Author Archives: manchesterwelsh

Cadetships: Officer of the Watch Orals

I’ve finally come to the end of my cadetship with the RFA (successfully). I am aware that I am still missing posts regarding my experiences of doing an RFA Cadetship and they will come, but for now I wanted to share my experience of the final assessment hurdle on the path to gaining the Officer of the Watch (Deck) STCW II/1 (Unlimited) Certificate of Competency. After successful completion of the academic side of the course and gaining a Foundation Degree in Nautical Science from Liverpool John Moores University, all that was left was a one-on-one oral examination at a Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) Office.

Here is what I can remember from my orals, I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few things but this is pretty much my exam – it may be of use to people.

13:15, 22 November 2016 at MCA Offices Crosby.

Examined by Captain A. Hilliard

Result: Pass

I drove to Crosby with plenty of time to spare in the morning, I allowed 2.5 hours to make the drive from Fleetwood so had loads of time to ‘relax’. I went to Wetherspoons for some lunch before heading back to the MCA office to speak to the person who’d just come out of their orals. I parked in the pay and display carpark (£1 for 2 hours) for Anthony Gormley’s ‘Another Place’ – well worth paying that a visit if you’ve not been but perhaps the day of your orals isn’t the time. I signed in to the MCA offices and tried to relax by reading the nautical publications on the table in reception, Capt Hilliard came and got me at 1320 and took me into the examination room. He offered me a jug of water and a glass, which I accepted and placed on the table next to me. Capt Hilliard asked for my discharge book before telling me he just had to fill his paperwork in so don’t be concerned by the silence. He muttered “RFA” when he looked at my stamps and then asked what the random ship was – I had a 10-day trip as a deck hand on a tall ship. I told him I did it to gain a wider experience of seafaring and he was happy with that, luckily he asked no further questions about sailing ships.

Capt Hilliard asked to see my TRB and he had a good look at all the ship’s particulars. He then asked to see my workbook, I gave him the two volumes of hand written hard back books and he spent a reasonable amount of time looking through it. He commented that I’d done a lot of work and I responded by saying that I’d made them as a resource for my future career so put everything in it that I was unsure on. He was happy with that so moved on to my operations workbooks and again he went through them pretty thoroughly. This all took 10 minutes and I was more than happy to sit in silence for as long as he wanted!

He placed the Dover Straits chart in front of me and so began the questioning…

How do you know you can plot a GPS position on this chart?

I pointed out the WGS84 mark on the chart.

What if you were somewhere where there wasn’t WGS84?

I honestly didn’t have a clue with this one, he tried rephrasing the question and telling me I was in India. I said that I was unsure and would therefore consult the Navigator or other more experienced officer.

What are the errors of a GPS?

I managed to mention a few but didn’t do a very good job of this question, he asked me where I did my NAESTO so I’m pretty happy that I didn’t answer this question to his satisfaction.

You are at Boulogne-sur-mer and are going to Dover, show me the lines you would draw on the chart when planning the passage.

I clarified that he simply wanted the lines and not the whole process of planning a passage. I said the relevant pieces of Rule 10 before pointing out each stage of the route with my finger.

You’re in the TSS it’s 2345 and you’re about to take over the watch, how would you do the handover?

I rattled off the list of things that you’d do, trying to remember to speak slowly.

What is squat? How do you know you have it? How would you stop it?

Talked about Bernoulli’s principle and how it affects the ship, described how you know you were experiencing squat and that reducing speed has a dramatic effect on squat. I mentioned the value of ¼ or a factor of 4 reduction in squat by reducing speed. It’s actually proportional to the square of the speed of the ship, so reducing speed by half reduces squat effect by a factor of 4….

Turn a ship short round

Good job I’d spent time working on this. Hilliard asked me to repeat it, giving the actual commands I would give – I did this and he then asked me why I would order the engine movement before the rudder. I said it was to get movement of water over the rudder to get steerage, I actually don’t think that was right but he didn’t correct me.

What is interaction effect? He placed two ships on the table, one was a warship and I appreciated his attempt at humour, and asked me to explain what would happen when one overtook the over. He wanted me to go through all the stages of attraction and repulsion that occurs with the pressure changes.

You’ve gone aground, what do you do?

I went through the immediate actions and then continued down the list of things to do, he interrupted me when I mentioned considering a GMDSS alert and said that this was an OOW orals exam and I didn’t need to talk about Masters things.

How do you know where the ship is aground?

I went with check the charts and then remembered to sound the area around the ship to determine the point at which she’d gone aground.

You’ve answered very detailed about the bridge, but what happens on deck?

