This article comes right from the top, yes from a Captain himself.. Capt.Abhishek Nair recounts the life of a Captain on board a ship..
The life of a Captain on board a ship…
When I was asked to write this article I was pleasantly surprised to know someone actually wants to know what I do. It’s quite often the case wherein my “land-lubber” friends would ask me what I did at sea and when I just got started the next salvo of questions would be entirely tangential to what I was saying…usually it would be “Is it boring…What do you do the entire day?”
That’s exactly when that loud voice inside your head (the one we all have heard but never seen!) tells you “Forget it, they will never understand!”
In retrospect, I realize the job of a Captain is very much similar to what most of you do back within the confines of your offices and the glare of the city lights…just that my life here is far better than yours! I decided to chronicle a couple of days of my life (it’s my weekend) and leave it to you to judge how good it is…
The alarm goes off at 0915 hrs (nice time to wake up, huh!!). Before you get to any conclusions let me clarify, I was up working until 0200 hrs last night and that is the reason for this delay. But still…I don’t have to give excuses for waking up late…I am the Captain remember.
With my voice still groggy from the “sound sleep”, I call up my Third Mate on the bridge and ask him how far to the “Master on bridge” point…we are in the Malacca/Singapore Straits. I have an hour to spare. I make my bed and have a looong shower. I suit up for the day and on my way out I say my prayers quickly…I am not a very pious chap but when your job involves moving a 300,000 tonne mammoth through water, it’s better to have the gods playing on your side.
I know it’s all basic physics but folks, ponder over it, it’s steel floating over water…it definitely defies nature!!! I go down to the mess room to grab a quick bite. The ketchup is not at it’s right spot…it’s 4 inches from the spot it’s supposed to be…is it sooo difficult to keep things back in their place!! This needs to be addressed in the meeting later this month. I reach the bridge at 1002 hrs and am glad to see no traffic of much concern. Some small ships buzz past me at 24 knots…I am doing just 9 knots…I can actually see the Captains of those ships making snide remarks at me. Just then I hear a broadcast from Singapore VTS warning all ships to keep well clear off me…
I am a deep draught VLCC transiting the Singapore Straits…my heart swells with pride…I put on my Ray-Ban aviators to accentuate my pride!! Not too long…I have an auto slow-down on the engine…trouble in the engine room…I think I’m having a heart attack. My mind (and the loud voice in my head) is racing in every conceivable direction as to what I need to do next just then my Chief Engineer calls me to tell me everything is under control and the engine will be back to normal…sigh of relief.
Rest of the passage is smooth except for one crackpot who decides to stall right in my path and expects me to grow wings and fly over him…why can’t they just understand that this beauty takes a good 2 miles to stop! Luckily, he moves off my track well in time and my fine lady cruises through. It’s 1945 hrs when I can safely handover the “conn” to the duty officer and retire to my cabin. Oops..I totally forgot to connect the mail and send away the long list of mails and notifications to “all parties”.
It’s almost 2200 hrs when I finish staring at the screen and punching keys…it’s the most mundane part of my job but then somebody’s got to do it, right. I jump into bed and grab my ipad…I am reading the National geographic magazine…they have an article on shipbreakers…it breaks my heart to see snippets of these majestic beauties being torn apart…its just so unfair…ships should be immortal…
The alarm goes off at 0600 hrs…I have completed exactly 15 years at sea today. My old alarm clock has been replaced with a swanky Samsung galaxy but I have set the same alarm tone as my good old alarm clock…you never want some things to change, right. I make my bed and head into the shower. The mirror says a different story altogether with my non-existent hairline and swelling paunch there is absolutely no resemblance to the cadet I remember from that fine summer of 1999…hmmm…reluctantly, I have to convince myself men and wine get better with age! At 0700 hrs I am on the bridge to discuss “matters of concern” with my Chief Mate.
I head for breakfast and glad to see everything is exactly where I want it to be. After attending to some chores (read replying to mails), at 1000 I have a meeting with my shipboard management team where we discuss the ship’s operations and maintenance plan for the next week. We have an Oil major inspection coming up in 8 days…it’s like a large dark cloud looming over us. I give them a long list of jobs to be finished in addition to their already packed schedules. They don’t look too happy…but then I am the Captain remember!!
