Friday, 21 December 2007

Dry Dock...

This will just be a short one, as there hasn't been much happening over the past few days. It was work work and more work for me. And now I have had a few days off. We entered dry dock on Tuesday the 11th of December and came out yesterday. It was very noisy and warm, with no air-con on during our stay. So it meant that sleep was often difficult to come by, especially on the lower decks. Thankfully I have friends in high places, and slept up on Deck 5, in one of the big family cabins (used by Jan Tuinier - Third Officer/Security Officer - and his family). The families were off ship for our duration of dry dock.

During our time in dry dock I joined a group of crew members and we were given a tour underneath the "Africa Mercy", and it was very interesting seeing our bow rudder, bow thrusters, sea water valves, and propellers. One of our propeller blades (on the port propeller) had to be replaced due to a hairline fracture.

I was also able to get time off ship and so joined a small group of friends in heading down to the southern tip of Gran Canaria. We caught a bus and went all the way to Maspalomas. We visited the Tourist Information Centre, as well as playing putt-putt / mini-golf (I came last - I'm certainly no Ernie Els! But it was lots of fun...), and then walking (getting lost on the way) to the beach and the most amazing sand dunes. The beach is also a nudist beach and so it was certainly a case of switching off our peripheral vision... but it was a fun experience swimming in the sea (not nude, don't worry! :-) ) and relaxing off the ship for a while. We then went and had a Chinese "all-you-can-eat" buffet for supper, and that was really good. We arrived back at the ship at 23h00, after leaving at 9h00 in the morning, so it was a very fun and filled day! It was so good for me to get out from the ship. The past ten or so days were quite manic, with me working 7 or 8 days in that time frame. So it was definitely time I got off-ship for a while!

We are due to leave Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, tonight, and then take a very slow sail across to Tenerife. It should be a lot of fun. Unfortunately I am struggling with putting photos onto this blog, so please be patient as I try and resolve this issue. Thanks.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Arrival at Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, Spain...

Greetings from the port of Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, Canary Islands! We had a lovely sail here, and during the voyage were greeted by dolphins, flying fish, whales, and even a hammerhead shark! It has been amazing.

On Wednesday night we had our Winter Wonderland Christmas event, where crew members can sell crafts, arts, goods and cookies / biscuits to fellow crew members. It was a really nice atmosphere, with good food and good crafts, but more importantly, good friends. I'm really enjoying the people here, and am building some great friendships. This was one thing I was worried about before I came, but God has shown me that I never really needed to worry. He has surrounded me with the most amazing friends here on the "Africa Mercy". And these are friendships that, even now, I know I'll be keeping for years and years to come.

On Thursday I woke up early in order to watch our approach into Las Palmas. It was amazing to see all the lights of the island shining out bright into the night. We reached the pilot station (where we take on-board our pilot) at around 10h30, and took on our pilot, and headed into the harbour. Only to be heading back out into the open seas a few minutes later. The berth allocated for us was 150 metres in length. The "Africa Mercy" is 152 metres in length. Mmm, maybe a slight problem! So we were back in open water for a couple of hours, and during this time another berth (at the passenger terminal - we were originally docking in the cargo section of the harbour) opened up and so we headed back in and took this berth. It is close to the shopping malls and other tourist attractions. I have already been off ship exploring with a group of friends. We walked along the beach front in the early evening, after supper, and bought ice-cream and had a good time in each other's company. We also stopped at a sidewalk cafe for drinks, but I had to head back to the ship to get some rest before my long night shift, which I am on now as I type this entry.

So we are berthed here until Monday, and then move into drydock for a week's work on the ship. Following drydock, we should be heading out to Tenerife for Christmas. So as you can see it has been an amazing adventure so far. I really have enjoyed myself and feel so blessed to be part of such a wonderful organisation as Mercy Ships. It is a privilege to serve on the sea.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Departing Monrovia...

After a very hectic last week in Liberia, with medical emergencies and other issues to deal with, we are now safely on our way to Las Palmas, Canary Islands. We departed Monrovia at 12h00 GMT and before our departure had many tasks to do.

The reception department falls under Deck and so I joined a team (Alpha Team - Deck Department) in conducting a thorough stowaway search of Deck 8. This search was repeated shortly after our departure as well. We also had an emergency fire and lifeboat drill shortly before departure to ensure that all people sailing with us were accounted for.

The sailing has been an amazing experience. I really love being on the sea. I haven't been seasick, apart from being a bit drowsy as a result of the rocking motion. One thing I have noticed about this ship is that she does roll quite extremely. You can't walk straight. You always veer off and head into doors! But I've found my sea legs now.

Last night I did a piracy watch up on Deck 8 aft, from 00h00 until 02h00. Piracy is a real (and growing) threat in West African waters. But thankfully our watch (with the Security Officer - he's also Third Officer) was uneventful. You see a lot of stars out here. It's so peaceful.

So we are now on our way to the Canary Islands, a sail of six days. Our first port of call is Las Palmas, where we enter dry dock, and then Tenerife for Christmas.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Long Days and Bong Mines...