I went through checking for damage, marine pollution and cargo securing.

What are the daily checks on GMDSS? What do you write in the radio log book? What information goes in it.

Batteries on/off load, internal DSC check, printer. I missed off one thing in the list for the log book, I went for position but he didn’t tell me if I was right.

How do you transfer control of the equipment to the Bridge wing?

Explained how we did it on ship and for what reasons, putting the wheel midships before control is taken at the bridge wing.

What’s in the SOLAS Training Manual?

Information on emergency drills, first aid information.

How would you inspect a nylon rope for damage?

Visual inspection, check for flat spots and wear and tear.

Tell me about how you would set the bridge up for departure?

Started with steering gear checks in the hope he would stop me after that, I moved on to testing the ship’s whistle from all positions after radioing the shore to ask for permission and then he asked me another question.

Tell me about the rocket flare and pyrotechnics, how long do they burn for?

Told him the key facts for all the pyro.

How many do you have?

6,4 & 2 in lifeboats and SOLAS pack A liferafts, pack B have half the amount.

What’s the difference between SOLAS pack A and B?

Fair question, I asked for that one…. Pack B has no water, food or fishing equipment.

Tug and tow on port bow, smartie board.

Ran through identifying the lights out loud, the recited rule 16 at him. He said she wasn’t taking appropriate action, I checked for risk of collision before reciting the relevant part of Rule 17 at him. I didn’t actually get to say my course of action he asked ‘and what would you sound?’ as he removed the boat – I said at least 5 short blasts on the ships whistle and I’d also call the master.

Vessel one point abaft the starboard beam

Again, I broke down my interpretation of the situation out loud which meant I corrected myself when I initially said overtaking. I recited rule 15 at him and again, didn’t actually get to the point of doing my action – I tailed off with ‘and avoid crossing ahead’ as he removed the boats and produced a piece of paper with a radar plot on it.

Radar plot – 4 vessels, True vectors, relative trails.

I took my time with this and correctly identified that only one of them had a risk of collision. He was very patient with me on this when I struggled to answer his question as to why I knew this. Billy basic stuff but I just couldn’t get there quickly. Relative vectors pointing straight at you tells you this! Once he established that I did indeed know this, I recited rule 19d to him and then told him I’d alter course to port.

 

He then abruptly stopped and said ‘you’ve passed the exam’. It was 14:05 and we’d been talking for 35 minutes. While he was completing the paperwork he asked me if I was going home for Christmas, the odd small talk threw me a tad really but I politely answered him. He then got up, left the room with my NOE before returning and handing it to me. I asked him where I send it off to and he replied ‘it’s all written on the back’. A man of very few words, I shook his hand and wished him a pleasant Christmas and then left. At several points during the exam I tried to talk about my ships and what I’d done but he really wasn’t interested, he just says nothing in return. He gives nothing away and he didn’t correct me when I was wrong or tell me the answer when I clearly had no clue (WGS84!). Best of luck to you if you are using this report as part of your revision, I’m sure you’ll be absolutely fine! My biggest tip would be to know your rules inside and out, if you can recite them verbatim then that’s even better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why does Pride still matter in 2016?

This article was written for the charity Human Rights at Sea in preparation for the Pride season this year. Since it was written the horrendous attacks on the LGBT community in Orlando took place- a very real reminder that there is still a long way to come in terms of acceptance.

The UK has come a long way in a relatively short period of time in terms of equal rights for the LGBT+ community. There have been some huge steps towards equality with the equalising of the age of consent to 16 years old in 2001, transgender people being able to legally change their gender in 2005 and the introduction of equal marriage in 2014. The UK is now one of the most liberal countries with respect to equal rights for LGBT+ people. However, with that comes the question: Do we still need to have Pride events? Surely, everything we’ve been campaigning for over the last few decades has been achieved so why does Pride still matter?RFA personnel and Head of Service at London Pride 2015

This photographs shows the RFA contingent with the Head of Service, Commodore Rob Dorey, before marching with the Naval Service at London Pride 2015.

 

The answer is remarkably simple. If people feel that they can’t be themselves in either their personal or professional lives, then there is still a need to campaign for change. Despite all the partying, rainbows and frivolity, Pride events are integral to driving through change and increasing acceptance of LGBT+ people. It’s about being able to stand up and say ‘I am who I am and I am proud of it’. From a personal point of view, wearing full uniform and marching through London with the Naval Service was a real stand out moment in my life and something that would have been impossible prior to the lifting of the ban on homosexuals in the Armed Forces in 2000. As a member of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, I am included in the Royal Navy’s COMPASS network despite being a civilian. The RFA is a unique organisation that sits in-between the Merchant Navy and the Royal Navy: neither one thing nor the other. My experiences of being ‘out’ in the RFA and Naval Service are well documented and have been very positive but how reflective of the Merchant Navy are those experiences? Given that I’m a female and I sail with the RFA, you could argue that they’re not at all representative of the Merchant Navy.

