Thursday, 29 December 2016

A Very Finnsunny Summer part 2

As time went by, many things and tasks became routine and other aspects of life at sea prevailed. I was no longer excited like a little kid for a usual evening bridge watch or to grab  the paintbrush to give a fresh touch to some railings or walls, or even less, the dreadfully boring ISPS watch. The crew changed over time and with that, so did the environment and I had to learn to work with different people who have different expectations, and I saw differences between the good, the great and the amazing (as, very fortunately, I did not meet any bad people during this OBT). I also started to realise that working at sea is definitely not good for people with fear of missing out, as life on land never stops and having to miss something amazing due to being "stuck" on a ship can sometimes be quite the bitter pill to swallow.

"Saw you w/ binoculars. Turned East. CPA 1,8 nautical miles in approx. 20 minutes.
On your starboard side. See you there!"

Several of my best friends met up and had a Baltic Sea ferries trip that I couldn't attend because I was on board. However, I was very happy when I realised that we'll meet at sea. Photos were taken from both sides; so, this is Gabriella underway from Helsinki to Stockholm with my friends on board, that I took as we were underway from Hanko to St. Petersburg.

Along with the whole life on board, the tasks I was given also became more interesting. Perhaps I should mention that the accessibility of different areas on the ship can not quite be compared to the public areas on a passenger ship. With plenty of vertical space, namely four high cargo decks, the superstructure above them and no elevators on board, just getting around was plenty of exercise. It did not take me long to see why the forklift was used for transportation around the cargo decks more than for anything else.
I have warm memories from the days when we were spending most of our time working inside the (mostly empty) port freshwater tank. The environment in and around the tank was warm and very humid, feeling well like a sauna after just some minutes of working. The only way to access the said spaces was to climb almost the entire ship's height in ladders, which we did several, if not more than ten times per shift. For me, that was extremely exhausting, but also fun and thrilling, in a way.  Still, when we were done with that for the time being, I sure felt I'd had enough of that tank.

The usual painting and rust chipping was still a thing, though, and as I noticed over time, no matter how well I covered up (which I could've done better on some days, especially when it was hot and sunny), there was always some heavy duty ship paint that found its way into my hair (which has not entirely worn off even now, nearly 6 months later), and some metal, rust and paint dust all over my face, hair and body. The most fun was had when I'd just finished coating some spots with primer, climbed down, unbuckled, removed some of the protective equipment and was more than ready to call it a day and hit the shower, when the jolly bosun came around with his "here, you missed a spot!".

Meanwhile, I had to start making sure that I get my required hours of hand steering before it is too late. Most of the time, the ship was on autopilot, only in some areas where accuracy was needed, a deckhand was ordered to steer. I started my steering exercises in the open seas, mainly Baltic and North Sea, where I just had to keep the ship steady on her course, and sometimes make some minor changes. As I was getting the hang of that, the areas got more demanding, and the final three hours of steering I did as we were sailing up the Scheldt estuary to Antwerp, following the orders of the pilots. In fact, Antwerp was one of my favourite destinations, even though there was never a chance to go ashore. The steering experience was very thrilling, with a somewhat narrow passage, a lot of other ships and very sharp turns. And when I wasn't steering, I enjoyed the industrial landscapes of the area, with factories, power plants, warehouses, harbours, cargo trains, chimneys and pipes as far as the eye can see, and also the bunnies hopping around on the patches of grass around the locks.

Antwerp lock bunnies
As the lock was filling with water, there was not so much to do, unless you brought a camera!
Generally, I became quite aware that I have a thing for metal (still not the music genre) and pipes and machinery during my time on board. I enjoyed doing safety rounds in the engine room, especially when we were at sea. It was warm, very noisy (even with earmuffs on, because without, it would've been unthinkably painful) and somewhat addictive to stand right between the two huge engines as they were running at full power.

Another destination where I got to enjoy some industrial landscape was St. Petersburg; the photo below is one of my absolute favourites.

