Sunday, 13 June 2010

So much to learn, so little time!

Assignments, assignments, assignments!!! Being a student is harder than I remember!! Or maybe it's because I'm engaged in the subject and actually care, which is more than I can say for the last time I was in education! I'm rather enjoying using this blog as a memory jogging exercise for all the things I've done on ship, and the reason I'm here. I know there are folk who would prefer I had kept it a little more up to date *waves at CunardCritic :D* but I do have a fair bit on my plate so have to prioritise.

Luckily for you, I kept notes throughout my voyage, they started out as the long rambling descriptives that I posted on here in my first month, but as I settled into life on board and started on the written work for college and my workbook I had less time for that and the notes I made became lists of tasks undertaken. In my last month I didn't need to make notes on my computer as I was up on the bridge and logged all my activity in my Nav workbook. Obsessively. Most cadets don't write their nav work book every day, but I did. Most of it consists of lists, a typical entry simply lists what I did that watch, i.e. filling out the log book, position fixing, ticking off items on the checklists etc, and there's a fair amount of sailings calculations in there too, but there were also the days when we hit interesting weather or I got to do something different, which inevitably meant a big write up in my book, along with copies of charts and pictures glued in. I'm hoping for a gold star when the MCA read through it!!

So, my last entry brought us up to the beginning of the first North America/Canada cruise, and I was shadowing A up on the bridge....

Filling out the log book sounds as though it should be an easy job, but the space you have for the narrative on a 4 hour watch is pretty tiny, so there is a list of abbreviations to be used which is printed in the front of the book. Some of them are fairly easy, but when it gets to 5+ letters it starts to get confusing, especially as there are several which could easily get mixed up. For a long time I actually kept a rough log on a scrap piece of paper and then got someone to check it over and tell me what was unnecessary and what I could abbreviate before writing it up neatly in the log book. My handwriting was a secondary factor there, it looks like a drunken spider has crawled across the page when I write fast!

Our first stop off was Newport, Rhode Island, where we anchored in what seemed to me to be a rather tight spot, we kept the azipods on standyby that day! On the way in I was starting to practice my fixing techniques (range and bearing form the radar and three point bearings from the compass repeaters) and learning how to set up the bridge wing radar consoles. After my watch I got some breakfast and then went down to the tender pontoons until 12. I had a much needed rest after lunch and was back up on the bridge for departure, my fixing techniques were improving and I was rather pleased with myself when I compared the paper chart to the ECDIS track. When land is in range it's preferable to use manual fixing techniques, this is good practice to keep your hand in (in case the GPS breaks) and also enables you to cross check the accuracy of the GPS.

Next morning, on our way to Boston, the visibility went down to below three miles, this means extra precautions and vigilance are required, and therefore yet another checklist. Once safely in and alongside we had a MOB muster and boat drill, this time we didn't actually chuck a dummy over the rail but I did get to go down in the rescue boat, and I got to drive it too! It's weird to drive because it's propelled by waterjet, rather than a propeller, so when going in reverse the boat turns the opposite way to what you would expect and at slow speeds it's virtually impossible to keep going in a straight line. I had some fun with 3/0 G, seeing how well I could approach a buoy as if it was a casualty, and then we went right up to the bow of the ship to see it from below, which is an incredible view of her, looking straight up the stem and seeing the flare of the bow sweep out either side. My watch that evening was extended by an hour as we only left at 2000hrs so A and I were still needed for position fixing etc while the ship was under pilotage.

Bar Harbour was next on the itinerary and lucky for me, as we weren't due to arrive very early and I'd done an extra hour the night before, I only had to be up on the bridge at 0530 and work 'til 0830, it's amazing what a difference an hours lie in makes to someone's mood! Bar Harbour is an even tighter place to get in and out of than Newport, and is made even more interesting by the lobster fishermen, who appear to either not know or not care about where the channel is and place their pots all over the place! We let go the anchor and I learned about swinging circles and how to mark their limits on the radar and set up electronic bearing lines as well as using visual bearings to monitor the ships position and ensure she's not dragging. Because Bar Harbour is such a tight anchorage we couldn't even allow the ship to swing freely so it needed careful monitoring and the pods were kept on standby all day. I spent some time on the bridge for the rest of the morning keeping an eye on things while the senior officer got on with his paperwork in the Safety Centre, which is on the bridge, they weren't about to leave me alone up there!! I got ashore for lunch, and spent a lovely hour sitting under a tree, I'm a country girl by origin, so I do miss the greenery sometimes. I had a little wander around the town too, it's very pretty, but a bit twee for my liking if I'm honest, I'd love to see it in the full flush of autumnal glory though, but sadly we were just a bit too early in the year for that.

