It had been just 45 days since I signed off from my first training vessel, I got call to join my second vessel, which was a new vessel being built at Imabari shipyard Marugame, Japan. This was a bulk carrier, god! I was really happy to get it. M V Crimson Monarch here I come!
Was prepared to join the vessel in every manner,did shop a little to get my bag zipped up. Since this was a yard delivery,was briefed about the nature of work to be undertaken by the Director. On 30th jan 2014,Boarded my flight (Thai Airlines),to Bangkok where I met the rest of the Officers and crew and later boarded a connecting flight to Kansai international airport, Osaka,Japan. Onboard this flight met a perfect Japanese gentleman,who was on my adjacent seat, communication was a bit tough but made easy by his small translator machine! Landing on Kansai was like a dream coming true,had read about this airport long back,which is considered one of the finest manmade structure round the world. This airport has been built on a manmade island, while you are landing it gives you a feeling of landing into the vast seas, I was amazed by it’s structure and the capability to handle such large number of travellers,despite being in middle of sea, the connectivity is awesome. But the airport wasn’t the end, we had to travel a long distance by road to reach the shipyard situated in Marugame. It was a tiring drive but thanks to the Indian food that we got in the city which refreshed the mood and made the drive a pleasure.
Arrived Marugame late at night and fell asleep to get up in the morning and join the rest of the team at shipyard. What I could make out after the initial briefing was that I had to stay in Marugame for another ten days till the ship is delivered to the owners. There was a sense of joy, there was so much to learn by the demonstrations of machinery and equipment by the yard’s engineers. More than that was the joy to be in Japan for the next ten days and explore the culture tradition,people and lives. Days were passing easy,the only weak point was the food,being a vegetarian there were very limited options for me. I remember picking up the cabbage and potatoes from the dishes! The schedule was strict from morning 0800 to 1700 at yard,where preparations were underway for takeover. Installing a complete management system onboard takes a lot, though the company provides a lot of guidelines regarding the works to be undertaken. Understanding the function and working of equipments is a basic task for a new vessel. Connectivity,networking, filing system,stores arrangement, inventories,stencils,markings,placards, ships plan reception,reporting of any visible defects and record maintainance are some of the jobs to be undertaken during a yard delivery vessel. Despite all the work we managed to go out a full day to the nearby places, had great experience of total different culture and people who I can describe as the most friendly and helpful people I have ever met.
On 10th of February the vessel was delivered to the owners after a ceremony,which saw us wearing the ceremonial uniform. Headed to Nakhodka, Russia to receive the bunkers. It was getting more and more cold,the air was biting the face. Finally we arrived in the early morning to the port of Nakhodka, Russia. Flakes of ice were seen floating due to the cold, I was on bridge during the anchorage operation. Immigration and customs authorities boarded the vessel shortly after it’s arrival and made some cry over the old CDC of few crew members. Bunkers were received and voyage was resumed which was bound to the port of Seward, Alaska. Due to the extreme cold climate which was touching -30 deg Celsius, no deck work was being carried out except for some rounds. The voyage plan initially made had some serious errors which later resulted into ship going out of international warranty limit, due to vessel’s entry in zone considered out of underwriters signed papers. But after all the heat in cold ,voyage was resumed after amendments to the passage plan. I had not been able to take soundings for a few days due to freezing of sounding pipes of ballast tanks, as we headed more towards east the sun started shining fine,seas were moderate. Temperature might had been 1 deg celcius,now it had made everyone energetic and enthusiastic about the next port of call. Took the pilot who was a man in his early fifties accompanied by a tall and slim lady pilot who was a trainee, heading towards the port in narrow channel, the bank of which were white mountains covered with fur like soft ice,in the early hours of morning in lieu of the sun they sparkled themselves as if they were a source of light.
