Monthly Archives: November 2012

First We Go Up, Then We Go Down…

You have the whole of the North Sea to manoeuvre in yet you choose to pass 0.6 nautical miles from my port side. In a gale of wind. A force 8 gale. ‘Go away you moron. Go on **** off,’ I growl, turning the dial of the auto-pilot to starboard to buy us a little more sea room.

‘I’m sorry?’ the oceanographic boffin bloke turns to me.

‘Oh, sorry, not you. I’m talking to the radar. Well actually I’m talking to that ship,’ I wave at the cargo vessel scraping past our port bow. ‘But he’s also … on the radar … Never mind … I didn’t mean you.’ Mr Boffin raises an eyebrow, lifts the corners of his mouth in a thin little smile and goes back to gazing out of the bridge windows.

Down on the deck, his charge, a wave rider buoy, flashes his yellow light five times every 20 seconds like a silent plea. ‘Please – put – me – in – water,’ it seems to say. ‘Please – put – me – in – water.’ Mr Boffin and his colleague Baby Boffin want to set the buoy free on the Dogger Bank but there’s the small matter of non-stop gale warnings, high winds and massive seas to contend with. We can get the ship there but it will be a very unpleasant journey and once there, no one’s going out on deck to lift the buoy up with the crane and drop him and his anchor weight over the side. Too risky. Better to stay here and steam up and down past Whitby until the weather moderates.

Anyone seen our Waverider?

Hah! Did I say moderate? Who am I kidding? The warnings are going from severe gale 9 to storm force 10. We were looking forward to a violent storm 11 but, mercifully, the forecast is only for a 10 now…

Yes we’re passing Whitby. Again. And again. Zzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Meanwhile there’s Whitby Abbey, four miles away on our starboard side. Now, there’s Whitby Abbey four miles away on our port side.  Jim, colleague of the Oceanographic boffins, stares sadly at the latest weather forecast. Jim is really good at hangdog. You see when I said that we were releasing the wave rider into the wild, I was exaggerating slightly. The buoy will go over the side and sit out on the Dogger Bank for all to see (and hopefully not run over) but he will be anchored down. He will stay in one place – unlike his predecessor who has made a grand escape right across the North Sea to Denmark. According to reports we’re getting, the absconding buoy is sailing up the Danish Coast and round the top into the Baltic. Part of me wants to shout ‘Yayyy! Go wave rider!’ but as we’re supposed to go and get him after we’ve deployed his mate, I don’t think he should get too far away, should he? Especially since we’re not going to get to him for at least another four days. Now you know why Jim looks so hang dog.


Posted by on November 25, 2012 in Shedward Seawards


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Now, Where Was I …?

Oh I remember. North east Scotland. Old ship.

Well, we sailed off into the northern sector of the North Sea with a view to surveying a small segment of it but our charterers had made clear that there would be other vessels on the patch and we would be bottom of the food chain.

Never mind the other ships, our big problem was the weather. It just would not let up. It didn’t blow hard enough to send us scurrying for shelter but it didn’t drop below a force seven for a lot of the time and that meant the swell was too big for us to deploy our survey equipment.

I don’t know if you’ve ever steamed back and forth across the same patch of steel grey sea for eleven days but it does nothing for your temper,

or your glamorous image.

We did manage some survey work and I have to thank the survey team for making sure that my first line on this ship (with whom I am only recently acquainted) was so close to a platform that we could have painted it as we passed. OK – it was actually a bit more than half a mile away but from where I was sitting -in the dark- it looked an awful lot closer.

‘Bloody hell, who put that oil platform there?’





A good time for a pressure cigarette … except that I gave up two weeks before this picture was taken. Aaaaaaaaaaargh!

That was about it on the excitement front – unless you count the unexpected and lovely moment when I stood in silence with two of the survey team and watched the sun slide down behind a cloudless horizon leaving us with a nanosecond of green flash dancing on our retinas.

‘Oh no,’ cried one of the chaps. ‘I’ve got my camera right here, I knew it was going to be a green flash, why didn’t I take a picture?’

‘Richard, my dear, life is for living, not photographing,’ I told him and ruffled his hair, the little tyke. But in case you are wondering what a sunset on the oilfields looks like … Here’s one I saw earlier.




Posted by on November 20, 2012 in Shedward Seawards


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Santander and Beyond

Beautiful Santander sparkled in the sunshine. It was Geoff’s birthday and Marijke and I went shopping for the perfect gift. We found it too – a man’s tie covered in a tiny, multi-coloured condom motif. Geoff always was a lover not a fighter and he wore his tie with pride.

These are my memories of 1998 in Northern Spain. Of Gijon and Santander and Hondarribia with Geoff and Arnau and Marijke. With Esteban and Fernando,  all the news teams, and many others.

I remember Arnau speaking into two mobile phones at once. I remember hordes of people coming to visit the ship in every port and after filing through the wheelhouse and down through the accommodation, they would arrive at the galley.

‘Ah, la cocina.’

‘La cocina?’

Si, la cocina.’

It was almost like a prayer – the reverence in their voices. And there was surprise too. Admittedly, it was mostly the women who would chant the words in a respectful whisper. Perhaps here was something they could relate to in the strange world of ships and seafaring. They had one of these at home and it was usually a female domain. If a ship had la cocina – the kitchen – then the visitor could place herself here. She could relate to the ordinary rhythms of life that carried on beside the public open days, the press conferences, the direct actions. She could imagine being some part of all that. Until she got past the galley and into the mess room because then we fried her brain with the one song that was the soundtrack on every Greenpeace video.