When I got back I had a special job from the C/O; film directing! The tender fenders get a bit of a bashing when they come alongside the pontoons in choppy water, despite the best efforts of the ABs driving. So, the Officers wanted some film footage of how they were getting damaged for the shoreside operations team, in the hope that some new fenders could be found or designed to prevent this. I and my cameraman started up on the bridge, looking down on the tendering operation, before moving to deck 7 and then the pontoons themselves for some close up shots. In the half hour we were down there I think we experienced a full years worth of weather - it went from bright sunshine to wind and hail and back with alarming rapidity! The sudden winds meant pausing the tendering operation for a few minutes, but thankfully it passed as quickly as it had come over. I did feel very sorry for the passengers who were out in it though, looking out from the shelter of the shell door I could see the rain and hail going practically horizontal at one point!

Crikey, it's late, again, and I have to try and beat the boys to the bathroom in the morning... Next time; why we didn't go to St John.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Getting in on the action.... gulp!!

Coming back into Southampton from the med cruise I did the fwd station comms on the radio, under the 2/0's supervision of course, but it was nice to be allowed that little extra bit of responsibility! Once again we had a round of MCA surveys that day, one of the inspectors wasn’t arriving until 1230 so I stayed on the bridge for the morning, filling out the stability log book, doing rounds with one of the 3rd Officers and then once the MCA were there, I stood at the CSS console (Computerised Safety System) acknowledging alarms and door closures while the Chief Officer went around with the MCA setting them off. I had a visitor on for the afternoon, and then all too soon I was back on the mooring deck again for stations at 1600, I operated the winches aft this time, it's more complicated than it sounds as you have to be watching several things at once, but I was getting the hang of it.

The trip across to New York went rather slowly as we had some pretty dull jobs to occupy us - refilling the tenders that had come back from their maintenance ashore with the small gear (there's a lot of it, it's all very small and it stored in some rather difficult to reach places!), inspecting mooring ropes, checking the rescue craft gear, fixing new fenders to the pontoon uprights... oh and an engine room fire drill in which the Chief Engineer was taken out and we simulated a full CO2 release in the engine room, so it wasn't all dull!

We spent a day and half going around the ship and colouring in tiny bits of fire plans as a result of that exercise, which was a thankless task as they were being replaced soon. I'm suspecting it was one of those jobs cadets get given to keep the out of the way when there's nothing else for them to do, but I could be wrong...

Anyway I was set for bigger and brighter things after that, I finally had my first bridge watch that night. Not that I actually got to do much, but it felt rather fine to be up there in an official capacity, as opposed to just being up there for studying on a Sunday or getting our day's orders. I read the standing orders and the bridge familiarisation programme, which is quite a hefty document and there's a lot of equipment up there! A, who had been doing all the bridge stuff was leaving in a week so I was there to shadow him before taking over as he left, so he took me through the radar and GPS and gave me an overview of the rest. I was also introduced to the maintenance management system AMOS, through which all of the ship's maintenance is programmed and overseen. I had some data entry fun ahead of me!

The next morning I was up there again, we were coming in to New York so I had to be up there extra early for the beginning of standby at 0330. Not my favourite time of day I have to admit! As I was only shadowing A I got to enjoy the view a little as the ship slid majestically under the Verrazano bridge. From up there it really looks like you're going to hit it, but the ship has 4m clearance at high tide so there's no real worry, as long as the ship is kept bang in the middle of the channel anyway....thankfully the helmsmen are well practised and the officers keep a close eye on everything. And there's a lot of them up there - the Bridge Team, when entering/leaving port and other tight situations consists of the Master, Pilot, Staff Captain, Navigating Officer, 3rd Officer, Cadet and 4 quartermaster/lookouts as a minimum. There's a lot going on and at that point, having tried to do 6 minute fixing and mostly failing, even without trying to do the log book and telephone at the same time, I couldn't imagine how on earth I'd be able to ever do 3 minute fixing, plus the log, phone and checklists......

You'd think after being up since 0330 I might have opted to go to bed for a bit before going through the whole thing again that evening on the way out, but no, I had booked myself onto the New York bus tour for the day instead! I thoroughly enjoyed it too, we went up to the top of the Rockerfella building which gave us some amazing views of the city, stopped off at a pier on the river for lunch and visited ground zero, well, we viewed it from the building across the road anyway, the place is now starting to rise up again, in hot pursuit of getting the record for the worlds tallest building. The won't have it for long as there's another building in Dubai that'll trump it within weeks, but I guess it's a matter of pride!

All too soon it was back to the ship for a quick cup of (extremely strong) coffee and then back up to the bridge to do what we'd done in the morning, but in reverse!!