Tag Archive: merchant navy

The Sea and Me

I’ve been off sick now for over 2 months. This is the longest I’ve had off a ship or away from the marine environment for a decade.

I need to go back. I’m getting bored with not working.
I’m getting bored with watching the same TV programmes,
I’m missing the banter,
I’m missing the offensive terminology we have for everything and everywhere and everyone.

I miss aching to get into port,
I miss racing to get back to the ship to leave
I miss the dirty beers as soon as you get in
I miss slagging the job off, but loving it at the same time.

I miss prating about in the engine room, cursing who ever designed it.
I miss making things and solving the problems.

My shins have heeled,
My knees aren’t hurting,
My shoulders don’t ache,
My body is pretty much mended.

I’ve not got a single callous, and my feet aren’t 2 balls of hard skin from badly fitting work boots.
I’m not swaying to keep in time with the ships movements,
I’m not eating at set times anymore,

I’m not having steak every Saturday,
Chicken Pie every Sunday,
Spag Bol every Monday,
Beef Stew every Tuesday,
Haggis Every Wednesday,
Curry every Thursday,
Pizza every Friday.

I havent had to say good-bye in ages to anyone,
I’ve not been stuck in the same room as someone I detest for weeks on end, in ages.
I havent had to crawl into a dark oily space just to prove something everyone knew already.
I havent had to simulate my house burning down on a weekly basis. Or a helicopter crashing into it.
I’ve not worn a day-glo baby-grow in months

I’ve not done the majority of my communication via email,
I’ve spoken to people I want to speak to when I feel like it.
I’ve not had to speak majority of my words in pidgin English.

I no longer read a newspaper that is 2 weeks out of date,
I can sleep when I want, regardless of the weather,
I can control the temperature in my room as to how I like it, not to how 14 other people want it.
I get to sleep in a bed that’s not 4 inches to short and 6 inches to narrow.

I’ve not been woken up by a loose cable on an alarm board
I’ve not been woken up to see my entire room contents sliding around the floor
I’ve not had to hold on for dear life in the shower
I’ve not had experienced zero G whilst going up stairs in weeks.

Despite everything I’ve written here, I miss it all. Deeply, and as much as I love leaving it all behind to come home, and the break has done me good – its been commented on – I can’t wait to get back and start slagging it off, complaining about it, being offensive and injuring myself for a month solid, and do it all again.

And again

And again

And again



Life as a cadet

I was a cadet for 3 years, and I’ve sailed with enough of them in the near 7 years since I’ve been qualified to think I know what I’m talking about.

If you want to get by as a cadet, at sea, especially as a 1st tripper, you could do a sight worse than read these words.

Bring a sense of humour and a bit of humility.

Accept the fact you are the lowest ranking most junior thing on the ship.Your experiance regardless of what it is, unless it’s actually on a ship, wont count for much if anything, I’ll be honest. You’re degree in aeronautical science doesn’t mean shit if you don’t know port from starboard, and left loosey, righty tighty. You are coming into our world, respect that.

I don’t like it but in the 30 or 40 cadets I’ve sailed with since qualified, the easiest to teach and most eager to learn were not the degree cadets, they were the 16/17 year old children who came away and were shocked into learning. Degree cadets I’ve found on the whole, when they come to sea, are arrogant and won’t listen to anything a fully trained officer who is younger than them, has to say. I’ve had degree cadets say to me, “I know that I know it, what do you know? You’ve only a HND”. I’ve had it said twice to me before, and twice I’ve had the cadets in question confused with work within 10 minutes and had them re-write the technical reports they had to do for their NVQ as they were hopelessly shit. Respect the fact we are more experienced than you. Despite our age.

You’ll be referred to as “The Cadet” in conversation, you probably won’t be praised an amazing amount if you are in earshot as well. No one likes an arrogant cadet, and no one certainly likes a cadet who is cocky. To engineers, like myself, there’s nothing in the world worse than a cocksure, arrogant smug deck cadet. I’ve never ever praised a deck cadet for the work they have done. I rarely praise engineer cadets to be honest either. But I’ll explain later.