 

History tells us that gay men have always been at sea, the stereotyped view of the gay sailor is almost ingrained in our culture but what is it like to be a gay man in the Merchant Navy in 2016? I spoke with a man in his mid-thirties who sails with a multi-national crew doing worldwide voyages. His experiences have been wildly different to mine. He is gay and wishes to remain anonymous. Despite being out to close friends and family, he doesn’t feel he can be out at work and crucially he’s never met another gay shipmate. There is the chance that he may well have sailed with many other gay people but the fear of not being accepted, may have meant his colleagues also weren’t able to come out.  He feels that knowing there was someone else on board, or even in the company, who was gay may help him to be more open about his sexuality. Simple but important things like his employer having robust LGBT+ policies would also make it easier for him to be open and himself at work. Luckily he hasn’t had any cause to have to consult the non-existent policies but that doesn’t detract from the need for a company to show that they treat everyone equally regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

 

The need for positive role models in the maritime industry is clear and whilst there is still a reluctance for people to bring their whole self to work, Pride events are still important. I look forward to the day when my colleagues in the Merchant Navy will wear their uniforms with pride and march through the streets without fearing that their working lives will suffer because of their gender or who they fall in love with.

RFA Cadetships: Definitely not the Royal Navy

I wrote this article for the Association of Royal Navy Officers. They asked me to write something for their journal to help their readership understand how Officer training in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary differs from that in the Royal Navy Officer. I’ve amended it slightly as there is some repetition with previous posts but it summarises a Deck Officer cadetship and may be of interest to people thinking of applying to join the RFA (Do it!)

 

I made the decision at the age of 33 to apply to be a Deck Officer Cadet in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA). Until the age of 29, I’d never heard of the RFA and it took me a while to understand this unique organisation. The RFA is a civilian manned, MOD owned fleet that provides support to the Royal Navy, and other Navies from around the world, allowing them to operate globally.

An RFA Officer Cadet follows a very different training pathway to that of Royal Navy Officer Cadets. We start our careers in the Naval Service shoulder to shoulder with our Royal Navy counterparts, undertaking a specially designed 8 week Initial Officer Training course at Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth (BRNC). Over the course of the 8 weeks, RFA Officer Cadets are introduced to life in the Naval Service, receiving expert instruction and assessment in Leadership and teamwork from the Royal Naval Leadership Academy. We’re taught boat handling on the River Dart and spend hours on the parade square being ‘instructed’ in drill by Royal Marine drill sergeants. The culmination of the 8 weeks is a passing out parade, attended by friends and family. This is a very special moment for all the Officer Cadets and is a moment that I remember with pride and fondness.  It is at this point our careers diverge from that of Royal Navy Officer Cadets, and our training comes into line with the Merchant Navy. RFA Officer Cadets attend a civilian Nautical College with cadets from across the maritime industry. A cadet could alternatively apply for a Marine Engineering or Systems Engineering (electrical) cadetship.  There are several academic routes open to a cadets based on previous academic qualifications, however regardless of route taken, all cadets are ultimately working towards their Certificate of Competency to be an Officer of the Watch (OOW), awarded by the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA).

RFA Division passing out of BRNC November 2013

The first indication that college was going to be nothing at all like BRNC was realising that there was no requirement to wear headgear around campus, in fact only RFA cadets were in possession of caps and berets. It’s not the norm for a cadet to have these items or to have been issued as much uniform as we had been. We were now known as ‘Cadets’ rather than ‘Officer Cadets’, a subtle yet notable difference. It was also interesting to note that the ages of the 26 cadets who started the course with me ranged in age from 18-34 years old. Some had Degrees, some had Masters Degrees, some came straight from school while others came from employment – the Merchant Navy (and the RFA) is open to people of all ages. The stereotypical image of a cadet being 16 years old is no longer true, I know of a 52 year old RFA cadet undergoing training at the moment.

A cadetship is split into five phases spread over three years and I can only talk about my training pathway, that of a Deck Officer. The course is designed to give you the knowledge needed to be a OOW, the time at sea to put it into practice and consolidate/expand your knowledge.