Since I last posted on this blog, it has been a busy week. Monday through to Friday I was working the long day shift, 8h30 until 17h30. But, if you know me, then you won't be surprised to hear it was more like 8h00 until 17h30... although somedays it also went on until 18h30. This past Tuesday we had a lifeboat drill. I am in the Muster Control Team and we muster up on the bridge and coordinate the emergency evacuation from there. It is our primary responsibility to ensure all people are accounted for. It was quite an exciting time, donning lifejackets and heading to our lifeboat stations.

Yesterday (Saturday) I joined a small group (around twenty of us) going to Bong Mines. This is an adandoned and ruined iron ore mining facility. We left the ship at 6h30 and drove across to the railway yard (a five minute drive away) where we loaded our two Landrovers on top of the train. We then sat on top of the Landrovers during the three hour train trip to Bong Mines. At Bong Mines we swam in the large lake (it was once a quarry) and had a picnic lunch there. We also drove around and did some exploring, before driving back to Bong Mines station where we loaded the Landrovers and rode the train back to Monrovia, getting back around 18h30. Of the twenty who went, only six of us were guys. That's all for now!

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Fire drills, Lifeboat drills, a Presidential Visit, and a Costume Party...

Since my last post this week has been rather eventful... On Thursday we had a fire drill to check that everything runs smoothly in the event of an emergency. The heat sensors in the main engine room were set off and a 911 call was received. It was very exciting. The "crew alert" alarm was sounded and this sent the fire teams to their muster stations. The fire teams get kitted out in professional fire fighting apparel, with oxygen tanks and reflective clothing. They headed down to the main engine room to contain the "blaze". The emergency medical teams were also mustered and shortly afterwards the general alarm was set off to evacuate the ship. People headed out onto the dock. We were responsible to ensure that everyone was accounted for. Several minutes later the Captain paged again saying "The fire in the main engine room is now out of control. All emergency teams fall back to primary positions. This is a drill". We then had to account for all the fire teams as well. It was very interesting to see how things would occur if a real life situation were to present itself.

On Friday we had lifeboat training and it was pretty interesting to see how quickly the boats are put in the water and taken up again. We also had the vice-president of Liberia, as well as other dignatories, visit the ship. The vice-president came in a heavily guarded UNMIL escort. UNMIL is the United Nations Mission In Liberia.

Yesterday evening we had a costume party. Many crew members dressed up. I was dressed up as Jack Bauer - although I was undercover as one "Murray Crawford". Also present were the Backstreet Boys, Peter Pan, the Queen of Hearts, Michael Jordan, Captain Jack Sparrow, and others. It was a very fun evening. Above is Jack Bauer and one of the members of the Backstreet Boys. That's all for now. More news coming soon.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Long Nights and an All-day Adventure...

As I type this it is nearly 01h00 local time. I'm on night shift and have another six hours ahead of me. This is my third night shift in a row. And what wasn't great was I was sick for all of Tuesday with a stomach bug, but I'm on the mend now. It's a huge responsibility, manning the fire panel and our 911 emergency phone. And being on my own now I am fully responsible. Thankfully all of my nights have been uneventful. (So far...)

But what was more exciting than night shift was Monday. I joined Jan, our Security Officer; Andy, our Transportation Manager; and a fellow receptionist in a mission through the jungle to rescue a couple of crew members whose vehicle had broken down the previous night. And it had broken down in the middle of nowhere. We were expecting to be away for around six or so hours, but ended up getting lost ourselves looking for the village (Kotomi) where they were staying. We took a wrong turn and then had to backtrack for around an hour and take another road. We eventually found them and their vehicle (which had a broken fuel pump - but had been fixed) and drove back to Monrovia in convoy. We were away for nine hours, from 09h30 until around 18h30! The scenery was amazing. Again we passed through many UN checkpoints and drove along some seriously waterlogged, muddy roads. It was just as well we were in a Landrover 4 by 4 vehicle. I've never experienced such off-road adventuring in my life before. So it was quite an experience!

It was also so sad to see the poverty in the rural villages (in fact, poverty is everywhere). In a sense Mercy Ships are also here not only to do medical work, but also to empower people to take pride in themselves. This is evidenced by an agricultural project with which we are helping. It was also rather touching and amusing to hear the children shouting and cheering when we drove past, "White man, White man!" At certain stages on the drive we could have sworn they were saying "YWAM, YWAM!" Mercy Ships is affiliated with YWAM (Youth With A Mission). Anyway, that's all for now. Stay tuned for more news!

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Fire Panel Training, Thanksgiving, and a long, long night...