Around the corner, rows of chairs faced the TV so that our visitors could stop and watch a campaign video or three. Drift nets are an awful, awful invention and some of the images were quite hard to see – no one wants to think of a dolphin caught and drowning – but people did stay and they did watch. Then they went away unable to stop themselves from singing It’s The End Of The World As We Know It. 

Yes, thank you R.E.M. It’s a fantastic song and very appropriate but I do have to say, it’s a very sticky song. In that it sticks in your head ALL DAY and you can’t help but sing it over and over and over …

I wonder if R.E.M’s sales went up or down in Spain that summer ?

Along the coast we trailed, exciting Spanish mammas with our floating kitchen, heading off curious children who wanted to press the big red button on the radio in the bridge (one bloody well did leading to my having a very embarrassing phone call with the Dutch Coastguard who wanted to know if we were sinking) and hopefully educating the public about sourcing their fish responsibly. Then we crossed the border to France. To St-Jean-de-Luz and then Bordeaux and our time in Biscay was at an end.

Esteban and Fernando left us. Marijke and I missed them.We’d become very fond of them, especially Fernando’s moustache which had its own personality. The reporters and photographers and cameramen went back to their newspapers and studios and the ship felt a tiny bit bigger. But we weren’t finished with Spain yet. She’s a big country with a long coastline. I was about to find out that Spain too has a Land’s End and that a river mentioned in a Chris de Burgh song really does exist. And the residents of a small town on that river are fully aware of ancient American cowboy series.

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Posted by on November 7, 2012 in Shedward Seawards


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Plug Me In I’m Ready

I wish I were able to plug a USB stick into the back of my head and download my thoughts.

Think of that!

OK, there would be a lot of rubbish to edit out. For example, I’m currently aboard a ship and one of the tasks that falls to me is … chart corrections. If you don’t know what chart corrections are then hooray for you. If you do know about the trial and toil of Admiralty Notices to Mariners, then you know that my downloaded thoughts would mostly read like this.

‘Um, chart number 2182B. 2182B, 2182B … Ah, there it is. What? No! Not another bloody pipeline! Grrrr. OK, done. Write down the correction number 4478. Last correction is 4201.  Chart number 5500 …’ And so on. Not terribly interesting is it? But what about all those little treasures that flit through the mind and are gone before you can pick up a pen and write them down? It’s those I want to find again. Also, and this might sound a little weird, as a writer, I feel quite curious when I reread my work. Especially if some time has passed since I last looked at it. I am not the same woman any more. It is an odd feeling.

I did explore the idea of past and future mes (Is that a word? Is that how it’s spelt?) colliding in my post, Meeting Yourself Coming Back and this idea is different. But it is related. Imagine if you could download your thoughts. You would be hearing or seeing them from the outside. How would that feel? How would I relate to a print out or audio recording of the constant waffle that goes on in the privacy of my head? Probably, I’d love it – for a bit. Then I’d get bored. Then I’d want to download your thoughts and see what’s going on in your head…


Posted by on November 3, 2012 in Musing


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From Gijon to Santander – still sailing.

The wheelhouse (aka the Bridge) of the MV Greenpeace is not all that big. Snug, some might call it. A free-standing gyro unit and two free-standing radars take up a lot of the room. And Esteban and Fernando took up the rest. Especially Fernando because he was a big chap. Marijke and I huddled together in the centre and stared out at the blackness beyond the windows.

To be fair to the fishermen, they tucked themselves out of the way – one at each side of the wheelhouse – and tried to be unobtrusive. Why were they there? Didn’t they trust two women to get us safely to Santander? Or were they just enjoying sailing on an ancient salvage tug decorated with rainbows? I like to think it was the latter of the two. I couldn’t ask them because neither spoke English and I don’t speak Spanish.

Midnight became 0100. 0100 became 0130. Marijke and I said little to each other because we didn’t want to be rude to the boys in the corners. Time dragged. Above the throb of the engine, I could hear the wind tearing through the rigging like a mournful ghost and every few seconds the ship buried her nose in the swell and threw sea spray up to splat against the windows. On the port side of the wheelhouse, Esteban hummed quietly to himself.

‘Ok Esteban?’ I asked him,

‘Si, si,’ he smiled and nodded.

‘OK Fernando?’ I looked to the starboard side.

‘Si, OK.’ Fernando’s teeth shone white under his huge Mexican moustache as he too smiled.

And that was all the conversation we managed.

Finally, 0130 became 0200 and Esteban decided to go to bed. Marijke and I held our breath. Would Fernando go to? No. Fernando stayed. Five minutes passed. Then ten.

‘OK, I had enough now,’ Marijke pulled something out of her pocket. ‘I bringed this up especially for us to listen to and I’m fed up with waiting.’ She went to the stereo and slipped in a cassette and jacked up the volume. Jangling guitar backed by harmonica burst from the speakers and Alanis Morissette asked us if she stressed us out

It’s dark, it’s the wee small hours of the morning. A small green ship is rolling and pitching heavily along an easterly course. In the next port, many people are waiting to come aboard and see what a Greenpeace ship is like from the inside. Some other people are waiting to have serious meetings about wall-of-death fishing practices and, maybe,  a few news editors are hoping to get some decent footage from their cameramen in the field …

But in the meantime, the ship is still at sea. Marijke and I are still on watch, Alanis is singing All I Really Want and Fernando has come out of his corner. The three of us are dancing – in a force nine gale – and we’re loving it.


This picture dates from the year before the events I’m writing about took place but I think it gives a flavour of Greenpeace life.

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Posted by on November 2, 2012 in Shedward Seawards


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