Maritime London – LOC Cadet
The finish line is in sight now as I come towards the end of my Cadetship. Joining the Merchant navy has been the best decision of my life. I’ve been privileged enough to travel the world from the bridge of some great ships. I’ve travelled 66,000 miles and visited 30 different countries in 5 continents.
I’ve seen things I never imagined I’d ever get to experience. I’ve crossed the equator and into both the Arctic and Antarctic circles with the ceremonies that come with it. None of this would have happened if it wasn’t for LOC, Maritime London and Chiltern Maritime for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime.
My first vessel was a 306 metre long container ship called the Al Bahia. I joined her in Italy where I sailed the Mediterranean calling in France, Spain, Morocco and Malta. After leaving Malta we sailed for the Suez Canal, the gateway to the Middle East. I wasn’t prepared of the scorching Arabian sun. Working in + 40 degree heat was a far call from the UK weather. We safely passed through the infamous Gulf of Aden thankfully without a single run in with pirates. In the Middle East we called in at Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Next we sailed across the Arabian Sea where the weather took a bit of a turn. In Pakistan and India the heat gave way to rain and it didn’t seem to stop our whole time there.
Working on the Al Bahia gave me my first taste of how diverse and international the industry is. I’ll never forget the people I met and the places I visited. I learn a lot about cargo work on this trip as well as deck work. Of course I had the right of passage for any cadet, chipping and painting. The skills in maintenance I picked up from the third mate on board will help me throughout my career.
The next vessel I sailed on the Balmoral, a Fred Olsen cruise ship. Being a second trip cadet here the focus was on navigation and I was lucky to be put straight on watch. I rotated through the watches so got to spend time with officers of all ranks, learning from them all. I was on the bridge for arrivals and departures, helping the officer with checks and tests and then assisting the Captain with anything he needed whilst he took the conn. When underway I took charge of communication both internally with both security and the deck watch and externally reporting to shore bases and other vessels if when it was needed.
Coming from the container ship with a crew of 25, and being the only Brit the Balmoral was completely different. She had a crew of around 530 from all over the world and 1400 passengers.
Another ship another canal, this time the Kiel Canal in Germany. Germany was just one of many counties I got to see on the Balmoral. She spent most of her time sailing around Northern Europe with particular emphasis on the Norwegian Fjords. I remember my first time there; snow-capped mountains towered over us on either side as we slowly glided through the water. It’s a stunning part of the world. I managed to get ashore in a lot of different ports, getting to see capital cities and tiny towns and villages all over Europe.
My favourite port of call for that trip had to be Svalbard, a rugged island of rock and ice north of Norway and at latitude of 78° North. This was when I first crossed into the Arctic Circle. The God of the Sea himself Neptune granted us permission after we went through the ceremony. Ice cold water was poured over me and the other cadets in front of passengers and crew. We kissed the fish and became part of the Order of the Blue Nose.
We visited two places there the first being the main settlement there, Longyearbyen. What I really enjoyed was the second place we went. We dropped anchor by an abandoned Russian mining town of Pyramiden. Coats are still on hooks, shoes still in lockers, it’s as if everyone suddenly left. The buildings are falling apart but a few had open doors which we dared to enter. At the top of town there was an abandoned school which was begging to be explored. I was with another cadet at the time and we weren’t disappointed. In a dimly lit theatre there was a grand piano and nothing else. The projector room was littered with old film, a gym with old equipment in. This place was truly a ghost town and I really hope I get to go back there and see ever more of it as we left a lot more buildings and even train carts that I would love to get inside.
The last ship blew all the others out of the water. That ship was the RRS Ernest Shackleton, a British Antarctic Survey ship. When I was told I’d be joining her I couldn’t believe it. I never dreamt I’d have the opportunity to go to the end of the world. I flew out to Denmark where she was in refit. It took a week to reach the Antarctic. On the way down we stopped in Germany, Madeira and the Falklands to take on cargo and fuel. The Falklands was a highlight of the cadetship. It’s one of those special places, intrinsically linked with the UK unfortunately costing lives to keep it that way. It’s was cold, windy and rugged, just how I imagined it. With a full ship we cast off and headed into the ice. The Antarctic would have to wait. First the Shackleton was tasked with taking supplies and scientists to a couple of islands with bases on. The first was South Georgia, the death place of the ship’s namesake, Ernest Shackleton himself. His story is truly inspiring and I can’t think of a more deserving man to be honoured with a ship. The South Orkney Islands were next. Here I manged to get some time ashore and my first look in one of the bases. Both islands were beautiful, full of wildlife.
Finally it was time to head into the Antarctic Circle. Soon we ran into ice but it was no match for the Shackleton. With guidance from the captain and crew I took the helm for the first time and worked my way from the ice floe, aiming for the thinning parts. The further south we went the thicker the ice and soon we were hammering into it, the whole ship shuddering with the force. After getting stuck a few times the Ernest Shackleton prevailed and pushed through into open water. That was when I first saw it, the towering white cliffs of ice. We came so far, headed all this way south and all of a sudden there was no more water, just the ice shelf. It was a strange feeling to be at the end of the world with no more water to sail in.
The wildlife in the frozen South was impressive. There wasn’t a single watch were I didn’t see Whales, Penguins or Albatrosses. I first saw Penguins on an iceberg we sailed pass. They’re a strange species, so clumsy and curious I could watch them for hours. Not having any predators on land they aren’t scared of humans and will often come up to you. A few days before Christmas the Captain found a place for us to come along side and go ashore for the crew’s Christmas photo. Here there was a colony of Emperor Penguins, numbering somewhere around 70. Not far from there I saw a pod of at least 20 Killer Whales swimming alongside the ship for the first time.
I had seen photos and watched shows of what it was like down here but seeing if for myself left me speechless. Photos do not do it justice, nor do words truly describe the majesty of it. It’s impossible to take a bad photo of the Antarctic but sometimes it was best to put the camera down and just take it in. I’m never going to forget the stunning vistas. I stepped foot on the ice where no one has ever been and may never go again. So few people ever get to do what I have and for that I’m incredibly thankful. It’s hard to get across just how privileged I am to have this once in a lifetime experience, although I hope it won’t be the last time I go to Antarctica. I have my sights set working for the British Antarctic Survey now. It’s given me a renewed goal and an even greater drive to achieve the best I can in my final stage at college and come out with the skills I need to go back there.