Felix Checksfield

My first proper passage was from Tilbury, UK to Jorf Lasfar, Morocco

Felix Checksfield / 02.05.2021

Felix Checksfield

Arklow Muse – 19/02/20 to 25/06/20

On 19 February 2020, I joined Arklow Shipping vessel MV Arklow Muse, in Dunkirk. Having finished my first college phase less than two weeks prior to this, I had never joined a ship as a cadet before, and unsurprisingly I felt excited but nervous as I left home at 04:30 that morning to travel to the ship.

Arklow Muse is a 136-metre-long, 14,990-tonne-deadweight, Irish-registered cargo ship which mostly carries dry bulk cargoes and operates primarily within Europe. Like most cargo ships, its voyages depend on where cargoes are required and as such are not scheduled in advance. This meant that throughout my four months onboard, I did not know the ports the ship would be visiting and could end up sailing anywhere in Europe and even beyond – this certainly added to my anticipation.

Onboard the ship, I found the Second and Chief Officers to be very welcoming and approachable. As is typical when joining a ship, I was given a full safety tour of the vessel’s firefighting and life-saving equipment, and its procedures surrounding safety and security. During the first two weeks onboard, the vessel stayed in Dunkirk transferring coal and iron ore between two terminals. Throughout this, I assisted the mooring party on the foredeck and felt very much involved with the vessel’s operations. I became increasingly familiar and comfortable with the mooring procedures through the numerous times we berthed, unberthed and passed through a lock.

During this time, we also lowered our free-fall lifeboat and rescue boat into the water and tested its operation. This is done at least every three months, and it was great to see the launching mechanism in action; there was also a demonstration of the emergency launching procedure to the crew as part of an abandon ship drill.

My first proper passage was from Tilbury, UK to Jorf Lasfar, Morocco, carrying scrap metal. This was the first time I was regularly on navigational watches, generally working mornings on deck and the afternoons on the bridge. As this was the first time I had seen collision avoidance, radio communication and navigational principals put into action, I found my time on the bridge particularly interesting and beneficial.

During our voyage to Morocco was when the COVID-19 situation began to escalate significantly back in the UK, and I learnt about the national lockdown being introduced as we headed north on the return passage. It was coincidental that the first time in my life I was away for so long, was the time that day-to-day life back at home had changed to dramatically. As a cargo ship, our operations were impacted very little, however, there were a range of precautions introduced across the fleet, including increased cleaning and sanitation onboard the ship, masks given to pilots and shore personnel, and movements off and on the ship being reduced as much as possible, with shore leave prohibited for all crew and access of shore personnel being reduced to a minimum. Despite not being able to leave the ship, I was still grateful to be able to keep travelling and visiting new ports while for so much of the world, any sort of travel was not much of a possibility.

Our next voyage was from Ireland to Iceland, this being the first time I experienced a rough sea state, with high swell and winds. Fortunately, I managed to cope well with these conditions well, however, our return passage from Iceland was aborted a few hours after departure, and we turned back for shelter due to the adverse conditions forecasted. The shipboard working environment exposes you to a mixture of challenges that seafarers must overcome and become used to. Whether this is significant rolling and pitching of the ship, unusual working/rest hours, or living and working in the same confined space, this is all part of life at sea. I found my first trip gave me a fantastic opportunity to acclimatise and become used to such an environment.

As bulk cargoes are completely unpackaged and transferred directly into the ship’s cargo holds, the nature of the cargo being carried had a significant impact on the holds’ condition. Alumina for instance – a white, powdery substance – affected the holds very little. Cargoes like iron ore or coal, however, were incredibly staining and as such, much of the deck work I was involved in revolved around preparing cargo holds for subsequent cargoes. This involved washing with hoses and chemicals, and in many cases, painting the hold bulkheads. Ensuring the holds were in good condition and would not cause any damage to future cargoes is imperative to the operation of a bulk cargo ship, and the deck crew got me fully involved with all the hold work and were keen to teach me the various processes used to maintain the cargo holds and deck in general.

I found the Captain highly supportive and keen for me to experience hand-steering the ship under pilotage, whether along a river or passage or out of a lock and harbour; this was certainly a trip highlight.

The knowledge and understanding I developed through experiencing the operations of a cargo ship first-hand significantly bolstered my enthusiasm for continuing the more theoretical side of the cadetship back at college, and developing my technical understanding further, which I see as an incredibly valuable aspect of my trip. Perhaps it is natural to look back on a first ship fondly, but I had a fantastic four months and greatly look forward to continuing my studies both at college and at sea.

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