My maiden voyage as a Cadet . . .With some excerpts from my “diary” – if you want to call it that. From France, to the UK, and on to Turkey (twice) Greece, and Egypt.
Snow on deck; Teesport.
I joined my ship in Dunkirk; France. I left my home on the Wirral at 9.00 in the morning; and I traveled to Dover on the train. I remember being overcome with a proud sense of a achievement, that I was there; on my way to the first chapter of my career at sea. You could say I was reveling in the moment. This was perhaps augmented by the fact that I was in a first class seat on a Virgin train; who were offering free tea; to which I gladly accepted; “Fuck you Richard” I was saying to myself.
The failed RFA interviews; the mindless monotonous jobs; going back to College to do GCSE’s; getting up at 5 am, and riding 70 miles on my bike; so that I’d be fit enough; all these sacrifices were bobbing away in a sea of thought. I was nervous and apprehensive; but at the same time excited.
I met with another British Cadet; “Willy” at Dover; and we were chatting away on the ferry over. He was about 20 years old; and two phases ahead of me, so my essentially my “senior”-I seen him at the ferry terminal wearing some kind of fabric pithé hat with an array of badges on of countries he’d visited. He look like a typical back packing tourist. Almost vulnerable; I remember thinking that if I were a mugger; I’d pretty much target him. I do get some strange thoughts.
We departed France; and were bound for Teesport in lightship conditions. I was expecting to be globe trotting and seeing far flung places; and here I was; on my way to Middlesborough. I enjoyed entering the port; and it was exciting to be part of a mooring team for the first time. At one point; I was a bit worried because there was a small craft coming rather close; and it turned out that it was a boat for taking lines. I got my Training Record Book off to a cracking start on the way over. The captain told me that he was happy for me to take photographs; and whilst on my way around the ship; I’d for some reason unbeknown to me, noticed that the brake for the lifeboat on the Port side; was not wired up the same as the Starboard side one. When the drill came about; I told the third officer of my findings; who told me to tell the chief; who said “you can’t possibly understand this” – Okay “Have it your way, you cunt” I said to myself. It was almost pleasing when the Starboard side lifeboat thundered out of control and hit the water. We nearly lost it; but for quick action by the Bosun to get a ladder down to make fast a rope to it. My first chief was a horrid little man; and this instance was to be the first of many; where I found myself pointing out things that were not safe; and simply being disregarded because I’d not been at sea for that long. I found most of it, was just common sense- this guy could have had all the seatime in the world; but he was still a class one dolt. A highlight was in Turkey; when loading 20ft steel slabs; which each weighed 27 tonnes. The safe working load for our crane was 30t; and the spreader part of the crane weighed 3.5 tonnes. I’m no genius; but this takes the safe working load over. Again; I pointed this out to the Chief; and he wasn’t interested in the slightest. When one of the wires gave out; and the massive slab of steel fell into the hold from height; the entire ship shook. I was in the mess room at the time; and I knew exactly what it was. I just said to myself “Keep your self safe; and keep your mouth shut. You’re here as a Cadet. You’re like a teenager; you understand what’s going on, but your vote counts for fuck all” – thankfully no one was hurt; as the slab fell from above the deck line, into the hold. Although one of the cocky stevedores who had earlier swaggered onto the vessel like it was his own(Every port seems to have stevedores who are cocky little gob shites) came out of the hold a whiter shade of pale as the slab missed him by a metre or so. I absentmindedly inquired if we were going to a request some sort of structural surveyor; again- I was thinking that a 27 tonne steel slab falling from considerable height might surely cause some sort of structural damage. But, no.
