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Monday, 26 September 2011

Landed in Townsville

We're at the port of Townsville and they have WiFi at the seamen's club, hence photos below.  I woke up just after 3am to prepare main engine for manoeuvring with Chief Engineer.  I'd forgotten how it felt over the last year, but it's like that feeling of waking up and heading to the airport for a holiday, only you have to be very on the ball (mistakes can be embarrassing, not to mention dangerous), and you don't have the inevitable relaxing feeling of arriving on holiday once it's done.  Luckily I remembered the recognised technique - immediate coffee.  Relief.  Oh, and this time it kind of did feel like a holiday, as we knew that once we'd docked and the provisions had turned up, we could go ashore.  

Due to a delay with provisions turning up, I didn't leave ship until noon, and had decided to go for a run.  Stupid time I know (due to it being about 30 degrees here at noon), but it was then or it wouldn't have happened at all.  I ran for an hour, and about twenty minutes into the run decided to try and make it up a small mountainous type hill/rock structure following the "goat track".  I gave up after about ten minutes of running up incredibly steep inclines, realising I would need a lot more time and water to get to the top - a shame really, but if we do come back here I will be ready!  I did also see a boat that goes across to Magnetic Island.  I read about the island on the plane and it would be great to go there - despite not remembering exactly what it was that attracted my interest.  So, I will found out how much that is too if we do come back.  

After the hours running was up I walked the remaining way back to the ship and was able to appreciate how quiet it is here.  Even in the middle of Townsville it seemed to be almost empty - perhaps that's the status mid Monday.  On ship, noise is one thing you never really escape from - unless you are right at the bow of the ship but for me, that's not often.  Outside the accomodation you can constantly hear huge motors blowing air into the accomodation and engine room, and even in my cabin the bathroom extraction is so powerful and noisy you can hear it loudly with the door shut - I now remember why I should have packed the speakers for the laptop.  You can't turn off this extraction in the bathroom either, as the extraction ducting is shared between many bathrooms, and there is only one switch (which this time doesn't seem to be as easily located as on Andrea).  However, as it's white noise it doesn't seem to stop me sleeping in any way.  I think due to the noise and general ship life I might even sleep more deeply, as my brain knows a state of light sleep could easily be awoken from some kind of rocking/noise/vibration!

We are currently loading Zinc in powder like form, and will leave for Ulsan (now I'm pretty sure I know the spelling - it's Eastern coast of Korea I think) tomorrow at some point.  It's estimated that we will arrive there on 10th/11th October (about 14 days voyage), which will make it my longest sea voyage to date.  Once we get there we will have to bunker and will probably take on nearly 600 tonnes of Heavy Fuel Oil.  Parts of the journey can be very rough I think, due to various points with cyclone like conditions - Chief pointed to east of the Philippines so I don't know if this is where.  Allan the other cadet said that at one point on the way over, most people seemed to be feeling the effects!  I will remember to keep my stomach well full as that stops any feeling of hunger which can easily start to make you think you are feeling sea sick (that's what I discovered last year - thought I was starting to feel ill - ate - felt better - kept stomach full!). 

My time on the WiFi here is limited so below are some photos so far, and now I must go.  After Korea, we head to China on ballast and should be picking up more new railway wagons.  Then, we should be heading back to Gladstone.  My next post will hopefully be from Korea!

Islands like this all around us.

First catch I witnessed

Shark catch - we were jumping around on deck avoiding it while it angrily thrashed around!


Latest catch - a stingray.  Cooky prepared it for lunch two days ago, and it tasted really good.

Not the average home meat defrost...

Jhun, the bosun, drying out squid

Night time photo taken from compass deck - 8 minutes exposure time!

Sunset yesterday

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Townsville Anchor

19th September

So, we’re on anchor outside Townsville (east coast Australia) and passed the Great Barrier Reef en route (during the night though).  The sea is calm and beautiful, the weather good, and I have today (Monday 19th September) off, bar my normal duties and being on standby as assistant watch keeper for engine room.  Normally Sunday would be my off day, but we were too busy preparing the ship to stop on Saturday afternoon or Sunday. 

So far, the ship has been very busy in unloading at Gladstone, through to clearing up the ship and preparing it for the next cargo which we will receive in Townsville.  We unloaded brand new freight railway wagons in Gladstone.  They were sat on top of the cargo holds, chained down, and made the ship look like it would be unstable to the untrained eye – of course the deck officers had calculated the stability and it was safe.  Everybody has been involved in getting the ship ready in time, so it has involved some degree of pain for everyone.  But on the eve of the last day of hard graft the captain provided us with a pretty powerful motivational speech which probably spurred us through that final day of preparing the ship (yesterday).

Last night, once we were anchored and finished, a few of the guys did some fishing.  They caught a number of fish, including a squid, which the chef prepared and cooked immediately and we ate.  It was great!.  There were also six bottle nose dolphins playing around the ship, and they were hunting the squid too – I came out a bit later so I only saw one dolphin, but I’m sure on this tour I’m bound to see more than the last!

