Wednesday, 28 December 2016

A Very Finnsunny Summer, part 1

As I mentioned in the end of my previous post, it was well known to me that to ensure the best progress with my studies, I would have to do 60 days of on-board training (OBT) during the first summer break. I admittedly had many doubts and worries about whether I'll manage to do that; while my school has very excellent opportunities for on-board training and there is a very nice and handy OBT placement system for students of Finnish maritime schools, I was worried that my still not very fluent Finnish skills would deter my opportunities there. However, it was during my very last course of the year when I was notified that I have been placed on a large ro-ro cargo ship called Finnsun for 60 days - just as I had requested, as my wish was to get it over with in one go. That was then some 4 days before I was due to board. Needless to say, I got very busy and on the 31st of May I took my suitcase and sat on the bus, bound for Kotka.

Name: Finnsun
© Nils Junge
IMO number: 9468918
Built: 2012 in Nanjing, China
Lenght: 188m
Beam: 26,5m
Draught: 7,1 m
Tonnage: 28 002 GT
Type: Ro-ro cargo ship
Speed: 21 knots
Capacity: 3291 lane meters

Now, whenever Kotka is mentioned, I always come to think of the many hours I had to kill there, as the Finnsun was in some hours late, a change that happened after I had already booked my bus journey. Finally, when I observed her nearing the pier on Marinetraffic, I got on a taxi and arrived to the pier just as she was lowering her ramp.

What awaits behind those slowly opening ramps?
As I had never been crew on any vessel larger than pleasure craft, I really had no clue what to expect. I was encouraged to look around and explore and the entire crew was being very helpful, but I felt more like being very careful; perhaps wisely, as I did manage to accidentally lock myself in the fore mooring room once, fortunately (and knowingly, as I wouldn't have gone there otherwise) a short time before arrival. It took me some days to get used to the fact that the "no unauthorized personnel" signs did not apply to me. At the same time, as just about everything I saw and heard and felt was entirely new to me, the first two weeks or so on board were a period where I probably learned more and faster than ever before. Every little thing that I later came to see as usual was extremely fascinating. I felt happy about rails and walls I'd painted and being told that I did well; I was very excited about mooring operations and the fact it did not take me too long to learn the basics. Over my first few days I was given several different familiarization rounds, the most memorable was the one I had with the Chief Engineer, which was so unexpectedly long and thorough that my little bucket of paint was rock solid when I returned, and the bosun was not very jolly about that. Totally worth it, though.

The view of Kotka from my cabin the evening I boarded
The first of hundreds of ships I photographed over the time - tugboat Jupiter inbound to Kotka.
My cabin; unexpectedly luxurious, private, somewhat remote (if anything can be called that in the small superstructure of a cargo vessel), and I was the only crew with no walkway behind my window. I only had to consider crane drivers when alongside to not accidentally expose myself, because they sometimes moved by quite close.
 Despite all the safety awareness and training given at school, the true realisation of the amount of various smaller or bigger risks or ways to die or otherwise screw up big time truly came around as I learned to know the ship. I also thought I knew that ships are very complex and detailed, but the extent of that still amazed me. Besides the common "Bridge n' maybe Engine Room package" that's most commonly offered  to visitors, I was now getting familiar with spaces for bow thrusters, rudders, countless various kinds of pumps, tanks, endless pipes and valves and other installations, control rooms, as well as the mandatory safety equipment of all sorts, that in total forms a rather big part of a ship.

Mandatory Funnel Photo
Ready to tie 'er up! Mooring remained one of my favourite common tasks throughout my time on board.
The ISPS watch is an important part of the security of a ship, and one of the most common and dull tasks on board.
Extinguishing a forest fire with an eyedropper
Ways to die on (or around) a ship, vol. 489275: now, kids, if this line snaps...
Eventually the basics of life and work on the ship became familiar and routine, even though I did get to try all possible watch hour combinations. There were days with a lot of excitement, and there were also those days with, for example, keeping ISPS watch at the ramp from midnight to 4 o'clock in the morning, with nothing happening as far as the eye can see, or the bridge watch in the vast open sea without a single course change, radio call, ship or shore in sight during the whole shift.

Or the days when there would've perhaps been plenty of beautiful ships and shores to see, but we couldn't even see our own tail. View aft from just behind the bridge.
One part of the deal I had definitely looked forward to was seeing new places; ever since I was old enough to grasp the concept of the world and travelling I've been very keen and fascinated with it. During my OBT, the new places I saw were a somewhat trivial part of the whole experience, but nonetheless a very nice and important extra. The first city where I went ashore was Lübeck. I grabbed a bike from the ship and after getting lost in the port and finding my way out by communicating in sign language, I got to do some sightseeing for a few hours. However, here I made the grave mistake of having the "Oh, we'll be back soon anyway" attitude; after that voyage, the Finnsun was put on the Biscay trade and I have not been back since.

Fairytale views on river Trave, as seen from under the starboard lifeboat.

Lübeck is by far the most bicycle-friendly city I have been to so far; the bicycle paths were well made and the few times I did have to use the car road, the drivers were very polite and considerate. Another thing I noted was that bank cards were not accepted in the vast majority of stores in and around the Old Town, which was a huge inconvenience for me and adds a bit to my bitterness about never getting to return.
However, other than missing Lübeck, the new route was a very welcome change, adding a whole lot of excitements. The Danish straits, the Bay of Biscay with a bit more waves than what I was used to so far and port calls in Spain and Belgium, to name just a few. My first, last and favourite port in Spain was Santander. During my OBT we were there twice, and I got to go ashore for many hours and enjoyed it a lot both times.

Another Spanish port we visited twice was Bilbao, or to be more accurate, Santurtzi. There I only got to go ashore on the first time; perhaps I should have taken the metro to central Bilbao then, while I could, but nonetheless, I enjoyed Santurtzi very much, too, and made some shopping discoveries I'm still very happy about.

One of my favourite tops came from Santurtzi; along with a pair of round sunglasses from Santander, my favourite finds from any ports we visited. 
Another big favourite - Lacasitos, the local M&M that comes in a much wider variety of sizes, flavours and colours and tastes far better. I bought ridiculous amounts whenever I could, and will most definitely do so again whenever I get to Spain.

One of the many tasks I learned to do on the earliest days was filling in the logbook. Simultaneously, I started keeping my own log of the hundreds of ships I photographed during the OBT. Perhaps I should mention that I was often nicknamed the "paparazzi" by the crew.

Over time, I started feeling more comfortable and adapted to life on the Finnsun, which enabled me to see more of what's going on and analyse, and I started seeking opportunities to witness some procedures I had not yet seen; generally, at one point the experience became about everything other than the casual painting and watchkeeping. That, as well as more beautiful destinations and ships will be in part 2.

Sea Wind, Vuosaari, 01.06
Norwegian Star and Costa Favolosa, Rostock, 03.06
Marittima, Travemünde, 03.06
A floating ramp named Franz in Rostock, 04.06
Sparrowhawk & Suederoog, Baltic Sea, 05.06
Aidamar, Baltic Sea, 05.06
Finnstar, Vuosaari, 06.06
Kerel, Baltic Sea, 11.06
Tango Sea, North Sea, 11.06
Suomigracht, Zeebrugge, 12.06
Isis, outside Antwerp, 19.06
Baltic Queen and Star, just a small part of all the traffic in sight while sailing on the Gulf of Finland traffic separation scheme. 22.06
Austera & Princess Anastasia on the way to St. Petersburg, 22.06
Ionic Kibou, 22.06

No comments:

Post a Comment