Japan on the Starboard beam & St Elmo’s Fire

Are we there yet???

Nearly but not quite.
We have Japan (Kyushu) 140 miles on our starboard side.
The weather has calmed down and we are plodding along quite nicely now. the only change to come is that I am having to transfer off of the 1800 – 0600 watch to be more of a floater due to us doing some DP trials on arrival that I need to be up for in order to set up the DP desk. Basically we are going to apply 70 tons of force via an anchor wire to a tug onto our starboard 1/4 to check 3 things
1- Can the winch apply that much grunt?
2- With that force being applied off the center line what effect will it have on the DP systems ability to maintain position and heading,?
3- Will we be able to counteract the expected loss of heading issue safely enough and reliably enough to start the beach pull.?

T’is all a mystery of the sea m’hearties, (well physics really, but that doesn’t sound anywhere near as romantic does it?) however we are quietly confident that we will be able to sort out any issues that arise.

We are here 32* 05.3′ N 127* 29.6′ E Speed 7.6 knots wind 2 knots NNE Sea less than 1 meter variable direction. Water depth 138 meters and the temp is a positively nippy (no pun intended) 14 degrees.

30th

St Elmos Fire is a strange one and I have experienced it a few times.
It creates an eerie sensation for the observer, the sort to get the hairs on the back of your hands standing on end, but that’s as much to do with the latent electricity in the air as anything else.

I had been told what to expect if atmospheric conditions were right, but it was still an awesome sight the first time, and to see what appeared to be blue flames coming off the sharp fittings on the bridge wing, as well as the mast being aglow on the monkey island.

With the wild recklessness of an immortal teenager I wondered if I could get it to come off the ends of my fingers, so I venture out onto the bridge wing. There I am, stood with my arms outstretched towards the sky trying to get some flaming finger action.
The best I could managed was a blue glow around each finger end which, although unusual in its own right, was a tad disappointing.
Upping the ante a little, I took my deck knife out and held that up and suddenly I was “in the blue flame business” with a pronounced flame coming off the end of my knife. I also had a smaller flame coming from the collar zip of my thermal oilskin.

Once I was out there and “live” so to speak, with blue flames sprouting out of me, and probably saying something corny of the time like “Far out man” the Second Mate, from the safety of the bridge, suggested that standing out in an electrically charged atmosphere (St Elmo’s often occurs around thunder and lightening storms) whilst holding my arms aloft, with what was in effect ‘a lightening conductor’ held in my hand, had all the hallmarks of an elaborate suicide attempt or was a sure sign that he was sharing a watch with a fuckkwit.

Listening to his words I quickly realised he was making a very valid point and tehrdfore I had a sudden loss of bravado (foolhardy or fuckwitted, take your pick) and ventured back into the ‘Faraday caged” safety of the bridge.
The second mate proceeded to fall across the chart table, clutching his chest with one hand and pointing at me with the other, whilst gasping for breath in between raucous, bellowing, guffaws of laughter.

Realising that due to the laughter this was unlikely to be a heart attack, (so my first aid training was not required), a quick inspection of my reflection in the window had me joining in the laughter with him, because my hair and beard (both quite long in those days) was set up on end all around me like some bizarre, hirsute halo up to 18 inches out from my head. I looked like one of the Furry Freak Brothers (google it)
There have a been a few St Elmo instances since then but they have never been as strong as that first time and I tend to stay in the bridge and watch from a safe distance now.

The first time I saw the Aurora Borealis was on a passage from Riga (Latvia) in the Baltic up around to Archangel on the northern coast of Russia.

http://www.picturesofcities.info/map-city/Archangel/2343751/

It was one of those open mouthed, staring and pointing moments, as great swathes of the starlight night sky shimmered and undulated like gossamer curtains in all shades of red purple and green.
This might sound strange but, as beautiful and awe inspiring as it was, there was a sense of something missing.
I realised that the missing ingredient was synthesiser music, which for some reason I expected to hear and because the whole thing was silent and just looked like it shouldn’t be.
It looked like a light show that should accompany a Jean Michelle Jarre or Tangerine Dream live concert (I know how 70′s is that?? ) and it was the lack music that I noticed first. Perhaps that feeling might have something to do with my many experiments with the available hallucinogenic drugs of the time.

I have seen it a couple of times since but never in such magnificent technicolour. The last time was on cable ship halfway between Scotland and Iceland where it looked like when you sometimes see the loom of a cars headlights over a distant hill. A fascinating spectacle when you are hundreds of miles from the nearest land.
This shows it up pretty well and although time lapse photography and a bit one coloured it still gives a good idea of the scale of it. (and there is no music)

Another notable time I saw some “freaky lights” was on transit across the Indian Ocean in the late 70′s. I was on the 0000 – 0400 watch looking out and seeing that optical illusion you can get when deep ocean without any light pollution and where the stars appear to be on the inside of one of those glass cheese domes. The illusion being that the cosmos looked spherical and you could see the starts practically down to the horizon.
I was looking around in awe at the sheer magnitude and beauty of it all when I noticed we had some phosphorescence action along the side of the ship and along the leading edges of the wavelets that we caused as we steamed though the calm waters. The wake was also flashing with the same glimmering show.
Suddenly a massive patches of ocean all around us and in the distance just began to teem with sliver light in a quite staggering and awe inspiring show of natural light. I called the second mate to come and check it out, and for over an hour we both watched absolutely spellbound by the show. He had never seen anything like it in his 30 years at sea, and wrote a detailed report which was sent in with the weather reports that most deep sea vessels sent daily by telegraph to the Hydrographic Office, in those days before satellite comms.
I had seen phosphorescence before and since but never in such an awesome display.

I have to say before I log off tonite that it has been great fun sharing some of my experiences of my 40 years at sea and I truly appreciate the many messages I have received telling me how well received they have been.
Love and Peace
Bentley

Latest Voyage update and ALBATROSS!!!

Well been a bit choppy for the last 24 hours with 35 knot winds and seas starting to approach 3 meters but I think the worst of that has gone and we should have fair passage for the next three days which will see us to port.
Here we are then:- 29* 47′ N 126* 07′ E Wind 20knots North, Water depth 83 meters Seas 2.5+ meters temp 15*c

29

For no other reason that it just seemed to spring to mind here are three of my most memorable encounter with Albatross

The first ever Albatross I saw in flight was 40 years ago approaching The Cape of Good Hope on a passage from UK to the Persian Gulf.

It was just after dawn on a fairly blustery day and I was on the bridge wing as look out (as was normal in those days).
I noticed this massive seabird skimming just a couple of feet over the water and following the contours of the waves without seeming to move its wings.
It was by far the largest bird I had ever seen and it was mesmerising for its grace and its speed without appearing to move its wings apart from the feathers on the trailing edges and its tail.
It flew serenely and seemingly without effort.
They have an ethereal quality that gently demands your attention and it is easy to become entranced watching one in flight.

The Chief Mate told me it was a Wandering Albatross, which are known to travel fantastic distances and regularly circle the globe, although they are birds only of the southern hemisphere found mainly between the latitudes of 28 and 60 south.

As with many seabirds they are, in some superstitions, thought to be the souls of dead sailors however a simple mathematical calculation soon puts that myth to rest.

They are sadly in a decline caused solely by mans activities.
One reason is floating plastic garbage dumped at sea, or from land, that’s finds its way into, and blocks the birds digestive tracts.
The other is from long line fishing methods where, as scavengers, they dive on the squid and other baited hooks coming out the back of long line vessel when they are shooting their gear and get caught in the hook and are dragged below the waves and drown.
Of 21 species 19 are now endangered.
There is some more technical info here

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albatross

The closest I have ever been to touching one was on a cargo ship in 1980. We had been to Buenos Aeries and a smaller port further south in Argentina (the name escapes me) and were heading around Cape Horn for Valparaiso in Chile .
I should add at this point that I have been round Cape Horn twice and it was flat calm the first time with a light breeze and steady drizzle and the second time was about a force 5 with slight seas and clear skies, basically a really nice day.
I would love to have a salty tale of “rounding the horn” sprinkled with phrases like “I’ve never known a night like it” and “The wind howled like a thousand banshees and we were all afear’d for our lives”, but both times we just a fairly pleasant passages in what can be very bad water.
Sorry about that.