  • Phase One – Nautical College (19 weeks).
  • Phase Two – Sea (34 weeks)
  • Phase Three – Nautical College (34 weeks)
  • Phase Four – Sea (40 weeks)
  • Phase Five – Nautical College & final oral examination (12 weeks)

The four months of Phase one flew by, we covered topics such as: Navigation & Meteorology; Study Skills and Shipboard Operations. We also had to attend and pass short courses, some of these courses are legal requirements to go to sea: I learnt so much during these three week-long courses and I felt well equipped to go to sea. As part of the Basic Training for Seafarers, we spent a week learning how to coxswain lifeboats both modern and old.

Life boat

A typical day in college will have two lectures, 0900 – 1200 and 1300-1600 and it’s a lot like being back at school. Cadets in their first phase of college are expected to live in halls of residence and this is non-negotiable. The halls were nice enough, in fact quite an improvement on the halls I had when I went to University way back in the day.  I only ever considered joining the RFA and it’s been extremely beneficial to meet cadets from the wider maritime industry. I’ve learnt a lot about the Merchant Navy and the shipping industry, knowledge that will be useful during my career with the RFA and the Naval Service. There are 20 minute breaks, affectionately known as  ‘smoko’ rather than  ‘standeasy’, morning and afternoon and you’re with the same group of cadets for each lecture. After sitting (and passing) all of our exams, we were issued with our Merchant Navy Training Board (MNTB) Training Record Books, briefed by our Company Training Officer, given a few weeks of leave and were sent to join our first ships.

 

After spending four months in a civilian college it was something of a jolt to be back in the Naval Service environment. The sheer amount of uniform I had to take with me to join my ship, reminded me that I’d joined an organisation that works with and alongside HM Forces. I needed all of my 40Kg seaman’s luggage allowance: none of my non-RFA colleagues found themselves having to pack items such as formal uniform (black and white), boat shoes or a respirator. I joined RFA Black Rover at Ascension Island flying with RAF air from Brize Norton, yet another reminder of the close ties to the Armed Forces that we, as RFA personnel, have.  During this first trip on board ship, I spent most of my time on deck with the lads (ratings) learning how to be a sailor and understanding how the ship works. I also began to learn how to be an OOW by understudying one of the officers and seeing things I’d been taught at college in a real life context.

 

After the excitement of going to sea for the first time, it was back to college for a mammoth nine months of academics. It is a necessary part of the cadetship but I am sure I speak for all of my colleagues when I say that I couldn’t wait to get back to sea. As RFA cadets, we have to learn so much more than is in our training record books: helicopter operations; amphibious operations and Replenishment at Sea to name a few. The RFA is a very specialised organisation, and we can only learn the military aspects of our future jobs whilst at sea. The military tasking is daunting yet extremely exciting: being in charge of a helicopter landing on the flight deck is quite a thrill.

On board RFA Wave Knight

I am now coming to the end of my last sea phase on RFA Wave Knight. The last 6 months have been all about watchkeeping, working on my training record book and progressively taking on more responsibilty. It’s been a long process and now the end is in sight, it’s seems to have gone very quickly indeed – I’ll be back at Nautical college in a two months time to prepare for my OOW oral exam. For an RFA cadet, the journey doesn’t end at gaining your OOW competency and subsequent civilian maritime qualifications, as we also have various Royal Navy courses we must do to further our career. For example, my future career could see me doing some or all of the following: Officer of the Quarter; Point Defence Officer (PDO) Preliminary Navigating Officer (PNO); Fleet Navigating Officer (FNO); Spec N; Junior Warfare Officer Course (JWOC); Intermediate Warfare Officer Course (IWOC); Principal Warfare Officer (PWO) and others.

In essence, RFA Officers are trained to both Merchant AND Royal Navy standards, enabling us to support the Royal Navy in all that she does.

Female Seafarers: Everyday Sexism

Yesterday I attended a ‘Women’s Forum’ meeting. This is no big deal in itself, many people attend meetings everyday, but this was quite a big deal for me. I’m not too sure when or even how it happened but I have definitely turned into one of those people who go to meetings and ‘fly the flag’. I actively derided those types when I was in university (way back in 1990-something) and now I find myself eagerly attending meetings, trying to make a difference. I’ve been motivated to write this post following throw away comment from a high-ranking male seafarer after seeing a photograph of the delegates; “They’re dreadful; have they deliberately tried to look unattractive?”

What?!? Is the sole purpose of a female to be attractive to men? If she is deemed unattractive, does that make her less of a being? That somehow she is ‘wrong’ and is to therefore be an object of ridicule and mockery? Everyday my female colleagues are judged by their male peers: too fat; too thin; too much make up; tomboy; class swot; lezza; moody… the list goes on. Despite all the advances in women’s equality, we seem to be no closer to actually achieving it. That is, to be judged on our performance and ability and not against a stereotyped perception of what a woman is or should be.