I read on the plane that Townsville is known as the Capital of the Tropics so I’m sure it’s beautiful – let’s see if where we tie up is!  I’m not sure how long we’ll be there or even if I will be able to step ashore, but we will go alongside on the 22nd.  After that we head for Onsan (not sure on the spelling) in Korea.  After that, I’m not sure.  It’s about a fourteen day voyage to Korea – that will be my longest sea voyage to date.  The crew said that during the last long voyage it was so rough in parts that most of the crew were ill!

I’ve just been up on deck enjoying the sun a bit (don’t get a chance once in the working week as most of the engine room = below waterline), and there are a few islands dotted on our starboard side, with a few ships at anchor around us too. I also heard on the bridge that we may not enter Townsville until 25th now! 


21st September

It’s now Wednesday and the ship’s plans have changed.  We are now definitely not entering Townsville until the 25th – so we’ll have been at anchor for a week (my previous record on Andrea was a day – what a busy ship that was!).  We can see land, but cannot walk on it!  Surprisingly, I haven’t seen any yachts whatsoever, but I haven’t really been outside enough to judge whether that’s an accurate picture of sailing here.

For the last two nights more and more people have been fishing and there has been a lot of squid caught and eaten – right away.  I think the night before last between ten and fifteen were caught.  I had a go and caught one on my first throw of the line – it’s pretty easy really as they are very greedy.  Once you see one you just have to get an accurate throw of the line and that’s it! 

In addition to eating lots of squid, the second engineer caught a shark last night!  I couldn’t believe it when I saw it in the galley!  Then they went on to catch three more.  Two were large (for this kind of shark, but probably only around 15 kilos) and two smaller.  The larger ones were about two and a half foot long.  I wish I could post a photo, but alas it’s too expensive really; hopefully I will get to an internet cafe soon.  The chef cooked it for lunch today (with rice of course) and it was so soft and tender.  A bit like tuna, but tastes different.

This morning the ship plunged into blackout – which was a first for me!  Ironically, we were supposed to be doing a blackout drill in two days time anyway.  It was pretty cool.  Basically, we turned off the fuel into the main engine (it wasn’t running but we needed to replace some seals on the fuel line) and for some reason this resulted in the booster unit giving a large increase in pressure on the fuel line to the generators.  As the pressure exceeded the high high alarm set point on the geny, it tripped the generator and we plunged into blackout.  I was just cancelling another alarm in the ECR (engine control room) when darkness came.  All the systems in the ECR have UPS (uninterruptable power supply) so that the alarm and monitoring system continue to operate in an emergency (there is a quite a list of items on ship that have UPS, such as navigational equipment on bridge, GMDSS etc etc). Also, the small strip lights illuminating the main switchboard in the ECR remained on. 

Within about two seconds about 100 alarms came up on screen (I’m not kidding) and all I could do was madly press two buttons repeatedly – mute alarm, and acknowledge alarm button.  Regulations for emergency power basically require the alternative source of power (i.e. another geny) to automatically start, synchronise itself onto the switchboard bus bars, and resume power within forty five seconds.  Within about twenty seconds our next generator in priority order had fired itself up and put itself on the board – I was impressed.  Then it was a case of turning on all necessary equipment very quickly, such as cooling water pumps so the generator didn’t overheat and shutdown – which would have resulted in a second blackout!  Also, lots of circuit breakers had to be turned back on to get equipment the supply of power it needed, and all the pneumatically controlled valves dotted around the ship (which we control from the ECR computer) had to be reset one by one (not difficult either). 

The Chief Engineer was in good spirits despite the blackout, which was good; it’s the kind of thing that not every chief takes in their stride – partly because in certain scenarios it can look embarrassing, and the captain can get annoyed.  Of course, on a passenger ship you can probably imagine the chaos that might ensue if it suddenly blacked out with three thousand passengers and about a thousand staff on board – I’m sure the Chief in that scenario might not be so relaxed; albeit they have a lot of equipment with UPS, and extensive battery banks for emergency lighting etc – in fact one of our lecturers at the academy who is a ex chief engineer from P&O said that one of the biggest UPSs they had on board was the till systems for the shopping.  You may be in blackout but don’t worry, you can still spend money!  Anyway, I’ve gone off point here somewhat – it was a good experience, which all happened too quickly. 

One thing here which does destroy the lovely blue waters, is there is quite a bit of oil that seems to float our way – either it’s being discharged by some unscrupulous ship in the vicinity, or it’s coming from some port facility or factory on land.  Either way, it’s horrible, and really is a disgrace that people think it’s ok to put something as out of place as oil in the sea.  Surprisingly it doesn’t seem to stop the regular visits from squid and dolphins. 

