Some of you have expressed an interest in knowing how my preparations for a life at sea were going, so here is the report of my first trip on a ship at sea:
It was a small container vessel that went from Rotterdam, to Göteborg, Aarhus, Hamburg, Bremerhaven and back to Rotterdam again. The trip took a week and we spend at most 24 hours at seas, which was shame, because I would have liked to be at sea longer. The ports were impressive, but I liked being at sea best.
I tried to keep a normal sleeping rhythm, but was often up at night to see the mooring operations, watch pilots come on board or simply to have a chat with the chief mate or who ever else was on watch at the time. I asked hundred of questions and moved all over the ship to see as much as possible.
The deckhands were all from the Philippines. They spend ten months in a row, each year at sea. They all had families at home so that must be a pretty tough life for them. Most of them longed for home. I was told that there were no more Dutch sailors on board vessels, because they cost too much. There was a very clear and distinct line between the deckhands and the rest of the crew.
The two engineers and the chief mate were from the Ukraine and the rest of the crew was Dutch. I talked a great deal with everyone on board. There were about ten people on board and everyone had their own cabin, including me. They even had cabins to spare, this was probably due to the fact that crews are getting smaller.
I got on board in the evening. It was a very strange sensation. I got on board, was shown my cabin and was then asked to wait for the captain. He explained to me the was I was and was not allowed to do and what the safety precautions were. After that I went up to the bridge and I could not believe my eyes. I can’t even describe it. Can any of you remember being on a ship’s bridge for the first time? It’s awesome. I stuck around there for a few hours to watch containers being loaded, after which the ship left for a new birth. We spend the rest of the next day loading and unloading and moving from birth to birth. Apparently it’s cheaper to move the ship rather than move the containers over great distances by truck.
On the morning of the second day we headed out to sea. The weather wasn’t as bad as they had anticipated and the result was only a gentle yawing that felt pretty weird to me at first, but I quickly got used to it and fortunately never got sea-sick. (I still feel the floor moving today after being on shore for three days, but it is slowly going away). A few times during the journey the ship was also rolling a bit and and one time I nearly fell out of my bed, although I am pretty sure a ship can do much worse than that.
I took about a hundred pictures and drained the batteries at an insane rate. Once when we were waiting in a lock, there was a shop. So while the ship was in the lock we could get to the small store and buy some stuff, which was excellent because I could get some extra batteries. Photographing ships can be challenging, I found. It often turns out grainy or unsharp.
The captain also told me some negative sides of the industry and I told him I appreciate the whole story, so I can make an informed decision. Unfortunately that is not what happened. I got the impression that the captain was trying to discourage me from going into this industry. On the last day it turned out I was right when he told me he doesn’t want work with female crew members. He says they haven’t got enough authority and it is a drama with them every time. During his career he worked only with about a handful of female crew members and based his opinion of all of them on those experiences I guess.
I was a little annoyed that with his constant hammering on about reasons why I should stay out of this industry and that it made it harder to consider all aspects more objectively. In the end I only had my stubborn resolve left and that is not how I wanted to make my decision.
So after the trip I visited a maritime college he had warned me against and I was so glad I did that. They presented me with a complete different side of the industry. They were really positive and gave visitors lot of information about all aspects to consider about the shipping industry. They have a lot of foreign students too and that forced them to make the class schedules in such a way that students have time to work to finance their education. They are also practically in the harbor which means there is a lot of time you can spend on ships. Their equipment is not state-of-the-art, but their ties to the industry seem much closer.
I have now made my decision and provided I pass the medical test, which I have to take before going to college, I will make the move to this industry. Undoubtably I will come across more negative attitudes, but there are people like that everywhere. I have noticed that competence and intelligence counts the most in this industry and I like that.
Furthermore I like having work and leave-time as separate as they are in the shipping industry. When you are on board you work most of the time and on shore you’re off. I like that you don’t stay in the same place like you do with working in an office. Here every day is the same and the challenge quickly goes away. In the morning you rush to work and when you get home at night you are really tired and you only got the weekends to do stuff. The work seems pretty interesting and challenging. A ships engine-room is large and this one was even small in comparison. There is so much to learn and so much experience required. I doubt I would soon grow tired of this industry.