It should be unacceptable to sit in a lecture and have male colleagues openly comment that if a woman has been successful in her career, it’s because “she had her legs open”. How rude and insulting is that?! Worse still, to be challenged on the comment and simply to retort “You weren’t supposed to hear that” just highlights how entrenched these attitudes are in people. It’s all very well to be pushing equality and acceptance for women in the seafaring industry but attitudes have to change at the coal face. What good is the International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) programme on the Integration of Women in the Maritime Sector ,if misogynistic attitudes amongst both the ‘old and bold’ and the future maritime professionals are allowed to go unchecked?

It’s imperative that we, as female seafarers, figure out where our line is and don’t allow anyone to cross it no matter how hard we may find it. This is no easy thing to do, confrontation in any situation is never pleasant. However, refusing to compromise on our lines will make a difference in the long run.  I make no apologies for upsetting men by challenging their attitudes and comments: If I can make the slightest difference to the lives of future female mariners then it’s worth all the uncomfortable conversations that I’ve had, and will undoubtedly continue to have in the future.

 

 

RFA Cadetships: Nautical College (Phase One)

This post has been a long time coming and many apologies for that but sometimes life gets in the way. Particularly when you’re undertaking a cadetship!

As regular readers will know, a Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) cadetship starts out with an 8 week course at Brittania Royal Naval College, Dartmouth (BRNC), where your leadership skills are developed and tested. This is something very specific to the RFA and after this point the training comes into line with the Merchant Navy, undertaking a cadetship along with other cadets from across the maritime industry. Things have changed slightly over the last 18 months, for us we were all sent to Fleetwood Nautical Campus near Blackpool whether it was convenient or not. Whereas now, an RFA cadet is given the choice of a few different nautical colleges. I can only write my posts from my point of view and so this is geared towards a deck cadetship at Fleetwood Nautical Campus.

I had enough UCAS points and was enrolled on the Foundation Degree course meaning that upon completion of my training I would get a Foundation Degree in Nautical Science from Liverpool John Moore University. The other route for a cadetship is the HNC/HND route, the main difference between that the learning and assessments are more vocational in nature. Regardless of route taken and academic qualification awarded at the end, all cadets are ultimately working towards their Certificate of Competency to be an Officer of the Watch (OOW). The specifics of what being an OOW entail will be covered in an additional post.

The first indication that college was going to be nothing at all like BNRC was realising that there was no requirement to wear head gear around campus, in fact only the RFA cadets were in possession of caps and berets. It’s not the norm for a cadet to have  these items or to have been issued with as much uniform as we had been. You find it interesting to know that the ages of the 26 cadets who started the course ranged from 18 to 34. Some had degrees, some had masters degrees, some came straight from school while others came from employment – it’s interesting to see that the Merchant Navy (and the RFA) is open to people of all ages, the stereotypical image of a cadet being 16 years old is no longer true and hasn’t been for some time. There is a 52 year old cadet undergoing training at the moment!

A cadetship is split into five phases spread over three years, is designed to give you the knowledge needed to be an OOW and also the time at sea to put it into practice and consolidate/expand your knowledge. It’s set out like this:

  • Phase One – Nautical College (19 weeks)
  • Phase Two – Sea (34 weeks)
  • Phase Three – Nautical College (34 weeks)
  • Phase Four – Sea (40 weeks)
  • Phase Five – Nautical College & final oral exam. (12 weeks)

Phase one is just over four months in length and in that time you cover academic topics such as: Navigation & Meterology (weather); Study skills (CVs etc) and Shipboard Operations. Fleetwood Nautical Campus sends its phase one cadets away to North Wales for a week on a ‘Cadet Development Course’, which is basically a week of outdoorsy stuff for team building and developing leadership and communication skills. After BRNC this week was a relative breeze,  it was a great opportunity to spend some time in the outdoors and bond with our classmates. We climbed Moel Siabod one day and got some dramatic photographs on the snow capped peak.

CDC

A typical day in college will have two lectures, 0900-1200 and 1300-1600 and is a lot like school. There’s a 20 minute break, affectionately known as ‘smoko’ in the morning and afternoon, and you’re with the same group of cadets for each lecture. In our intake there was 26 of us on the Foundation Degree Deck route, made up of cadets sponsored by a wide range of shipping companies.

Deck girls

 For me, who only ever considered joining the RFA, it’s been extremely beneficial to meet cadets from the wider maritime industry. I’ve learnt so much about shipping, how big a part it plays in UK industry and just how important the sea trade is. I’ve also made some good friends and I’m sure we’ll bump into each other at sea at some point during our careers.