I went out onto the bridge wing at about 3pm and leant on the dodger.
(The dodger is a curved plate on the forward edge of the bridge wing that deflects the wind up and over the lookout stood on the bridge wing.)
As I did so I had the shock of my life because I came eye to eye with an albatross that was soaring on the air current that forces itself up the front of a vessels accommodation when underway.
It was close enough for me to put my hand on his back, which I didn’t do as he would have freaked and flown off.

I spent a minute or two looking at him and he had a look at me between scanning the sea. I was thinking “Wow Oh Wow what amazing thing”. Although I don’t speak albatross he was probably thinking
“Hmm to big to eat but doesn’t seem to be a threat, I will keep my eye on him just in case”

The things that struck me was the size of his beak, it seemed huge and looked like it could take a finger or two of without effort and also he was so clean and in pristine condition. I had to force myself to overcome the urge to stroke him.
Apart from the tiniest of movements on the wing tips and tail feathers he was motionless suspended on the up draught and using these tiny movements to stay in the air stream. He was no more than 18 inches from the bridge wing
I am absolutely sure I was having a “gob open, staring in awe” moment and I felt ecstatic to be so close to such a magnificent creature.

I slowly made my way into the bridge and asked the Second Mate if he had seen him and he informed me that it had been there for about couple of hours earlier and then shot off and had something off the ocean and came back about an hour ago. He also said that they often hitched a lift on the updraft as it was less effort for them.

Using a tape along the top of the dodger we measured his wingspan at 3 meters 40 cms. Get a tape measure out and lay it down and it will give you some idea of the size.
He stayed with us on and off for a couple of days and then was gone.

I have one more “albatross” tale to tell although some may find this a bit cheesy, but at the time I thought “when else will I ever get the chance to do it” and I bet that many of you would try the same thing if the opportunity arose.

It was later the same year that I was transiting the Cape of Good Hope on another vessel on our way to Maputo (originally Larenzo Marks) in Mozambique and there was an albatross patrolling our wake for any juicy morsels we kicked up.
It was a rough day and the waves were about 4 or 5 meters and using the ‘close to the water glide’ when it would disappear from view behind a wave only to reappear up the back of the next one. It was almost mystical in it’s elegance.

There is an aerodynamic phenomenon called “ground effect” that albatross and other seabirds are masters off which allows them to stay close to the water and stay airborne with little or no effort.

While watching I suddenly had an idea and dashed into my cabin, grabbed my Sony Walkman, shoved in the correct tape forward wound to the correct track ad dashed back onto the deck .
I then cranked up the volume and watched the bird fly almost in perfect time to the music.The word that best describes the experience is “mesmerising”.

Here are some photos and the track to help better visualise what I saw.

Love and Peace
Bentley

Getting Colder & The Story of Whale Snot.

So we came up off of the deep water 18 hours ago from 4,000 meters up to 1000 and now to 100 meters.
The wind veered from the South West to the North and when I posted last night at midnight it was 26*C tonight it is 16*C which is a bit brisk on a ship with no heating. The Malay, Thai, Indonesian, and Singaporean people who make up the vast majority of the crew are grumbling a bit because we are just not geared up for cold weather. As the vessel has never been further north than about 12* in the gulf of Thailand even I have no warm clothing. I do have flip flops plenty of shorts and t shirts but not a single long pair of trousers or long sleeve shirt or other such suitable clothing. I will see how this one pans out

So here we go
28* 01 N 125* 09 E Course 0058 Speed 5 knots – Wind North 28 knots. Sea height 2 meters, water depth 100 meters Temp 16*

28th

The story of me being woken up by whale snot:-

I was working off shore Nigeria in 1994 as the skipper of a high speed, passenger carrying, jet boat. The vessel was 15 meters long and had a beam of about 3.5 meters. It had twin inboard 375Hp turbocharged diesels than ran twin water jet drives.
We carried 20 passengers at service speed of 36 knots. The wheelhouse was just forward of the stern and above the passenger cabin which was accessible by a short stairwell.
The passengers embarked and disembarked via a doorway at the front of the accommodation that led onto the bow section
Behind the wheelhouse was an area about 2 meters long with handrails around the stern. We had arranged a couple of planks of wood in these rails that acted as benches for us to have a snooze ion during the day or to make the fishing more comfortable for us when we didn’t have passengers.
The crew was one skipper (me) who doubled as the engineer and one boatman (local Nigerian) who kept the vessel clean and assisted the passengers on and off.
There was no living accommodation on board and we were about 100 miles out from the Bonny River in the Gulf Of Guinea.

We took people from the main Floating Storage and Offload (FSO) and hotel vessel out to the 6 platforms (spread over an 11 mile diameter) in the morning (0600) took them back in the evening (1800) and ferried them about in the day if they needed to visit other platforms.
We would also transport the food to them at lunchtimes.
We had a sub sea mooring that had a floating hawser attached and in evening, after dropping everyone back at the FSO, we would make fast to the morning and the oil fields standby supply vessel would send across its Zodiac (rubber boat with outboard) to pick us up. We slept on board the supply boat.

If I was actually driving the boat and had the engines running for more than 5 hours a day it was considered a very busy day.
Basically it was great job that paid well, gave me the opportunity to drive a wonderfully responsive and incredibly accurate to handle boat, that also gave me plenty of hours in the day to engage in some big game fishing.

The waters were rich with Barracuda, Sail Fish, Red Snapper, Dorrado, Yellow Tails, Tuna etc that we would sell to the camp boss (catering manager of the field).
There were also an assortment of sharks including one memorable encounter with a 4 meter Hammer-head shark that we had to release.
I can tell you that reaching down with a pair of wire cutters to cut the hook as close to its mouth was a very tight sphinctered moment.
Before this shark catch I used to often jump in and have a swim in the clear blue waters when we had a quiet hour or more, however the Hammer-head incident and one other put a stop to that.

One morning, whilst in the Zodiac on the way to the boat, we were trailed all the way by a very big shark whose fin was no more than 2 meters from our Zodiac and matched us for speed for the one mile, open water journey.
It was predawn we couldn’t see what sort of shark it was in the dark water but it was a big fin which normally indicates a big shark.
I am sure I could hear the bass notes of a cello going DUH Dun…Duh Dun Duh dun duhdun duhdunduhdun. I never swam after that.

One quiet afternoon I was having a bronzy doze on one of the planks when I was startled out of my reverie, first by a massive whooshing sound, followed closely by a drenching spray of water.
As I jumped up in shocked alarm I came face to face with a Humpback whale who was on the surface calmly looking at me while I stood dripping with whale snot and seawater looking back at him.
I could have sworn he was smiling.
His eye was bigger than my head and I just looked into it and somehow found the voice to say
“Aye Aye Matey, nice to meet you. Where did you come from?
He didn’t answer but continued to hold my gaze for a while.
I don’t know if it was male or female (it just seemed like a he) but he hung around for about half and hour just checking us out from different angles, often very close nudging us with his body, as we drifted on the current and chatted away to him.

He was close enough to touch on several occasions, and so we did, which he didn’t seem to mind at all. All I can say is that if you can imagine what its like to touch a whale, it felt like that.

There was absolutely no mistaking the fact that he was definitely “looking at” my boatman and I as we made polite albeit one sided conversation with him, in both a river delta dialect of Nigerian and in the Dorset brogue of English, as well as some whistles and an occasional attempt to mimic whale song I had heard on a documentary.
I am glad in a way he didn’t understand that as I might have been inadvertently calling his mother the whale version of a fat crack whore.

He was massive, certainly bigger than the boat, however although he possessed an immense and gentle power it was obvious he was absolutely no threat to us.
I felt that he was just as curious as to what we were doing (and what we were), as we were about him, however I don’t think we quite inspired in him the awestruck respect and splendour that he inspired in us.

Once he had satisfied his curiosity he slowly raised his tail high in then air and slipped beneath the surface and was gone.
About twenty minutes later we saw what we thought was a blow (as in “Thar she blows”) a couple of miles away.
I had seen hundreds of whales of all sorts before that, normally just gently swimming along, where you get to watch their sleek backs and the fountain of their blow, as they go about their business.
I have seen killer whales leaping and somersaulting so beautifully and gracefully for me to think they must have escaped from an aquarium.
I have seen humpbacks breeching alone and as pairs but never had, or expected to have, such a magical and close encounter as that.

