Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Work hard, play hard.

I last posted from St Barts on the 16th, before I went on the 4-8 watch in the afternoon.  And blimey time has flown, in 8 days my first month will be done! I’m afraid the first few days of this entry are a bit repetitive – day work and watches don’t provide much in the way of excitement, but life at sea isn’t always exciting, despite the best efforts of a 4 strong team of gadgets!

So, once again I went forward on my own for weighing anchor, there was quite a strong wind and the first two shackles up lead under the bow. As I told the bridge how it was leading they moved the ship so that the cable was clear. 2/O Sails gave me the responsibility for keeping the rough and official log book, and plotting positions. I also got some more of the familiarisation priority tasks signed off in my workbook. There was not much traffic, just one vessel that we did not need to alter course for.

17th Dec – Iles des Saintes
Day work in the morning, consulting ships plans and such fun, I am really looking forward to getting these projects boxed off!
4-8 watch in the evening, I did the CPP tests by myself and kept the logbook and chart. We had two anchors out as it had been quite windy in the morning when we arrived, so 2/O Sails and I both went down to the mooring deck to radio information to the bridge. I was on the starboard anchor and he was on the port anchor, we heaved on the stbd anchor while paying out on the port and then once the stbd anchor was home we heaved in on the port anchor. Once we were clear of the islands we put the sails up. I learnt how to set them, using three controls to furl out the sail, sheet in and move the traveller aft all at the same time. The traveller moves the sheet line forward and aft so that it is at the optimum angle to the sail, this prevents undue stress being put on the sail. We turned off the PMs (propulsion motors) and DGs (diesel generators) and sailed for a while, once the sun had set and all the passengers had gone we then put the DGs and PMs back on and motor-sailed for the rest of the watch.

18th Dec – St Lucia
Day work in the morning, I chipped and primed the two vents on the aft mooring deck. After lunch us 4 cadets went to the beach bbq, Al had made a pinky promise that he’d get in the water this time and I held him to it. He did me proud and even dunked his head, next time I’ll get him to take his feet off the bottom :)
4-8 watch in the afternoon. The ship was sailing at 4 so all the checks had been done and the cable was being heaved in as I arrived on the bridge and we were full away on passage (FAOP) at 1600. We put the sails out and cruised south along the coastline, down to the Pitons. We were about a mile off so I was using the radar to get range and bearings to fix our position every 6 minutes. We went back to Stand By Below, slowed down and engaged hand steering to go in to the bay between the Pitons, spent about half an hour manoeuvring in the bay and then went back to FAOP once out of the bay. From there we motorsailed toward Barbados. The wind picked up as we left the lee of the land and the sails were brought in to 50%, 40 minutes before the watch ended the wind was gusting 35 kts apparent and we furled the sails fully.

19th Dec – Bridgetown
Day work in the morning. I put a second coat of primer on the vents on the aft mooring deck. After smoko we helped with the weekly test of remote watertight door closing. Each of us took a different section and radioed into the bridge to tell them that they were working correctly. S and I then went with the carpenter as he took soundings of the ballast tanks and void spaces.
4-8 watch. Harbour watch. I have had my safety number changed to 505, which is passenger muster assistant for muster station 2. When the announcement for crew to go to their passenger muster drill stations was made I went down with my lifejacket. G is the muster leader and demonstrated how to don a lifejacket and step off the side of the ship. I helped a couple of people with their lifejackets and ticked off late arrivals. In an emergency my duty is to keep passengers and crew informed and calm. It’s not a very demanding role, although in a real emergency I can imagine it would be, but it’s also really useful to see how things work from the other end.

20th Dec – St Lucia
Day work in the morning, put a third coat of primer on the vent fittings and a first layer of top coat on the vents themselves, which had been put up on the aft mooring deck by the bosun the night before. I then went and got on with the PPE locker project, putting the updated lists in the lockers, shortly after I started that S found me after her breakfast and we got called to the bridge. The C/O wanted us to go and sound all the tanks again, so that they could do a lightship calculation for the vessel. We sounded the tanks and I then showed her how to work out the volumes in the tanks, using the ship’s hydrostatic tables.
After 12 I went ashore to the bbq, the food was lovely but the weather wasn’t very good so instead of sunbathing I took one of the kayaks out for a spin, I think I might try and do that quite often as I could feel the burn in my arm muscles after a while. As it wasn’t a Saturday the boys weren’t with us, so I pootled back to the ship early.
4-8 watch. Did all the pre-departure checks, including extra steering gear tests via the talkback system with the surveyor, went forward for weighing anchor on my own again, kept the log book and charts and discussed the bridge equipment with 2/O Sails.