Stations were called on! I was back in action now,I recalled my experiences on last vessel of being at port,but everything proved to be wrong, rightly said it was a bulk carrier and work style was completely different,after stations I was called up by the Chief Officer for breakfast, Chief Officer who I consider being the best Chief Officer a cadet can ever get. After breakfast it was time to take sea water density, do they still do it? Yes they do! Large hatches the cleats of which had been already loosened a day back were opened up one by one for the surveyor’s inspection, each hatch was a big cricket ground! We had seven like them. Processes finished and now it was time for cargo to start,coal started dumping in the large holds of the vessel spreading it evenly across the area of the cargo hold, Simultaneously we started deballasting the water that we had carried as ballast by gravity. Things were working fine. Operations running smoothly, cleared united states coast guard inspections after a couple of tiresome drills.
Now it was time to explore the beauty of this piece of land situated west of Canada. The Alaska!! Truly this was the best place I had ever been to in my life and I doubt if I can find something better than this. The vessel being on maiden voyage attracted a reception party thrown by the Mayor of Seward, which saw visit by most of the prominent people in the area and the ship’s Officers, glad that I was part of it. Visits the sea life centre,which houses almost all kinds a creatures you find deep below the blue. Sea lions and seals were major attraction, the creatures that you would think being plants, were also one of its kind! Amazing was Alaska, said bye to it with a sense of sowrrow in heart.
Unloading port was in chilli, heading south, sun shining and changing its course. The cold turned into heat that was unbearable, this is what I don’t like. Equator takes every drop of water out of your body,keep drinking the tang! Weather was fine hence work was fine and deck was lit up by sunshine,perfect time for men to paint the deck second coat,and for me to stencil everything that is left! Had 0800 to 1500 deck work. Navigational watch under the supervision of Chief officer had to be undertaken from 0400 to 0700 hours and 1830 to 2000 hrs. My familiarisation with equipment was finished,I was now well with most of them and was learning the ECDIS which I found here first time. The ship being paperless,chart table was always empty. But a lot to show on this new Ecdis, sailing was mostly smooth,with a big group of dolphins seen somewhere in mid pacific, I love the way they jump out of water,smooth and swift.
Anchored at outer anchorage of the port at chilli, went inside after the clearance ,everything was running fine. Same day went out to the city,which being a small city was away from the city dust! Straightforward headed to the club, Spanish music just steals your soul away, club was fine other than being quite expensive,girls were seen floating around in their attractive outfits. The preference for me was always the can that is not toxic! Oh I mean Coke! Lets wind up everything and get back to the vessel,which was stationed nearly 6kms away.
It was third day, grabs were working fast,picking up perfectly the black diamond. I was coming down the stairs of the accommodation, and saw the agent running out fast shouting tsunami tsunami!! Was that correct whatever I herd just now? Yeah it was,the guys on the cranes left off, even the mooring gang ran away, but to add the biggest misery was that Captain,Chief Engineer and Second Officer were ashore. Pilot came running and asked the Chief Officer whether he can take the command and get the ship out of port limits, chief officer agreed and stations were called on, I was instructed to take the charge of the aft stations,morning hand suddenly appeared with just two people. Engines tested,propeller cleared, steering motors on, engines on bridge control. Reported to the bridge promptly, aft station all ready sir, bridge ordered let go the inner spring,acknowledged and commanded the crew to slack the spring, springs were slack, breasts and aft lines were slacked too upon the orders. Oh here they come, thank god gangway wasn’t fully pulled up,somehow three of them managed to board the vessel although it was about two feets out of berth. Second Officer came running and took the charge, we drifted for around 28 hours,anchored and then again received warning and drifted back,but thankfully tsunami never came. Discharging finished,was time to go bayovar,Peru.
Loading rock sulphate, fine dust particles needs good care of ur nose,face and eyes. This berth in Peru is located far off from the city, a small town named bayovar,the terminal was owned by a Chinese company. Fairly good time we got here,port stay was five days,went out roamed in the town,had some good food, met with friendly people,it did remind me of India. But no worries discharging was scheduled at Paradeep,India. The voyage was really long, eta to paradeep was after 45 days but I love long voyages,because you get a fixed schedule.