You will be given jobs that seem pointless, but remember we all were given these jobs. You will be expected to make cups of tea, organise the flag shelves, help with the mundane painting/chipping, cut gaskets, wipe down tanks. You will be expected to get stuck in, especially the shit jobs. You’ll garner more respect off us if you offer up to do the shitty jobs, I myself even though I’m now a senior engineer still enjoy washing down sewage tanks and inspecting sludge tanks. nothing makes me happier on a ship if after a job my boiler suit is so minty I have to bin it straight away rather than wash it. if you off to do the shitty jobs you are more likely to be offered the nicer jobs. If you only try hard at the plum jobs we will make sure you end up cleaning the grease trap, or find a pointless repetitive task that needs doing for no reason. We are experts at finding these things.

You will be given crappy jobs that we don’t want to do, but remember if you weren’t there we would have had to do them, and it’s not like we don’t know how to do any of the jobs we give you. Yes we will give you the smelly, vomit inducing, jobs. But think, in 2.5 years time, when you are final trip cadet, or qualified you probably won’t have to do them again!

remember it’s not all G&T’s at high noon on the bridge wings. In fact it rarely is ever these days. You are joining as a cadet, you will not be expected to have mastered the ins and outs of spherical trigonometry or how to change the cross head bearings. You will be expected to have a certain amount of common sense and if someone tells you to learn something, learn it. We don’t tell you these things for our own good, we tell them because YOU WILL be asked them at college, and YOU WILL be required to know them. Some of us may not come across as the smartest cookies in the jar, but we have had to pass the same exams you guys have had to, in some cases we’ve had the same teachers as you have.

If you are lucky enough to be able to drink onboard or ashore, do so, I did, and I had a fucking brilliant time, but I always turned up on time. Theres nothing worse than a pissed up cadet. Especially when you’ve just got them trained up enough for them to have a smidggen of responsibility. I like to get cadets to do the morning readings and stuff in the engine room. If you are pissed out your skull, 2 hours late, and turn up whingeing that you are hung over, you and I will fall out quickly. It will involve you opening up a grease trap, or tracing an untraceable system, or bilge cleaning. Something that will only help me, not your learning.

Now the reason I rarely heap praise on cadets is because unless they are doing an extra-ordinary, off their own back, job on the ship they are just doing what they are being told to do. For example if I told a cadet – “have a look at number 2 purifier” and they came back and said, “Its fucked, its shitting oil into the tank and the sealing waters arse” he wouldn’t get thanks for telling me whats wrong. If they came back and said they’d shut it down and started the standby one, and got the kit ready to strip the other one down and cleaned up then they would get thanks, as it proves they are starting to think alone.

The reason why I never praise deck cadets is that they get enough back slapping and well dones for the tiniest of things they do. Its nothing personal against them, it’s the fact that everything that gets done on time and good, on a ship is apparently due to the deck department and everything wrong is the engineers fault. Engine blows up due to the Captain going to fast for too long against our advice its out fault. Ships gets to port on time thanks to the engineers blood sweat and swearing, the captains a bally bloody hero. But that’s oil and water for you, we never truly mix well.

Sea is a great place to work, I love it, I wouldn’t have devoted the last decade of my life to it otherwise & I do genuinely believe that if you are willing to learn and can have a laugh and show just a bit of respect, you will go far. Those are the 3 basic principles of working at sea. In importance I’d say,

1) Have a laugh,
2) Respect,
3) Willing to learn,

You’ll be walking into an environment of an entirely new language and atmosphere. You’ll learn to find that table salt is in fact “fucking salt” and the Engineroom is “That fucking shit hole”, and deck “The fucking deck”

You’ll love it really….. promise*

*promise nul and void after reading this blog

cheers and ta

2nd engineer

Making a playlist for someone carries the same rules as making a mix tape for someone (you remember mix tapes don’t you? If not I pity you).

For those un initiated in the wonder that is a mix tape, I shall attempt to describe to you what one is/means. A collection of songs recorded one by one for someone else.