In Turkey, I went ashore with my 3rd officer; and we were picked up by a ‘taxi’ and by taxi driver, I mean not a taxi driver at all– we wanted to go to Gebse, the nearest city and this driver, ‘Ahmed’ told us we wouldn’t get beer there, and it was expensive (like all we wanted was beer?) and talked us into going to ‘Dilovasi’ and his shop- where he assured us we could get leather jackets. Him and his colleagues were very pushy, and trying to sell me all sorts of counterfeit clothing . I was having none of it. He then took use to Dilovasi which was a shit hole, and I was getting very dirty looks constantly. I later found out, that wearing shorts is “harram” and is offensive to people of that persuasion. People were literally gawping at me. We got a kebab, and some beer, and headed back to his shop; which had the promised leather jackets; all of which were utterly monstrous. Lots of fake Addidas track suits as well. I was happy to get the kebab and the beer, but felt a little ‘pigeon holed’ – it was excellent though after weeks of dross grub! I bought a Shi sha pipe, off him, for 40 dollars; which I later realized was an utter rip off- but to rephrase Ahmed… “business is business”
On the second or third day, I ventured ashore to the internet cafe/shop contraption; near the dock gate. I walked in, and asked for internet, and the chap pointed out the internet station, which was one Turkish Lira, per hour. “You Ukraine? You want to go Dilovasi…I have taxi friend” he said to me. I’d obviously, already met his affiliate a day earlier, and wasn’t wanting to ride the same train twice. As I logged on to a very dilapidated work station. I noticed a massive hole in the floor; and through the hole, was a 12 foot drop. Then I became aware of my surroundings; it was essentially the SHITTIEST place I’d ever been- at least, that’s what it felt like at the time. Third world, if you like. Then, without warning, the Muslim prayers began blasting out the speaker systems and I have to say I was rather uneasy about it; not knowing if I should stop, or acknowledged it in any way, you know to be respectful and what not?…the chap next to me seemed to ignore it; and whilst seeing him ignoring the prayers; noticed that he was watching full on pornography. This was my first time in a Muslim country. The next day, I was back in the same computer station, having a normal conversation with a friend , and my brother on facebook; and the same chap, was next to me; and then I realized out of the corner of my eye, that he was in fact wanking himself off. I positioned myself so I couldn’t see- and proceeded to tell my brother what was happening; and he was telling me “Tell the fucker to stop” “Knock him out” – I was utterly out of my element here. If I kicked off; it would lead to trouble; and I know from past experience, that aggressive incidents, usually end in me knocking people out. For this to happen here, I’d surely be locked up and made an example of, so I kept quiet, and hoped that he’d stop; and after 20 minutes or so , he did. But he returned with a beer; and began again. I’d had enough, so I logged off, and headed back to the ship utterly disgusted. I don’t really get off on knocking religions, it’s not lack of respect, or anything, they’re just not on my radar, but my impressions of Muslim’s thanks to my first trip at sea, is that they are so hypocritical, it’s not even funny. The Chief Cook (A muslim) always tells me about the Koran(sp), and all these different stories, and how the Koran, and the Bible are linked; and I love listening to them- in the same way an avid fan of a comedy TV series awaits the next episode in a series. But at the same time, he’s always going on about “making sex” with women in ports and offering me 4gb of ‘good porn- desi aunties’ – where is all this the in the Koran I ask? Where is wanking yourself off in a cyber cafe? Exactly. The Cook asked me “you know where black people, niggers come from?”. I sheepishly gave a diplomatic answer, and said “Africa” – on the basis of my knowledge of primitive homosapian distribution. He then told me about a man in the Koran; who, when asked by God, to provide meat for him, cut lots of different parts of his body; and offered them to God. Then when the same man had loads of mutton he needed cooking, something else might have happened, and then the man asked God to lower the sun, so he could cook his mutton; and all the people got burnt by the sun and became black. Genetics and skin pigmentation kind of went out the window there; and there you have it- the truth about ‘niggers’. I asked him what his compass reference point for Mecca was on ship- Magnetic, Gyro, True etc- he then proceeded to inform me that NASA had been ‘into space’, and confirmed that Mecca was in fact the ‘centre of the universe’ – The origin of the black man…the center of the universe…. is there anything the Koran can’t do? I was swimming in newly acquired info.
I was given shore leave in Diliskileli, and I and Willy headed to Izmit. It was a million light years away from Dilovasi’- We went to an amazing mall- possibly the best mall I’ve been in. So clean. So empty. Bliss. We crossed a very futuristic bridge- the kind of bridge you’d expect Buck Rodgers to be crossing, to the city- where we made friends with two young Turkish ladies of 21 summers. Their English was a little patchy- but amazing next to our non existent Turkish! We asked them for directions, which resulted in them walking 3 or so miles across town, out of their way for us, to show us a bar that was closed(we were looking for beer again…if the cap fits . . . ) They invited us to their Salsa class, at their university campus, way up in the hills.. . . . . . Salsa class, in an ‘american’ style gym hall. Was I dreaming? “How the hell did I get here?” I asked myself. Being up there in the mountain air was like being reborn. But I suppose anything is, when you’ve been doing deck watches on a dusty bulk carrier, with a borderline cross between Hitler and Theodore the chipmunk barking at you constantly. Time was short, but it was a special day, that I’ll cherish. They took us under their wing all day; and at the end of the day took us for kebabs, and beer, and bought us Chocolate! I added them on facebook, and I promised to come back to Izmit when I get my yacht!
