Sunday, 29 December 2013

Changes and incidents

It's been a while since I last blogged, and a lot has happened. I haven't had the time to write down everything in order so I'll try to do it now.

Lots of ferry related news have reached my ears recently, mostly unpleasant ones. It almost seems as if the companies are trying to beat each other by having more incidents.

First of all, Viking XPRS was having difficulties entering the port of Tallinn due to bad weather on 1st of December. A tugboat was assisting her, but soon the captain decided it was too dangerous and returned to the open sea to drift for the night. What caused some inconveniences was the fact that all cabins were sold out, but pillows and bed sheets were distributed and some of the crew, including the captain, kindly allowed people to stay in their cabins. Free food and drinks were also available. The ship returned to Tallinn early next morning and her next departure wasn't affected.

Viking XPRS
Then, Tallink took a turn on the 12th of December, when a ramp connecting two cardecks collapsed on Star while she was in Helsinki. One truck driver was injured. The accident cancelled all of her departures until next evening, but at some point she was allowed to return to Tallinn with no passengers to unload the cars on the 2nd cardeck. So, the old double ramp of Superfast ferries found an use again. Later on some more departures were cancelled for repairs, but as far as I understood the ramp is currently stationary as a temporary result. Tallink is working on restoring the ramp as it was before.

Photo from the site, submitted to (not mine)
Ramp of Superfast
Three days later Amorella of Viking Line ran aground due to a blackout. The passengers and actually pretty much everyone following the event was very worried at first, since runninng aground can result in pretty much anything ranging from nothing to loss of the vessel. It was a lucky accident, because no one was injured, only a ballast tank was damaged and later on the ship continued to Mariehamn, where she dropped off her passengers and left to Rauma for repairs. Now she's back in service.

Amorella aground near Långnäs, slightly listed to starboard.

Some time later, Tallink struck again, when christmas schedules caused quite a mess at the check-in counter of Tallink's terminal in Tallinn. Superstar was exceptionally scheduled to depart 30 minutes before the Stockholm ferry, which meant that several thousand people had to check in during a very short period of time. The people to board Superstar were apparently given priority, but many didn't hear it and failed to board the ship in time. The ship didn't wait for them and they had to spend the night in Tallinn, returning to Finland next morning. Four of six check-in machines were out of order and the fifth one soon ran out of paper and nobody was sent to replace it.

Earlier today a fire broke out in a cabin on King of Scandinavia of DFDS Seaways. It was put out in 15 minutes, but seven people, mostly crew, had to be taken to hospital by helicopter due to smoke inhalation. Two people have been arrested for arson and affray. So far it looks like a lucky accident, and hopefully she will make it in time for her next departure after an inspection and some cleaning.

King Seaways (
That means Tallink and Viking Line are leading with two incidents each, and DFDS has one for now. Let's see who strikes next. I know it's somewhat inappropriate to handle ferry accidents the way I do, afterall they're no good, but they're really exciting to follow as long as you're not involved and as long as no one dies.
Now to continue with something more cheerful - Christmas has passed, which means exciting times for local shipspotters. In the meanwhile Cinderella of Viking Line came to do cruises from Helsinki with a short stay in Tallinn, and she has now been doing them for two weeks.
Our day cruise to Helsinki is crawling very close, with less than a week remaining. I'll return to Tallinn on Viking Cinderella on the 2nd last time that it's possible.

Cinderella arriving for the first time

Silja Festival is also on the move. A few days ago she left Paljassaare and came to Old City harbour and now she's in St. Petersburg waiting to start her Baltic Sea cruise on the 2nd of January. She will visit Tallinn, then stay in Stockholm for two days and then visit Helsinki. Unfortunately for us, she will be in Stockholm when we're travelling, so we won't get a chance to take better photos of her.

