I had all and then most of you, some, and now none of you.
I had all and then most of you, some, and now none of you.
I’ve just finished packing for sea. When I usually pack for sea, I’m usually overly excited, at the prospect of travelling to new, and exciting countries, an elation which is however, short lived, when I arrive at the gangway and sight the vessel that I’m going to be stuck on for an extended period- it’s a unique sinking feeling, which only applies to this situation. I don’t even have the luxury of that, because I’m going to join a tanker, which occasionally leaves Plymouth to refuel in Scotland. I’m joining as an Able Seaman; although my Officer ticket is “unlimited” – to sail as an officer on a Tanker of any kind, would require a Dangerous Cargo Endorsement- and to get that; I need 3 months served on a tanker. This is essentially taking a step back, to take two steps forward. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself. Will there be a 24/7 room service number number for me to call? What days will the cabin steward come to collect my laundry? Will I be allowed to use the swimming pools, and go on tours for free? I wonder.
I’d been put forward for a job with Svitzer in Liverpool, and I was really hoping that I’d get it, but the agency dealing with it has told me that Svitzer are stalling with regards to making the appointment- he even went as far to ask me to wait, before I took this contract, so he could try and get an answer from Svitzer, but he could only leave voice mail for the chap in charge. The Svitzer job would be perfect- an excellent salary, excellent training, and a week on, a week off- I told my daughter about it, and she was excited at the prospect of being able to see me every other week! Telling her I was going away yesterday really upset her! The guilt! The job market at the moment for newly qualified officers is shocking, there’s so many people waiting for a job. I’ve tried so many companies over the last few months, with little to no success. The cruise company I work(ed) for, finally got back to me, telling me “nothing for you at the moment, maybe after Easter” – now you’d think on face value, why not just wait, as that sounds promising. Well, you would, but- one of the other officers who left the company recently, to take up a new job, which didn’t work out for him, emailed the manager, who, within a day, came back to him with a ship, and a joining date- where as I’ve been harping on for 9 weeks for a ship, and he’s been essentially ignoring me. My financial situation is deteriorating rapidly; so, I’ve decided to just take this job. I can’t rely on maybes. If I like it, and I complete the three months; I can then apply for my DCE, which could open doors for me in the tanker sector; which incidentally pays well. For example, my cruise job pays me £2150 a month, whilst on board. If you annualised that, it would work out at £17,000 P/A- which is about on par with any entry level job in the UK (with a 70 hour week) – with a leave ratio of 4 months on, and 2 off. My college friends who all work for BP, are all on starting salaries of 37K (tax free),with a 3 month on/off rotation. Do I even want to work on tankers? I want to be happy, rather than rich. I don’t know! I pretty much decided that I didn’t like cruise ships; the atmosphere, the politics from the first contract. It’s clear I’ll never be able to go back on bulk carriers- tankers do pay though. My goal of working on the Irish Sea ferries as an officer is seemingly an impossible one at present. The management company for Stenna (Scottish) basically told me there’s no chance, when I called them- and a friend I know who works for them, tells me, they take on temporary 3rd officers all the time, and every single one of them is Scottish. Well…fuck you Northern Marine Management.
I have the luxury of being able to drive to the ship, meaning I can take my bike, and continue training; take my guitar; and avoid public transport- silver linings! I have a feeling that this engagement will be short lived for some reason. I’m pissed off. Time to drive to Plymouth.
Wish me luck.
It’s been over six months since I last jotted some tripe down, and posted it on here. So, what’s been happening since I last projected my feelings onto the digital domain? Got my boat yet? No. Got a permanent, secure job? No. I finally began my career proper, as an Officer of the Watch, something I had been working tirelessly towards since September 2012. As usual, with anything I do, it’s not been plane sailing.
If you’d asked me at the start of my cadetship, if I could potentially see myself working on cruise ships, I probably would have dismissed the notion completely. Yet, here we are.