A mix tape is a wonderful thing because someone (if they have done it properly and not just recorded the top 40 without the in-between bits) is a true reflection of how someone thinks of you. Someone has sat down and over the course of an evening or 2, (I’ve been known to take a couple of weeks perfecting some) and gone through their record collection and picked out songs that mean something about you to them. They have sat down and devoted a few hours thinking not only about you but about what you will like, not like. Trying to gauge your reaction about a song. Working out the best way to present the songs they want you to hear and so on.

Plus they have sat down and recorded each one individually in a certain order. A lot more work goes into making a mix tape than ever could go into making a Spotify list or iTunes. With these you can fine tune them up to the final second you present them to someone, whilst a tape has a certain finality about it.

But there are rules about doing these things, remember you are using someone elses words and feelings to say what you want to say. Theres no point in putting a song in about heavy drug use and death in a mix tape you’ve made for a 1st date or similar (Johnny Cash – Hurt no matter how brilliant a song is NOT a 1st date song).

You also are taking someone on a musical journey, so the songs have to blend together slightly, no point going from Jason Mraz to Goldie, to No Doubt in 3 steps. It just doesn’t work.

So here are some rules (that I use) to make a semi decent mix tape/playlist.

No Duplicates of Artists – Unless the whole thing is going to be done in Pairs.

No Duplicates of songs – This includes remixes, covers and so ons.

The recipients favourite song can’t be at the beginning of the tap/list – otherwise all they will do is listen to that track and miss out on the other 14 or 15 songs you’ve specially chosen, and that would be a waste of work wouldn’t it?

The 1st song has to be one of the better songs of the tape/list – You want an attention grabber, something that’s gonna grab them and make them want more, but the next track can’t be better otherwise you’ll be running out of great music so bring it back a gear. Then slowly build up again to a great song then BANgdrop in the best “favourite” song.

Use good quality music – No one wants to hear a song you’ve recorded off of LW radio, it ruins the whole feel of the thing. Same goes with when recording, don’t use a worn out cassette if you are doing it on tape.

Avoid songs over 8 minutes 57 seconds long – Anything over this and they will start skipping the tracks and when they start doing that the temptation to skip lots will be to great to over come. That time is chosen as it’s the length of Guns and Roses – November Rain. One of the few songs over 8 Minutes I can listen to repeatedly.

Include a track listing if it’s on CD/Tape – Especially if you are putting in songs that are off an album and not singles. you’re suing your music “collection” to produce this tape/list. You want them to know every song you have chosen, and also if they refer back to it they can quote songs, and not resort to humming it to you.

Dont be obvious with your choices – If the recipient has mentioned she likes Kings of Leon don’t make a tape with the main song choice being Sex on Fire, see if you can find a really good B side, something they may not have heard before, and don’t be afraid to go back in time with your choices either. Dylan and Springsteen are still good choices, if you find the right track that says what you want to.

Dont use old playlists – every time you make a list/tape for someone make sure its a brand new one, not a rehash of one you made for someone else. It’s just not fair if you are going to make an emotional statement of a mix tape for someone to give it to someone else, you wouldn’t photocopy a love letter to send to 2 or more people would you?

Anyway these are what I consider all the time when making playlists up.

If you think that you have any rules that should be added please leave a comment below.



Drilling Support Tern Alpha

OK so we are now working Tern Alpha drilling.

The rig has been shut down for a month or thereabouts for maintenance. So we are there to standby it providing it with cargo and pipe and whatever has been loaded onto us in Aberdeen.

We are carrying 1170 tonnes of Fuel, approximately 1100 of it in cargo form, a couple hundred tonnes of Base oil.

We are carrying about 60-70 boxes on the deck. These contain amongst other mundane items, things such as, racks of nitrogen bottles, large tanks of methanol, deck generators, deck air compressors, PPE, food, specialist drilling equipment, drill heads. The more mundane items are items such as decorating equipment, general spare odds and sods, PPE, wheelie bins, office goods and so on.

We are also carrying drill pipe, which are approximately 10-15 metre length pipes, slightly large in diameter than scaffold pipe. These interlock (on the rig) when they are drilling and drive the drill bit which is many many many metres below the seabed. From surface to seabed is 167 -175 meters, and the actual oil is much deeper than that.

The Tern oil field has a approximate oil capacity of 27.8 million cubic metres of oil or 175 million barrels, or 5640000000000000 tea spoons (that’s 13 zeros).