My first 3rd officer’s philosophical approach to life; and some of the shit that he comes out with is just so refreshing. He spoke about his spoilt little brother; who was the apple of his fathers’ eye; constantly doing “what he wanted” – and it became obvious that his little brother; who loved horses; and being reckless; was similar to me. Aspects of his personality just pointed towards me- whereas my 3rd officer; was very professional; and hard working; and did everything by the book; he incidentally reminded me of my older brother! So there was a kind of sibling order being conformed to. I was talking to him about my past relationships with girls and trying to get across how they’d all pretty much started and began the same way… “Don’t get caught behind train…. or a bus…or a woman. You are on the track, and the track will lead women to you. Yes, women now are contaminated even in our society. We are the last generation before deterioration” he said. I thought back to an Eddy Murphy stand up sketch, and muttered “Gone are the days where you could give a polite slap to a lady, for being out of line, or the kitchen; they all wax their vaginas, and spice girl mentality rules” – He looked blankly at me for a second, and then said “God yes. If you do this, then your groin will be gone” and made a kicking motion. “Get shit wrong, and all shit will be here. Captain will be here to screw with your happiness” – He looked out for me; and I was probably very lucky to have him as my 3rd officer. He actually took time to teach me; where as the Chief was not helpful at all.
“Your groin will be gone”
“Be an asset- NOT a liability”
(TUESDAY 15th APRIL 2013)
We’ve been ‘at sea’ for a week now since leaving Turkey. The deck log book has, for the past seven days had “Vessel drifting of Imrali Adasi, awaiting owners instructions”. It’s been 36 hours since fresh water rations came into effect. The accommodation block smells of shit. They obviously couldn’t foresee that we’d be drifting this long- but why only take a little water when we were in Diliskileli? Money I guess. The root of all evil. The weather has also taken a turn for the worst; which has yet again confirmed that I have some sort of psychological issue with grey skies. SAD they call it? Seasonal Affective Disorder? I know it could by one of those psychosomatic things. Well, this morning, I headed forward to the store, to see what was going on, and the Bosun, who greeted me in his usual way “international!” – he said and then continued to ‘service’ one of the applicators for the grease gun. I attempted to get a look at what was going on, and it was as if, from the defensive stance- that my observations were not wanted. I sort of spat my dummy out, and went to starboard side of the vessel, to look out at sea, and stew with myself, submerged in overwhelming thoughts of hopelessness. It was dreary, wet, misty, and cold. “We’re in the north sea again” I said to myself. As if it was some sort of analogy for being depressed. I then put myself in his shoes, and to be honest with myself, I hate being watched, when I’m doing something. Thank you Atticus Finch; …….thank you very much. Anyway…so I’m sitting there, sulking away the morning; when I notice two swallows shooting up and down in lee of the ship- they were a pair. “How cute”, I thought at first. Then the female landed on the side rail, whilst the male began to perform amazing acrobatics darting all over the shop! I was really jealous, I was. When was I going to get to perform acrobatics for my love? Metaphorically speaking. I knew realistically that that was a long way off for me. I’d had that conversation with my ex; the one where everything I own had been arranged to be removed from our flat- although in all honesty, I’d gotten most of it out before I left- call it foresight, if you will. So the subject of loneliness with addition of flirting swallows amplified things. I thought that maybe I’d get some swallow tattoos, when I get back to land; after all I am a sailor now; I’m entitled to.
I guess it’s time to admit that I am starved of things like deep conversations. Being with the the Indians’ is great at times, but, when I want to offload some intellectual dialogue; it falls short. But then, even back home; I suffered the same afflictions…maybe not so much at nautical college though. I recalled vividly, having a conversation with a friend – “So what’s your favourite ocean current?” I’m under-stimulated, you could say. It’s not all bad though, because I’ve began writing music again, and it’s been pretty fruitful. This diary, and also music. I’ve got 4 songs completed; and I feel pretty positive about them. I adore my uke, so much; I’ve really fallen for the instrument in a big way, and I don’t have any desire to pick up a guitar again! When I finish my sea phase; the first thing I’m going to do, is to arrange to get them recorded. I guess being at sea amplifies insecurities that I have, and play havoc with my habitual mood swings. Maybe because there’s more time to think, being on a ship full of people with limited English. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that limited- we have decent conversations- I just need more.
Yesterday was all doom and gloom…woe is me etc….Then the today; the sun had come out, we’d passed through the Dardanelles canal, and we were bound for Greece; to a new port; and in the blink of an eye, the equilibrium had been restored.. I promise, I’m not a socio-path; honest. I guess sometimes, I can’t see the forest for the trees.
Greece was excellent. I love the people, I love the climate, and I love the food! We were alongside for a fair few days, and I managed to get ashore quite a bit! On approaching the Greek waters; we realized that we had no Flag. I had a towel with me, which was a Greek flag towel, which I offered to hoist, but the captain said he’d rather us just make a new one; so me and the AB got to work, painting a flag. On the first night, I ended up meeting a guy called George, who had a full on American accent. He’d lived in New Jersey most of his life working in construction- and returned to Aliveri because things went pear shaped with him and his wife…whilst back in Greece, he’d got into a fight, and killed a man in a bar fight, over a girl. He had been waiting for his trial for six years; and was unable to go back to America, where most of his family are. The government in Greece move very slowly it seems. I liked George a lot. He was drinking from the same cup as me with regards to politics, and philosophy; and I took his number. I’d told him my plan of qualifying as an officer; and spending my time off cruising my yacht around the Aegean. He gave me his number, and told me to call him when I returned to Greece. It was great to be off the ship, and great to be having a good few beers. The Indians did party on board, but their idea of a party is drinking two small cans of low strength lager. God help any of them if they ever came to one of my parties that I used to have at Uni.