When I see a whale I smile.
I think everyone does.
There is not much you can do about it they just make you want to smile.
If you say “whale” the same bits of your cheeks flex as when you smile, (go on try it, you know you want to)
I don’t know if it is some sort of Darwinian recognition of a distant evolutionary cousin, but there is something about them that has an historical resonance, connecting to a forgotten inner sense, when you see then in the wild.
They are totally at one with their environment, they only breed enough to have family groups that their habitat can support. The waste nothing and create no pollution. They are in tune with where they are.
No wonder we smile when we see them, it’s probably out of embarrassment.

The other sea creature that instinctively raise a smile are Dolphins or Porpoise. (I will call them all dolphins from now on)
Have you ever seen an animal that looks happier about being alive in its own environment than a dolphin?
I know its just the shape of their faces but they look like they are having such fun and they are always a joy to see and watch.

I was lucky enough to have a dual encounter with two whales and a pod of dolphins a couple of weeks later in the same location off Nigeria.
It was a delightful sight that filled me with such joy I thought was going to spontaneously combust.

One afternoon we spotted a pair of humpbacks together only about half a mile away steadily swimming in one direction.
We also noticed a pod of dolphins nearby, which wasn’t unusual as barely a week went by without there being plenty of dolphins about.
The dolphins were never really interested in us when we were just drifting, but when we were speeding through the water they would often come across and try to ride the bow wave and I would adjust the speed to suit.
Many a time I have put the boatman on the controls and I been lying down with my head over the bow at 25 mph or faster and having two or three dolphin weaving in and out of the bow wave just below the surface near my finger tips.
Smiles and grins that big make your face hurt after a while.

The pod of dolphins must have caught site of the whales, or maybe the whales were singing and the dolphins recognised the tune, because suddenly they all changed direction and swam over to the whales.

They began just mucking about jumping over the top of them and swimming right up next to them, and leaping in the air and doing back flips and front flips and belly flops all around them. It was lie lambs gambolling or puppies playing.
I am sure if we could have heard them talk they would have been saying “Whay hay,. Whoop Whoop. Yippeee. Yeee Haaa
It’s the giants. Hey big guys where you going?
Hey come on lard ass chase me, ha ha ha
Whoop Whoop”

They played for nearly and hour as I followed them at a reasonable distance in the boat. I vividly remember having tears of pure happiness streaming unashamedly down my face as I watched and the memory of it still evokes a tear of joy.

Love and Peace
Bentley

Also if you want to click on the Billy and Gentley Dreambuildeer section you can see more on the renovation and how we put in the woodburner.

Cheers
Bentley

How to install a wood burner

First of all have an image in your mind where you would like to locate the log burner.
Share that image with your partner and see if you agree.
I had a vision when we were designing the place, of sitting by the fire in front of big picture windows, so that you could be inside all snuggled up and toasty, and you would look past the flames out to the bitterly cold winter landscape and feel even more toasty and content. MrsB agreed that it would be groovy.

Then you need build the room where the burner is to be placed, or prepare the area where it is to be placed and make sure you run a 100mm diameter air-feed to the site the burner will occupy.
The reason for this is that if it has a direct air feed from outside it wont be sucking air through all the cracks and gaps in your doorways and windows etc. That way the whole room will be warmer because you are not dragging cold air in from other parts of the house and past you to the fire, but feeding the air required for good combustion direct to the fire.

Then you have to choose the fire you want both in terms of looks and in heat output.
Those of you who have been following the build from day one will know that I am rather keen on energy conservation in terms of high grade insulation and a multi input thermal store and not wasting a single joule of heat energy if possible, but sadly from an aesthetics point of view the amount of gubbins you have to have behind a fire with back boiler would not be suited to the location of one in front of a window. Plus the vast majority of stoves with enough heat output and back boiler are bloody great big dark horrible gothic looking things that we didn’t want fucking up the view and of course the original vision.
So after much searching (over a year) I conceded on the back boiler option, and we found a lovely big powerful; stove with 12 to 14 KW output that would be enough to heat the 10 x 5 meter room and have some to spare. MrsB chose the colour so that it “worked” with the windows and other colour scheme coming together in that room.
It is by a company called Invicta and is a solid cast iron job which is then enamelled.
It takes logs up to about 475mm long and it has a large window so you can see them burning, and it really does chuck the heat out.

So first up we had to build a bit of a hearth or a plinth so that when we eventually tiles the floor the fire will be sat properly.
We had chosen a sort of brick red paving block as the base for the heart and I made a shuttering template out of 15mm by 8 mm batten to exact spec so the pavers would fit neatly. I then fixed that to the ground onto some silicon to get it nice and level and fill in the gaps underneath where the concrete floor was a bit bumpy.

Fire1

Then used some self leveling screed to create a level base for the hearth. If you look here you can see the 100mm hole that brings in the air form outside. It runs underground to the left hand wall outside and then into a gooseneck vent with a gauze to stop bugs getting in

DSCF0624_zpsfluyt4fq

Ok so now that was all fine and dandy then just stuck the paver bricks to it (inside the template) to create the hearth.

Fire2

Once that had gone off we managed to get the fire into the lounge using a sack truck and the timely assistance of Bernard our living village historian neighbor from up the road.
Now being an old sea dog I do happen to have a “rigging locker”, and in among my strops and blocks and ropes is a 3/4 ton chain block which I recommend everyone involved in any sort of renovation project should have, because it has come in handy and made light work of otherwise major headache tasks on many occasions.
Using the chain block we just lifted the stove into position easy peasy.

Fire3

Then it was a case of lining up where the double skinned insulated stainless flue would go and first drilling central and then taking out the joist where it interfered with the flue location.

Fire4

Fire5

Then fit the outer sleeve that adds a thermal protection to the wooden floor.
This has to be done with the help of my glamourous assistant MrsB asking from above if all was well with my flue.

Fire6

Then it was case of a test run with the flue down to the fire to make sure its all a good fit and central

Fire7

Fire8

The have peek down the hole to see if there is anything psychedelic going on whhooooooo

Fire9

Then put in the floor plate upstairs. I have been informed by the eversohelpful Jack Prosser at Stovesonline.co.uk that I have done it upside down but we didn’t want the thick bit of metal on the bedroom floor. It is solid anyway

Fire10

Then it is a case of run it up through the roof and using the wall brackets to stabilise any movement.
We always knew that it was going to go up the middle of the windows upstairs and we like the sort of industrial feel of it, Plus the fact it works as one almighty radiator.

Fire11

Fire12

So here it is downstairs in situ

Fire16

Gosh its feeling a bit cold, best we light it up and see what happens

Fire13

And the effect is immediate, a large vote of approval from dog and cat

Fire15

And a large vote of approval from MrsB.

Fire14

Suffice to say that after an hour or so the room is warm and that permeates into the bedroom above and all the way up to the mezzanine deck
It is fair to say the fire is a blazing success

Love and peace Bentley

A Captains Report of an Incident

Ahaaaaarrr M’hearties, short and sweet today so a quick update and a glorious tale the sort of thinsg Tom Sharpe would have written had he been a seafaring man
Yer Tis
25* 33′ N 1238 45′ E Course 020. Speed 7.3 knots Water depth 1000 meters Wind SW 10 knots temp 26* C

27th

I couldn’t resist posting this.
Sir
It is with regret and haste that I write this letter to you, regret that such a small misunderstanding could lead to the following circumstances, and haste in order that you will get this report before you form your own preconceived opinion from reports in the world press. For I am sure that they will over dramatise the affair.

We had just picked up the pilot and the apprentice had returned from changing the “G” flag for the “H” flag and, it being his first trip, was having difficulty rolling the “G” flag up. I therefore proceeded to show him how. Coming to the last part, I told him to “let go”. The lad although willing is not too bright, necessitated my repeating the order in a sharper tone.

At this moment the Chief Officer appeared from the chart room, having been plotting the ship’s progress, and, thinking it was the anchors being referred to, repeated the “let go” to the Third Officer on the forecastle. The port anchor, having been cleared away but not walked out, was promptly let go. The effect of letting the anchor drop from the “pipe” while the vessel was proceeding at full harbour speed proved too much for windless brake, and the entire length of port cable was pulled out “by the roots”. I fear that the damage to the chain locker may be extensive. The braking effect of the port anchor naturally caused the vessel to sheer in that direction, right towards the swing bridge that spans the tributary to the river up which we were proceeding.

