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.