“Can you fuck theoretically? You can’t fuck theoretically”
I got speaking with another “George” who had lived in Australia for a while, and returned to Greece; he was, like George 1, pretty outspoken regarding the economic situation in Greece. He was by no means moaning, the Greeks just get on with things, but I am interested in such things, and was asking lots of questions. What ever happens with the Greek economy, and government, I think they will be okay; they are resilient people. “George 2” owned a trendy bar; which always seemed to be empty.
We spent about 5 days in Greece, and I really fell for Aleveri; so much so, that I’m about to stop writing about Greece; and I’d forgotten about the trip to Athens! Me and Willy went to the Acropolis in Athens. We had our first proposition from a lady of the night; in the day- in Athens. The cab driver shooed her away! We got the bus there and back, which meant we had about 45 minutes to spend there; but it was worth it; if not a little hectic. One world wonder out of the way!
No flag? No Problem. Art Attack!
diary from Egypt
We sailed into Egypt a day and a half after leaving Greece; and I write this from the confines of my cabin. Yesterday was amazing, and harrowing in equal measures. I was on mooring stations in the afternoon of Thursday 25th of April, the following Saturday, I was waking up with a mask on, in a Hospital, confused, and frightened. We arrived in Egypt in El Dekhelia, which is the principal port in the region of Alexandria. The pilot vessel came alongside; and rather than board our ship, he stood on the deck of the pilot boat making hand gestures towards the bridge; and shouting. I wasn’t sure what was going on at first; but the chief officer soon informed me that we had given them a sleeve of 200 hundred cigarettes. He wanted a further 400 before he boarded the vessel. One each for the crew of the Pilot. I was in disbelief that they actually met their demands; but what can you do? The second thing I noticed, rather through smell, was the state of the water; dark brown…I thought that my home town river, the Mersey was polluted, but this place took sea pollution to new heights. After I’d squared up the rat guards and mooring ropes, I made my way to the gangway, where there was about 30 locals in various combinations of blue jeans, black shiny shoes, and TERRIBLE stripy shirts, all seemingly wanting to know one thing? “You want anything? Phone card, phone, Big Mac, Chocolate…everything” -They began setting out stalls on the gangway, and lifeboat station ladders, with an array of bags, belts, perfume, mobile phone, and watches. Trying to sift through the genuine visitors was difficult to do, as they were all well versed in ‘business’. Some of them were carrying pistols, and were proclaiming to be ‘policia’ but I was having none of it, and I later found out they were just security guards with guns. They kept coming up to the accommodation door, to peer in, and when seeing people inside trying to open the door to get their attention for a potential sale. I walked to the gangway, and caught willy who was about to take a taxi driver up to the captain! I felt bad storming in and taking the guys I.D and putting the blocks on it; but these people will try anything. I ended up losing my rag with them, and telling them to move away from the door, whilst banging on the table and screaming. I stood in the way of the door and just frowned at any of them that came up. One guy, kept leaning on our table, which was broken- the nails had come loose. I got hold of a metal bar, and twatted fuck out of the nail, fixing the table and I shouted at the guy “where’s there’s blame, there’s a claim…not on this ship!!” The first wave of salesmen left at midnight. My watch overspilled from 4am in the morning, followed by a day of deck work, stations, and then my evening watch. I’d worked 24 hours in total, which was a first for me and was up the next day at 6am. So you cant blame me for getting shirty with these cretins. Their presence on the ship was not wanted.
The next morning followed the same pattern, although I began talking to the ‘rats’ as I liked to call them. One man, told me he used to be a Bosun and worked regularly in the UK, and he’d been to Birkenhead! He mentioned Lairds ship yard to me, so I was instantly made up with this, what with being so far from home. I still wasn’t buying fuck all off him though. He asked me “you have girl friend?…British women no good for sex…too much whisky and too much crazy; not enough fucking. You get Lebanon woman. They number one for sex. Little whiskey lot of fucking, yes yes” – wise words, from a wise man, with a number of silver teeth; and a weathered face; like a wielders’ thumb.
