My First Trip To Sea

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic

An idea Of what life Can be like On A first trip to sea on
a Merchant Ship As A Navigating Cadet Officer

My First trip to sea

“Good Bye Mum and Dad” I said with a lump in my throat as I boarded my train for Liverpool where my ship was berthed. “Look after yourself son “said my dear old dad, who always wanted me to go to sea and follow in his footsteps. Soon my train pulled out of the station as I waved my final farewells to them both, as they disappeared into the distance.

I sat down in my empty carriage, which I had chosen to be alone with my thoughts, and whether I was doing the right thing by choosing a career at sea. This entailed three years at sea as a navigating cadet officer, this being my first such voyage, preceding examinations that would ultimately qualify me as a Master Mariner.

It was a cold grey November day as I eventually boarded my ship. The quay where the ship was berthed was a hive of activity as forklift trucks sped to and fro carrying last minute pieces of cargo to be loaded onto the vessel. The cranes swinging like a pendulum as they lifted the cargo from the quay then onto the vessel. The ship was an old “Ocean Class” cargo vessel built in the U.S. for wartime convoys to carry cargoes from America to Europe as part of U.S. aid to the allies.

My trunk with all my worldly possessions preceded my arrival onboard and was placed in my cabin, which I had been directed to by one of the Indian sailors. The vessel carried an Indian crew and was currently employed on the Indian trade to such exotic places, or so I thought, at the time as Colombo, Madras, Bombay, and Calcutta. The ship carried two cadets and I was of course the junior, this being my first trip. The cabin we shared was in the middle of the vessel next to some steam winches, which clattered away in a deafening crescendo as they lifted the cargo onboard. Something to look forward to in the heat of the Indian ports I thought. My fellow cadet who I shared our cabin with, seemed a strange silent kind of chap, not at all friendly or welcoming, who went by the name of Gordon Swift. “This your first trip then mate,” he said in a condescending kind of attitude. I replied in the affirmative attempting to be friendly by saying “pleased to meet you Gordon, my name is Donald Gunn ”and put my hand out to shake his which he reluctantly brought forward like a limp piece of cold flesh. “Well first of all said Leach” that bottom bunk will be yours to sleep in for the voyage, I take the top bunk”. “Fair enough I said innocently thinking it would have been nice to have had the option. I soon realised during the ensuing weeks of the voyage that the top bunk was cooler and more airy than the bottom one and I had to contend with the great hulking frame of Swift tossing to and fro above me when I thought he may come crashing through on top of me at any minute. He then outlined the routine, which we would follow during the ensuing weeks.

“We will be on bridge watches in busy sea lanes and around the coast,” he said which gives us the opportunity to learn navigating skills. “I will take the 8 to 12 watch and you the 12-4 watch” commonly known as the graveyard watch by seafarers. The 8-12 gives you a good night’s sleep and the afternoon off to sunbathe or swim in the ship’s makeshift pool.

“On open sea passages we will revert to day work and I will report to the chief officer every morning for our work for the day and I will allocate your duties. ”I soon learned that he would get the cushy jobs while I would have to slave away like a donkey in the heat doing all the hard dirty work.

Having got wise to this after a couple of weeks I approached him on the subject of our work load which I am sure we were meant to share, and to allow him to help and guide me in our specific tasks, which he as the senior cadet was meant to do.

I soon realised that his cold unfriendly manner was part of his defence as a kind of bully, which would make it easy for him to palm off all the menial tasks to me, and also make him unapproachable. So I knew I was on safe ground when I approached him one day in the heat of the Indian Ocean, when I had been down the ship’s hatches helping and supervising the Indian crew to clear areas ready to load cargo in Indian ports. I was also particularly hot and tired when I finally ascended from the cargo holds for my lunch break. Swift was in our cabin with his feet up reading a book “The good the bad and the Ugly” as I came in to wash and change for lunch. “Look here I said I am not happy about our working relationship whereby you go to the Chief Officer every morning and get the work load for the day but never tell me what he has said, only what you want me to do. I am not prepared to go on like this, I am here to learn and be guided by you, which is part of your duties as the Senior Cadet. If this continues then I intend to go to the Chief Officer and complain about it as I am not learning anything from you the way things stand.”

“Oh so that s the way is it said Swift, you are going to sneak behind my back and try and get me into trouble.” “Do you think you will go to the Chief Officer?” he said later in a slightly less aggressive tone, when he realised that he may not come out of the situation in a favourable light.

Things did improve somewhat but I was never happy with him as a shipmate and we rarely spoke to one another.

When I applied for a transfer at the end of the voyage I was lucky enough after some home leave to be appointed to a ship with 3 cadets where we all got on famously, and I really began to learn my trade as a budding cadet/officer.



Submitted: March 29, 2012

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