The swing bridge operator showed great presence of mind by opening the bridge for my vessel. Unfortunately, he did not think to stop the vehicular traffic, the result being that bridge partly opened and deposited a Volkswagen, two cyclists, and a cattle truck on the foredeck. My ship’s company are at present rounding up the contents of the latter, which from the noise are pigs. In his efforts to stop the progress of the vessel, the Third Officer dropped the starboard anchor, too late to be of practically use, for it fell on the swing bridge operator’s control cabin.

After the port anchor was let go and the vessel started to sheer, I gave a double Full Astern on the engine room telegraph and personally rang the Engine Room to order maximum astern revolutions. I was informed that the sea temperature was 53° and asked if there was a film tonight: my reply would not add constructively to the report.

Up to now I have confirmed my report to the activities at the forward end of the vessel. Down aft they were having their own problems.

At the moment the port anchor was let go, the second Officer was supervising the making fast of the stern tug and was lowering the ship’s towing spring down onto the tug.

The sudden braking effect of the port anchor caused the tug to “run in under” the stern of my vessel, just at the moment when the propeller was answering my double ring Full Astern. The prompt action of the Second Officer in securing the inboard end of the towing spring delayed the sinking of the tug by some minutes thereby allowing the safe abandoning of that vessel.

It is strange, but at the very same moment of letting go the port anchor there was a power failure ashore. The fact that we were passing over a “cable area” at that time might suggest that we may have touched something on the river bed. It is perhaps lucky that the high tension cables brought down by the foremast were not live, possibly being replaced by the underwater cable, but owing to the shore blackout, it is impossibly to say where the pylon fell.

It never fails to amaze me, the action and behaviour of foreigners during moments of minor crisis. The pilot for instance, is at this moment bundled in the corner of my day cabin, alternately crooning to himself and crying after consumed a bottle of gin in a time that is worthy of inclusion in the Guinness Book of Records. The tug captain, on the other hand reacted violently and had to forcibly be restrained by the Steward, who has him hand‑cuffed in the ship’s hospital, where he is telling me to do impossible things with my ship and crew.

I enclose the names and addresses of the drivers and insurance companies of the vehicles on my foredeck, which the Third Officer collected after his somewhat hurried evacuation of the forecastle. These particulars will enable you to claim for damages they did to the railings of no. 1 hold.

Here I must conclude this preliminary report, for I am finding it difficult to concentrate with the sound of police sirens and their flashing lights.

It is sad to think that had the apprentice realised that there is no need to fly the pilot flag after dark, none of this would have happened.

The Breath of the Pacific. & I’ve Never Known a Night Like it

So out of the South China Sea and bimmbling along the western extremity of the Pacific Ocean as we mooch towards the East China Sea.
It is almost as though we are on tiptoe as we skirt the edge of Pacific with nothing between us and the western coast of the usa except for 6500 miles of ocean.
You can feel the ocean breathe. Like a sleeping dragon.
The low ocean swell giving us a lazy 2 degree roll, yet invisible to the eye when you scan the surface for a sign of it.
A mighty beast indeed, and for the next 5 days or so I hope we don’t wake it up because we would be well and truly in the shite with nowhere to hide.

23* N 122* E Course 045 Speed 8 KNots Wind NE 6 knots Temp 24*C Water depth 4900 meters

Two charts tonight As for the fist one I apologise for this not being a very nautical chart but its the best I can lift from the net for now and gives an idea of where we are.
The second chart gives you an idea of just how fucking the ocean is and why I am perhaps feeling a little bit isolated on this leg of the voyage.

26th

Big World

I have never known a night like it!!

As a seafarer you just accept rough weather as a hazard of the job. You batten down the hatches, lash everything down and, depending on the size and ferocity of the storm forecast, get ready for a few days of uncomfortable living. You have no choice but to just trust in the vessels ability to ride the storm.
People often wonder why we don’t just run for cover and shelter in the lee of a land mass, but ships are designed to cope with foul weather and in the middle of the ocean there is no where to run.

The days of vessels being routinely over-laden in order to squeeze a few more quid profit for the owner are thankfully long gone, although it is still the case with some smaller vessels in the less well regulated parts of the world, where the compliance with safety regulations is directly related to the amount of money to be found in the brown envelopes handed to the surveyor and port officials.
Many ships sank trough overloading before the Plimsolle line was adopted.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waterline

It was not the loss of seafarers that instigated the introduction but the loss of cargo, however ship owners continued to oppose the introduction for years.

All seafarers prefer it when it is calm (who wouldn’t) but there is something awesome and extravagantly dramatic about being at sea in a big storm. It makes you realise that this has been going on long before man set about trashing the planet and will continue long after we have completed the task and are long gone.
In a full blown hurricane or typhoon one can only marvel at the energy produced, and how, if we could work out how to harness even a fraction of it, our energy needs would be solved.

You only have to survive one freak wave, also known as rouge or pyramid waves, to realise just how puny mans engineering achievements are in the face of the natural forces of the planet.

The first and probably the largest “freak wave” I ever encountered come out of the dark in a storm force 12 conditions (Huge waves. Sea is completely white with foam and spray. Air is filled with driving spray, greatly reducing visibility.)
It hit us just aft of the accommodation break and ripped the port lifeboat and one of the davits clean off the deck.
The lifeboat was a 40 man boat about 8 meters long and was situated 15 meters above the water line.
If you take the average two storey house has having a roof ridge of about 7.5 meters and work up form there to about 20 or more meters, that will give you some idea of the size this wave had to be to have enough grunt to overwhelm us like that.
If you can see them coming they look like this

http://t2.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQq-1OTaRG7Y8BKonSPb8YUR0WolQQgUzEi_T2Tt3gKv_8W8OE3

https://encrypted-tbn1.google.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQw2Q-DA1XyEbNeTpE8P9acCFzmrtaW1moB3ogiAJNvJdWr1gnuPQ

Once the weather starts to deteriorate you find that each hour, when on watch, is just a little longer than normal. Much of that will be due to interrupted sleep pattern as it is difficult to sleep on a moving platform. This is why you will find on proper working ships that all bunks face fore and aft and never thwart ships.
When fore and aft you can wedge some clothing or something under one side of the mattress and it will wedge you in against the bulkhead so you are not flopping about or rolling out of your bunk.
If you are athwartships you will be sliding feet first down the bed one second and then head first back up it the next.
(It is a useful tip for you landlubbers that feel a bit queazy on a ferry to book a cabin that has the bunks bow to stern if you can.)

When on watch on the bridge, depending on the violence of the storm, you will attempt to wedge yourself in were you have a good view of the radar and the horizon ahead of you, although in bad conditions you cant see much and only the largest of vessels show up on the radar.

Luckily most offshore vessels will have a decent conning chair from were you can see all around and have access to the engine, rudder controls and radars.
With a modern integrated bridge using electronic charts I can superimpose the charts over the radar display in order to monitor where I am in relation to navigational hazards at all times which saves me having to risk moving about too much in bad weather.

To get around you develop this wide legged, bent kneed, stance for walking about with your arms flexed out a little at your sides to prevent you from smashing into to objects, or to enable you to be able to grab quickly onto a hand rail to prevent you from being thrown around. I have been in some weather where we have been rolling over 30 degrees at a time and to walk along an alleyway you would have one foot on the bulkhead (wall ) and one on the deck and scuttle along until she rolled back the other way and you would change feet at bulkheads. After a particularly nasty storm your arms and legs will normally be bruised up.

After a 6 or 12 hour watch you will be exhausted and even in those conditions sleep comes easily albeit fitful.
The sheer volume and violence of a ship repeatedly running into large waves and the associated crashing, banging, rolling, pitching and corkscrewing all take their toll, both physically and after prolonged time mentally.
You just feel dog tired once the novelty has worn off like being trapped on some manic fairground ride that no-one can turn off.
The cooks have the worst job as they still have to try and produce something to provide us with nutrition.
You should try and imagine what it would be like in your own kitchen if it was roiling from side to side by just few degrees, yet alone 20 or 30 degrees at a time, and an occasional, no warning, shuddering smash enough to nearly knock you from your feet as another big one crashes in.