By Friday, we’d managed to organize a trip to Giza, to see the pyramids, and to see the river Nile, and visit the papyrus paper factory. It all sounded wonderful on paper(not papyrus though). But the reality of it, was the person organizing the tour was just a bigger rat than the ones on the gangway, just with a nicer outfit. We paid 90 dollars for the tour….we first went to a road side food place, which was nice; I ordered Falafel. The ‘Nile visit’ consisted of our driver “Mohammed” pulling over the people carrier, and letting us take a few snaps from a bridge. Back into the van, and onwards to the ‘Papyrus factory’. We seen a display of how they made it, and all the bullshit stories that go with all the paintings, and I soon realized what we’d stumbled into- A nest of more rats, all trying to squeeze cheese out of the foreign seamen. After the demo, were asked to pick ones that we liked. There was many to choose from; and I’d seen a massive one, which was an oil based portrait of a beautiful woman, with dark hair, and eyes, just nonchalantly sitting in the shade with some fruit, and not giving a fuck, which was marked at 9000 egyptian pounds. As I’d showed an interest in it, I was hounded, and the price was eventually brought down to 4000; but still, that was far too much for me to pay; plus, there would have been nowhere to put it. The situation became stagnant, when our driver asked me how much I could pay because he could “get me a good deal”- I said about 180 dollars, and he quickly batted away my offering with his hand, and said something in Egyptian, I think ‘bastard’ was in there somewhere; and I just called them both dick heads because they were, and walked out of the ‘museum’. Leaving the others to be consumed by the rodents. The man who told me about British women being crazy, also wrote out from one to ten, Arabic numbers, so I knew how much things were, and each price they quoted to my fellow ship mates, didn’t match what I had. I tried to tell them all, but they just bought the stuff anyway. I just walked out, and asked to get into the van. Mohammed was then passed a wad of cash by the man who owned the ‘papyrus factory’ and then gave a Mediterranean style hug and kiss – I’m not sure I was meant to see it, but it was neither here, nor there. I knew this music. I was angry for a moment, as we headed to Giza, but it soon fizzled out, as I caught sight of the great pyramids. When we arrived at the compound gates, we were greeted by a few guys in Muslim robes, and told that the camel ride for one hour was 30 dollars, or 50 for two. I wanted to ride an Arabian horse though, and I pointed over at a chesnut coloured gelding. “Arabian…very strong 100 dollars” – I was told by my sex advisor on the previous day that it was ten dollars for the camel, and 30 for the Arabian horse for one hour. So I just said “100 too much..50” – Mohammed done all the bargaining for us; and yet again, he was passed a wad of cash from the guide. Oh, how nice of you Mohammed. I ended up getting it down to 80, but with tipping my guide (who probably assisted in saving my life) it became $100. “Saving your life”- you’re saying to yourself? Well, let me tell you about that.
We headed through the gates of the compound, and I realized that I had my own guide, because the horse trial was different from the camel one. I went one way, and my ship mates went another, which was initially alarming, as they hadn’t given me the heads up. For the first 30 minutes or so, I was having the time of my life. I’d gotten to grips with manoeuvring the horse, and in a few small canters, kind of mastered not bobbing up and down like a complete jack in the box! This was a crash course in horse riding; as as much as I love horses, I’d never ridden one. I’d lied to them, and told them I’d ridden before. I let the reigns loose, and dug my heels in, and in the blink of an eye, I was literally flying. It was amazing, and having sheer brute force of an animal propelling you through the hot air of the desert; the great Pyramids of Giza as the backdrop made it more of a memorable moment. I jumped off my horse when I was reunited with my ship mates. As soon as I got off the horse, I noticed my throat was swollen, to rather large proportions. It was tickly, and sore. I tried to just ignore it, and carried on to pose for some pictures. My leg was rubbing on the saddle, and I had quite a nasty friction burn. I’m guessing this is what triggered it all. I then began to have slight difficulty breathing, and was getting a burning sensation in my face, arm, and legs. I knew instantly that I was having an allergic reaction to something. I asked for anti histamine from my ship mates, and the guides, but it was useless. I knew that I had to get to a pharmacy or doctor pronto; or it could get worse. I told the captain I wasn’t feeling well, and I wanted to back to the gates. I told the guide to take me back, and we began riding back towards the gate slowly. I could feel my throat was getting more inflamed, and my breathing became more laboured. I noticed that pretty much all of the skin on my arms and legs had became raised and red. I shouted to my guide “Ok, we go fast now” and he shouted something in horse, and we began sprinting towards the gate. My horse stumbled, and I ended up holding on to it’s neck at the point of spilling off the horse into the sand, but I managed to cling on for dear life. . I remember thinking to myself “I hope I don’t get Christopher Reeved here” – I love how I still manage to joke around in my head, even faced with precarious situations. The exertions