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Wednesday, 25 August 2010

I Have A Ship

No, I don't own a ship, but I've found out what ship I will be joining for the next three months.  I don't know what day I will join it yet, but my leaving here is imminent.

The ship is the Andrea Anon.  It's 108.2m long, has a 2800kW B&W 2 Stroke Slow Speed  engine, and was built in 2006 .  As far as I'm aware it cruises France and Spain and I will be flying out there to join. 

If you want to see where I am at any moment during the following months then there will be a link on the blog that will lead you to marine traffic - this shows where the ship was last.  When I last checked it was near Biscay!  

Photos below of the ship.  Also check out the youtube videos of her (on the right)

Monday, 23 August 2010


Well, after all the excitement of the short courses, we had a week of exams.  We had four exams in total - one each day from Monday to Thursday.  We had Marine Legislation, Thermodynamics, Mechanics, and Engineering Drawing.

They weren't as exciting as the short courses, but I think they all went well so I hope for good results.  I won't actually them all out until September or October...

Short Courses Week - Days Three Four and Five - FIREFIGHTING!

For the first half of day three we did Personal Safety and Social Responsibilities.  There's not much to say about this, but it was useful as we covered what not to do on board and what has to happen each time we join a ship etc.  

The rest of the week was dedicated to...

Basic Firefighting course

The first day was purely classroom based and we covered all the types of fire.  We learned how to deal with them, and techniques for using fire extinguishers, door opening techniques etc.

Day two was at the firefighting school classroom and we had various lab style demonstrations.  We also tried on the BA (breathing apparatus) sets.

Day three was the culmination of all the theory we had learned with the practical aspects of firefighting.  So, we were to learn how to use each type of extinguisher for the given fires, then learn how to use the fixed installations for firefighting (typical red hose reels you see that are like a big version of your garden hose).  We worked our way up to using the full sized firefighting hoses with the bigger more powerful nozzles.  This is what we would be using in the afternoon exercises.  All the team have to hold it while the front man controls the spray. 

The afternoon consisted of two exercises - both wearing the BA sets.  

The first exercise was to carry out a direct search of the container pictured below in total darkness - we weren't allowed to use our torches.  

 (Richard pointing)
This search involved teams of four people each time.  The team had to all put a hand on the person's shoulder in front, with the person at the front sweeping one arm and foot whilst moving along the walls of the container, to avoid walking into anything and tripping over, or falling down a manhole.  This was basically a communication exercise, as you couldn't see anything.  So, being at the front, I just had to constantly tell the team what I was doing (eg "there's an obstruction ahead of me, moving one foot to the righ").  This would allow them to move round the obstacles I was encountering.  We had to search three rooms this way then exit the container.  Our group did well and they were happy with how much we communicated.  

The next exercise was the actual fighting of a fire inside the container.  Our instructions were to go in and perform a direct search on Deck 2 (2nd floor), recover a casualty (a weighted dummy), then go down a ladder inside and put out a carbonaceous fire on Deck 1.  Once we had done this we could exit the building.  Time is limited as you only have a certain breathing air before whistle time - this is when your set makes a constant whistle to let you know that you have ten minutes of air left.  By that point you should already by out of there.  You can only breathe with the BA sets on, as the air is so hot and smoky it will kill you if you breathe it normally.  They demonstrated this by holding a plastic cup into the smoke layer for a second or two.  It melted and shrank - we were told your lungs would immediately be damaged, blister, the blisters would then burst straight away and you would probably end up dying from secondary drowning in your own mucous.  They always say it's the smoke that kills, but I had never really realised it was because of the heat element of the smoke as well as the actual fact that you can't breathe it. 

Firefighting has to be well planned due to the air supplies.  There is a board where everybody's air pressures get noted down before they go in - and you have to hand over your personal tag to show you are going in.  Once they have your tag and your air pressures, they work out the approximate time until whistle time.  You then put the shortest time down to make sure everybody will have enough air.  Due to the limited supply of air you have to be aware that whatever time it took you to get in it will take you to get out, so you need to apportion enough air just for entry and exit.  This leaves less air than is probably desirable for the actual fire fighting, which is why you'll have constant teams moving in and out if the fire continues.  All the teams are organised on this board and it is vital that somebody is constantly updating and monitoring it.

