Whilst tidying up my netbook I found this first attempt at a blog. They aren’t complete and are a bit all over the place but I’ve put them up here for the general amusement of anyone interested in what it’s like to be a sailor – especially a sailor on a passenger carrying vessel.
Be Careful With That Ship of Yours
14th July 2010
My true-love has never seen The Ship That Died of Shame but I make him recite that bit of dialogue every time one of us goes off to sea.
‘You will be careful with that ship of yours, won’t you darling?’ he calls as the train doors bleep, bleep, bleep.
‘Don’t worry, I’ve -’ the doors swish shut, chopping off my line. I bend down to look through the window.
‘I’ve already promised the Admiralty,’ I mouth through the smeared glass.
My last train door of the day isn’t a swishing one. It’s a ‘lean out of the window and twist the handle one’ which isn’t easy when you’re laden with baggage. My backpack and I stagger out onto Penarth station. It’s raining. Bugger. Guess which numpty has buried her coat in the bottom of her bag?
Caught between off-going and on-coming passengers, I feel like an ancient Egyptian caught on the bed of the Red Sea as the waters come crashing down. Eddying between regulars that recognise me and new-comers that resent me for jumping the queue, I’m buffeted down Penarth Pier to the ship’s gangway. I have time to pull on a uniform sweater, stick on my epaulettes and we’re off for an evening cruise up the river Parrat to Bridgewater.
Newhaven or Bust
18th July 2010
Damn, I wanted to write about being weather-bound in Bristol, about our captain wandering around on the bridge with his trouser leg caught in his sock, about our Polish bo’sun remaining unperturbed when asked to put the fenders over the port side… No, over the starboard side… No sorry mate, over the port side. He and the deck hands dragged the fenders (old rubber tyres) back and forth four times before the final choice was made. (Port side)
‘It’s OK,’ said the bo’sun. ‘I have big heart, I forgive everybody.’ But too much time has passed and it’s no longer fresh in my mind. You will have to make do with now.
Now we are cruising along the Dorset coast, the sun is shining, and the wind has dropped a bit. Best of all, after yesterday’s rock n roll, we have a following sea. The surfing motion this gives is far more comfortable. The stewards are still choosing to sleep in the Lower Bar but that may just be because it smells better down there. My cabin has been taken over by a downed racing pigeon. I caught him in the Dining Room and, much to the crew’s horror, instead of taking him straight to the cook, I took him below for a drink of water and a nice quiet cardboard box. All being well, I’ll let him go in Newhaven. Let’s hope no one has rung ahead to warn the local cat population.
Captain One Sock left us in Bristol to go on his hols and we have a new one now. I have never worked with him before but as we have two weeks of cruising the Thames ahead of us, no doubt we’ll get to know each other quite well. In a strictly professional sense, of course. Meanwhile, the forgiving bo’sun is one of my watch-mates on the 8 – 12 watch. There is no auto pilot on this fine vessel and so the boys have to take it in turns steering. I don’t envy them. My other watch-mate is a steward who has kindly agreed to share the steering. It doesn’t surprise me to learn that he is also studying to become a mate like me. I am fast becoming a relict!
The Bird Has Flown
Yes, we are alongside in Newhaven. The Captain, Pilots and Rope Men seemed to disagree about where, exactly, they were going to put the ship. All came clear in the end though and we are nicely parked near a scrap heap. Yes, really. After helping to put the gangway out a sudden thought struck me – I’m sure I had something to do. Oh yeah, a shoebox full of pigeon! I brought the box up on deck and lifted the lid. The pigeon looked at me. I looked at the pigeon. He flew to the ship’s rail, paused and then produced a small pile of poo.
‘Cheers for that,’ I said. The pigeon shook his feathers, opened his wings and leapt up into the sunny, blue evening. He disappeared over the town, hotly pursued by much of the crew, though I believe they were heading for a totally different kind of watering hole.
The Reef of Time
19th July 2010
Our reality must have streamed away behind in our wake as we sailed to this fair harbour and beached ourselves on the Reef of Time.
There is only one fresh water hydrant in the port and it’s on the ferry berth. Ok, when the ferry sails at 0830, we’ll back up to the hydrant and fill up with fresh water. Oh no we won’t!
The deck crew is mustered.
The captain is on the bridge.
Engineers are in the engine room.
We are ready.
The ferry isn’t. She doesn’t leave until 0930.