Since the last post I entered on this site, I have been Fire Panel trained. This happened on Thursday. The Fire Panel is an electronic system that is connected to all the smoke detectors, heat sensors and panic buttons on the ship. It is also linked to the numerous fire doors on the ship, heavy doors that can be closed at the click of a button to slow down the progression of smoke or flames. If smoke or heat is detected (or someone presses one of the numerous panic buttons) the system immediately enters "Prewarning" and if there is a rapid increase in temperature or smoke the system registers "Fire". It is then the responsibility of the receptionist to contact (on day shift) the Duty Officer or (on night shift) the night patrolman. We then give the Duty Officer or patrolman the position of the problem, according to the nearest room number as shown on the panel. It is then up to them to investigate the cause of the problem and take the appropriate action. We then standby. We have our own radios and if we lose contact with the Duty Officer or patrolman for a period of one minute we then assume the worst and hit the "Crew Alert" alarm. This is an alarm that musters only the trained emergency personnel, such as the Fire Teams and the Emergency Medical Teams. If the situation is deemed worse enough, then the "General Crew" alarm is activated and that musters all crew on the ship to their respective muster stations. In port this would be the dock, whilst on the sea this would be up on Deck 7, at the lifeboat stations. So it has been very interesting learning about the Fire Panel and all the emergency systems in place.

After my training I did a practical exam. The Safety Officer went around setting off the detectors and it was up to me to control the situation on the Fire Panel. At the same time she had people dial the 911 phone (our Emergency phone) and I had to deal with these calls as well. After the practical exam I had to write a written test, the results of which I still wait.

On Thursday evening we had a special Thanksgiving dinner (turkey, mashed potatoes, vegetables, etc) followed by an awesome Thanksgiving service in the International Lounge. We had a wonderful time of worship and had communion as well. Crew members were invited to come up front when they saw their nation's name and say a thanksgiving prayer in their mother tongue. This was very special. It is amazing to see so many people, from so many different cultures and nations, unified in a common goal and purpose - bringing glory to God.

Last night I did my first full night shift. 23h00 until 07h45 this morning. It was insanely long and I struggled to stay awake, but it was also interesting to see what I have to do during the night shift. There is about two to three hours of actual work that one must do, including ensuring all crew are accounted for and preparing things for the following day. Once I had finished my shift this morning I went and had a shower and headed back into my bunk. I slept for about four hours. Which is enough - just - for me.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

The M/V "Africa Mercy"

For those of you interested, here is the ship I am working on... She's a beautiful vessel, filled with wonderful, friendly people!

My First Few Days in Liberia...

I've only been here two days now and already it feels as if it's been two months! It was an interesting start to my adventure, with my flight being delayed due to an incident on the runway at Cape Town International. I therefore missed my interconnecting flight to Kenya and from there to Monrovia, and had to reschedule for Monday morning. So I had a good couple of days in Jo'burg. Thanks must go to the Burnett's, who put me up in their home for my time there. I was also able to attend Grace Baptist Church, Kempton Park, and that was also a real blessing. Looking back at it, I think God just wanted me to take some time to relax before embarking on this journey. And also just to trust in him at all times, and learn to be reliant on him.

But now I am safely on-board the M/V "Africa Mercy", and it has been an awesome few days! The people here are so friendly and I am so privileged to have this opportunity to serve on the seas. I am training at the moment and it's a lot of information to take in, but the people here are really patient and understanding.

Liberia itself is quite an experience. Landing on Monday afternoon was an eye-opener. We landed alongside row after row of UN helicopters and planes. And on the drive to the ship we passed through numerous UN military checkpoints and camps. Liberia is a sad nation at the moment. There is so much poverty, pollution, poor infrastructure. In short, so much need. And that is why we are here.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

My Farewell Party - 20th October 2007

A few days ago, coinciding with the Rugby World Cup final, I had my farewell party for some close friends. It was a bring and braai (or barbecue - if you're from America or Britain) and was a good time spent relaxing in the company of many friends. Above right is myself and one of my friends, Mary, showing our true colours! Of course, we were all stoked when South Africa defeated England to claim our second William Webb Ellis trophy... Go SPRINGBOKS!!

Of course, as I type this, it is only nine days before I fly off to join the M/V "Africa Mercy" in Monrovia. And now the nerves and butterflies are starting to take effect... But also an awesome sense of anticipation and excitement as I go out into the world, serving God in impoverished Africa. The clock is ticking... I'm not sure whether I'll have time to update this before I leave, so the next time a message is posted on this, I may very well be in Monrovia, on-board the world's largest hospital ship! Until then, keep well and God bless!

Thursday, 11 October 2007

My Mercy Ships "blog" has been created...

Despite my abhorrence of the word "blog" (it's by far one of the ugliest words in the English language), I have decided to create one to keep friends and family updated as to my progress on the M/V "Africa Mercy", as we travel throughout Liberia, the Canary Islands, and Sierra Leone.

I leave for Liberia on the 2nd of November, flying from Cape Town to Johannesburg, and then on to Nairobi and then Monrovia. Overall I have eight take-offs and landings! And one of these stops is a "technical stop" in Accra, Ghana. It certainly does not fill me with confidence!

So the clock is now ticking on my time remaining in Cape Town, just 22 days remaining. I plan to spend most of the time with friends and family, before I leave for an eight months adventure.

But that's all for now... Keep posted for more!