Silja Festival

Sunday, 1 December 2013

My studies at Reval Maritime School (July - August 2013)

I've noticed that lots, and I mean lots of people my age are working on getting their driving licences. I'm quite sure that I don't want or need a car anytime soon, but ships have been an interest of mine for a while. My dream is to be a captain on a large ship and I'm quite impatient about going to Estonian Maritime Academy one day. Small vessels and pleasure craft wasn't very exciting back then, but then my mother found me an offer from Reval Maritime School for half price course of pleasure craft driving. It seemed like a great opportunity and I took it.

When I stepped in the classroom on the first day, I saw it was going to be exciting - they had Tallink ship plans, lifejackets and lifesuits hanging on the walls, examples of knots, code flags and other similar stuff. There was about 20 of us there; I wasn't the only woman, but I was clearly the youngest. The course meant going to two hours long lectures three times a week during two months. There was a lot to learn but it was very interesting and since I didn't skip a lecture, it was quite easy for me. We studied, for example, the construction of ships, the basics of sailing, to tell the difference between boat motors, weather, all kinds of maneuvers, sea marks, buoys and lights. And of course traffic rules.

To be honest, maritime school wasn't so different from high school. There was still studying, half empty class, people, who had never heard of latitude and longitude, smokers etc. But they didn't give any homework or make us get up early. That was enough to make it a thoroughly pleasant place.
The greatest days were practice days at the school's practice area in Pirita harbour. One time we went sailing. It really helped to remember what we learned in the classroom, because compared to steering a motorboat, sailing is quite complex. While we weren't busy maneuvering or pulling ropes, we practiced tying knots. Sometimes the vast sail covered my view completely, adding in some seasickness. 

The cherry on the cake (or vice versa) was the motorboat and sea rescue day. At first, we practiced mooring for a while. It's rightly considered difficult - while I was steering, I did have some fear of wrecking the strong aluminium boat. For car driving people it felt odd that on a boat you turn the wheel before accelerating. After everyone got to practice, we sailed out of the harbour to drive a bit. We were racing around the gulf of Tallinn at speeds up to 60 knots and as an experience, it's comparable to a fun ride on a rollercoaster. The waves were hitting the bottom of the boat, but our supervisor said that it was nothing. After returning to the harbour we put on clumsy lifesuits and climbed up the tower to jump down into the sea, one by one. It was optional, but I never had a second thought. The biggest adrenaline rush was the moment a few seconds after my jump when I found myself thinking "So.. when's the splash?". Soon the splash came and then we had to float facing the sky to practice swimming and floating together and individually.

The most difficult part of the course was the GMDSS restricted operator's course that lasted for a week. It consisted of one theory lesson, several practices and an exam in the end of the week. During the only theory lesson I had a fierce battle with sleep that was trying to take over me, although I had been sleeping well. To keep myself from passing out, I took notes (that were going almost diagonally across the page at some point), but I didn't remember much. I passed the exam, but it wasn't easy. I received my GMDSS Restricted Operator's Certificate, but I'm a bit too young to file it at the Estonian Maritime Administration.
Since we passed the program quickly, we got to practice navigation, which is considered difficult for some reason. It's about calculating trajectories and drawing them on a map, considering for example the inaccuracy of a magnetic compass, wind and obstacles. It all came down to middle school maths and map reading skills. 

The exam that finished the course was very easy and I scored maximum points for it, about a month later I received my licence. Actually, I got my first steering experience before the licence - on the 1st of September I was allowed behind the steering wheel of a small two masted sailboat Minna. 

Now that I have my licence, I'm feeling a bit empty. For this season the fun is over anyway, I don't have a boat and I can feel how my knowledge is collecting dust. Before I'm ready to do long voyages behind the steering wheel I need to practice more and revise a few things, because operating a ship is a great responsibility and I can't allow myself a single mistake. That's exactly what I like about the whole thing. Now I drool over small vessels too, not just large cruisers, wait my future at the Maritime Academy even more impatiently and wonder about getting a nice boat for myself to practice and travel. Now that I think back to it, the time I spent at the maritime school was some of the best of my life.