This post by Matthew Little was originally published at Diary of a Deckie: My experience volunteering on a hospital ship.
Hello everyone, thanks for coming back. I want to apologies for how belated this update (If you were keeping track of how often I do this. Something happened…. my laptop temporarily broke. It’s fine now though!) It has been over a month since I started this, but this is what happened. My old laptop broke again, I took it to IS, and they suggested getting a new hard-drive, because it had become corrupted and crashed. Instead of ordering one, waiting for it to arrive in Rotterdam, the next container to arrive with the hard drive on for them to replace my hard drive; I decided that I would just wait until I got back on on PTO, where am I writing this now, and get a new laptop entirely. I have an ASUS TUF fx505. It’s a gaming laptop. I have found that I have got back into gaming during my time onboard. Specifically Minecraft. So that’s what’s up.
This one also might be a short one as I have forgotten what has happened in my life for the most part. apart from some pretty significant ship activities that has happened.
The short voyage
As I mentioned last time, due to some dredging of the port, the ship had to move. After a couple weekend of postpones, a deal was made between our ship, the port and the dredging company. Some representatives from the company visited the ship, they were so amazed by the work and service we were doing for Guinea (and I guess the work do and have done over 40 years all over the place), that they didn’t want to interrupt our busy hospital schedule, that they decided to do the depth measurements and dredging all in one go, over a three day period. Thankfully, we had a handy ship holiday weekend coming up. (every six weeks, we have a ship holiday to give the crew a break. Unless you were a ward nurse, engine room watch keeper, on night patrol for a week I wasn’t, on reception or on call).
So, bright and early, on a Friday morning, the crew hit the decks to get the party started (or keep it going). This time, I wasn’t on the bridge, as I was posted the first two times. Instead, I was on the Bow (or Forecastle) along with a couple fellow Deckies, Odon, the Assistant Bosun and Abdul, a rating, as well as a couple volunteer engineers, Kees, the last Mechanic/Fitter (he left a couple weeks ago), Corey, an electrician (He has also left the ship) and Harrison, still on the ship. We were also joined by my father, in the deck department, but not a deckie, and Cherif, one of our Men of Guinea who has since joined the crew. It was a smooth ‘sail’, just up the dock, next to a bulk carrier transporting concrete. So, for a few days, it was like dusty season again, except much worse. That was part one of the voyage.
A couple hours later, at around quarter past 6 in the evening, the Captain gave a message on the PA telling all crew onboard who were involved with the shifting to meet in the cafe. We had to move. Again. An unexpected arrival of a ship bringing a mobile crane later that evening meant that we had to move another 20 feet forward. Another agreement was made between us and the port, who had originally asked to do something else, going like this:
1. Our ship goes back to our original berth (Friday evening)
2. After the new ship has unloaded the crane, and departed, we go back to where we were moved to.
(Somepoint between Saturday and Sunday)
3. Our ship moves away from the dock, to sit, at anchor for about 6 hours (Monday)
4.We finally move back to our original position (Monday)
Or it was something like that, I can’t remember.
So, those who were involved but not ashore, as some crew had gone, mustered at our mooring stations for the second time that day. It was cooler, so easier to work in. Our Deck day crew had also gone home for the day. They were on the dock pulling our Yokohamas (big thing covered in tyres to stop the ship scraping along the wall) and attaching our mooring lines to the bollards, so transportation stepped in. So my team, on the bow pretty much pulled the ship to our new position using the mooring lines. It was quite a cool experience, pretty much pulling the ship there. There was very little engine on.
And so that was our new location for the weekend. The ship also got covered in concrete from the next ship over, as it was bringing concrete to Conakry.
Monday moving- back to our berth
Then came the time to move back to our berth. Or so we thought. It wasn’t as dramatic as I make it out to be. The plan was to go out to anchor for a few hours. What ended up happening was we moored close to our berth, with mooring mooring lines. Only to move back to our proper place.
So that was the tale of our move.
Apart from the Day Crew celebration, I can’t remember what happened between that move and prepping to sail. My father and a few others from the ship visited the church that we had visited the day after my birthday. It also happened that I shared a birthday with one of the youngest members of that congregation, so we had a joint celebration that Sunday. The last time we visited the church before leaving Guinea, we were invited to lunch with the pastor and a few of the senior members of the church. It was nice to spend time in fellowship with them one last time
Prepping to leave.
With the sail coming up, our preparation for leaving included: lashing down everything on deck and and around the ship that could have moved, and using the transfer container to lift every vehicle from the dock to deck 8. It was a very smooth operation. Then, on the last days before we left, we had to take down all of our fencing on the dock, pack all that we could fit into a container, the rest craning them up. That was an experience watching. A bit of a nail biting one. The deck department, along with our day crew also went to a Lebanonese/Moroccan restaurant as an appreciation for them working with us. That was also the last night we saw them, so it was a bit emotional, saying goodbye to an amazing group of gentlemen
Sailing the seas.