My first contract was somewhat of a baptism of fire. The master on board at the time, decided that it would be appropriate for me, a newly qualified Officer, to be on the 4 to 8 watch, which in cruise ship terms means the busy watch! Arrivals, and departures, every single day. Whilst I was getting accustomed to the life of a Cruise ship officer, we had three “incidents” – during my watches. Entering Durres, in Albania, we ended up in a rather perilous situation- We were at our minimum speed, to reduce the effects of squat (When the ship sinks into the water-usually more pronounced when there is a little amount of water under the keel) and because we were going so slow, the wind took over, resulting in our stern going out of the channel, and us needed to summon a tug. We had a complete blackout coming out of Valletta, which was terrifying, considering how close we were to the breakwater, thankfully we got the anchors out, and avoided serious incident, and finally- a moron on board was emptying cigarette containers, and didn’t have the nous to check they were all extinguished fully- resulting in me, on my first port watch alone having to deal with a flame detector going off. By the time I’d sent my quartermaster to investigate, the fire was out, and reported out by a deck steward. Smoke detectors go off all the time, and I am forever sending safety patrol to investigate, but a flame detector going off means one thing! As I was a fire team leader, I was not looking forward to donning my breathing apparatus and fire suit, and going into fireman mode.
On completion of my first contract, my Ukrainian staff captain gave me a very average appraisal. I couldn’t really get my head around it at the time. I was going above and beyond my duties, and I felt that I’d settled in nicely.
On my second contract, I went back all guns blazing. Now..my main duty as a 4th Officer aside from navigational watches, is to look after all the Fire fighting equipment on board-some 300+ portable extinguishers, fixed equipment, breathing apparatus, fire fighting equipment in lockers; they basically all need monthly checks, and have little cards on them, to show any inspectors that they’d been checked for that particular month. I went around all the fire extinguishers and found 40, yes 40, which had not been checked by the off signing 3rd officer since I’d last been on the vessel. 5 of them needed recharging. This is the same 3rd officer who, when I’d take over watches from him, would be playing games on his mobile phone; 2000 people sleeping below, and he’s on his phone playing games. The same 3rd Officer who, would go to his cabin and play on his playstation, rather than do his work. I was becoming frustrated that promotion wasn’t coming to me, yet people around me were showing gross incompetence, and seeming to do fine. My second contract was prematurely cut short. When I had a discussion with my staff captain, regarding promotion, he told me that I was not ready yet, as he’d been advised by the chief officer that I wasn’t “up to standard” – and that my “navigational skills needed more work” – I thought it was funny, because, I was the only person on the ship using the sextant for sights, and using the radar properly when in close proximity to land (regular range taking, and cross referencing with the Computer chart)- I took over a port watch from a Romanian officer, who told me it was low water, when in actual fact it was high- he actually couldn’t read a basic tidal chart. I told him the tide was ebbing, to which he replied “What is ebbing meaning” – I then had to explain to him that the height of tide shown on the chart, wasn’t the actual height of the available water, and that you needed to add that to the charted depth. You’ll be alarmed to know that this guy was responsible for our passage plans. The captain, staff captain, and chief officer used to mock and laugh at this guy during our passage briefs, which although the guy deserved it- these three laughing at him regularly showed what kind of people they were.