Bunkering at Singapore attracts a whole lot of office supritendents and owners,who have good opportunity to gulp the ship’s food and point out defects. Arrival at Paradeep was really no different for me,it was all the same, outer anchorage and seas are all same everywhere, apart from the tricolour that was flying on the main mast. Chief officer signed off at Paradeep and I had a new boss now. Shore leave at paradeep included going out to a good restaurant and then to the beach! Indian food is all we ask for. Voyage was fixed to Bierra,Mozambique,where coal was to be loaded at outer anchorage in a ship to ship (STS) operation. Had a hectic night after days shore leave, heavy weather ballast was required,and I was now filling the hold up.
Beirra Didn’t mean much since apart from long anchorage, there was trouble at end, the hold no. 6 was filled up above the coming and it was impossible to close the hatch covers, the shovels didn’t stop till 12 on next day! Deck was covered in thick layer and heaps of coal,thanks to god, rough weather was indeed required.
Taiwan was the point of discharge, two terminals were to take the cargo one 12 hours away from another. This was another regular operation, at second terminal went out to see the city of Taichung. Went to shopping mall and some good streets of the town. Climate was good ! Now you go Balikpapan, Indonesia.
23 days of anchorage was waiting for me here! All that was done was immigration and customs clearance. Every other day was a regular day with morning starting with Anchor watch and ended to deck work. Good point was the sim card that agent had got for us, internet was unlimited although speed wasn’t matching the phone. Finally loaded and headed to Brindisi,Italy.
Congested Singapore straits are a testing point for every Navigator, vessel was to cross Suez canal and high risk area of piracy. Hence security was tightened, and three armed guards boarded the vessel at Gale, Sri Lanka. All that was going on the vessel was about security, barbed/razor wires were rigged all around the vessel,RPG fences rigged on bridge,anti shatter films,sand bags,bullet proof jackets and helmet. A perfect lookout was required by day and night,night vision binoculars were of great help,although you can see through it only if there is sufficient light or getting the Infrared on. Pilots in Suez canal are really fat ones and moreover they need cartons of cigarettes to keep them on, red sea to Mediterranean sea sailing with heat on, as we kept on heading to Italy temperature dropped slowly and spring weather was back. Berthed at Brindisi in early hours of morning, near a cruise liner, which was berthed at a birth close to ours. Hundreds of tourists were getting out,now it’s clear this place is something special.
Brindisi wasn’t a busy port,had nice time there. Discharging was smooth and shore leave long, the scenery near the berth was magnificent, despite being a bulk carrier berth it was kept well clean,With green mountains surrounding. Went out along with Third Officer and Fourth Engineer, thus things were friendly and Italian pizza was what I did like the most, we had it at two different places! The city was nice with medieval architecture,exactly what everyone will look for in Europe. Nice time ends soon and Brazil calls me,with much more fun and adventure along the amazon basin!
Amazon was what it seemed like a sea in itself,the basin was large enough to get lost in the horizon. Two pilots boarded the vessel near the mouth of giant river,and this was a lifetime experience, sometimes you can sight small boats passing by,other than that what remains same are the dense forests, and countless tributary rivers. Moving on and on it seems as if there is no end to it, finally we joined a tributary named Trombetas. It got narrow ,but still wide enough for a giant ship. Channels were narrow with buoys placed at exact points,pilots were perfect in their job,examining every detail to navigate the vessel clear of all dangers. Arrival was to anchor till the berth is free, and for me was to go out and taste the real Brazil! Alligators were a common sight in this river with anaconda warnings! After a day in evening went out with mates, took a small boat to the nearest club and enjoyed the Brazil which everyone would,Brazil will never disappoint you, country clubs I would say are far better than those in urban areas like Rio or Santos. Bauxite was loaded full,making entire superstructure orange! Canada was the next port of call,and the port I was hopefully going to sign off.
Heading north again,from the hot burning equator to freezing cold Canada, climate changes drastically and we adopt it as it is. Seas turned slight from calm, then moderate,then rough and then it was storm, despite of warning received ,we were passing 150 nautical miles off from the storm centre,steering had lost control,winds up to 85 knots! And she was doing 1 knot at full ahead. God was kind enough on us and weather improved. Berth was good,this port was on way to great lakes,now it was clear that it was time for me to leave, taking along with me the memories which enrich my life as a seafarer and as a person who has lot to tell,14th Nov 2014 signed off.