Going ashore in St. Petersburg was for somewhat obvious reasons much more difficult than in other cities. As a sailor with a Seaman's Book, I did not need a visa or have any related troubles, but I could very easily see why it could turn out difficult without any Russian language skills; most of the Finnsun crew had been ashore there once, but had mixed experiences and no wish to return. For me, language was fortunately not a problem. Nonetheless, the port we docked at, one of very many, was really enormous, with three security gates, all somewhat far apart, on the way out and shuttle buses within the harbour territory going every 30 minutes.
Once out, it was about 4km to the nearest metro station, and then at least two stops to the enormous city center. I did not keep track of time as I headed towards the city. However, as I returned, considering that the only mishap was just barely missing a harbour shuttle after entering and thus having to do the 30 minute walk to the ship, it took me some 2 hours to return and I ended up returning a bit under an hour later than the Captain's just-in-case order. Had he not given it to be well before the departure, I could have ended up missing it altogether and getting in some deep trouble.
Considering those circumstances, while I did enjoy St. Petersburg very much and would definitely travel there again, I would probably not bother going ashore under the same conditions anymore, either.

The food in the wide selection of restaurants and canteens was very affordable and gave me a good chance to enjoy the wonderful Russian cuisine, which I have come to miss quite a bit while living in Finland. Afterall, the Estonian cuisine is very heavily influenced by the Russian. 
Seamen's Cultural Center near the port gate, looking somewhat abandoned
Street view somewhere between the port gate and the nearest metro station
Trinity Cathedral
A small part of Admiralty Building
The Neva River is not very small.
General Staff Building opposite to the Winter Palace
Kazan Cathedral
Monument to the People's Militia of the Lenin District
Between the trips to Spain, we also did trips to Denmark, namely Aarhus, a wonderful city where I was lucky to get to go ashore twice, although the 2nd time was with the mere purpose or restocking on some really delicious, white chocolate and strawberry powder covered almonds, and then I also ended up keeping an eye on the ship's electrician to make sure he doesn't end up in any silly situations while playing Pokemon GO.

There was a lot of marine life in Aarhus, such as jellyfish...
... and dolphins!
Great Belt Bridge as we passed underneath during my night watch

The ARoS art museum is nicely visible from many places in the city

Never enough almonds, nor pretty jars!
Finally, on our 2nd trip to Spain, we made an additional stop in Ferrol, which had one of the most beautiful natural landscapes as we sailed in, and was generally a very charming small town.

All in all, while the whole thing was a wonderful experience, it was definitely not a walk in the park, even if most of the crew I met would probably laugh out loud at this and remind me of the epic stories they told me of when they were apprentices.
And of course it is known that ships as isolated hierarchical environments can become very interesting in terms of human relations, that is also something one cannot really imagine without seeing it first hand. Stories of apprentices, of the crew members themselves, their thoughts, insights and aspirations, conversations or pretty much anything that I witnessed or heard could sometimes be quite the knot to untie and taught me a lot about myself and other people and things that are not so obviously related to running the ship. And despite being there only temporarily, I ended up feeling somewhat involved and having my own thoughts, ideas and views on the various matters and happenings on board. And in that way it was even somewhat sad to leave, knowing that I'm not going to return, because the people had become more than just some random crew members and it would have been interesting to stay and get to know more and see how the evolution continues in this small ecosystem.

But nonetheless, while there has been quite a lot of variation, valuable lessons, beautiful destinations, different people and experiences that I can definitely not overestimate, and of course work, and time flew by very fast, I definitely found myself looking forward to going home over the last couple of weeks.

Princess Anastasia inbound to St. Petersburg, 23.06
Lotsman Fyodorov, the St. Petersburg pilot boat, 23.06 
Aidamar in Rostock, 02.07
Viking Star in Rostock, 02.07
Aidaprima in North Sea, 11.07
Kaja and Øresund bridge, 19.07
Aidamar and Aidadiva in Baltic Sea, 20.07
Kronprins Frederik in Rostock, 24.07
Color Magic and Majestic Maersk, both among the largest ships of their type near Samsø, 26.07

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