We had an exciting evening on Thursday, as a rescue helicopter radioed us while we were ploughing through the ocean and asked to perform an emergency evacuation drill with us. The captain agreed so then the fun began. The Chief Engineer rang us when we were in the mess and said “get up to the bridge for a helicopter rescue drill”. We groaned and went up thinking it was a bit late for a practice drill. Then we got up on the bridge and realised that we were just watching and it was something exciting to see, so we thanked the Chief for calling us up there.
The noise was pretty loud, and after the helicopter had been present for about twenty minutes or so, my ears were a bit muffled. They initially hovered over us and opened their side door, releasing a rope line with a weight on the end (so it didn’t get blown about). Jose (one of our deck crew) always gets roped into doing these drills when they happen so he was on deck waiting to receive the line while we all watched. The line came down to him and they kept releasing more to him while he pulled in the slack. This would serve as linking line that he could coil in or let out, so as they drifted closer then away again we still had connection to them without the line going tight and pulling Jose overboard. Then, one of the crew attached himself to the steel wire fed around the winch on the helicopter (the weighted rope line is attached to the end of this). He lowered himself down and out the helicopter and towards us until he was eventually on board. Jose had to keep the line tight to make sure the rescue man wasn’t blown around all over the place, and to make sure he made it on board.
Eventually he made it down to us, and then he detached himself from the line. They then sent down a weighted dummy which would serve as the casualty, and a stretcher after that. This all took quite a bit of time, and all the while the helicopter was hovering perfectly off and up from the back of the ship, matching the 11 knots speed that we were making. The rescue man got the casualty onto the stretcher and they then winched this back to the helicopter. I could see from this, that it would be terrifying to be winched up on the stretcher, but in a situation bad enough to require you needing an evac, I expect you wouldn’t be worrying as much about that! Once the stretcher was in the helicopter, the steel line had to come back down to us again so the rescue man could attach himself and be winched back up to safety. Then Jose had to just feed them the remaining rope line until eventually they had it all back again. Then they waved at us and flew off right into the sunset.
The whole thing took between twenty minutes and half an hour I think, so excellent skills on the team, as not only does the guy have to work alone once winched down onto the ship, but the pilot has to spend all that time within about 50 feet of the ship hovering very stably - this while the ship is underway! It was an incredible experience to watch, and no doubt helpful to know how it all happens – useful knowledge for yacht sailing too.
I’ve attached some photos (I have many more but expensive to send to the blog!). One of the attached is a ‘red sky at night’ sunset. Unfortunately, the sunset got better and better, and the camera ran out of battery at that moment, stopping the best shots where it got more and more red. If only I had the Nikon here with me! I’ve also attached a photo of the Chief Engineer and Raj, taken while we were watching the helicopter team do their work.
Anyway, it’s Sunday evening now and I’m pretty tired. I went to bed quite late last night as I couldn’t sleep, then when I did the ship was all over the place, as we had waves on the port quarter rocking us around all night. I was woken at 6am as we were approaching Gijon and I was required for manoeuvring and to shut down the main engine. There were duties to attend to after this (I seem to be acting as the only Second Engineer right now rather than assisting, as Cristi has gone home to see his family for a month or so, and the new second is not familiar with the ship at all – not complaining as it’s a great experience) so I didn’t finish until 9am. I had breakfast then rested in my cabin for a couple of hours (even managing a short sleep) until I was called upon again at 11:30am as we had already finished unloading and were leaving Gijon. So, I leapt into action again and started the main engine plus related systems, then waited for them to finish manoeuvring. Then, I was finally free at 1pm. So, it’s not been much of a day off, as I worked from 1:30 until 4:30pm on one of my reports that I have to write, but I’m going to go to bed soon to catch up on some sleep.
Word is that we’re going to arrive in Bayonne at about 4:30am so I’ll have to get up for manoeuvring and to shut down the main engine etc again. Then I’ll have the normal day’s work from 8 until 5 as well. As we’re loading steel in Bayonne and it takes time, I may get a chance to have a run ashore before we leave…hopefully.