Once the staff had made a fire in the container and they had let it fill with smoke and heat, we were to go in and do the exercise. in groups of four again  Luckily for us, it wasn't the hottest day of the week.  Before you even go into the container you are very hot, as you are wearing a boiler suit, with firefighting trousers and jacket, plus heavy boots, a balaclava, a helmet, gloves, and a full BA set which is reasonably weighty.  Once you go in, you get a lot more hot too - and not just on your upper body, but you feel the heat through the soles of your boots too.

We worked our way through Deck two and found the casualty in one of the smaller rooms that represents a cabin.  Then we had to evacuate the dummy to the nearest exit.  Once we had done this we had to go down the ladder.  This involves cooling down the ladder before each person descends it.  Once you are safely to the bottom you cool the ladder and kick the bulkhead three times with the steel toe cap of your boot.  This allows the person next to know it is safe to descend.  Once we were  down to Deck 1 we were in the same room as the fire so we were receiving about 100 degrees centigrade on our suits (on the advanced firefighting course we do next year we will have much harsher fires and will receive about 300 desgrees centigrade on our suits!).  We had to do short bursts of water as it flashes off to steam - you must let it dissipate before giving it another burst of water or you will not be able to stand the heat.  So we would give it a short burst, then duck for a bit and test the air above us with a bare wrist each time.  If you could hold a bare wrist to the heat for five seconds you could then stand up and give it another burst.  We did this a few times, then exited the container.  Normally with a carbonaceous fire you would then keep breaking up the material and wetting it to stop it catching fire again.  As there were lots of groups to get through we could not do this, so we exited the container.  

We were in there for twenty minutes to half an hour but time goes so quickly.  I could bear the heat well, partly as I had expected it to be so hot that I would just want to run for the nearest available exit - I guess when we do the advanced firefighthing then it will be unbearable heat.  The most frustrating thing is having to constantly cart the hose round with you all holding it, as it is reasonably heavy and cumbersome to move around.

I thoroughly enjoyed this course, and hopefully we'll get a decent regular fire drill on the ships I go on for my sea phase, as it will be beneficial to get used to wearing all the gear more.

All the rest of the photos are below for you to see (click on them to view larger size).

Everyone on break

Fireman Sam

Richard (rainman)

Hat looks a little big

Maidstone Chris looking exhausted from the heat

Me with team getting ready to go in...

Short Courses Week - Day 2

Our second course of the week was Personal Survival Techniques - basically it is sea survival techniques if you have to abandon ship.  This was a fun course involving a few hours of practical in the afternoon.  Thinking about having to use this in real life was not fun, so let's hope we avoid that.  It was really useful also because of the yacth sailing Emily and I will do.

For the morning we covered what to do prior to abandoning a ship; entering the water from a height, life jackets, immersion suits, liferafts and signalling. At one point, the instructor got four people up to the front and made them put on full immersion suits in less than two minutes (this is the maximum time that it should take you to get fully on).  This was very amusing, and they looked like some kind of alien, especially as the gloves on the suit have three finger pockets only, so more like alien mittens.

Most of the afternoon involved the practical element of the course.  We were transported by minibus to a dive training pool nearby.  Once we were all changed and ready to swim, we split into two groups with about twelve in each.  We then had to put a twelve man liferaft into the water and inflate it by pulling the painter (the rope leading to it that you tie onto the ship's rail).  Upon pulling this all the way out the gas cylinder fired into action, inflating the liferaft in about one minute.  The noise of it inflating was pretty deafening, and I could imagine the commotion  there would be with a real life situation with lots of them being inflated at once and people trying to communicate. 

Once inflated, our task was to enter the water from a height of 3 metres  whilst wearing lifejackets.   With one hand we had to pinch our nose with our fingers whilst cupping one hand over our mouth - this prevents you inhaling water when you gasp due to the cold shock of entering the water.  With the other hand we had to hold the top of our lifejacket down  and stop it smacking us in the face while entering the water.  We then had to step off the 3m board, but instead of looking down keeping our eyes looking dead ahead.  I've gone off much higher boards than this before, but having to look dead ahead while falling made it feel very strange! 