I should mention that cadets are expected to live in halls of residence for phase one and this is non-negotiable. The halls were nice enough, much nice than the halls I had when I went to University back in the day: Fleetwood halls have a sink, a small amount of storage and a pin board.

My Cabin

 Included in the price of halls was two meals a day, the food was what you’d expect from a canteen but the staff were brilliant and would make you a salad if you asked to them. In fact, the staff at Fleetwood have been brilliant throughout my time – whether you’re speaking to catering staff or the head of school, everyone will speak to you with a smile and do their best to help.

In addition to the academic content and CDC, we also had to attend and pass short courses. Some of these short courses are legal requirements before you can go to sea. During the three weeks of short courses I took in so much information and felt much better equipped to actually go to sea. We covered so much during the short courses that it’s too much to detail here but by far and away the toughest part of the courses was the firefighting. Obviously there are no fire stations at sea, so if there is a problem then it comes down to the crew to deal with it. We spent two and a half days learning about the fires, the kit, how to conduct searches in low visibility and then practiced everything. Those blue containers in the background of the photo are used for training: a fire is started at one end (under control) and you and your team go in with full breathing apparatus, locate and retrieve casualties then fight the fire. It’s quite arduous and something I hope to never have to do for real.

 As part of the Basic Training for Seafarers, we spent a week learning how to cosxwain (drive) lifeboats, both old fashioned ones and the newer completely enclosed ones that most people would be familiar with. By old fashioned, I mean that the lifeboat was powered by oars, the main discovery with this is that most of us are terrible at rowing! In fact, by boat managed to beach ourselves – no mean feat!

 We also did the Efficient Deck Hand course which was all about working on deck and being a sailor: ropes; knots; wire splicing; anchoring; MacGregor hatches; flag identification and much more. This was also a really tough course, mostly because I’d never been to sea before and had to absorb in so much new information. I was rather proud to be able to make a working stage after many, many attempts…

The 19 weeks (4 months) of college flew by, we had exams to sit and pass and then we’d be off to sea to put into practice everything we’d been taught. We had a quick brief on something called Work Based Learning, which was a reflective project we’d have to complete whilst on ship, were issued with our Merchant Navy Training Board (MNTB) Training Record Books, briefed by our Company Training Officer and then were sent on leave until our next phase began and we joined our first ship.

For more information on a career at sea, have a look at the Careers at Sea website. The Royal Fleet Auxiliary is the company for me but it’s not for everyone. I’ve had my eyes opened to the wider maritime industry since starting at college,and that can only be a good thing.

Cane & Grain: Ribs, Beer & Bourbon

Whilst reading my twitter timeline last week, one tweet in particular caught my eye. It spoke of a new restaurant in Manchester that specialised in ribs, bourbon and beer. I was sold purely on that and vowed to sample Cane & Grain as soon as possible. It’s neatly tucked away in the Northern Quarter, oozes style and has an unpretentious atmosphere. The bar staff were friendly and approachable, even though they were extremely busy. The bar had a huge selection of beers and they were all roughly £4.50 a pint/bottle/can but when you consider that it seems to be imported from the USA, I don’t think that’s too horrendous.20140716-145444-53684942.jpg

Unsurprisingly for a restaurant that’s marketing itself as a rib joint, the food on offer was…ribs! But there was also some delicious sounding starters and extras, we sampled the bacon popcorn and pig fries. They arrived pretty quickly in a paper bags and went down really well with the group – the pig fries were like nothing I’d tried before. I don’t like pork crackling or pork scratchings but these were gorgeous and are well worth a try. The bacon popcorn (suitable for vegetarians) was as wonderful as it sounds…20140716-145445-53685653.jpg

Cane & Grain offers a wide selection of beef and pork ribs, I opted for the beef short ribs with a rum sauce. It arrived in a metal tray topped with bacon, sauce on the side with a small portion of frys – it looked great but it tasted even better. The meat fell off the bones and I struggled to finish my meal, I decided to leave the fries and work on the meat! Having never tried beef ribs before, I was impressed and can highly recommend them to you. 20140716-145447-53687062.jpgIf you’re feeling a little more caveman then you should try the Dino ribs – one beautiful, massive, beef rib cooked and flavoured to perfection (we also sampled the smoke pit beans with rib bits, which were just brilliant – I could eat them every day and never tire of them). At £22 each for the short and the dino ribs, Cane & Grain isn’t the cheapest place to eat but that didn’t seem to be putting people off as the place was filled with people. 