21st Dec – Iles Des Saintes
Day work in the morning, the Bosun had finished painting the vents for me the afternoon before so we put them back together and fitted them. The C/O has asked us to sort out some lines to make a pathway on the fwd mooring deck as the passengers are going to be allowed to go up to the bowsprit on sea days, under the supervision of the Sports dept. We are using halyard lines, which are multiplat so we seized an eye into the end of each one and then took the reels up to the mooring deck to measure them out. I started splicing a small 3 strand rope to make points to attach the guide ropes to and we then went for lunch. I believe the bosun finished the job after lunch, probably taking a lot less time over it than I could have!
I went ashore for a few hours, had lunch in the café I ate in nearly three years ago and sat there happily reminiscing. I also had a chance to practice my GCSE French, as the waiter didn’t speak English, and I wanted to know why all the shops were shut. Continental siesta time of course, and they didn’t open until 1500 and as I was on watch at 1600 I failed to buy anything for my secret santa present. I say secret, but we all know who’s getting who’s present, when we picked names, someone always got their own name until we got bored and just swapped them over!
4-8 watch. Did CPP and steering checks, went forward for weighing anchor with 2/O Sails, as both cables were out. As we went FAOP I set the sails and throughout the watch I kept the log and chart.

22nd Dec – St Barts
Day work in the morning, started distributing PPE to PPE Lockers. Fire drill at 1015. When the two tone alarm sounded, as I am Pax Muster Assist I went to Reception and collected the muster list for boat 2, I also passed G, who is the muster leader, he told me he was on tour and was exempt from the drill. So, I went to the muster point and checked off everyone by their safety number. Two other crewmembers had already collected the GMDSS emergency radio and reported in that our station was all present save two who were exempt. (G, who was on tour, and a sailor who was on tender duty).
At the General Emergency alarm the embarkation assistants go to their stairwell points to guide passengers to the muster points and search cabins, so when the boats signal is given (a continuous tone), the crew are re-checked in on the muster list. I reported in that they were all present, save the two exemptions. The boats were lowered and meanwhile I quizzed the crewmembers mustered on what actions to take on discovery of a fire, what extinguishers are to be used on what types of fire, where the fire was for this drill (incinerator room) and how many people can go in each boat.
Watch 4-8 pm. We were due to leave at 1900, so for the first couple of hours I worked on getting my nav workbook up to date. We gave the engine room 1 hrs notice at 1800 and I was then busy with pre-departure checks, completing the whole list on my own. Went forward for weighing anchor with 2/O Sails as it was dark by then, (two torches are better than one!). Once we were FAOP, I set the sails and then caught up with the log book.