Noon is undoubtedly the single most significant time of the day at sea…it’s one packed with calculations, adjustments, re-calculations and then finally agreements. With the noon “figures” decided upon, I head for lunch. After lunch I place a call to my wife…I know she is having tough time reining in my 14 month old daughter but she has the grace to congratulate me on 15 safe years at sea…I tell her I’ll make up to her when I get back. I place a call to my parents and dad’s got a flurry of questions regarding my Singapore transit…I try my best to answer all of them in the most logical way…I hope he understood.
Mom’s not been keeping in the best of health but she enquires about my well-being and if I am eating well…I guess she still thinks I am a cadet and getting acquainted with my new job and surroundings. I am back in my office by 1300 hrs ready to fire off the noon messages which I really hope someone is reading because we put in so much of effort into it…in fact I am already thinking of tomorrow’s noon report! At 1500 hrs, I go up on the bridge to have a cup of coffee. The second mate is kind enough to brew me the most exceptional Italian café everyday.
The aroma of the coffee fills the bridge and the taste it leaves on your lips is something I will always cherish. Drinking coffee on the bridge reminds me of Capt.E.J.Smith sipping his coffee (or tea) on the starboard bridge wing of SS Titanic (remember that scene?)…to me that was “THE merchant navy moment of the century”. So moral of the story is drinking coffee on my bridge here makes me feel I am Capt.E.J.Smith!! Dinner is at 1800 hrs…the most fabulous steak and good wine to go with it. Dinner is followed by our weekly get-together in the smoke room…
we play some games, talk and pull each other’s legs…I forget I am Captain. 2200 hrs is bed time..I am reading the economist weekly tonight…current affairs are so boring…I always read Douglas Reeman’s naval fiction as a cadet…they were so engrossing and full of adventure…should look it up on google play or kindle…
The alarm goes off at 0600 hrs…I make my bed and head into the shower. 0700 hrs I am on the bridge to discuss “matters of concern” with my Chief Mate. I head for breakfast and enjoy my toast with cheese. Today is cabin inspection day. We start the inspection at 1030 hrs…I note that some cabins are not made to the required standards (my standards). Some of them do not have the blankets folded to 18 inches from the head of the mattress…
I give out this information with an air of confidence about me… this is classified information you see. It’s only later I realize that this information is not privy to “a few good men” as I thought…it’s actually “google-able”, how unfair!! Lunch is, of course, the delectable biryani…it really is difficult to imagine a Sunday onboard without biryani.
I am informed that one of the staff has lost his father. I quickly finish my lunch head up to his cabin and offer my condolences. His loss will always remain but the least I can do for him is offer him some kind words. It’s these moments at sea when you feel absolutely helpless and you need to resign to the fact that it is the will of God.
I get in touch with the office and ask for him to be relieved at the next port of call (a week from now). At 1500 hrs, I go up on the bridge for my “EJ Smith time” and see it’s raining cats & dogs…I am happy that the ship is getting a real good wash…she’s going to be shining on arrival at the discharging port. I glance at weather report and my jaw drops…I have a severe tropical storm heading straight on my track…she intends to rendezvous with me in 60 hours. It’s got a funny name..RAMMASUN…it would sound far better if you say I’m riding the storm Katrina, Carina or Charolette…but the fact is you have to face it irrespective of the name. Maybe the rains are not all that good!
I leave instructions to the duty officers to track the storm’s movement every 6 hours so that we can take the “best possible” avoiding action. I retire to my office…I need to prepare my checks for the upcoming Oil major inspection. Dinner is followed by a safety video screening at 1915 hrs. I team this up with a long list of Do’s & Dont’s to the staff during the oil major inspection.
By the time I finish my throat is dry…I glance at the clock… I have been talking for 23 mins on the run…and I thought I am the quiet type!! The rest of the weekend is packed with answering mails from the office and my wife’s messages on Whatsapp and of course, snaps of my daughter playing with ants!
I’ll take leave of you folks now…I have a very important meeting with Rammasun. Meanwhile, you can judge how good my life onboard is…