20140716-145447-53687973.jpgOverall, our experience of Cane & Grain was a good one and I’d definitely go back again. The music was an eclectic mix of indie/rock from the past few decades and was loud enough to hear but not intrusive. The waiting on staff were friendly and made sure we were well looked after. Seeing that we were in a bar specialising in bourbon, I asked what they’d recommend – the waiting on staff actually sent a barman over to us to ask what sort of bourbon we’d like to sample. He listened and came back with three distinct bourbons – if I’d been more wealthy I would quite happily have pulled up a stool at the bar and drank bourbon all night. And that, to me, is the sign of a good bar. 20140716-150116-54076505.jpg

I have not been asked to write this post nor was I gifted anything in return for writing it. If you want to sample the place yourself, you can find Cane & Grain at 49-51 Thomas Street, Manchester (call 0161 839 7033 for bookings).  

 

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Sigg Thermo Mug: Perfect Companion?

I’ve been fan of SIGG bottles since I was a teenager (which was a very long time ago): they’re sturdy; last a lifetime and they look pretty cool too! I’m an outdoorsy, ‘busy’ type of person and my SIGG products have travelled the world with me, turning heads wherever I go. The latest addition to the family is the Thermo, an insulated bottle that keeps drinks hot or cold (depending on what you put in them). This is due to the high-grade 18/8 stainless steel and the vacuum-insulation used to make the Thermo.

I was sent the SIGG Thermo 0.5L mug to review and I wasn’t too sure what to expect. I’ve always used a traditional flask when out for a day and a screw top thermal mug to take a brew away with me in the car. At 0.5L the Thermo certainly has the capacity of a decent sized hill walking flask but I wasn’t sure if it would keep my coffee as hot for as long. The Thermo definitely looks the part: it’s slim, cool to the touch and has a lid which is really easy to hold. I took my Thermo everywhere, and I mean everywhere…

I’m in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) and have just been through all my Basic Training for Seafarers courses. I took my Thermo to lectures, to the lake whilst doing lifeboat training and I also tested the cold properties of the Thermo when doing my firefighting.

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I played around with the thermal properties of the Thermo, following the instructions to the letter (preheat the Thermo with boiling water prior to filling with drink) and also throwing caution to the wind and NOT preheating it. When I did it properly, I made a brew at 0845 and got bored of waiting for it to get cold at 2215. In all fairness I did leave the lid on tight , only opening it occasionally over that time and whilst the coffee wasn’t steaming hot at 2215, it was still a very drinkable brew. When I made my brew maverick style, again at 0845, my coffee was still drinkable at 1500. That’s a better performance than my traditional flask and way better than any thermal screw top mug I’ve ever owned – they usually keep a drink warm for about 2 hours. As for the keeping water cold, it also performed very well indeed – definitely welcome after coming out of a burning container wearing full fire fighting kit!

The Thermo mug has a removable tea strainer, which does what it says on the tin. I made some green tea and it worked pretty well, I didn’t test it with loose leaf tea so I can’t comment on whether the strainer is fine enough for that but it definitely works well for using tea bags. No messy fishing it out of the mug!

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I work hard and like to play equally as hard and I took my SIGG Thermo to Northern Ireland with me to provide a hot, home made brew wherever I went on my road trip. It really was the perfect companion on my trip, slim, unassuming and keeping my drink hot for hours. It was something special to have a coffee on the Giant’s Causeway! My friends who’ve been with me whilst testing the SIGG Thermo have tried to whisk it away on several occasions – it’s definitely a bottle that’ll turn heads!

I’m not sure that I would take the Thermo 0.5L away as a flask on the hills as I like to pour out my coffee and drink it from a mug BUT the larger sized Thermo bottles actually have a mug. Given the performance of the 0.5L I am sure the larger SIGG Thermo’s would be excellent pieces of kit for a day on the hills. I am more than happy to say that the SIGG Thermo 0.5L is the perfect companion for work and play, and I highly recommend it.

The SIGG Thermo is available in 0.3L, 05.L, 0.75L and 1L bottles.

I was sent this product for the purposes of this review, all opinions are my own.

RFA BRNC Dartmouth Course

When I first tell people that I work for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) the first thing people ask is “Don’t you mean the RAF?”. After explaining what I do, I’m then asked “I thought you said you weren’t in the Royal Navy, so why were you at Dartmouth and what did you do?”  It’s a good question and it’s one that I am only able to answer now that I’ve been there and come out the other side. There was very little information available as to what to expect, and those seemingly in the know muttered things about ‘learning how to use a knife and fork’. It was of course much, much more than that and most people weren’t expecting the course to be anything like it was.  I write this post in the hope that it will provide future intakes with some useful information. 