23rd Dec – St Maartin
Day work until smoko and then I went and got cleaned up to go on tour, the C/O told me the day before that I was going on the Americas Cup excursion. I was bouncing with excitement when he told me, S will have the same chance in a couple of weeks time, but when she was told she pulled a face and said she didn’t want to do it. (She’s not a sailor like I am, so fair play to her, but I think she’d enjoy it if she tried it). I met up with the Guest Services Manager just before 1100 and she gave me the list of people going on the tour and we checked off people as they arrived, handing out packed lunches at the same time. Getting into the tender was quite interesting as there was a big swell (we had been due to go to Marigot Bay, which is on the north west of the island but due to the swell the Captain had decided to go to Phillipsburgh instead). On the Quay we were met by a guy from the Americas Cup crew who told us some of the history of the race. He split the group into two teams and we then got onto one of their tenders (basically a barge with patio chairs nailed down on it), which took us out to the boats. The other team (Canada 2) got off first and then we went over to True North. While we headed for the boat everyone was asked whether they’d like to do a low activity, medium activity or high activity job, and was assigned a role accordingly (bar tender = low activity, primary grinder = high activity). The tender ties up alongside the boat and then they call out for people by job so that the boat is filled up from the back. Once on board the crew put our bags below so that our stuff wouldn’t get wet, went through some basic safety things and taught us how to do our jobs. I was a reserve primary grinder, which meant that, along with 3 others, I was driving the winch that controlled the jib sheet, but on each leg we swapped around so everyone got a rest. After a little bit of practice we headed for the start line, and then had to mill around a bit because Canada 2 was taking it’s time. There were three boats racing that afternoon, Stars and Stripes being the third, which I think was being crewed by folks from the QM2, who was also in port that day. The crews encourage rivalry between the boats, so shouting and international sign language was the order of the day when they finally rolled up, and then the 6 minute start was called. You can’t cross the start line before the 6 minutes is up, or if you do there’s a penalty, so it takes skill and timing to be there just at the right time to cross as soon as the race begins. The first leg is tacking up against the wind, and then on the downwind leg the bartender is called into action, as the leg is also known as the first beer leg. On the upwind legs it’s also important for everyone to keep an eye out for the marker that you’re heading for, and where the other boats are. Sailing rules dictate that a boat on the starboard tack (wind on the starboard side) has right of way over a boat on the port tack, and there were some dirty tricks being played by the other teams, but despite that, at the end of the third leg and for the whole of the second beer leg, we were in first place. However, things can change in a heartbeat in a sailing race and I’m sorry to say we were pipped to the post by the other two. It was great fun nevertheless, with the boats passing ahead of each other a hair’s breadth apart as they tacked and beat up-wind. We were taken to the yacht club after for a celebratory rum punch and the obligatory opportunity to buy t-shirts and photos. I had a nice surprise there, as crew members get a free t-shirt as a promo, so I have another crew shirt to add to my growing collection!
I had asked to C/O if he wanted me back for watch that afternoon, to which the answer was a swift No, so I took the chance to go shopping for my secret santa. I hadn’t a clue what to get Al, until I had the genius idea of going to the music shop! I got him a harmonica and some guitar strings and then a little rattly drum thing from a stall. I’m sure T won’t thank me if he decides to play them at 3 in the morning, but it’d be an impressive feat of multitasking if he managed to play all three at the same time! I found a bunch of crew at a bar on Front St, including my fellow cadets and joined them for a drink. I ordered a rum punch, and the bartender assured me that his was the best in the Caribbean… most potent certainly. I watched in horror as he poured in about half a glass of white rum, followed by some gold rum, followed by a smidge of fruit juice and then grenadine and then, topped it off with some dark rum! I didn’t finish it, I gave about half to someone else, it would have killed me, especially considering the swell was still up, making getting in and out of the tenders a fairly hairy experience! Despite not drinking all of it I felt fuzzy headed enough to crash out for a few hours when we got back to the ship at 1900. I got back up at 2300 to go down to the crew bar for the final of “Wind Surf’s got Talent”, taking with me a bottle of water, for which several people gave me funny looks, but I had just woken up and didn’t feel like drinking any more. Al performed first and did really well, despite some technical difficulties with sound, but the competition was stiff, everyone had taken the judges previous comments on board and had come out fighting. In the end the judges decided that they needed more time to confer about who should win so they announced that the winner would be announced at the Christmas party the next day.