The weather at the moment has made working a bit hard as if there is too much of a swell, the boat moves up and down to much when along side to the rig, which is stationary. This makes it difficult and bloody dangerous to lift cargo off, so anything over 4 metres is really a no go for us. 2 nights ago when we were coming back into port it was 10 -12 metre swell with a 40 -50 knot cross wind. This is typical weather for this time of year up here, so around this time of year it is critical we get back to port and back top the rigs with the cargo as soon as possible.

I hope this little insight has been informative!

Cheers and ta


Red skys and all that

OK then you all know the expression

Red Sky at night, sailors delight, red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.

I guess you can replace the word sailor for any other job, Shepard.Street cleaner/Sandwhich maker/Senior assistant to the Crown

But where did this expression come from – experience mainly but I shall now try to explain the science behind it.

As the sun sets and moves lower in the sky,the colours observed are those in the longer wavelengths of the visible light spectrum (orange and red). At night the sun is in the western sky. A red sky indicates clear weather in west. Since weather generally moves from west to east, a red sky indicates that the west is clear and there are no approaching weather making systems

So red Sky at night Sailors delight – calm seas ahead.


In the morning, the sun rises above the eastern horizon, And the red colours observed are those in the longer wavelengths of the spectrum. A red sky in the morning therefore indicates clear weather in the east. However, since weather generally moves from west to east, a red sky indicates that the east is clear and therefore deteriorating weather is approaching from the west.

Red sky in the morning sailor take your Sturgeron 15.

This picture was taken on the morning of the 28th of november – rather ominous after my meagre amount of research.

The Channels

So it’s the closing week of this month of work, we’ve had brilliant weather up until 3 days ago when we hit force 9 severe, and rising we were tossed about like the proverbial cheese down a hill, and didn’t we know about it, pretty much the whole ships crew except the ex fishermen had no sleep for nigh on 36 hours or more. And the 24 hours we had in port were well liked and taken advantage by most of us in some hardcore snoozage.

But as this is the last run out this trip to the oil rigs i thought Id explain what “The Channels” are.

It’s a feeling you get when you are near the end of the trip and you get all excited about going home, and you get fidgety and days seem to go on for ever. I still get them occasionally, cadets always get them.

The expression comes from when ships would leave the UK and might not return for a year or more. And they would come up the channels and see the White cliffs of Dover and know that they were nearly home! Seeing the White Cliffs was the first indication that they were nearly home and the excitement would begin.

So thats the Channels.

Only 5 days hopefully and home!!!!!!

Ta Ra



Hello from an extremely rocky and rolly North Sea

We hit the weather at about 0200 this morning and I got thrown (literally) out of my bunk at 0415 after managing to get to sleep at about 0100. Since then I have been thrown into 7 door frames,, thrown off a sofa 3 times, seen the Cook chase roast chicken around the galley after they escaped from the galley stove in a cooked bid for freedom, and hand a banging headache.

We have a couple of greenies on deck. This is when a very large wave crashes on deck and dumps pure water as opposed to just foam and white stuff. It is actually quite exciting for a while when weather gets like this. You get to see the sea in all its glory and doing what it does best.

I also feel that when the weather is like this our job holds greater significance as we still work through this weather, we still carry cargo out to those that need it and still get from point Alpha to Echo, Via Beta, Charlie and Delta.

Our job is to get the cargo to its point of requirement, in some of the roughest seas.

It makes me feel alive and worthwhile doing my job in rough weather, its makes me feel more unique. Its makes me feel that this is a job not everyone can do and that I have the correct mindset and the correct minerals to do it.

Not until you’ve been able to walk on the bulkheads (walls) because the ships been listing (leaning) over so much due to weather can you say you’ve seen bad weather.

The sea at the moment is dark dark blue, and between the mountains of waves bearing down on us the wind is blowing the water into mini ripples. There are waves breaking all around us, and as we plough through the water we are leaving a bright brilliant blue mixture of foam and water in our wake.

The spray from the ship’s bow as we punch our way through another wall of water is pretty impressive and in the short time I was on the bridge, the spray came up to the windows many times.

