Thursday, 21 October 2010

Schools out!

Finally, exams are over. It feels a little strange knowing that I have now completed the entire academic part of the course and the only exam left to do is the big one. But I don’t want to think about that for now, it’s too terrifying for words!

My last exam was the day before yesterday, ship stability, and this was the one we had all been dreading. I think I did well on it though, I finished an hour before the allotted time was up and left feeling confident, and having compared answers with various course-mates since I am happy that I’ve done alright. Assuming that is, that I didn’t make any silly mistakes and make numbers up out of my head, which has been known to happen before! But, I tend to do that when I’m distracted and I was in full concentration mode in the exam. Results should be out next week, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed until then!

Meanwhile, we got our celestial navigation exam results back, and I am incredibly pleased to be able to say that I got 100%! No mean feat considering we only started lessons on this subject 5 weeks ago and had a total of 7 lectures. The first few lessons were utterly confusing and I was convinced that I was never going to get the hang of it. However, our tutor, Mr Warren, is a fantastic teacher and he somehow managed to make it comprehensible. I actually like cel nav now, and I think this is a lot to do with his teaching.

Looking back, the last 9 months have gone by in a whirlwind of law, management, engineering, cargo and construction, nav aids, passage planning, cel nav, stability and dissertations. A lot to take in, and long time to be stuck in Fleetwood, which isn’t the most prepossessing of towns. I’m looking forward to getting back to sea enormously, and am anxiously waiting for my sponsors to tell me where I’m going. Meanwhile I’m getting photos on flickr (the link to my photostream is down the right hand side of this page) up to date, as I’ve just uploaded my first trip on the Patricia I thought I’d take a jump back in time and write about that.

I got less than 36 hours notice that I was joining a ship; I was in the car with my sister driving down to Dorset from Reading on a Monday afternoon when I got the call telling me I had to be in Falmouth on Wednesday. Thankfully I have a friend who lives in Falmouth, so I got the train down on the Tuesday and stayed a night with them. The next day, after a good brunch to dispel the slight hangover I had woken up with, I joined the ship at about 3. As I walked up the gangway some of the crew were sitting about on deck chairs, these were guys waiting for their counterparts to arrive with the hire cars that they would take home, but I didn't know who anyone was so cheerily introduced myself and asked where I should go. I think I came across as a bit over keen as they all took the mickey out of me, but they sent me up to the bridge to find the officers and find out where my cabin was. Up on the bridge I met the Captain and Chief Officer and then someone showed me where my cabin was, right in the bowels of the ship, underneath the galley. It wasn't a bad sized cabin though, and I had it to myself. The only problem with it, as I soon discovered, was that I got an extra early wake up every time the galley crew set to in the morning with the potato peeling machine! I got myself settled, got into my uniform and found the other cadet, S, who'd joined a little earlier in the day. She was also a first trip cadet and we were both as nervous as each other and equally unsure as to what we should do next! We went around the ship to get a feel of where things were and then when the ship was due to depart we reported to the bridge, expecting to be told to go down to mooring stations, but instead we got to stay up on the bridge and watch as we sailed out.

We sailed overnight to Swansea, where the depot is, and the Chief Officer decided to give us shore leave for the day as the crew were busy with loading and discharging buoys, which wasn't something we could get involved with yet. (I think they wanted to spend a bit of time with us to assess how responsible and safe we were before letting us out while operations were going on). Not complaining, we happily bimbled off into town and did some entirely unnecessary shopping! That evening we steamed to an anchorage off Tenby and stayed there for the night, ready to start buoy work in the morning.

While most of the crew got on with buoy work, S and I were detailed to help with preparations for the VC. VC stands for Visiting Committee; once a year the Elder Brethren of Trinity House go around the lighthouses to inspect them, and the easiest way to get to many of them is via the ships. My first job was helping put the stanchions for the awning on the helideck up to clean and check them. We then got told that the awning wasn’t going to be used, so, we took them down again! After that it was brasso detail, which turned out to be a regular feature of my life for the next week or so. It's a fairly boring job, but I actually quite like the satisfaction I get from making something that's blackened and filthy looking become shiny and clean. The frustrating thing is when the rain comes down and undoes all you hard work... Needless to say, it started to rain after afternoon smoko, so I helped rig the screen that goes around the boat deck at the stern and we knocked off after that.

The next morning we were on brasso detail again, which lasted about ¾ of an hour until the rain started up again so we had an early smoko and then S and I scrubbed the scuppers and deck on the heli-deck with sugie (soap) and brushes.We carried on in the afternoon with the fresh water hose, which is pretty weak and so progress was slow so at afternoon smoko we asked if we could use the fire hose, which comes off the fire main and has some serious kick, we got the job squared off easily with that!

The sun came out the next day so it was a good day for painting; we started on the gangway giving it a fresh coast of grey metallic paint. Once that was done S and I started on the rails around the heli-deck with undercoat where the crew had already taken the paintwork back to bare metal with grinders the day before.
We finished off the undercoat first thing the next morning and we were joined by the boys to crack on with the topcoat. The afternoon was spent finishing off any missed bits (holidays) which S was  and cutting in, after smoko I went to find some rope to make new steadying lines for the gangway with. I pulled the wrong end out and it all ended up in a terrible mess so I spent the rest of the afternoon sorting it out and recoiling it neatly as well as cutting the lengths I needed. We were told to knock off at 1630 but we stayed on the foredeck to watch the crew lifting and servicing buoys for an hour.

Next day I got the rope (from the right end this time) and all the bits and pieces to do whippings and spent the morning splicing the new ropes on to the gangway and whipping the ends. It was nice to be doing something that I knew would remain there for a decent length of time and was also suitably salty and seamanlike. I showed S how to do a splice and have promised to teach her how to do it properly and some knots too, all that time spent doing knots and ropework on Pelican has certainly paid off! The afternoon wasn't nearly so much fun though as it was back to brasso duties, polishing the Elder Brethrens Clock, bell and binnacle.

By this time we had slowly worked our way up the Welsh coast, servicing buoys by day and anchoring overnight, and were just off Liverpool by the Bar light float. The racon beacon on the top of the float needed checking so one of the second mates got sent up it, much to everyone's amusement as he's not the slimmest chap in the world. He did it though, and the next morning we went into Liverpool and berthed on the cruise ship terminal. I went forward for mooring operations and raised the bow jack when the1st line went ashore. Trinity House have quite a lot of protocol and etiquette when it comes to flags because they're such an old institution, it seems as if everyone important has their own flag and there's a few more chucked in for good measure! After that it was back to brasso and then deck scrubbing in the afternoon. The ship has a large industrial scrubber, rather like a floor polisher, and the crew made it look really easy to use, but when I had a go with it I found it has a tendancy to run away with you all too easily!

So, that was my first week, I'll try and write some more about it soon, but it's now time for some celebratory tea and cake as I've just had news about my stability result. Our tutor can't give us our actual results yet as they have to be verified, but we arranged a Green, Amber, Red code for him to email us with to give us a heads up on whether we needed to start revising again. He's just emailed me saying "Your test was a brilliant shade of GREEN! Clearly you put in the effort - Well done!" So I'm on top of the world!!

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