24th Dec – St Kitts
Day work in the morning, we are reaching the end of the PPE saga, just a few more spares to put out and then make a list of stuff that needs ordering again. Then we can hand it back to Security and hope they keep it going.
4-8 watch in the afternoon. 2/O Sails has gone now but his relief hasn’t been able to get out here because of the weather back in the UK so the C/O is doing the 4-8 for a few days. As we departed from St Kitts the Captain decided that he wanted us to do some scenic cruising along St Kitts and Nevis. This wasn’t what the passage plan said, so I had to quickly draw up the chart with new courses and PIs (Parallel Indexes), meanwhile the C/O told me that I was driving and I should  take the handover from the Captain. Talk about a chucked in at the deep end poo your pants moment! He didn’t leave me to it alone though, and there wasn’t much traffic about, so once I’d got myself sorted out I did alright. We skirted around the 12 mile limit so that we could discharge food waste and I felt semi confident by the end of the watch. It’s the best way to learn really, and I knew at the end of the day if I had made a blunder he would have been right there asking me if I reeeeally wanted to do that!
After watch I chilled out for a while and then we got our glad rags on to go up for the crew show, and when I say glad rags, for once I don’t mean our formal uniform, I got to wear a frock! The crew show is usually a bit of a variety show but for Christmas a choir had been put together. We had made it to a total of two rehearsals, so had the general idea of what we were doing. I sang with a big smile on my face, having had a couple of glasses of wine for dutch courage beforehand in the cabin, and the passengers all loved it. I’m sure I even saw one cry. We left to a standing ovation and I went back to my cabin to grab my smokes and then it suddenly hit me that it was Christmas and how much I miss my family. Most of the time I’m so blasé about being away from home and my family because I’ve done it for so long now, but I’ve always made it home for Christmas. I pulled myself together and went down to the crew bar, but had a little moment later as well (for which I have subsequently received a bollocking for, crying in front of the crew cos I miss my family makes the deck department look bad). For the most part though I had a ball, dancing in my 50’s frock always makes me feel good, and the bar was free, which also helps! I was one of the last to leave, at about 4 am there were 4 or 5 of us having a sing song with Al and his guitar.

25th Dec – Sea Day
Oh the joy of a lie in! I didn’t feel brilliant after the night before, but at least I’d made it back to my own cabin, and remembered getting there, unlike someone else.  We surfaced at about 11 and lazed, S disappeared for ages so we waited for her to get back to exchange our ‘secret’ santa presents. I got a teddy bear that plays jingle bells when you press it’s paw, which only got annoying by the 4th time of playing. His mouth is supposed to move, but he only manages one movement each time, If he stays silent though he’s rather cute, and brings a little festive cheer to our otherwise undecorated cabin. Al liked his presents, though whether he’ll actually learn how to play the harmonica remains to be seen, for the time being he’s a one man noise making machine!! We snoozed some more in the afternoon, and then got ready for dinner, I’d presumed that it was in the mess, but in fact we ate in the Veranda, which is where the passengers eat their breakfast. The Captain had said that crew could wear either uniform, or smart casual, so we took the chance to dress up nice again. Dinner was nice, a really good side of beef and some (slightly dry) turkey, along with mash, roasties and cranberry sauce. I couldn’t bring myself to try the sprouts, but had some very nice courgette salad instead. After that we all crashed out, a combination of the last vestiges of hangovers and being rather full from dinner.

26th Dec – Barbados
We had been given Boxing day off, but were then told that we were needed for the arrival in Barbados at 4am, so there was no lie in for us! We were needed because the ship was berthing alongside the sugar loading towers, which stick out a bit too far and there is a danger of damaging the lifeboats if we didn’t moor in the right place. I was sent aft with a radio to give distances and clearances for the boats and make sure we were far enough forward of the towers. We hung around while everything was made fast then had some breakfast in the Compass Rose before heading back to bed. 3/O then called us at 1000, telling us we were wanted at the Bridge Resource Meeting at 1100.  It was turning out to be not much of a day off at all, especially as I had to be there for the passenger drill at 1730.
The 4 of us decided to get off and go to the Boatyard for a couple of drinks and some pizza, but when we got there at about half 7, the kitchen had already closed, so we had one drink and then went to Chefette, which is a fast food joint near the port. My pizza was delicious, not because it was actually that good, though by no means was it bad, but it was much needed comfort food; having had our day off messed up by the arrival and the bridge meeting and the bollocking I got for crying on Xmas eve, I needed it!