of righting myself, showed, my breathing became uncontrollable; and I noticed a great pressure in my ears and my sight was beginning to be affected as well. My eyes were closing up. I said to my guide “I am sick now. You get them to come. They come get me. Ok?” – all complimented with hand gestures; and at this point you could see from the reaction on his face when he looked at me that the sense of urgency was there. “come…walk slow” he said softly. He called over one of the beggars who was selling fizzy pop, and bought a 7up for me, and gave it to me, “you drink, you drink good” – I trundled through the rocks and sand, and eventually caught sight of the gate, where there was a fight ensuing between the Police, and the guides. I was dizzy, confused, and probably turning blue. I stumbled over, and fell onto a rock, and with difficulty, got myself back upright. My eyesight grew worse. The head guide who earlier provided us with camels and horse, was trying to attack a police man, and in turn, he was trying to attack the guide; they were all being held back by their own comrades in an aggressive cascade of contrasting colours…the police in their brilliant white uniforms on one side; and the dark Islamic robes on the other. I seen a car at the gate, and two police men manning the lock steadfastly. I screamed at the top of my voice “help”; and caught the attention of a young police man, who looked at me, and looked almost appalled- he screamed something to a police man who was holding back the guy who was trying to attack the guide. He looked over at me, and instantly, stopped and ordered the gate to be opened. The car drove in, and I got in it- at this point there was maybe 50 people all congregated around the car, all seemingly horrified by my appearance. At this point I was thinking that perhaps this was it for me. I felt my eyes, and they were swollen so much that I thought I had something on my face. I instantly turned the rear view mirror so I could see myself, and my eyes were red all over, even the pupils. I was barely recognisable. I was shaking, scared, and hoping to whoever that I’d get to a doctor, or pharmacy soon. “Doctor, you take?” – “yes, no problem” the driver said. “Pharmacy, you take?” Yes no problem. Was he just saying this as a figure of speech? “Zoo, you take” I said…. “yes, no problem” he replied- this made things worse for me. I began to panic, and my heart was beating faster than I’d ever been aware of. I’d registered 205 beats per minute, when riding my bike up a long drawn out mountain pass, in Wales on my Heart Rate monitor; and I regularly get my heart beating at 190 beats for interval training with my cycling. But this was faster. I began thinking about being on my bike in Wales, and started day dreaming about that, which offered a little relief. Maybe it was lack of oxygen? I noticed Mohammed was in the back of the car, keeping quiet. He looked disappointed that he was there, like he’d rather me have died in the desert, rather than pull him from what ever it was he was doing while we were out in the desert. I arrived at the hospital, and ascended up a seedy faux marble stair case to a waiting area, with an old woman on the reception. She directed me to a bed in the corner; at this point I was blacking out. I don’t remember falling over, or losing it, apart from the rock near the gate. But the next thing I can remember was waking up with a mask on, and I had an IV drip in my arm. I felt a million times better; and was asking them about my precious face; to no avail, they simply did not understand me. I realized I still had my camera in my shorts I took a picture of my self, and confirmed that I was looking better. I was given medication, and soon taken back to the compound exit area, where I was reunited with my ship mates. I don’t think they understood the severity of what had happened to me, but they looked shocked when they seen me. I was relieved to be alive; and as soon as I was back on ship; I was sent to work on deck, back on my 6 hour on/off rota!
This will be a tale I’ll be able to tell for as long as I live. Flying close to the sun is my mantra, and perhaps one day, I’ll fly too close.
Leaving Egypt was a thorough relief. I’d been appalled by Turkey; what with the wanking cyber cafe man, but Egypt went a step beyond.
O/S Sanmitra, me, and the Captain, shortly before my allergic reaction got the better of me
I find it amazing at sea, when you’re out of sight of land, and you get land based birds paying you a visit. Granted, most of them are migratory, so it’s not really that surprising. We were having a lifeboat drill en route from Greece to Egypt, and I was aft, sorting out the fire hose; and I was joined by a fearless ‘siskin’ , which was bright yellow, like a canary, with splashes of brown all over it- basically an exotic version of the common sparrow that we have in the UK; I noticed how many common sparrows were in Greece, and realized, that they have all but vanished from our garden’s back in the U.K- when I was a kid, they were common as muck. Anyway, it just walked up to me, as if butter wouldn’t melt, confident as you like. I was then called to the muster point, where the Chief began the debrief; as he was mid flow, about Solas or something, this little bird just casually walked right in-between us all, bold as brass. Seeing birds, and other wildlife at sea is definitely one of the more rewarding sides of the job for me. Where have they come from? Where are they going? Why don’t they stay..Why aren’t I paying attention to the SOLAS shit; instead of worrying about birds?