Good ships cooks are the unsung heroes of rough weather, and if from a safety point of view we are not down to sandwiches, they will normally knock up something that can be eaten with just a fork or spoon as you need the other hand to hold on to the table with or stop your plate from sliding away.

Bizarrely I have sailed with people (professional seafarers I mean) who get sea sick every time there is rough weather and having seen how miserable people get when in the grips of “mal de mer” I cannot understand why they would continue to go to sea.
It would like being a butcher if you were allergic to meat, you would have to finds something else to do.
That said as reasonable weather 85% of the time, if not more, I can see that the benefits outweigh the cons of the life on the ocean wave even for those with a delicate constitution.

Love and peace

Bentley

The Green Flash at Sunset

Aye Aye Landlubbers
Here is todays chart and the last time you will see this one as we cross through the Luzon Strait and into the East China Sea. Here being on the east side of Taiwan we expect to get a bit of a slingshot from the Japan current which rattles along here up towards the NE and Japan (hence the name).
Position 20* 49’ N 119* 46’ E
Course 050 Temp 24C Wind SW 4knots Water depth 3150 meters
Now our speed has slowly dropped off to about 6.5knots because as we approach Taiwan the current pushes more to the NW instead of the NE so we are in a bit of a power slide at the moment and have lost some oomph from it, until we get just abreast of Taiwan when we pick up the surge from the Philippines Sea as well as what comes up for the South China Sea and turns into the Japan current.

25th

I have been a bit busy tonight with ship stuff on the bridge and haven’t managed to develop anything to write about so here is something I wrote a while ago about the green flash you can sometimes see at sunset.

In 1976, on my first voyage in tropical waters, I remember watching a particularly magnificent sunset one evening.
It was one of “those” sunsets where the hues of all colours change so subtly that the light in the sky appears to be a liquid kaleidoscope of wonder.
I think it was probably the first time I had ever taken the time to actually sit and take note of one of the most satisfying, and peaceful free shows on earth.

When I went into the crew bar later and was waxing lyrical about it, one of the old hands asked if I had seen the “green flash.”
I was immediately on my guard, because I assumed this was another in a long line of piss takes and wind ups that all junior crew members are subjected to at sea for at least the first couple of trips.

It is a long standing tradition that when you are on the receiving end you vow that you will not take part in as you get older, and yet when you are a more senior member of the crew you take childish delight in fooling the deck boys or cadets.
Although I have not sailed with a deck boy in 25 years or longer cadets and other first trippers are still fodder for the fun if the opportunity arises.

These are basically harmless pranks are not be confused with the lack of knowledge of the language on board. which you had to learn quickly.
I remember after three days of being on board my fist vessel and I was helping the AB on the fore spring, steam winch, situated just in front of the accommodation.
We were moving the vessel along the quay and the AB had let me on the controls of the winch. Simple really, pay out, haul in, and stop.
We were hauling in as we moved forward and the Captain shouted down from the bridge
“Fast heaving” so I speeded up.
The next thing the captain shouted down from the bridge was along the lines of “Get that brainless fucking cunt off the winch controls”

A couple of weeks later when I was painting the crane pedestal the Bosun slapped me around the back of the head and asked (if shouting into my face can be considered asking) if the name on the bow was the “MV Fucking Butlins”, because there were enough holidays in my paint work for it to be”

I didn’t know what a holiday was, in relation to paint work, as the biggest thing I had ever painted was an Airfix model, so rather than ask and appear stupid I decided to confirm my stupidity by guessing that it was the drippy bits where the paint runs, so I tried to tidy them up.
Half an hour later and another slap around the back of the head and the decrying of my entire family both living and ancestral and inquiries as to how much piss I was actually trying to take, I finally said that I had tried to sort the holidays, pointing to the area of less hanging drips.

After hearing that the entire teaching staff and pupils of the deck boy school “not having one fucking brain cell between them” he showed me that the bits missed were “holidays” and the hanging drips were called curtains.

Whilst still questioning my ability to breath unaided, yet alone put on foot in front of the other at the same time as breathing, he proceeded over the next few weeks to give me extensive practical lessons in painting on board a ship the types of paint and uses and the methods of application as well as the preparation of surfaces.

It was during these painting lessons that one day he told me that in order for us to counterbalance the painting stage (a thick plank of wood using ropes to hold it in place to access difficult areas) I would need to go to the Bosun’s Mate and get a “long weight”.
Eager to learn I asked what it was and he explained that it was added to the wood of the staging and act as counter-balance to the person on the stage.
I found the Bosuns Mate at the paint store and told him that the Bosun had sent me to get a “long weight”
“Oh Aye” he says “Hang on there I will just go and get you one”
He came back about 30 minutes later and when he saw me said
“Oh sorry son I had to do a job for the Chief Mate and it slipped my mind. Wait here and in will go and get it”
About 10 minutes later the Bosun turned up and said
“How “long” have you got to “wait” before you realise it’s a piss take?”

About two weeks later I nearly fell for a variation on the theme which is a “long stand” apparently also required to reach an awkward place. I nipped down to the crew bar had couple tins of beer and fag and came back after 20 minutes and said he didn’t have one but has ordered some for the next port.

The trouble is that when you are constantly the butt of these wind ups, you end up thinking that everything you are asked to do is just a ploy to have a laugh at your expense and so when asked to something perfectly legitimate you end up in trouble for saying “Fuck off, it’s a wind up” As a deck boy this can lead to a slapped head or at the very least a serious bollocking.

A slightly sophisticated one I fell for was when we were replacing the anchor brake mechanism and needed to clean off the old brake drum.
There is a type of cleaning material provided to ships called “cotton waste” which it is basically finely shredded cotton.
It is amazingly absorbent and in those days was used a lot when doing most mopping up jobs.
I was happy to be helping dismantle the old brake machinery and in cleaning the drum ready for the new liner.
One of the ABs said that is was a bit more tricky than they thought and that we were going to need the finer grade of some 3/8ths waste on this.

He said that only the second engineer keeps it down the engine room for specialist jobs so nip down and see him and say we need 175 grams of 3/8ths waste. Watch out because he is a tight bastard and will try to fob you off with the ordinary stuff, so stand your ground and insist you get the good stuff or you will only have to go back and get it.

Lulled by the technical sounding nature of the task we were about to complete I made my way to the engine room control room, (the domain of the Second Engineer who was not known for his sense of humour), and asked for “175 grams of 3/8ths waste”.
He walked over to the normal sack of cotton waste pulled out a handful and smiling shoved it into my hand and said
“There you that will do it”.
“Oh No”, says I, “They told me that because you are tight bastard you would try and take the piss by giving me the normal stuff and that you try and keep the good stuff for your own special jobs. I want the 3/8ths special and I am not to let you take the piss so I am not leaving till I get it”

Have you ever seen pictures of the few moments before a volcano erupts?

That’s what his face was like before he let forth an incredible intricate and foul series of expletives mostly related to what was going to be torn from my body and where the tattered flesh was going to end up being shoved. There was also some superb abusive references to that “bunch of piss taking idle fuckbastards on deck, who waste their time sending cunts like me on stupid errands when they should be working” etc etc etc .

I took the waste I had and made like Houdini by disappearing sharpish, although when I related the story back to the ABs, between their thigh slapping hoots of laughter they seemed impressed that I had escaped intact after calling him a “piss taking tight bastard”.

I had nearly fallen for a trick a few months earlier, but at the last minute I remembered a conversation in the crew bar about the same subject.
When asked to go and get a bucket of steam I grabbed the bucket and set off towards the engine room and the detoured around to the poop deck and put my feet up and had a couple of cigarettes and caught a it of sunshine.
About an hour later I wandered back up the deck with my empty bucket and when asked “Where the fuck have you been for the last hour?”
I replied that every time I got to the top of the engine room the steam had gone,so I had to go back and get some more but I just couldn’t get it to stay in the bucket.
Some months later I was there when the new deck boy was about to be sent to the engine room for a “bucket of steam” so we could defrost the winches. I do admit to the smallest twinge of sympathetic guilt that (it has to be said) passed in a nano second when he looked at me and asked,
“They are taking piss aren’t they?”
I replied, poker faced and all innocence and light,
“No, its straight up mate, last time we did it we needed about three buckets it was so icy”
and so off he went to bathe in the glow of the second engineers fury.