I love weather like this, i just wish it would let me sleep that’s all.

But as the old saying goes “Weather is a great metaphor for life – sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, and there’s nothing much you can do about it ”

So next time you are complaining about the wind or rain, remember some of us out enjoy it, some of us work with it, some of us fight it and some of us live with it. To me it’s another day at work, but one that makes me feel that more important, because I’m out here doing it.

Inky Black

At the moment we are standing off a rig waiting to start backloading containers of used gear, garbage, and anything else they don’t need on them from Tern Alpha.

I was out on deck getting some fresh air and just looking around and my view was one of something that always reminds me of Christmas.

It reminds me of driving along the front in Penzance towards Newlyn and Mousehole to see the Xmas lights. Looking out to sea and seeing the pinprick of lights on the horizon of passing ships. Night time ships spotting always makes me feel melancholy yet happy.

Tonight is no exception, looking out and being surrounded by the oil rigs in the Cormorant field and surrounding oil fields. Everywhere I look across the inky black still seas is a pin prick of light, evidence of life, human activity and work. Tonight is quite eerie out there. The sea looks more like Black oil it’s so calm, the reflections of the oil rig lights are clear.

I love nights like this. Where you can see the North Sea oil drilling process in its prettiest form. Seeing dozens of Christmas trees balanced on the edge of the ocean.

It might be because I’m still new to the offshore shipping world though I like seeing this. When you are deep-sea you only see ships in approaches to port. Very rarely do you see another ship when you are out in the open ocean. So seeing this amount of activity in one spot that isnt next to land to me is weird. Whether it be Drill ships, supply ships, standby ships, Anchor handlers, survey vessels or the odd fishing boat, I still get fascinated at watching ships in the open water, as its something Ive rarely seen. Despite working at sea Ive seen very few ships at sea.

Now I know I havnt been a very good blogger of recent but I have been busy and Im not always able to get internet signal or sit down long enoug to write something that I feel happy with.

Tonight was one of those nights where I felt compelled to write some words down for you guys who read me blog.

Hope its been good for you



Work 2

Ok then the aft engine rooms

On Normal ships there would be 2 long propellor shafts running through these spaces but as we are a diesel electric ship we don’t have propellor shafts, we do have a lot of cabling though running through this space connecting the propulsion motors.

The first room of the aft compartments is the switchboard room, this is where most of the main circuit breakers for the main equipment is, where the frequency converters for the propulsion and thruster motors are (you get variable speed of the motors with the frequency converters)

The technology is pretty cutting edge for the frequency converters and complicated and I’m not going to attempt to describe how it works.

On the Main switchboards are the generators, this switchboard is able to automatically connect and disconnect generators and load and deload them.The process of putting a generator on the board is called synchronising. The oncoming generator has to be going at exactly the same speed and producing exactly the same wave form of AC electricity to go on the switchboard. This does it automatically.

Anyway here it is

The next section on this ships engine room is dedicated to the carrying and discharging of bulk cargoes for the oil rigs. These bulks are

Base Oil – A drilling face lubricant

Mud – Used to lubricate and flush out the drill bit on the oil rig, it is a compound made to order and is damn expensive heavy messy and horrible

Brine/Drill Water – Water used for
Flushing and cleaning on the rig

Fresh Water – Used keep people alive on the rig

Diesel Fuel – Used in the rigs engines

Cement/Barite for sealing and capping wells and drill pipes

Methanol – Used for cleaning the drill pipes

All of these have dedicated tanks and pumping equipment.

They are just regular pumps so no needs to describe them, except the Cement and Methanol.

The Cement is pumped to the rig by using air as a carrying medium. To shift the tonnes and tonnes of cement we use tonnes and tonnes of air so we have very large compressors to supply them.

These are the cement tanks (well the upper half) there are 8 in total

And these are the compressors

To give you an Idea of size the motor for these (which is laying on it’s side) is approximately 60cm wide and 1.5ish metres long.

The next compartment (The aft most) contains the propulsion motors – these motors through a 90 degree bevel gear, shaft, then another 90 degree bevel to drive the propellor.

