"A Sailor's Life for Me" - Vicki's Log
As I sit and write this, I’m struggling to believe its February 2013! Where has the last year gone? This time last year I was embarking on my new career at sea, starting at Warsash Maritime academy…..several exams, three ships and eight countries later, here I am again. I have met some memorable characters, and of course some not so memorable characters, heard some stories, told some stories! And of course supplied my family with an endless supply of fridge magnets. I can’t help but wonder what this year will bring.
So, where did my love of all things nautical come from? I’m Cornish. Ten generations born and bred and something I’m very proud of. I live 50.1519° N, 5.0653° W, otherwise known as Falmouth, or more precisely the Helford River on the Lizard Peninsula. As the most south westerly point of the UK, three thousand miles of open ocean salt air wash over my coast. You only have to look at where I live to understand my love of the sea.
I was boating before I could walk so being on the water is second nature to me. I am often asked whether my career choice runs in the family. It doesn’t. As one of five I often wonder what my father thinks when having three sons; his daughter is the one that ended up at sea. However, growing up in the beautiful countryside my love of boating had to make room a love of all things equestrian.
The horses won over, and at eighteen I left for university in the Cotswolds to study Equine Science at Hartpury College. The three years of my degree flew by and I decided to stay another year for a postgraduate diploma in the same subject. Summers at home were spent afloat. At 21 I had enough boat handling experience to pass my Yacht Master Offshore qualification. It was my proudest achievement to date.
After completing my studies I moved back to Cornwall, decided to take a gap year. I landed a fantastic job running a ski chalet in the French Alps at Val d’Isere, and stayed there for six months. On the first of July 2011 after returning from my alpine adventure, after months of planning my family set off on our 42ft Nelson to the warmer weather of the Mediterranean. We travelled down the French canals, from Le Havre to Port St. Louis, cruised around the south of France and dipped into Italy, before travelling up through the canal du Midi, entering the heart of Biscay, up along the west coast of France and back to Falmouth. The trip took four months and really was the defining experience for me to choose a career at sea.
I found the great website Careers at Sea that provided me with everything I needed to know about the Merchant Navy as a career.
The scholarship organisations that offer training onboard various types of ships were particularly interesting. I filled out the application for Maritime London’s Officer Cadet Scholarship. After researching the colleges, I attended an interview at Warsash, and the rest is history. Michael Bowen, a senior claims director at Thomas Miller P&I, attended my interview and recommended me to Thomas Miller for sponsorship on the basis of my previous sea experience. I feel very privileged to be the first Thomas Miller cadet.
My time at Warsash is divided into five phases, split between the classroom and time at sea. My first term at Warsash was the study of navigation, chart work, navigational aids. It was all interesting stuff, and I really did find that my previous boating experience helped. There were about thirty deck cadets in total in my intake. It was interesting hearing what made everyone else come to sea.
My first term at Warsash lasted until early June. I had a successful exam period and was preparing myself for my first trip away to sea. I was eager to find out what type of vessels I would be spending time on. Unlike other cadets that would only experience one type of vessel throughout their cadetship I would be experiencing many different types.
At the end of June I headed for the port of Dover to join my first ship, the ‘Braemar’. I had absolutely no idea what to expect. The ‘Braemar’, a cruise ship owned by Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, is just under 200 metres in length. Later that afternoon ‘Braemar’ headed for Svalbard and I spent two and a half months on board. In that time I went polar bear watching in the Arctic, attended the Russian ballet in St. Petersburg and witnessed the beautiful fjords of the Norwegian coast. The ‘Braemar’ was a floating hotel for the London Olympics in the Royal Albert Dock, and I had the best views of the Olympic opening and closing ceremonies from her bridge.
The ‘Braemar’ has over three hundred crew onboard. The first few weeks it felt like I was negotiating a maze. There were definite times when walking down the corridors you weren’t sure if you were heading forward or aft. I divided my time between working with the Bosun on deck and bridge watches. I was lucky enough to run my own watch in London the 8-12. This was a great responsibility.
My second ship was the ‘Stena Europe’, a passenger ferry from Fishguard Wales, to Rosslare Ireland. By the end I recognised every wave on the Irish Sea after spending just over a month on board. Approximately 150 metres in length and 32 years old and with only a handful of crew, I was involved with lots of maintenance tasks as well as bridge watches. With many of the crew being Irish it was also great to share my passion for horses onboard. Perhaps my most memorable moment on board was when during a squall whilst berthing in Rosslare, breaking free of our mooring ropes we briefly collided with the Oscar Wilde Ferry and made the local news.
The last six weeks of my sea phase were spent on board the specialist dynamic positioning vessel ‘THV Galatea’ owned by Trinity House. Eighty eight metres in length, the ‘THV Galatea’ is a navigational mark tender that works around the east coast of the UK. It was very interesting work, and very different to my previous two ships. One week was spent in the North Sea inspecting gas rigs. Not the calmest of weather and I had to come to terms with most of my possessions remaining on the cabin floor for most of the voyage. We also took part in work amongst the worlds biggest wind farm, the London Array.
I saw and did some incredible things in my five months at sea. Taking the good with the bad, I worked hard and put in some long days. You get out of your training what you’re willing to put in. and whilst you can’t get along with everyone at sea overall I had a very positive experience. When asked which ship I preferred I can honestly say they were all good for different reasons. But for now, I’m glad to have my two feet on dry land for a few months. Who knows who I will have met and where I will have gone by this time next year.