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.

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