Another exciting (relatively) boon on this ship is the recreation room.  Yes, we have a weights machine (similar to mum and dad’s for any family reading this) and a treadmill.  It’s fantastic, especially when facing a week on anchor.  Only problem – it’s all Chinese to me.  The running machine took a while to fathom; my Chinese must be a bit rusty.  I couldn’t get the machine to move faster than a slow jog for a while, then eventually managed the pace I wanted.  However, every two minutes the program changes speed and I’m suddenly about to run into the wall ahead of me.  I have figured out how to cycle through the programs, but there doesn’t (so far) seem to be a custom program where you can just run and control the incline and speed only when you want to. 

There is a farcical fan that blows at you while you run, although I would more describe it as the feel of someone blowing air at you through a cocktail straw, with the person sitting about a metre away from you.  It also has some rather ‘out there’ songs to run along to, which rather remind me of the kind of songs you get when pressing the demo button on a sub £100 keyboard from argos.  I notice there’s an mp3 player connection so I think I might avoid the machine’s tunes for the future, otherwise I might get confused and think I’m in a gameboy game from the nineties.

Anyway, I’d better wrap this up, as I have reports to write and Emily to write to!  On the 26th we will probably be leaving Townsville headed for Korea so I won’t have any contact for a couple of weeks.


Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Glad To Be In Gladstone

I arrived here earlier.  Travelled on quite a small plane for the internal flight.  See below.  Only 74 person capacity and shook a fair bit taking off and landing - however I am here in one piece, as are all the other passengers, so fantastic.

Once I arrived there was a bit of a mix up.  The agent (nice lady who's son, of a similar age to me, is currently visiting England) picked myself and one other guy up at the airport (he was joining a different ship).  She dropped me off at the Seamen's club where I would wait to be picked up at 7pm and taken to Nomadic Milde.  She then took the other guy to stay in a motel overnight as his ship wasn't arriving until next morning.

However, once I had been dropped at the seamen's club I decided to look up when the ship was coming exactly.  It was unclear, so one of the really helpful guys drove me down to the port security and got them to look up the official time.  Turned out, the Nomadic Milde wasn't getting in until around 9am tomorrow - once the seamen's club closed I would be homeless!  Sensing this was a potential mix up, I rang the agent here who said, yes, it was an error.  A while later we swapped places, and so I'm now using the wifi at the motel before going to bed - as I'm pretty tired now.  It seems weird, but haven't slept in a bed since Sunday night.  When the driver came to pick me up from the seamen's club I had fallen asleep while reading my book, and was totally startled when he woke me up.  I think I will feel fine tomorrow now though, as feel tired enough to sleep now.

So, I'll let you know of the Nomadic Milde when I get a chance...

Here's a photo for now:

The Tired Man Of Oz

I have arrived in Brisbane airport, and after making the painful decision for a full factory reset, my phone is now working here.  Please bear in mind that if you email me DON'T ADD ANY ATTACHMENTS!  If you do, my pay cheque will be heading for Vodafone's bank account. Also, please don't send me long email streams as it will just waste data.  If you reply to one of mine, just delete the rest of the email text that is not needed please.

Ok, so I am now ten hours ahead of you all which means it's currently about 230am for you - and my brain.  I am just hanging about at Brisbane now waiting for my connection to Gladstone.  

The second flight was much a repeat of the first, albeit without the rather cool under plane camera.  My legs finally tired of sitting in a seat for so long, and I resorted to tossing and turning near the end.  At least I will join ship near the end of the day - would be a bit of a mission arriving and starting work straight away like last time.

The chief engineer on board is a Filipino and the captain a Romanian...and I've just realised I now don't have their names anymore as that went down the pan with the factory reset!

I will post once in Gladstone/on board and who knows after then - will depend on where ship goes...

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Hong Kong Airport

I landed safely before 5pm and have been trying to resolve a phone issue since. For now, I have managed to get my phone onto WiFi, even if it won't play ball on working as an actual phone!

I actually watched the plane land -by that, I mean that there was a camera mounted to the underside of the plane and you could switch your tv to show it. So, I saw our front wheel touch down and give off that familiar puff of smoke during first contact. I only realised this feature after take off so only managed to see the city's lights on the way out of England. Pretty cool I think, but maybe not so good for somebody terrified of flying! It was also useful to see when taxi was over.

Airport is surrounded by mountainous hills - very much more scenic than Heathrow's construction backdrop. There should be a rather dodgy phone photo attached to this. DSlr staying in bag dismantled until I get on ship!

The flight was great except for some reasonable turbulence - my drink was saved from spilling by a quick downing. Cathay Pacific are great and I reckon I could have done a full 24 hour flight on that plane with no problems. Food was surprisingly good too.

Hopefully I can get the actual phone element working here so when I get to Australia I can exploit the Vodafone passport.

Will post any noteworthy updates as they come... 

Saturday, 10 September 2011

The Nomadic Milde

I received my joining instructions late yesterday afternoon...

I join the Nomadic Milde on 14th September in Gladstone, Australia.  So, my flight leaves on Monday evening - I better pack!

I fly to Hong Kong, then Brisbane, then Gladstone, arriving on 14th September at about 4pm their time.  The ship then leaves for Townsend, and after that, China.

I should post some ship photos and statistics later on today on here.  

Excited and inevitably nervous!