I wasn’t aware at the time, but this Chief officer, prior to me joining was harassing a girl on the ship who I’d become quite close friends with during my first contract, and she thwarted his advances by telling him she was interested in me when I came back (God knows why) – anyway- when I joined, this Chief Officer took it upon him self to have me transferred to the 12-4 watch, which isn’t the greatest watch if you’re looking to progress in rank; you are essentially on the bridge at night, when no one is there, and there’s usually little traffic, and doing work during the day. He also had me moved to a cabin with a single bed, in the alleyway with the shop workers (constant noise), as well as pretty much taking apart anything I said, or done. Aggressive, condescending, a typical bully. Using his familiarity with the top two, to try and make my life difficult. I wasn’t really bothered by him, as I’ve dealt with much worse, his attitude was pretty terrible though, despite being a very knowledgeable chap. When he started to impact on my career progression, that’s when I decided I’d had enough. He was new to the company, as was the staff captain, and captain; all three of them came from the same company and same ship, so were well acquainted with each other, which is why I didn’t feel that I could bring the issue I had to the next levels of management on board, so I hastily complained shore side, and resigned. When I handed my resignation in, the captain, and the staff captain did not even bother to ask me why, or have any kind of discussion. If I was the master of a ship, and someone resigned out of the blue, I would certainly sit them down and ask if there was any issues, but, alas, eastern European officers don’t have the best reputation, and these two were terrible- the staff captain’s nickname was “springline” – because he was always first ashore, and spent a lot of time off the ship.
Upon returning home, licking my wounds if you like, I made a call to the crewing manager, who basically told me that three other officers had made similar complaints, which gave credence to some of what I’d reported. He told me he would send me on another ship and to contact him at the beginning of March. Here we are, I’m still not on a ship. I got a half arsed email saying “sorry nothing at the moment” – when I asked him if he was still sending me back on ship, he simply ignored me.
I’ve been frantically applying for jobs since, checking the internet, and speaking to people I know- I’ve contacted British Antarctic Survey, about a potential job- who have nothing at present, but said they would get back to me. I also contacted a small bulk carrier outfit, who told me the same thing. I’ve applied for jobs on the Isle of Wight ferries, and also an Able Seaman job, on the Penzance/Scilly ferry. I’ve been offered a contract on a Tanker as an Able Seaman- the tanker is basically alongside all the time in Plymouth, and rarely goes to sea; taking this job would mean better pay than on the cruise ships, and would mean I could get a Dangerous Chemical Endorsement on my Ticket- meaning I can work on tankers. I think, perhaps moving to the tanker sector would be the best option for me.
It’s never easy.
Anyway, here I am butchering some music.
My dream of owning my own yacht is getting agonisingly closer to fruition. I now officially have my own sailing craft, a little Tinker Traveller dinghy, which I have got to grips with nicely. I absolutely love sailing it, and it’s reignited that long burning flame of me wanting my own liveaboard yacht. I can at least call myself a WAFI.
The last few weeks have been really good. I’m not going to say they’ve been great, because cavalier use of the word ‘great’- when misused, really gets up my nose. Every time I see someone on social media say something like “had a great time” or a “great holiday” – I mean, come on… when you think of the word great in it’s correct context, I.E remarkable in magnitude- then a fucking average run of the mill event that some moron has experienced should hardly be deemed ‘great’, should it? The great wall of china, great white sharks, Great Britain (for how much longer?) – such an angry chap!
Whilst I’m ranting away, I’ve noticed a new strain of motorists on the road, who much like the ‘great’ abusers, are really getting on my proverbial tits- they are people that drive what the motor industry call “Crossover Cars” – Pay for a normal car- and assume the aggressive faux ascendant persona of an actual 4X4 driver, without the cost. Being someone who gets about 100 miles or more a week in on a road bike, I’m regularly nearly killed by morons in cars, and over the last few months, most of the near misses have come from “cross over” cars, and at least half of those incidents have been caused by this steaming pile of shit.
These cars are often on finance (the stonacre stickers in the back are a give away) and the people driving them have the intellect of a tennis racket. Do you drive a cross over car? If you do- just stop what you are doing and take stock of the situation; yes, you’re slightly higher up with your driving position, but you don’t have the right to drive your wank vehicle like a panzerkampfwagen, and the high way code still applies to you despite your fucking massive car. Anyway…that’s enough of me acting like Holden Caulfield, apologies.
For the past several weeks, I’ve been really enjoying myself working as a deck hand on the Mersey Ferries. During my last shift, as I was saying my goodbyes to the bridge staff, I heard the Captain of the other ferry (two in operation) calling in a distress over VHF, as he’d grounded The Royal Iris of the Mersey, and she was taking on water. Thankfully, no one was hurt; and I walked down the gangway, and left all that behind me.