0930, we are ready. Nothing happens. The men who are supposed to let go our lines are making themselves very busy at the other end of the quay.
1000, the captain finally catches the rope men’s’ attention.
‘Can you let go our lines please?’ he asks.
It turns out that it doesn’t matter who told us that we could move the ship at 9 o’clock, the guys on the quay are busy doing something else now. We’ll have to wait.
The engineers stop the engine, the deckies go back to their paintbrushes and the captain jumps up and down in the bridge. Eventually we are told that we will be moving at midday. Oh, and we’ll need a pilot.
‘What to move two hundred metres along the quay?’
Over on the roof of the ferry terminal, a clutch of gulls cackle long and loud.
A Very British Hobby
20th July 2010
Complaining that is.
‘Do you speak English?’
‘Yes. I am English.’
‘Good. Then perhaps you can tell me how many passengers are on board.’
I looked down at the counter in my right hand.
‘Four hundred and eighty-five.’ I inform my questioner.
‘That’s ridiculous! You are treating us like cattle! It can’t be safe to have that many on this ship!’ The tall well dressed gentle man who has accosted me on the gangway is suddenly furious. ‘How do you know she won’t tip over?’
I rack my brains for a simple, bite-sized explanation of ship-stability and how unlikely it is that our vessel will simply tip over but it doesn’t matter because the man has moved on.
‘Have you got enough lifeboats for all these people?’
No we don’t have any lifeboats, as it happens, we have life rafts but I figure now is not the time to go into that.
‘We have more than enough safety equipment for everyone aboard, sir. In fact we have more than enough for the maximum number of people that we are licensed to carry.’
Not deterred and certainly not charmed by my smiley, calm and professional manner, the man places himself squarely in front of me, blocking the gangway and preventing other passengers from boarding.
‘Exactly how many passengers are you allowed to carry?’ he demands.
‘In these waters we are permitted to carry 600, sir.’
‘Where does it say that? I demand to see where it’s written down that you can carry 600 people on this ship! Show me now!’
I sigh, hand my counter to a crew mate and lead the man up the gangway. All the way up and all the way along the deck, he is shouting at me that the ship is too crowded, that we are loading people like livestock etc, etc. When I bring him to the publicly displayed passenger certificate and point to the bit where it does, indeed say that we can carry 600, he turns on his heel and strides away without a backward glance.
I saw him two or three times during day, when the crowd on deck had thinned out. We still had 600 aboard but many had left the upper deck and moved to the bar, the restaurant and Observation Lounge after sailing but Mr Angry didn’t approach me. He didn’t come and eat his words. At the end of the day, he rushed down the gangway past me and avoided making eye contact.
‘Hey Lorraine, there goes your happy friend,’ the Bo’sun nudged me and grinned.
Later, when I go up to the wheelhouse, the Captain is smirking with smug delight.
‘You know that bloke you told me about?’ he asks. ‘The one that wanted to see the passenger certificate?’
‘He came up to me before he left and apologized for being difficult. Said he’d really enjoyed the cruise.’
A Half-Arsed Idea
23rd July 2010
Me, writing a blog whilst on here? Where would I find the time energy and head space? Never mind the passengers and crew, what about the egret by the opposite bank in Newhaven? The water was so smooth that the bird was doubled by a perfect reflection.
What about the black headed gulls that look as if they have a ritual face dipping contest every spring? Imagine them in May gathering around large pots of black paint and at an ancient secret signal, they all dip simultaneously.
In the late summer they rub the paint from each other’s heads with cloths soaked in turpentine. Some are slap-dash and don’t get all the black off. That’s why you see them with odd splotches of browny-black residue in the autumn.
What about the tiny channel leading up to Rye with a hairpin bend halfway along it? What about the heart stopping anxiety of the 2nd Mate who is steering the ship along this narrow inlet.
That night we stayed alongside, even though there was no water for us to float on at low tide. The peace and open space around the ship was good for my soul. The eerie sound of Oyster Catchers and Turnstones twisted my heart with a comfortingly familiar loneliness that reminded me of seaside visits in Norfolk as a child.
What about Tower Bridge? Oh, my bridge, how I have loved thee! And still do. I’ve passed under your raised bascules three times in the last few days and will do so again tomorrow and I will still be thrilled because I have been looking up at you since I was a child and willing you to open for me – and now you do! Yipee!