Grease, fires, and immersion suits

October 10th, 2008 by scott and becky

MSC Alessia somewhere in the North Atlantic Ocean

This was our first day truly at sea. We awoke to a blue sea with no sign of land. We are moving across the ocean at 22 knots. At this location there is a 25 – 30 knot wind, so on board we feel winds up to 50 knots, which does make standing anywhere that is not protected from the wind a challenge.

The track of the shortest distance between the Bahamas and the Straits of Gibraltar appears as a curved line on the chart of the North Atlantic. The distances are so grand (it is 4000 NM between the Bahamas and the Straits of Gibraltar) that the shortest distance is a curve – the ship is turning ever so slightly to starboard as we progress. Fortunately, the ship’s computer calculates the necessary course, such that there is no need to do the calculations manually. We also notice that the large scale charts also have special lines indicating the magnetic variation because the variation is different at the top of the chart versus the bottom. It is hard to mentally grasp the scale.

Today was safety drill day. The drills were listed on memos that were posted on the crew’s mess, the officer’s mess, and on the bridge. Becky decided to go ask the Second Mate (the safety officer) about the drills (first a fire drill and then an abandon ship drill); which in the end caused more confusion that it alleviated. Becky came back from the bridge with the idea that we were not participating in the fire drill, and that we just needed to go to the stern to watch.

Unfortunately, this was incorrect and led Scott astray. About 15 minute prior to the drill, she learned that when the alarm sounded we did need to go to the muster station. She says she told Scott, but he missed the comment, so when the first alarm sounded, he went to the stern to watch the fire rather than the muster station – causing confusion and requiring crew members to go searching for him! It has now been drilled into even Scott’s thick head that anytime the alarm sounds, you grab your life jacket, helmet, and immersion suit and proceed to the muster station.  The crew was good-natured about the whole thing, since it gave them a chance to practice the ‘lost passenger’ drill as well.

Once everyone arrived at the muster station, we were directed to the aft of the ship to watch the fire drill exercises. Becky was a little surprised when they actually lit a fire in the BBQ barrel! They used a fire extinguisher to put it out. Since some of the crew members had not experienced the fire fighting foam, they also practiced using it (which made a nice mess of the stern). It was a little disconcerting watching them, as there were a few errors in their procedures. The fire hoses were not laid out properly at first, so when the water was turned on the hose had kinks. Then the foam pump was put on backwards, so the foam did not work right away. These are some of the reasons the drills are necessary. Becky just expected that they would be performed with the military precision she is accustomed to. In her naval training, had they made such mistakes, the drill would have been repeated until it was performed without error.

After the fire drill was complete, and everything cleaned up, the alarm sounded again and we returned to the muster station. Once everyone arrived, we proceeded to the swimming pool where three crewman donned their immersion suits and demonstrated floating the pool. The suits provide enough flotation on the their own; however, wearing a life jacket makes it easier to hold your head out of the water.

At the first muster station, Becky leaned up against a cable that holds the life raft. She succeeded in getting grease on both her arms, her shirt, and the back of her pants. She did not notice until Scott pointed it out to her! At the second muster station, the crew was careful to ensure that no one else leaned up against the very greasy cable. Good thing Becky is not wearing any of her good clothes on the ship (she doesn’t really have any “good” clothing). The outside of the ship is very dirty in spots, so anything you wear is likely to get some grease or soot on it eventually.  The crew are cleaning and painting something every day, but on a 300m ship, there aren’t enough crew or enough hours to keep the ship pristine.

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