It’s funny how things work out isn’t it? I wanted to live on board my own yacht, and explore the Med in depth; particularly calling at the more less travelled areas, and I’ve just landed myself a job as a 4th Officer initially, but as you can see from the picture, I have my 3rd officer stripes, so I hope that promotion will be rapid. The cruise ship I am joining will basically be going around Italy, Greece, Albania, Montenegro, Croatia, and some others, which I can’t off the top of my head think of. I’m not under any illusions, I know that I will be there to work, but it’s good that I’m at least in the area that I so desired to reside in- and rather than being on a 10m yacht, I’ll be on a 215m cruise ship. If I can pop ashore now and again, then it’s a bonus! Plus, I can get away from all this Brexit bull shit!
The prospect of coming home from this trip with enough money to actually buy my liveaboard is really exciting me, but I don’t want to rush in. I’ll put away some money after this trip, and then perhaps look at making my first yacht purchase when returning from my second trip next May. This could mean rather than buy a smaller sailing craft, I could jump right in with the purchase of a liveaboard. This is all however speculative at this point, because I’ll have to see if I like cruise ships won’t I? They’re not for everyone- and I never planned on it myself- I always wanted to stay on Bulk Carriers, or perhaps move over to larger ferries. At the moment, I’m feeling really nervous about it. I have no doubts about my ability to navigate the ship, I’m more worried about the people on board. Those of you who are reading this who have gone through a cadetship will agree, that the cruise ship cadets all seemed to be on a different frequency to the rest of us, much like the RFA lot, but perhaps at the other end of the spectrum. I’ve never been one for uniform either, so mincing around in a costume for 8 hours a day is something I’m not really too excited about- although I did sail with a psychotic Indian captain, that insisted that I wore my uniform at all times when entering the mess area- even if I was there filling up a water bottle. I think I’m just over thinking things, and I feel like I’ve taken a gamble by leaving my job on the Mersey Ferries; but staying as a deck hand, when I’m qualified to be a navigator is just silly, especially when a permanent job has come up, with prospects of rapid promotion.
Wish me luck….
I’m finally a qualified officer of the watch, and I can now look back and take stock of the last 4 years of my life. For the first time in my life, I can say that I’ve seen something through to the end; despite a multitude of factors causing friction along the way. I was always the type of person to quit something if it got difficult, or if I didn’t like it. Was it difficult? Yes, in so many ways it was…being away from home, the hours of studying, the countless examinations to prepare for, academics, being worked to the bone, used as cheap labour, being treated like a cunt… Didn’t I like it? Unfortunately my sea-time was marred by poor quality people.The 75% of my experience at sea as a cadet, I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy- bullying, harassment, illegal working hours, racism, poor/no training. Thankfully, I learnt that even bad experiences can be good (eventually). I remember coming back from my first trip, and one of my college lecturers asked me how it went, and he told me that I was lucky. Lucky because, in shipping, you have to deal with terrible people, and from all accounts, I’d experienced something up there with the worst. Lucky because, despite the mistreatment, I was getting good practical experience on Bulk Carriers, visiting places that most of the people in my class could only dream of visiting (If you’ve not been to Koh-Sichang, then you’ll not know what I mean) Thankfully the other 25% of the time on board was outstanding. I was lucky enough to sail with a very experienced master, who took an interest in ensuring I was trained, and treated with respect, and a Chief Mate who also endeavoured to ensure I was trained, and treated with respect. I actually was close to tears when he signed off in Belfast. He was quite an inspirational guy, who had started at the bottom in my company, and worked his way up to the top. What really impressed me about him was his management of people. He made sure everyone knew what he expected of them, and ensured that everyone was happy, and sure that they knew their duties, which I’m sure you’re thinking to yourself “that’s what someone in management should do” – but in my company people like this were simply none existent. There was more to it though, even if he was having a shit day, or he was getting scolded by the old man for something, that aggro would stop there, and none of it would transfer over to how he dealt with people below him.