I didn’t get sent on any more daft errands after that one, and luckily I had already be warned never to agree to be shown the golden rivet.

Ladies (or gentlemen) if you ever visit a ship and an seafarer tells you that every ship has one golden rivet and asks if you would like to see it, the prudent thing to do is politely decline, even though you may be giddy with excitement, and lets face it the slightly arousing feeling that being on a ship with bunch of roughy toughy sailors can invoke. Resist the golden rivet.
It will involve being led to some dark depths of the vessel and then you having to bend over some obstacle down near the bottom of the ship and then lean into a barely accessible entrance, and while you are bent over…. …..well I think I can allow your imagination can take over from there. It is an engineer thing and they are not really fussy.

So back to the original subject and you can understand my nonchalant air of disbelief about the green flash, and despite most of the men insisting it was true, there were 5 of us who had never seen it, or even heard of it, or had heard of it but thought it was a pis take.
Suffice to say that I studiously ignored every sunset for the next few weeks to prevent being caught out as a sucker, although I will admit to keeping half an eye open waiting for the big green flash.

That changed after one of the old hands (strange to think he would have been as old as I am now) said that I shouldn’t give up as it was genuine phenomenon, but not to expect something like a green flash bulb going off, as it is much more subtle than that and doesn’t happen every sunset.
I began to pay more attention and was soon rewarded for my efforts.
I have to say I didn’t realise what I had seen was actually what I was supposed to be looking for to start with, as to call it a flash is a fairly large exaggeration.
It is only occasional and is more of a localised, sometimes very small, green tinge just at the moment the sun’s last arc dips over the horizon.
It can often manifest itself as a green spot right at the top of the sun as it drops out of view and sometimes a green band and sometimes nothing.

I would suggest the best place to see it is if you can be looking west over unbroken expanse of water to the clear cloudless horizon, which it has to be said is great thing to do whenever you get the chance regardless of a green flash.

I am guessing that because it is not a blatantly obvious “flash” with a “big impact”, and most people don’t get the chance to watch the sun sink to a western seascape horizon, it is not often spoken of or looked for. However Keep looking when you get a chance as it is one of natures little hidden gems, but think more along the lines of a small, localised, momentary glow rather than flash.
(and honestly, I am not taking the piss)

Love and Peace
Bentley

A bit more exlpanation.

Ahoy there M’hearties. Thanks for the generous comments and I am well chuffed that you like my description of my job.
I know it probably sounds a bit odd, but I have never considered that what I do for a living was in any way unusual, or that people would find it fascinating.
It is work, it’s what I have to do in order to get as much time off as I do. (I work normally 6 weeks on then have 6 weeks off)
The people I work with all do the same, so the subject of it being about “out there” or unusual, never comes up.
I knew that I was in a bit of a minority of people in one sense, because whenever the subject of work comes up I am one of the few who says “I love what I do it’s good fun, pays well and keeps me interested” I enjoy the challenge of staying at the top of my game and enjoy the fact that the people who count rate me very highly and value my experience and input, so overall job-wise, I don’t have much to moan about.

I am often asked by people I know, or meet, what I do and when I say “I drive specialist ships” it is usually met with a “Oh really!”, and one of those vague looks that means people are being polite, but don’t know what that means.
I think the photos and video give better idea of where I work and the sort of work we do.

My role is the Senior Dynamic Positioning Operator and First Officer.
In short I am responsible for keeping the vessel in position and making it sure it moves where it needs to, when it needs to.

I do this by operating the Dynamic Positioning System (DP) which takes input from all our position sensors, such as
Differential GPS, (a posh and more accurate version of Sat Nav) which gives us an “absolute position,
Taut Wire (which is a wire with a large weight on that goes to the seabed and a sensor at the davit head computes the angle and length of wire to be me a “relative” position)
HPR which is a sub sea sonar beacons and transceiver,
CySacn which is a laser range and bearing system working on the timing of a reflection,
Rada Scan which is a beacon that is placed on an object (like the rig) and is interrogated by a ship board scanner and gives us a range and bearing relative position) .
It also takes info feed from the 3 Gyro compasses, the anemometers (wind sped direction) and the VRUs which are sensors that make corrections to all the others to counteract the vessel pitch, roll and heave (vertical movement in the sea)

Once it has all this info it knows where we are and what way we are heading, and I tell it to “Stay” (arf arf)

As the wind and current and waves and /or other external forces (such as the force of the pipeline we are laying, or the force of what we are trying to lift or pull into position) act on the vessel they try to pull her off position or heading, and the DP system works out what thrust is needed to counteract it, and sends the required signal to one, or some, or all, of the 6 azimuth thrusters (thrusters that can revolve in a 360 degree axis)telling them what direction, and what power is required, to keep us on our chosen position and heading.

This happens constantly and in normal weather conditions, say with wind up to 20 knots and about half knot of current, the footprint (the amount any part of the vessel moves) of this vessel (140 meters by 40 and weighing 27,000 tons) will be less than 10 centimeters.
In winds up to 35 to 40 knots and 2 to 3 meter seas we will still be able to maintain a foot print of about a meter.

Trying to do it manually in calm seas, with little current, and operating the 6 thrusters “by hand”, it is difficult to maintain a footprint of less than two meters, however when all the thrusters are combined on joystick control, and you have lots of practice, one can get it down to about half a meter. the difference is that the DP system doesn’t get tired or hungry or need to have pee or start daydreaming about being at home with his beautiful vibrant wife.

My role is to constantly monitor and tune the DP, to obtain the optimum position holding capabilities for the current conditions and operations, and also to move the vessel into the position required when required.
I also have to be vigilant for any potential system failures or unusual events, and also watching for changes in the weather or sea conditions that would have an adverse effect on the position holding.
In short my job entails constantly considering the worse case scenario and having a plan of action should it occur.
I am also there because I know what to do when it goes wrong and have the requisite experience and skill to be able to get us out of the crap should it go wrong.

If I did ever get it wrong during critical operations (ie when we have divers down or when we are laying pipe under high tension or engaged in a heavy lift) then there is a very high probability that people would die as result of my mistake, so therefore I have to be on the ball.
This is also why vessels of this nature are completely dry of alcohol and we are random tested for drug and alcohol use.

I will pop up another video shortly showing the time lapse sequence of us installing a new oil/gas production platform in the Gulf of Thailand.
It goes from empty sea to completed platform, 5 and half days work in 8 minutes of video. Pretty snazzy it is

In the meantime here is a pic or two of what we look like below the water line and the bloke on the cherry picker in the first one and the chap walking below the central thruster in the second one will give you an idea of scale.
each thruster can rotate 360 degrees and gives the equivalent of about 4 thousand horsepower and we have 6 of them three at the front and three at the back.

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So back to the current voyage
Midnight position is 18* 58′ N 117* 31′ E
The sea is slight < 1 meter, wind has veered to SSE 10 knots and the temp at midnight is a positively brisk 25C the water depth here is 3780 meters and we are making good 049*. WE will be upping our security status to Level 2 to tomorrow which means we will be deploying extra look outs to offset the increased risk of pirate activity in the Luzon Strait. WE also batten down and lock form inside all external doors that have access to any vital part of the vessel. These are not the "hijack the vessel - take hostage" pirates you are used to hearing about off Somalia, this lot are petty theft chancers, more "sea pikeys" rather than pirates, so we are just taking prudent precautions. Here is the chart Love and peace Bentley 24th

My Workplace

Aye Aye Landlubbers, Well,one of the benefits of putting a dog-leg in the course, as we did, is that it has taken us just outside of the standard route so there has been a marked lack of traffic today.
So our heading is now 050, we are still making about 7.5 knots, the sea is less than a meter (and lovely and blue still) the temp is now 26 which those with a weather eye open will notice is two degrees lower than last night. We have been slowly moving North every day and have now travelled from 68 miles north of the equator to nearly 1000 miles north of the equator so it will get a little cooler each day.
Midnight position is 16* 57.5′ N 114* 58.5′ E

see below for the positions so far

23rd voyage

I thought that for the people reading this blog (both of you) that it might be interesting to find out what my workplace looks like and where I drive the vessel from, so I have taken a few snaps and will add a bit of explanation to each one in order for you to get an idea of where I am when I am not at home.

