During my time working in the commercial department for a shipping company, I was trained to question the Master and Crew to maximise the voyage results, but rarely did I ask myself if what I was asking them was even possible. That was until I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to sail on board for my first voyage.
It was not the longest voyage, but it gave me a real insight into the life of the crew onboard and the hours they would work. It all started in Tilbury docks, where the M/V Eileen C was to load a cargo of grain destined for Belfast. I was not to be given any special treatment and rather than an owner’s cabin, I was set to be bunking up with a cadet. I had been onboard ships plenty of times before during loading and discharging, so knew my way around them fairly well and always tried to build relationships with the crew when speaking to them on a daily basis from shore, which I am sure helped me.
The vessel loaded her cargo quickly and without issue and set sail down the Thames. I also got to see the London Array wind farm, which until that point, I never even knew existed. While at sea, I always kind of assumed that it was an easy life for a seafarer. I never until that point, had really taken into account what working on a constant shift basis would entail. The sitting on shift through day and night, together with the constant checking of the vessel’s course, ship maintenance, and the 1000’s of other jobs. This is not forgetting the constant communications with the ship’s agents, operators, charterers, technical, purchasing and crewing teams ashore. All of whom want an update ASAP.
Apart from the voyage going up through the Irish sea during Winter, it was fairly straightforward. Being on the bridge when the Master and Pilot took the ship into Belfast dock was an amazing feeling and made all the better by seeing a sister vessel being moored up at the same time. The discharge over the next few days was straightforward forward and I even managed to have a few beers with the crew down the Seamans’s mission in the evening. Before departing the ship, came the part that will stay with me for the rest of my shipping days. The order of “Time to clean the holds”. I had on many occasions told captains that “It should not take that long, you have only carried grain”. How wrong I would be…..
First of all, I was very surprised at how big the holds felt when you are actually down inside them and this was just a 4,600 DWT coaster. I had spent about 40 minutes sweeping and had built up a small amount of grain residues into a pile, that was until a gust of wind came and spread it all back down the hold. That was my light switch moment. If it takes this long to clean up after grains, I really have no idea what it is like to clean up after dirty cargoes. I would in future be more sympathetic to the crew after they had spent days sweeping, washing and painting the holds after a cargo of Petcoke.
And this is why I believe that everyone working in the office of the ship owner should do at least one voyage. We all think we know how to run the ships from our side, but do we actually know what it takes to keep them running 24/7 and the struggles that the crew onboard face?
So, the next time you tell a Master that he is taking too long or can the crew go any faster, take into account what I just said and get yourself booked on a voyage. Written By: Richard Long