I think the lowest point for me, was when I was in Thailand. The new captain came on board, and told me to shift out of my cabin, because some weasel from the charterers wanted to stay on board. That wasn’t the main reason, there was other stuff going on prior and I was at the end of my tether. I actually packed my bags up, and sent the message home that it was over. I think I messaged my brother on the internet and said something along the lines of “I’m done. Tried my hardest, but I can’t do this any more. I’ve been onto the British Embassy in Bangkok, and I am jumping ship as soon as we berth in Sriracha”
I packed my suitcases, and I went up to the focsle to mull it over. I was planning what I was going to do, and I’d come up with the idea of basically getting my suitcases off the ship, marching up to the captains cabin, and demanding my passport. If he said no, I was going rip his TV off the wall, and smash it on the floor, and ask again. It was all planned out in my heard. Miteshkumar Tandel, one of the Abel Seamen who I’d sailed with on my first trip knew I wasn’t myself. Mitesh helped my a great deal on board my first two ships, he was always trying to help me with deck work, and despite the language barrier, he had one hell of a sense of humour, very much like mine- no one was safe on board from having the living piss taken out of them with our mimicry, he came up to see me, as I was staring down into an empty hold and said “Bibby, this not all time. You come here for short time and come for short time only. You stay..you pass..you get ticket, you leave this company and people” I knew he was right, and I headed back to my cabin to unpack.
The rest is all water under the bridge now.
So a new chapter begins in my life. I’ve been lucky enough to land a temporary job on the Mersey Ferries as a Deck Hand. I expect my certificate of competency to come through any time, and before I started my current job, I managed to scrape together a a decent list of companies and positions to apply for. Some responded positively, and I have a few irons in the fire for later on in the year.
So for now, I’ll be making hourly circuits of the River Mersey. I make the vessel fast, and allow people on the gangway. I do rounds of the vessel, and have a general tidy up, check the facilities, and also check the Fixed and Portable fire equipment. We also get regular ‘ashes parties’ – and although some of the deck hands just send them aft to do their own thing…one of the senior deck hands is an ex MN Bosun, who takes great pride in offering them a proper send off..he has his own red duster, and and mahogany board. The party that came on today told me that their father was in the Merchant Navy, and I offered them the red duster/board thing, as the guy I was on with said “you don’t have to do all that stuff if you don’t want to” – but I felt that I wanted to- the family were so grateful. I’m going to make it my business, if any ex MN people are being committed to the Mersey, then I’ll offer that flag, and the seaman’s prayers that we have.
All the stress of orals, and my written papers has all but ebbed away. Life at the moment is grand.
When I began my Cadetship, in September 2012, I vaguely recall my imagination going haywire; I had no idea which type of ship I would sail on, or where in the world I would end up. What I didn’t expect, was to be sat around in Fleetwood in 2016, with horrific tan lines on my arms (more on that later). In 2016, I was supposed to by ‘out there’ earning, and learning as a newly qualified 3rd Officer. It was supposed to be the year in which I purchased my little yacht.
Instead, I am here loitering, in the metaphorical land of purgatory, the doldrums if you like. Not quite qualified, and struggling to see the point in dedicating the next 5 weeks of my life, to finish this cadetship, when there’s so many others already qualified, waiting for a job, and the supply of newly qualified officers completely outweighs the demand for newly qualified officers. Of course, I am going to knuckle down, and get these written exams out of the way, because I want to see this through right to the very end.
The shipping company which sponsored me didn’t quite meet the requirements to get me away to sea, which, consequently resulted in me being back phased, and then, I was a week and a half late back for my written paper preparation last September. I managed to pass both papers, but got a stupid section fail, which cancelled everything else out, meaning that I have to re take both Stability, and Navigation. You don’t get to see what the correct answers were, nor do you get to see where you went wrong, and the results take about seven or eight weeks to come through- which is frustratingly archaic.