So, after weeks of preparation, we were ready to set sail, and ride the open ocean. After one or two stowaway searches. Then we left, hauling in our mooring lines, and stowing them in the bosun’s locker. There is an art to stowing those lines. By the time we were at sea, It was my first watch. So, I donned my watch shirt, epaulets, and made my way upto the bridge. The sail was smooth, and I got my first experience of steering ships. In the middle of the night. I had two watches, one in the middle of the night, the other in the middle of the day. My first watch, during the day, I spent as a lookout, spotting other ships, smaller boats and the occasional marine life. To get my steering certification, I need to have 10 steering by both day and night, and by both Gyro and Magnetic compass. The sail from Guinea to the Canary Islands is 5
days, so I had enough time to do that, however, I am only a few hours off. I should most definitely get those ten hours done during the sail from the Canary Islands to Senegal. I tried sailing by Magnetic compass, easy during the day, however, during the night, I somehow managed to steer off course by a lot a couple times. A ship is not like a car, so it took about 5 minutes to get back on course. I could be looking at the magnetic compass, then look down at the Gyro and be like “AGH! This is definitely not where I want to be”.
The last night I was on watch was a beautiful one, as when I started the watch, and the previous watch were just finishing, there were several fishing boats around, so there were a bunch of lights on the horizon all around us. Then, at the end of the four hours, a faint glow of orange street lights from Gran Canaria could be seen in the distance.
Two weeks of living
in an oven in shipyard.
As was planned stayed on ship for two weeks during shipyard, before flying home on Personal Time Off. However, because of a potential operation, my parents went home two weeks before for my mum. They went home for a consultation, and it turned out that she didn’t need to operation. Praise God for that. So I took their cabin as a cabin-sitter before I went home. What had been said about dry-dock was that the Air Con would be taken offline, leaving the inside of the ship as an oven. My mum got a fan from the wards, so the cabin was cooler. It was a very strange reversal, going from “It’s too hot to go outside, I’ll stay on ship” to “It’s too hot to stay inside, I’ll have to go outside”
The thing that I was dreading about the end of the field service and Shipyard was knowing that most my friends would be leaving. The day that the ship was taken out of the water, two of the first people I met on the ship, Caleb and Laura, left the ship. They rented a couple apartments for a few weeks in Las Palmas, before going back to their respective countries, and/or, a tour around Europe. So we managed to get a few meet-ups around town before they both left. It was hard to say goodbye to them. But, it turns out that a similarly sized group of similarly aged people will still be on ship during Senegal, so my fear was wrong.
Working in dry dock was…. interesting. There are a bunch of projects going on all over the ship, from the Engine room to the bridge, but a whole load of volunteers come only during shipyard to do those projects, whilst work on deck has been pretty much the same as normal, but a bit of a support role for the projects. One evening, whilst I was on call, I had to help with the bringing in several boxes of vinyl flooring for one of the projects.
Also on the day that the ship went into drydock, me and my parents rented a car and went exploring around the island. We visited one of the highest points on the Island; breath taking views of the rock formations around, and even Tenerife can be seen! The peak on the volcanic island, at least. I was supposed to be on ship helping with the move, but because I had a day off owed and my parents left the next day, I was allowed off to go with them. We also took a trip to IKEA.
The Sunday before I left, was a black out day, because of some cleaning of the main switchboard meant power to the entire ship had to be shut off. which also meant no way for fires to be detected by the system, and also no way to alert the crew. So everyone who wasn’t involved had to be off-ship. Me, Sam, Rachel, Angela, and a new Dutchie called Arne, who arrived literally the evening before, and is also only there for shipyard, went to the Aquarium. Sam and I had been wanting to go the Aquarium for a while, and Sunday was the opportunity. It was amazing. Discussions about the existence of Jellyfish were instigated, and I learned just how small clown fish are. After that, we went on a very nice walk around the city, then up into the elevated outskirts of the city, to get a very cool view of the port, the beach and the skyline.
I also found out that I had given our Chief Engineer a bit of an energy boost one Thursday. In the morning, I gave my Testimony to the technical crew and led devotions. I recalled one of the sermons I had heard at Soul Survivor, A christian youth festival, a few years ago. That sermon was one of the main inspirations for me joining Mercy Ships. It was the story of Moses, and how he protested to God about going to speak to Pharaoh, so God sent Aaron, Moses’ Brother, along with him. Later that Thursday, during our community gathering, our Chief Engineer recalled what I had said that morning, and the message being “We all need to work together. If we can’t work together, nothing can get done.” That was his intepretation. It was so nice to hear that I, one of the youngest crew members, could inspire the older generation.
And that’s all I have.
Sorry that this one is literally just text, but having no laptop for a month, I really wanted to get this one out. I am so looking forward to going back to the ship and going to Senegal, where I will be continuing this blog!
Thank you for reading, and goodbye.