Here was the view from the heli-deck this afternoon at about 1700 I tried to show you the effect of an unbroken horizon.

Just the sea as far as you can see, not everyone’s cup of tea, but a treat for me.

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OK so that is where I walk every day, weather permitting. I alternate 15 laps clockwise then counterclockwise incase I end up with one leg shorter than the other.

So here is the working deck showing the port side. The pipe tunnel is in the middle.

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The big white roll of stuff is actually floatation collars for the pipeline we are laying, as were will be doing whats known as a “beach pull”. We have to set up station off the beach in enough water to hold position, then we send a wire from us to a fixed anchor point ashore, through a sheave then back onto the pipeline that we are producing, and as the joints are welded we heave it out of our own back end and float it under tension ashore.
Once we have enough hanging out our back end to reach the shore we can then start moving forward to lay the rest of the pipe.
The diameter of the pipe is 42 inches and will also be concrete coated. Its a whopper.
You can see what we call the “start up head” and “lay down head” towards the stern (white bits of pipe which are attached to the pipeline) and you can see length of pipe (without the concrete coating) sat in the cradle about midships, which is where it would start its journey to the forward part of the ship, across to the middle, then welded up in the firing line, and eventually ejected as part of the pipeline out of our back end.

So here is the starboard side.

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Just behind the crane you can see the diving bell which is attached to the saturation chamber. The containers around it are the support system and dive control shack.
Just aft of that on the red davit is the ROV which is our remote operated submarine and its own control shack and there are various other stores containers, dive gas and welding gas racks, and assorted bits and pieces.

Well that’s the outside taken care of here is the the bridge.
This is just a shot showing the three other guys of the bridge team. Ed, Tom, and Rey. The shot is looking across from the port side to starboard towards the Radio / Admin room.

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Here is the radio / admin room (without Errol and Talli who would normally be in there but were having dinner when I took this) which is situated on the forward starboard side of the bridge.

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So from the radio room looking across to the port side and the seating area where we hold bridge briefings and any impromptu meetings that need to be held for operational purposes and sometimes just for lounging about.

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So now we get down to the bridge, and looking across to the starboard side, this is where the pipe tension controls are.
When a pipeline is laid it has to be done under tension or else when it reaches the back of the ship it would just snap off. The size of the pipe and the depth of the lay are key factors and the tensioner operator ensures that as we move the vessel forward the tension on the pipeline stays as it should be. In the past we have had some great characters on the tensioner Like Bert from Oz (who was always telling me how to kill different snakes, and also educated me about rainwater collection and storage for drinking) Gus from Borneo who is a chief of a long house there and great fun to have on the bridge always smiling and laughing and a multi talented bloke. Bing who was just great crack with story after story of “how it used to be done” The Sheriff who was another larger than life character and who cut quite a debonair figure and was again full of stories of the old days. Most of these guys were well into their sixties when on here so had decades of tales to tell.

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This is still on the port side of the bridge showing the controls for the anchor winches. Even though we are a DP vessel we do have the capacity to deploy up to 8 anchors if needs be however we only have three attached now and only use them if =we have to wait outside a port for any length of time before berthing. We rarely ever go to port so this is a lonely part of the bridge ha ha

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Now looking slightly across to starboard and to where I and the rest of the bridge team actually drive the vessel from.
The station closes to the camera is the manual controls for the 6 azimuth thrusters which we can combine onto a simple joystick that controls all of them. We can all drive using the 6 azimuth separate controls but it is bit like trying to wrestle an octopus. The next screen is the power management system which we can start and stop thrusters and we need them and also keep an eye on power requirements which we would then refer to the engine room to provide more generators if required or less if not.
Then in front of the two blue comfy chairs are the DP operator consoles where we do all the fine movements and adjustments when we are down to the vessel movements for operational purposes. The various screens above are CCTV cameras diver cameras survey screen ROV cameras position measuring equipment feedbacks and the like.
I have spent nearly 4 years of my life on this bridge and in those chairs (FFS MrsB check the lottery tickets)

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This one just shows the search light controls, all the light switches for the decks, the PA announcer (i have fun with that) the Differential GPS position measuring equipment, radar, radios, AIS. Navtex GPS navigator, and other assorted stuff on the port side of the bridge

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Here is what it looks like from behind the driving chairs.

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I am pretty sure that many people from ashore who perhaps know me from the pub or the comedy, don’t really compute that I have a proper professional job, and as such they probably have little idea of what it actually entails, so I hope that this has given you all (well both of you) an insight into what my working environment is like.

Love and peace
Bentley

Now if you would like here is a video of what we do shot from the perspective of a piece of pipe

Cheers
Bentley

Now then Mr Mate .

Well M’hearties the winds of chance have once again shifted and it turns out that the Chinese are having none of our “receiving spare parts as we sail by” malarkey and are insisting on completing full port entry and departure formalities (with all the attendant monetary and time costs that would incur) so we are about to alter course again to once more to the NE and head up the outside of Taiwan thus avoiding the weaker currents and heavy traffic congestion that the Strait of Taiwan is renowned fo. In about 3 hours once we have cleared the western edge of Macclesfield Bank (I shit you not the middle of the South China Sea and we are skirting place called Macclesfield Bank )
Midnight position was 14* 48’N 113* 07’ E
Course 013 Sea state Slight (less than 1 meter)
Wind NE 8 knots, temp 28 degrees, water depth 4,000 meters.

22nd Voyage

No poem today, instead I would like to tell you a little about one of my favourite characters I have sailed with over the years (and there have been a few) but this guy often springs to my mind and I realise that I have absorbed some of his idiosyncrasies.
JJ was a Captain I sailed with in the late 90’s on the aggregate dredgers on the south coast of the UK and is one of those characters that stays nestled away in the “great person – great memories” section of ones memory bank.
He was early 60’s, (and I hope still alive) stood about 5 ‘ 9 “ powerfully built (not fat) and had a classic “sailors gait” about him. He spoke clearly in a Hull accent, with a rich deep baritone voice that was almost a caricature of what a sea captain should sound like. He was always meticulously clean shaven and had a full head of neatly combed, black hair, (that possibly benefitted from a touch of brylcream now and again) and he had a rugged weather beaten, lived in face, that would often crease into a mischievous smile that occupied the whole of his face. His general demeanour was one of warmth and enjoyment.
He dressed fairly casual and comfortable on board (jeans and checked shirt and thick jumpers in the winter months) but scrubbed up a treat with crisp white shirt, tie, blazer and slacks all well fitted and good quality and he always looked sharp and dapper when he would go ashore in two or three select ports. He didn’t go ashore every port and I can’t remember him coming to the pub with the others on board. Where he did go will remain a mystery, and although I asked him once or twice, he would have a crafty glint in his eye and would tap the side of his large nose and exclaim, That’s for me to know and you to wonder about Mr Mate”
He always called me Mr Mate and my affection for him probably came from him triggering a memory response from my childhood being transfixed by the Onedin Line (the bits spent at sea, as opposed to the airy fairy plot line) and he sounded like the Captain of a sailing vessel with his strong Hull brogue and precise way of talking.
When I sailed with him he was a man who made it quite clear that he could not abide bullshit in any of its forms, was absolutely confident in who he was, his ability as Master of the vessel, and completely at ease in that environment. He is one of the strongest characters that I have met over the years and who made a huge positive impact on me, and can say it was privilege to know and sail with him.
One of his great loves was words, he enjoyed the use of words and always strove to choose the correct words when he spoke and swore rarely but with devastating effect when he did. He was also always looking for ways of helping to increase the seafaring knowledge of the bridge team and also getting us to join in on his regular pranks played on the pilots, or the head office, and also to help make life on board a bit more fun. I think the following stories sum up his character perfectly for me and hopefully give you some insight into the character of the man.
(Whenever I use speech for him make sure that you imagine (or put on) a full Hull (sort of Yorkshire ish) accent spoken clearly and with a rich resonance and a slight questioning almost piss taking edge to the inflection)
On one clear moonlit evening we were making passage from the Owers Bank (off Selsey Bill) towards Newhaven when JJ appeared on the darkened bridge.
“A beautiful moonlit night tonight Mr Mate?”
“Aye that it is JJ, that it is. We are running with the flood now so should make the tide at Newhaven comfortably”
“Glad to hear it Mr Mate. Now tell me (his favourite saying and one that you knew preceded a nautical themed question that you may or may not know the answer to) “Now tell me Mr Mate what word would you use to describe such a moon”?
The moon was at about 3/4s on the way to full so I said “I can’t think of any one word expect perhaps “waxing”? and about ¾’s to full”
He stood and grinned at me in the darkness and said “Yes Yes Mr Mate it is waxing but what’s the correct word for such a waxing moon”?
After some Hmming and pondering from me I admitted defeat and said “I don’t know the correct word for it JJ”
“It is a “gibbous” moon Mr Mate. A “gibbous” moon. A gibbous moon is when more than half is illuminated, and a “crescent” moon is when less than half is illuminated. You may illuminate yourself to the phases of the moon by checking the nautical almanac on the shelf above the chart table. Good night Mr Mate.”
That was his way of helping increase your knowledge and for a navigator working in strong tidal streams, as we often did it, was important for me to understand the effect that the state of the moon would have on the rate of flow. It was never done with any attempt to catch you out, but you could rest assured that another lunar question would follow in few days to see if you had heeded his advice to brush up on the subject. He installed / awakened in me a desire to always remain inquisitive about what I do as a seafarer and it made me a better one, and continues to do so as a direct result.