I did however pass my OOW orals. Long days in college, and even longer evenings attempting to cram as much information into an already battered brain finally paid off. It was an uplifting moment when the examiner said “Right Mr Bibby, you’ve passed”
As for the tan lines, well, My company didn’t manage to get me the full twelve months sea time, to satisfy the MCA requirement for the cadetship, so I was able to go back to College to complete my written exams, and oral exams, on the proviso that I got the remaining seventeen days done before my certificate of competency is released. I’ve just got back from a 17 day voyage on a Barque, which for non sailors, is a big fuck off three masted sailing ship. I wasn’t really looking forward to the ‘experience’ if I’m perfectly honest. I had my own reservations, and ideas on what it would be like, and they were not too far away from the reality. I ended up partially enjoying myself, as we were touring around the Canaries. We started in Tenerife, and went to La Palma, La Gomera, and El Hierro, which was something I’d wanted to do anyway. The pathetic, partially qualified, obnoxious, xenophobes, did not really grate on me as much as I first thought they would. Maybe it was my accent that they didn’t like, or perhaps the fact that, in their little fantasy bubble (the ship) – the rank of Cadet is there to be spoken to like shit. It was only seventeen days, and I’d previously endured the worst that country of India had to offer, in the way of utter bell ends- so a couple of WAFI idiots, with no concept of reality were not going to get me down.
The voyage crew (people who were paying to be there) were a unique bunch! Teenagers looking for ‘challenges’, retired folk with time and money in abundance, physically and visually impaired people, all coming together to ‘experience’ life on a sailing ship. Pretty inspiring stuff. Not sure how much more third rate sexual innuendo, and nautical chat I could take though!
Thankfully, on the second voyage (I was there for two voyages) – I made friends with a retiring GP from Essex, and a tall ships skipper from Derry, the former was sailing as a supernumerary 3rd Officer, and the latter a “Bosuns mate” – and we formed an unlikely alliance (against the snobby cunts) – had some good runs ashore, and discovered that white wine does not give you a hangover, unless of course it’s the £5.00 bottles from Wetherspoons which I am accustomed to.
Six weeks of exam prep (no excuses), and then, the long queue of newly qualified deck officers looking for work awaits me. I always get the impression from some people that I know that they doubt my ability, or that they have some reservations about my abilities at least, and this nagging feeling has been a major catalyst in me seeing this cadetship out.
Visits to Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, China, Australia, Japan, Spain, Belgium, and Latvia. My passport has been used and abused!
Tanggu, China. TEDA, in a bar close to the Empress bar & Grill, I think it was called ‘Cheers’ – The guy in the middle is ‘Robert’ – turns out, after a few beers, he was a homeless American stuck in China with an expired visa.
Tropical Revolving Storm Kalmaegi
At anchor in Kosi Chang, Thailand
Here’s me in Songkhla, Thailand, on my birthday. If an Irishman ever asks you if you’ve tried Tullamore Dew, just say “Yes, I’ve tried it, and I didn’t like it”
Coating the holds with a mixture of Lime, and Milk powder, so that we can load salt safely.
Some Thai stevedores..
Signing off in Osaka, and Flying home
Gran Canaria, Spain, for a wonderful well deserved holiday.
Coca Cola giving free samples in Liverpool. Longest line you ever did see, and “Anti Selfie” spray in the Hula Tiki, Manchester
Trip to Bangor on dee, and some snow before Christmas
I spent NYE in Riga, Latvia. I met a seamen, who sailed with the Captain of the Concordia (he told me he was a cunt…really?) – I also met the wife of an Artist from Japan, and she gave me some prints, after I told he how much I’d loved my time in Osaka. I think Japanese people might be the best people in the universe?
Mini Cruise to Bruges, in early Jan