Things were beginning to take shape, I had recovered well from my episode near the pyramids; and I and the other cadet had began implementing a system with the Chief. He was starting to go over rules with us; explaining things to us; making sure we were involved with worthwhile things, unlike his predecessor; who was a complete bastard to us. The captain was also taking an active role; giving me assignments to do; which I appreciated, because I tend to put things of, if I can- and if the old man asks you to do something, then you try and do it. I was looking forward to 20 or more days sailing, doing two watches per day; writing my report on all the anti piracy measures that we must implement on the ship, before we get anywhere near the Gulf of Aden. I was asked to sort out the LAN network by the Captain, which was causing them a little grief. I untangled all the wires, repositioned the router; and sorted all the LAN addresses for the C/eng, Meeting room, and bridge computers. Took hours or days, I can’t remember! I was happy to do this, but I kept thinking to myself “The reason I joined the merchant navy, was to get away from P.C’s and all that shit, and here you are being the unofficial IT guy” Maybe one of them looked at my CV on my desk top, while I was out the room? The G/S was standing, watching me type an email and it was like a Neanderthal meets fire moment- “good uh? Typing very fast” he said in his broken English. He was looking at my typing like it was some sort of arcane magic. The bosun asked me to set up his PC, with some anti virus, and other things; and it spread around the ship, and before I knew it, I was getting knocks from various members of the crew- “You fix laptop!” I vowed that, the next ship I join, if computers were mentioned, I would just start dribbling and trying to lick my own ear lobes.
So, with everything seemingly under control; something had to be hiding in the bushes, waiting to screw with my happiness. That something was a call from the Captain. It was bad news. There was to be 4 armed guards joining the vessel at Suez; not 2, as we’d initially thought. This meant that the maximum permissible amount of people on board would be exceeded. Now…if there’s two people on a ship who are ‘expendable’ – who would they be? . . . . . . .The British Cadets….that’s who. I was seriously gutted. As bad as it sounds, I had no desire to go back to the UK. Sure, I miss my loved ones, but the thought of going back was depressing. But, the company, has assured us that we could rejoin the vessel in Thailand, once the armed guards had gotten off the ship; which was reassuring, because the pending visit to the dry dock would be a very good experience for me.
We arrived at Turkey, again on the 4th of April to load Steel Coil. The first thing I noticed about the port was how clean the cranes were and the dockside in general. I obviously had made assumptions based on my previous visit to Diliskileli. How different this place was. The shore staff were as professional as the guys in the UK, if you judge the UK as some sort of mecca of H&S. The people were much friendlier as well. I had told myself I wouldn’t bother going ashore, after the last port. But, I gathered as much information as I could, and ascertained that the nearest city of interest was Iskenderun; named after Alexander the Great! I got permission from the Chief, and willy said he didn’t want to go ashore; so I had the green light to wander to the city alone. It was a bus ride to the port exit, and then a seedy little mini bus pulled up to take me to the city. Iskenderun was a nice place; that I would definitely revisit. Palm trees compliment the promenade, and the sharp rugged mountains, and turquoise sea act as a beautiful back drop. I was briefly harassed by a shop owner- “You are from ship- British Cadet. I have your Captain in my shop yesterday. You come I will show you where to go” – I followed him to his shop, as he seemed friendly; and he did describe the Captain, and what he was wearing. I’d been in the city all day, and pretty much knew my way around- this guy assumed I’d ‘just got off the boat’- He was showing me loads of ‘shit tat’ which I had already seen in the other shops; only he was trying to charge triple. “Perhaps there is something you like in the shop….Mohammed my brother will pick something out” Little Mo’ then proceeded to dig out loads of fake Addidas stuff. I just shook my head, and said, thank you, for your time, I go now. – “No, you not know city…here, you take souvenir” – I seen a couple of bracelets, and some sort of tea towel. Without having anyone in mind who I’d give this shit to, I just agreed to buy it all for 15 dollars. He then tried to get loads of shirts out, and was pointing at the prices; and I politely said “No. I have no space on ship” – then out of a room came two two other guys, blathering on about coats, and football shirts, and I lost my rag, and just ended up telling them “Me not idiot. Your price TOO MUCH. I go now. Good bye” Shortly after leaving, I was approached by another chap, who pointed at my leg (The graze that I’d got in Egypt was not healing so well) I was polite; he told me he was a ship agent, asked me about my vessel; then offered to take me around the city. I knew what was coming, didn’t I? Him taking around places, finding me cheap stuff…and by that I mean him talking in Turkish, telling the shop keepers to charge me more. I’d already had two beers, which I paid 6 Turkish Lira for; and this chap had taken me “for real cheap beer” – It was 10TL though, and it was only a small bottle. “Next port. Just NO. FUCK OFF” I paid for my beer, and his, and told him I was going to explore on my own. He was really pushy about “finding me shopping good” – His guise of him being a “ship supplier” was later scuppered. I told him to meet me at 7, and I would gladly pass on his business card to the captain. When he met me, he was asking me if my shopping was complete- and it was; on the count of all the bags I was carrying. Once he’d realized I was on my way back, he just walked off on me. These sponge squeezers are in every port and must be dealt with accordingly. Aside from the two leeches; I am glad that I went ashore in Turkey again, and I would definitely go back there. Iskenderun is beautiful.