We also do not have a rudder as the azipods (the technical the drive setup we have) rotate to push the ship in which ever direction, they can rotate 360 degrees and so we do not need Stern thrusters, as the pods the job of a thruster, propellor and rudder all in one easy job.

The propellors are CPP variable speed.CPP stands for Controllable Pitch Propellors. This means the actual blades change angle, More angle = more power = more propulsion, combine this with the variable speed and you have an infinite amount of options for power and speed!

We are leaving port today after nearly a week alongside broken, one of the Frequency Converters blew something inside it, we had to wait for it to be made and delivered from Norway and an engineer to fit it. But after all that it’s been tested and works fine! We will shortly be loading Cement (about 120 Tonnes) and our deck cargo is fully loaded!

Then after that off to the big blue wobbly wet thing!

If you’d like me to explain anything else in detail or ask any questions please let me know and I’ll be happy to reply as soon as I can.

I’ll continue soon!

Ta Ra



Right then the main part of the ship – THE ENGINE ROOM

The engine room is the heart of any ship. From here everything that the ship requires to move, operate and work is either found here or made here.

All electricity is made here, the propulsion is operated and rotated, the steering gear is located, all fresh water is pumped, the storage fridge compressors are, and everything that controls and cools and monitors all this appointment.

I will split the blog over 2 blogs – the 1st (this one) will concern it self with the forward portion of the engine room. Obviously each engine room is different so I will describe this – my current one.

Just remember also as an engineer onboard a ship it is our responsibility to fix all of what you see and more!! It’s very rare that we have to get some one from ashore to come onboard and fix stuff for us.

Anyway I hope you enjoy!

The first part of the engine-room I will introduce is the Engine Control Room

From here the majority of the systems can be monitored and operated, from starting and stopping engines to moving ballast around to aid stability, to pumping cargo and transferring fuel around the vessel.

This ship is diesel electric.With this form of propulsion the engines are not connected to the propellor, instead we have 4 diesel generators that create electricity this is then used to power large electric motors that drive the ships propellor (via a gearbox). Obviously the same electricity is used for hotel supply.

These engines are 16 Piston V blocked Caterpillar engines we have 4 of them and can supply approximately 2.5MW of power each or 41666, 60W lightbulbs, at 60HZ frequency 690V. This then goes through various transformers for Hotel Supply (220V) industrial Supply (pumps/motors/AC plants/Fridges) (440V) and propulsion / deck cargo (690V).

Here is a picture of the top of all the engines

The noise that these engines produce is immense – the next photo is a screen shot of a decibel meter – this is with one engine running – when all 4 are running it truly is deafening and can be well in excess 120 dB

These 2 very large electric motors (approximately 6 foot tall not including the mountings) are what drive the bow thrusters. The bow thrusters are what assists the ship to move sideways and also keep in position when we are at the oil rigs. These are not on when we are steaming to anywhere and are only on during manoeuvring (i.e. coming alongside or at the rig).

They are the main pieces of machinery in the forward engine room compartments.

Other smaller pieces of machinery are the Air compressors, compressed air is used to start the engines, this is either by direct release into the cylinders to start the initial rotation or by an air start motor on the flywheel, these engines use the air start motor, this is the same principle as a starting motor on a car engine it’s just air powered not electric powered.

We also treat all sewage before it gets discharged to ensure that it causes no harm to the environment, this is the sewage plant

There are also chilled water compressors which creates chilled water for the AC systems.

Also fridge compressors for the cooks large fridges and freezers, along with all the cooling pumps for the machinery the ships fire pump is in the machinery spaces.

If there is a fire onboard we are all trained firefighters and can fight majority of fires.

All fuel that we burn in the engines is purified first, we used Gas Oil onboard all ships in my company which is a relatively clean fuel – it’s the same diesel used in cars but with slightly different antifreeze properties. It is cleaned centrifugally (spun very fast) and the impurities are spun to the outside and discharged to the sludge tank. This purified fuel then goes to the service tank before going to the engines.

This is it for the forward engine compartments, next blog I shall Attempt the aft compartments which concern themselves with electrical distribution, cargo handling, ballasting and propulsion

Hope you found this informative and not boring!


Ta ra