Upon landing in the water we were to join together in a circle so as not to lose anybody.  We then practised the HELP position (heat escape lessening position), ways of staying warm clamped to somebody else, swimming in a long train, and a demonstration of how your lifejacket will pull your face out of the water if you are unconscious.

Then came the time to all heave ourselves into the liferaft.  The first time we had to do this unaided, the second time others already inside were allowed to help you.  It's not that easy to climb in, and this was in a 30 degrees centrigrade pool wearing only swimming trunks and a lifejacket.  In seas of fifteen degrees or less, wearing full clothing, you would find it very difficult.  Ideally though, you would not have to enter the water to get into the liferaft, but we had to cover it as part of what can happen.

There are various things to do once everybody is in the liferaft, the most important of which is to do a head count.  Posting a lookout, putting up the radar reflector, putting out the drogue, closing the hatches and everyone taking anti sea sickness pills were the next tasks. 

After learning this, we all had to prove we could right a capsized liferaft, which involved putting two feet on the edge of it and pulling yourself up onto it until the weight countered it into going over the other way.  The only bad thing is that it falls on top of you so then you have to swim out from under it - I think it would be a case of drawing short straws for that job...

After learning all these techniques we prepared for the final test, which would combine most of the techniques in one drill.  The instructors covered the windows and we were sent out of the pool area.  When we came back in it was dark and there was water raining down on us from the ceiling, as well as a cold hose being sprayed from the side onto us!  We had to climb the ladder and do the 3m entry into the water, group up and swim together to the liferaft, get into it and follow all the procedures as mentioned before.  When we were near/in the liferaft we seemed to be getting a particularly large amount of hose water spraying onto us which was pretty cold (although easy compared to real life conditions of course).  There was a lot of noise and activity and it showed how in the situation it is confusing and you have to be clear and communicate, whilst paying attention.  To end it we had to simulate a plane/helicopter being spotted and set off the correct flare to show our position (floating smoke flare). 

It was enjoyable and informative and is useful information to me for yachting also.  Once we got back to the campus we finished up in the classroom by discussing EPIRBs (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons), hypothermia and frostbite etc, and discussing escape devices used on passenger ships.  These are a bit like huge floating bouncy castles and each can carry hundreds of people!  You get down to them via an inflatable slide.  There is a photo below of a small one.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Short Courses Week - Day 1

Firstly, this is a bit overdue, so apologies for the lateness.  My energy has been consumed by these short courses and exams until now...

The week before last we had one whole week dedicated to our STCW '95 short courses.  STCW means Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping.  Basically, these are courses we legally have to do before we go away to sea - they ensure a minimum standard of training for people going to sea.

Our first course was Elementary First Aid which we had on Monday.  Aside from the knowledge I've picked up from Emily I was fairly clueless as to what we would do, especially as when we're together there is no point me getting involved (apart from log rolls, Emily!). 

The morning had us learning what to do upon arriving at the scene of someone injured, cpr, primary surveys etc.  We had the typical "Resusci Anne" doll for this (below) and were given a face shield to stop germ transfer! 

Although important, this was quite an amusing part of the morning.  Some people didn't realise their own strength and compressed her so much their hands must have been practically touching the floor.  Others were so light it was probably akin to tickling.  Anyway, everybody got there in the end. 

Following this we covered how to deal with choking victims.  Again this was important but amusing to get everyone acting it out.  We had another doll for this..."Choking Charlie"

For this one we had to learn how to manage a choking victim.  This included back blows/slaps and abdominal thrusts (sounds like something you'd do at the gym, but this is the new name for the previously known Heimlich Manoeuvre).  We had to put a ball into the dummy's mouth and perform these until it came out.

After lunch we studied shock, bleeding and burns, and moving a casualty.  So we had various parts where we were bandaging each other which was quite fun. 

It was a good day which I enjoyed, and when you're at sea I guess it's important to remember it as you can't just call an ambulance and wait for help to arrive!