His love of words used to come into play whenever we were going to a port where pilotage was compulsory. We both had pilot exemptions for places like Southampton, Portsmouth, Langstone Harbor, Cowes, Shoreham and Poole, which were regular ports, but Littlehampton and Newhaven didn’t offer pilot exemptions so we would be expected to take part in JJ’s game of slotting the chosen word of the day as many time as possible into the conversation with the Pilot during the pilotage. The more adept I became at playing, the more unusual the words became. One in particular stuck in my mind when we were doing a run into Newhaven, and as soon as the pilot cutter was alongside and he saw that it was the one pilot who was not really given to much conversation, JJ rubbed his hands with glee and said “Well Mr Mate the word of the day is “parochial” and with JJ still grinning at me the Pilot was opening the wheelhouse door and off we went. Parochial!! for fucks sake!! As I was struggling to come up with way of introducing that into the conversation, every time I looked around there would be JJ grinning. In the end I made up a question about a fictitious crossword clue I was having trouble with and managed to say it about 5 times, which received a wry :”Well played Mr mate, well played” as the pilot disembarked. All it did was spur JJ on to find a more unusual word for the next time, the sort of word that couldn’t be further from the subject that a navigator would talk with pilot about on a river passage.

The Wind Up Merchant
We were alongside the quay in Shoreham and were weather bound after discharging our cargo the previous night. That had made a welcome change from two cargos a day for some time and I had been up the road for a few pints and game of pool the night before. I came up onto the bridge at about 9ish to find JJ stood there looking across the sand yard to the road and houses beyond. I put the kettle on and asked if he fancied a brew and he said “Tell me Mr Mate can you recall the name of the fellow that runs the sand yard in Zebrugge? Is it Van Higher or something like that?”
I had never met the chap but being Dutch I was guessing that Van anything sounded about right, and feeling a tad jaded form the previous night said “Yes that sounds about right, but I couldn’t be sure”
“No matter Mr Mate. No matter, it is time to have some fun” at which juncture he uses the cell phone we had on board and calls the company on the speaker phone (pointing at me with finger to his lips in the shshhh signal.
As the phone is answered by the new young and inexperienced secretary, JJ launches into a superb Dutch accent “Hey Hey It’s Van Higher here from Zebrugge I need some more stones Yeh yeh?? . When can you get me some stones? Put me through to the guy who sells the stones yeh?””
The secretary being a bit flustered says she will check to see if he is in and to check again who is calling and JJ says “ Van Higher Van Higher and I need the stones chop chop quick Yeh Yeh”
She says she will put him on hold while she checks with the sales manager and JJ hangs up the phone howling with laughter saying it would take them ages to suss out it was a hoax and with that he goes down to his cabin still chuckling to himself.
I settled down on the bridge to drink my coffee and looking out across the yard in the same direction as JJ had been looking earlier and the penny drops, as I suddenly see for the first time a sign that I have probably seen hundred times but never taken any notice of. Shoreham “Van Hire”.

Probably my favourite time was on a wild wet and windy Wednesday when a wicked westerly gale had been whipping up the channel for three days and the vessel was sheltered alongside in Newhaven. I had just had my three weeks off and pulled up outside the yard in my hire car and had now sooner got out ready to dash on board to get out of the wind and rain, when there is JJ stood in front of me in full wet weather gear holding my wet weather gear as well saying “Come on Mr Mate, as a Westcountryman this will be right up your street, get back in the car as we have some wrecking to do and fun to be had.
Unbeknownst to me earlier that morning a beautiful privately owned 3 masted Dutch tall ship (sailing ship) which had also been weather bound in Newhaven for three days, had decided against the pilots advice and local knowledge to make a run for it out of the port, even though she would be running out onto a lee shore. Well she tried it and had promptly run aground on the beach, beam on and with the tide set to fall there was a tug trying to get a tow on her to get her off the beach. We were going along as JJ informed me “to cast a professional seafarers eye on the proceedings”, hence our wet weather gear complete with Sou’westers.
It is never good to see a vessel in difficulty and this was no exception, it took one glance from the pair of us to see that it would be going nowhere this tide, as just after we arrived you could see the two seamen on the heavily listed and buffeted focsle struggling with the tow rope, which parted nearly as soon as they had it fast. They slithered down the deck the best they could and leapt to the beach and scrambled safely ashore.
JJ and myself were chatting about the various methods and techniques that could be used to get her off and agreed that as the vessel was beached keel to the waves and the crew were safe, there was little to do really except wait for the next full tide and get two tugs attached before the waves began to effect her and help her upright and away as soon as there was enough water to float. She should then float of fairly easily on the steeply shelving beach and without too much damage. (whiych is what happened 10 hours later)
It was then that JJ noticed that the police had arrived and cordoned off the section of the beach with red tape and had policemen (ill attired to be stood on beach in a force 8+ westerly gale) stood every 25 meters or so. He looked me in the eye with a quizzical expression and said “Well Mr Mate the plot thickens, there is fun to be had, just play your part well” and with a large wink he set off towards the nearest policeman on cordon duty who was a ruddy cheeked young chap in his early 20’s.
JJ’s opening gambit was “Good morning officer, I was wondering if you could tell me your role here in todays events?”
“We have set up police cordon around the ship sir”, said the young policeman
“Aye Aye I can see and it leaves me confused and begs the question, what maritime salvage operation experience do you and your fellow officers have? And what assistance do you think a cordon will make?”
“We are just here to ensure that nothing untoward happens with the vessel during the operation sir.”
“Aye Aye I can see but my keen experienced nautical eye tells me something untoward has already happened, hence the ship on the beach. I was just discussing with my Chief Officer here, who is from the west country, an area renowned for its wreck.. I mean salvage, and we wondered how long you would be holding the cordon so as we might get better look at her to see what can be done”
“There is an operation in hand and we are to maintain a cordon there isn’t really anything to see here sir”
Now it was my turn and putting on an accent somewhere between Captain Ahab from Moby Dick and Brad Pits pikey in Snatch I say “ The omens are not good matey for the rope has parted! See yonder” pointing to the vessel and the tug that had already retreated out of the shallows. I was caught up in the playacting now and so turning to JJ who was trying not to laugh at my 19th century speak and said in a seriously foreboding tone “I fear for a falling tide Cap’n I don’t think the cordon will save her”
There was bit more to-ing and froing between JJ and the young officer but he had just been told to go and stand on the beach with about 4 or 5 others and wasn’t really equipped to deal with someone asking him what he hoped to achieve.
As we bid the officer farewell and plodded along the beach back to the hire car JJ was wondering why it would take 5 officers, all ill dressed for the job, with red cordon tape to do what one copper would have done easily, which was keep an eye that no scallys tried to rob it.
I was wondering how he had managed to get me so quickly and without question to join in his quest for a crack.
Characters like him come few and far between and if I may be so bold as to suggest that if you are fortunate enough to spend time in their company, then relish every moment of it