We then sailed back to Egypt; where we were to leave the ship in Suez. Port Said looked a very run down place; we left the Gloriana aboard an old tug…one of the guys on the boat was trying to buy Willys’ phone off him, and he basically told him to fuck off. We got ashore, and the agent introduced us to our driver, who’s name was, by chance, Mohammed, who would be taking us to Cairo. There’s only one road from Port Said to Cairo; and we were on it; when something appeared to be burning, little more than 400 metres up the road from us. Our driver got out, to see what the problem was; and we gathered from his poor English, that a bus driver had gone crazy, and the police had shot him and the bus to kingdom come. The road was closed; so we called the agent, who told us we’d need to wait until tomorrow…to head back to Port Said; I was having none of this, because I’d seen Port Said; and I wasn’t up for going back there. The 4th Engineer was sort of “in charge” as he was the only officer travelling tothe airport with us; and I lost my nerve; and just commandeered the situation. I took the phone, and told the agent if the driver could take us for some food, and we could wait for the road to open (how long does it take to move a bus off the road, for Christ’s sake?) – that this would be preferential; so we went to a roadside cafe; and there was a trail being broadcast live on the news; and many many Egyptian men were literally in awe of the footage; hanging on the news reader’s every word. It was the trial of Mubarak. Perhaps the bus explosion was something to do with it? After an hour in there; the driver had the call telling us the road was open, and we made our way to Cairo; where we were to spend 28 hours in the Radisson hotel. I was going to go out and have a few beers in Cairo; but the news for Cairo on that day, was “Embassy Suicide Bomber Caught” and “American tourist killed” so, I stayed in the Hotel for a few hours; and watched the FA cup final. “This is pretty surreal; you’re in a dead posh hotel, in Cairo, watching Wigan Athletic beat Manchester City” I said to myself….I later went out of the hotel to find something to do; but it was just ram packed with people, and it was rather hot, in contrast to the air conditioned Raddisson.
That was my first trip away. Eventful, to say the least.
I got myself a tattoo when I was back, from my friend who owns Northern Soul tattoo.
Rejoining the Vessel in Thailand was a complete culture shock. I was happy on the journey out; that I was finally getting to fly on a Boeing 747- something I”d dreamed of since being a small child. Arriving in Bangkok was an eye opener; especially to the climate. As soon as we left the Airport the heat and moisture just whacked me in the face. After locating our driver after some confusion – the confusion being other taxi drivers attempting to get our business- we then lost the driver. After standing in the road outside the airport; we were about to call our company; and the driver appeared from an array of cars; and we were on our way to join our ship at Kosi Chang; where we were discharging the steel coil we’d loaded at Turkey from anchor. We reached a small quay side which had a shop close to it; it was more of a shack though. I was bursting for a piss; so I asked the ‘agent’ and he politely smiled and said it was fine for me to go in the ‘shack’ – as I was was under the act of urination I noticed a small ‘house gecko’ watching me; which was pleasing for me, because I used to have one when I was a child as a pet. I never envisaged I’d see one in the wild though!
For the second time in my merchant navy career; I had to jump a few feet into a rickety boat. The boat powered away from the quay; and in the blink of an eye; the mainland of Thailand became a distant speckle; I was out just as quick as I came in. As we approached the Gloriana; she was a few miles offshore discharging at anchor. The sun had not long gone down, so the sky was a very dark amber; and the ships idiosyncratic extra centre crane became apparent along with the dark shadowy figure of the vessel.
I noticed something on the aft mooring station, something that was new. As I walked clambered out of the boat, onto the accommodation ladder and walked up; I heard “International, you are back” from one of the AB’s who was usually quite reserved. They call me “international on board” by the way. He was smiling, and jovial, and only when I got up the deck level did I realize that he was drunk! And the “installation” aft, was infact a tent, which had been erected by a number of women. I had been told weeks earlier by the Chief Cook – “When we go Kosi Chang, pilot will not come on board, unless we take women on board. You pay 50 dollars and woman is yours for the week, same like wife”
Kosi Chang was hard work; I’d not experienced heat like it. All of the families of the stevedores were on board; I lost count of how many, but I gathered from the barges, when we’d finished discharging, and they all left on the barge, that they just live constantly on these barges. I noticed a horrible beetle, in a tuppaware box; which I confirmed with it’s owner, was for eating.
Perhaps one day, I’ll recount my trip across the south China sea from Kosi Chang; and going into dry dock. But for now, I think it’s best left on ice.