27th Dec - Sea Day
I got an early surprise at 0420, when S woke me up, telling me that I was wanted on the bridge as well as her. She had tried calling me but I hadn’t heard the phone over the engine noise, so she had come down to the cabin. During the night there had been a medical emergency and the ship was heading back toward Bridgetown to get the patient and their family off the ship and to a hospital. I wasn’t actually needed per se, but the Captain and C/O thought it would be good for me to be there as they don’t do a medical evac very often and it’s good experience. The ship anchored off the port, as there were a lot of cruise ships getting in that morning, and berthing takes quite a while anyway. The patient, who had been in the medical centre, was brought up to the bridge deck on a stretcher and carefully put in tender 5, the doctor, nurse, C/O and a family member went too, and the boat was lowered to the water. The boat took them to the quay where an ambulance was waiting and the boat returned to collect luggage and the other family members. They tried lifting the boat on the falls but it was swinging too much because of the swell so the decision was made to put it down again and rig the tender platform and gangway. The rest of the family and their luggage was disembarked from the platform and once the tender had been recovered the anchor was weighed and we set off from Bridgetown again. The decision to turn back had been made in the early hours of the morning, so 2/0 Navs had had time on his watch to work out a new passage plan. Instead of going to Mayreau, it had been decided that we would spend the day at sea and the go to Mayreau on the day that had originally been scheduled to be a sea day, otherwise the schedule is unaltered. The Captain made an announcement to the ship at about 0900, when most people would be awake by then.
Day work for the rest of the morning, boxing off the PPE locker project. It felt so good to be able to hand it to 3/O and tell him we were done! Slept most of the afternoon.

28th Dec – Grenada
C/O told us to go see the tours manager first thing this morning, which was really nice of him, so I’m off on a sightseeing tour of Bequia tomorrow, and S is doing the Rainforest Canopy tour on St Lucia on Sat. My job this morning was making an inventory of the Pest Control locker, while S sorted out the new Pest Control manual. All thrilling stuff!
4-8 watch in the afternoon. We were due to leave at 1800, so I took my laptop and workbook up in case there was nothing else to do in the first hour of watch and I could do some catching up on my log. I got as much of the departure checklist done as I could do before 1 hrs notice to the ECR and then did a little work on my laptop. After 1hrs notice I did the rest of the checks and tests and then on departure I stood on the port bridge wing giving the Captain and C/O, who were on the Stbd bridge wing, information on any vessels behind us. After FAOP I went down for some dinner, when I came back up the sails had been set and 2/O Sails (Who had finally arrived in Barbados) handed the con over to me. It wasn’t nearly as scary as the last time I’d been given the con, as there was no traffic and nothing happened.
I get a wee lie in tomorrow, I asked the C/O if he wanted me to work for half an hour before I went off on tour at 0900 and he said no, so I’m a happy little bunny tonight! Might just visit the bar... ;)


  1. Interesting to hear about the medical evac - I thought lowering the boat with passengers on board was frowned upon in most situations? I suppose given the circumstances it was probably the easiest/quickest option - does it take long to rig the platform?

  2. Thanks, Gadget. We're heading to your warm Caribbean on QM2 Jan 3.
    We'll be in St. Thomas Jan 6, St. Lucia Jan 7, Barbados Jan 8, and Dominica Jan9. Any chance of exchanging waves?

  3. It's an insight into a quite different world reading your blog these days. I roll with the technical stuff and take delight in knowing you are doing so well and living a most excellent life.

  4. Massive hugs and hope you have a very very Happy New Year!! Missed you too at Christmas - both this one and last one!!
    By the way - if you see a boat (yacht) called Andromeda in Barbados, go and say hello! She is owned by Sue and Andy Wilson who are friends of Daves parents. They will know who you are if you say your my sister. Andromeda had a bit of a rough time getting across the Atlantic - she lost her main mast during the crossing, so she may be looking a little sorry for herself right now!

  5. @ Chris - Tenders 5 and 6 are also the rescue boats, so it's ok to do that, you can also lift them with 6 people in them. (SOLAS III Reg 17!!)It takes a bit of time to rig the platform, but not ages, putting people down in the boat was simply more efficient.

    @ Paul - Welcome to the sunshine!! I'm not entirely sure of our next few days itinrary off the top of my head I'm afraid, but if we are in the same port I'll definitely wave!

    @ Jason - I'll try not to make it too technical! I'm not going to bore everyone with the details of every watch now anyway, it's getting a bit repetitive. Hope you too are enjoying your continued adventures in foreign climes :)

    @ TravelBug - Didn't get off the ship this Sunday, but I'll try and pop over to the marina next week and find them :)