my wards I needed to keep an extra eye on so we didn't lose them as they stopped to photograph everything on route. The term "herding cats" is appropriate here. Lunch was in a hotel, and as we arrived I felt something on my dress go ping. To my horror a button had become unstitched and one shoulder strap was hanging lose. I managed with the help of our tour guide to beg a safety pin from the receptionist and get it temporarily fixed and sat down with some of my tour to eat. It went again during lunch but one of the ladies helped me out, for which I am eternally grateful.

Suitably refreshed we went on to the Vatican. Again, words can do no justice (sorry mum!) the painted ceilings, the architecture, the sculpture, mosaic floors... oh and the small matter of the Sistine Chapel. Which one is absolutely not supposed to take photos of inside. None of us did of course. OK so we nearly got the tour guide in trouble and get kicked out but everyone loves a chancer don't they! After briefly visiting St Peters Basillica there was time to get an ice cream which sustained me on the walk back to the bus. Our tour was one of the last back and as I was excused from mooring stations I took the chance to go up to deck 13 to see us sail out. Very soon after that I went and crashed for an hour or so, Rome in a day is rather exhausting!

There's no rest for the wicked unfortunately and after dinner we went up to the bridge to start steering training. I got up there and very nearly asked which muppet was taking photographs, I soon realised that it wasn't a camera flash I was seeing, but lightning. We had an incredible light show that night and debated what would happen if the ship got hit, thankfully we didn't have to find out!

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Early September, the highlights......

Well here I am at home again, and finally I have some time to catch up with this! My lack of posts for the last couple of months has not been due to a lack of anything to say, nor because I felt discouraged by strangers reading my tuppence worth, no, it has simply been due to my lack of time! I kept writing a daily log, but it rather degenerated into a daily list of jobs done, or a detailed description of how one should dismantle, clean and put back together a fire extinguisher, or some other deeply dull job, which is, I felt, not very exciting reading, unless one is the MCA examiner.... and even then..?!

So, allow me to catch you up on the more interesting aspects of life on ship. As I mentioned in my last post, my second month was spent with the deck POs (petty officers). There are 4 of them and, under the Safety Officer, they are responsible for maintaining all the safety equipment on board, which for the most part consists of the fire fighting equipment, tenders and lifeboats. There are, unsurprisingly, a lot of these on the ship and the monthly, quarterly and annual inspections are done on a continuous rotation.

We did get to do other things over the month though, on the 4th, in New York, we did our first void space entry. A void space is, as you might imagine, an empty space, most of them are located in the bowels of the ship and are fairly inaccessible. Getting into one involves quite a lot of preparation, not least the paperwork, but also a lot of kit that has to be lugged to the tank entrance to be there should anything go wrong. This one was particularly fun because it was right underneath the engine room, and within this space, lube oil tanks were suspended. Lube oil has to be heated before it's allowed near an engine, so not only was being in the tank incredibly noisy, it was like a sauna, only not nearly so nice! After the nice chap from Lloyds had been in to survey the space, the Chief Officer had us gadgets get in there to mop out the inch or so of water that was sitting in the bottom, an inch really doesn't sound like much, until you work out the area over which it was sitting!

We also started getting much more involved in the drills, that week all three of us made up a cadet fire team for the IPM drill (In Port Manning). The "fire" was in the paint store, right f'wd on deck 5. We had to pretend that the paint store was filled with smoke, and did a right hand search (keeping your right hand on the bulkhead at all time so you don't get lost). I was no 3, pulling the hose through, which wasn't to difficult, but bear in mind that the hose was not charged, if it had been things would have been a teensy bit more difficult. We put out the "fire" and recovered 2 casualties, getting the secondary team to come in and take them off our hands each time so we could continue searching. As we started to make our way back to the exit, having searched the whole space, the Chief Officer, who'd been watching and asking questions the whole time started putting obstructions in our way and throwing boiler suits at us, and he's a good aim! While I held the hose my two team mates tried to clear the way, meanwhile he kept lobbing boiler suits at my head and then told me I had been knocked unconscious by debris falling from the deckhead. He then did the same to S, leaving A who was number 1, calling for help on the radio and feeling a little, er, flustered! It was a very good lesson for us, the BA cylinders only have a very limited amount of air, and when working hard (i.e. when it's hot and you're pulling a charged hose and lugging real people around) we'd have used up much more air than we did and could well have run out by then. I did have to giggle though when the second team came in to rescue us and saw us two lying on the floor, their whole body language said "Oh B.......!" Luckily for them, and us, they didn't have to carry us in our BA suits, we were miraculously classed as walking wounded and helped up.

The next outing for the cadet fire team wasn't quite so exciting sadly, we got all kitted up in the gear and went to join the Search and Rescue team, whereupon we all stood around and waited, and, er, waited. The deck fire team did such a good job that we weren't required, but we filled the time up by going over stairway procedures with the third officer, so it wasn't a total waste of time.

With all this work going on, you might start to think I didn't get to have much fun on the ship, now let me put your mind at rest. On the 11th, to celebrate several of the deck crew leaving us, including Staff Captain C and SECO, we had a little deck party on sailor square. Just a few huge trays of food, a couple of bins full of ice and beer and much exceedingly silly dancing by senior officers and crew alike. We spent the whole afternoon decorating the place with flags of all nationalities and streamers and tinsel, and of course there was the karaoke machine to get things started. If you have never sailed with a Filipino deck crew you probably won't understand the significance of karaoke to them, so let me put it like this.... it's like a national religion. They adore it, whether they can sing like an angel or wail like a banshee, they all have a go, and then insist that you do too. Now let me explain something else; I. Don't. Do. Karaoke. Never have, never will..... yet, somehow, I suddenly found myself with a microphone in my hand singing "How deep is your love?" by the Beegees at the top of my voice. Luckily for all concerned, Jerry started DJing and the lads started dancing. Alright, the lads and I started dancing, and then I made Staff get up to strut his funky stuff too and the party was well and truly kicked off. I'd love to share the pictures with you, but I would like to keep my job too. Suffice to say that, mops were used as wigs, there was a Marylin Monroe dress in use and Staff dances like an aerobics instructor on speed... and he only had a couple of beers!

Finally that week, I got lumbered with the one thing I'd been dreading above all others. Reading in church on Sunday. Now I'm a fairly confident person, heaven knows I've done enough school plays, am-dram, not to mention my more recent exploits as a living statue and other things, but still, when I have to get up in front of people and just speak I turn to jelly. Standing on that stage is utterly terrifying, and I don't know why. But, despite my hands starting to shake like I was mixing a cocktail and my voice starting to go the same way, I made it through, and I made it back down the steps off the stage with out going arse over tit too! Problem was, I did it too well and realised I'd set myself up to be asked again!

So, that takes me up to the 13th September, the day after that we were in Southampton where my parents came and visited for the afternoon and then we were off on the Mediterranean Cruise, which I shall tell you all about another day. (This is mainly to keep my mother in suspense as she is dying to hear all about Rome and Florence and Pisa)
For now, I shall just say, how lovely it is to be home :)