I’m going to start at the end: the photograph below shows my Passing Out Parade at Britannia Royal Naval College (BRNC) Dartmouth back in November 2013 and it marked the end of an 8 week course that all new Officer entrants to the RFA have to do. It’s a condition of employment to attend this course whether you’re already a qualified Officer, starting a Cadetship or an RFA rating becoming an Officer. It’s worth noting that where relevant, your employment with the RFA starts the day you report at BRNC.

RFA BRNC Passing Out Parade

In a very busy 8 weeks the RFA course at BRNC covers: Leadership; Communication; Teamwork; Roles of the RFA & RN; History of the RFA; Seamanship; Etiquette; Ceremonial Training (Drill); Meteorology & Fitness. All very worthwhile and useful stuff but the bigger question is how all this fits together…

EDIT: THIS COURSE HAS NOW CHANGED. THE LEADERSHIP ELEMENT IS NOW MOSTLY BASED ON THE RIVER. THE RFA COURSE IS A CONSTANTLY CHANGING BEAST.

Week 1 You arrive at BRNC on a Saturday wearing a suit and get an introduction to BRNC and both the RN & RFA. Your uniform will be in your cabin waiting for you. From now on, you will refer to BRNC as a ship and apply all appropriate naval terms (get your hands on a copy of ‘Jackspeak’, it’ll come in handy). The RFA course starts two weeks into the first phase  of the RN Commissioning course, a phase of 10 weeks known as ‘Militarisation’, you will spend a lot of time with your RN counterparts – talk to them, you have things to learn from them and vice versa. You’ll get talks from various high ranking Officers both RN and RFA, fill in loads of paperwork and you’ll start lectures delivered by Royal Marines from the Royal Naval Leadership Academy. It is crucial that you listen to the lectures and lessons from the Leadership Academy and then DO EXACTLY AS YOU’RE TOLD. There is also the fitness tests… you will be required to complete the Royal Navy Fitness Test (RNFT), which is a 1.5 mile run. Whilst you don’t have to pass it to complete the RFA course, you will find yourself resitting it every weekend until you do. You’ll also get the delights of the swimming test, again you don’t have to pass it but resitting is a tad inconvenient. 

Week 2 After applying EXACTLY WHAT YOU’VE BEEN TOLD from the lessons by the Marines you will be heading off with your RN colleagues to complete the Basic Leadership Development package or BLD– Carried out at Okehampton Battle Camp in Dartmoor. You will be staying in an Army training camp and being taught basic infantry skills such as living in the field, why things are seen, rations and making a shelter. Be under no illusions, it will be everything you’ve ever imagined about Army – 20 man rooms, basic shower facilities, wearing combat uniform, and being outside in whatever the weather has to throw at you. Yes, you didn’t join the Army and sure, you’ll be cold but this is how the military ‘does’ leadership. It makes you cold and uncomfortable and then asks you to make decisions, solve problems and lead your team. And yes, I am well aware that the RFA are civilians and I am sure you will hear some grumbling about being cold, wet, hungry, miserable and not ‘signing up for this’. Just remember that you did sign up for this, you joined a very specialised organisation that works shoulder to shoulder with the RN. The RFA cadets have it easier compared to the RN – we don’t carry full bergens, webbing or a weapon. BLD ends with two days ‘bivvying’ in the grounds of BRNC, getting very little sleep and completing two days of practical leadership tasks.

Week 3 Is mostly about basic boat handling in motor whalers and lectures covering all facets of the Royal Navy operations including Royal Marines, Logistics and Maritime ops. Finally, you’ll get to do some boaty type things, and it’s a very welcome break from BLD the week before.

Week 4 Sees your newly acquired boating skills developed as you learn manoeuvres in a bigger boat, expanding on the basics taught in the previous week. You’ll also get a series of Strategic Studies lectures which cover naval history and the Falklands campaign including lessons learnt and the RFAs role in it. In English lessons you’ll cover basic grammar rules and learn how to present to your peers, culminating in a 5 minute presentation to the group on a defence subject. There’s also a series of lectures out the RFA itself covering:manning levels; career progression and the appointing system.

Week 5 More time on the River Dart, (I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t fun) with an introduction to big ship seamanship.  anchoring, buoy jumping and a mock light line transfer Replenishment at Sea (RAS). RFA Specific seamanship is also taught to highlight the differences between the two organisations. There’s also a  RIB acquaint and clay pigeon shooting.

Week 6 This is pretty heavy academic week with further Strategic Studies, meteorology and Ship Technology lessons and you have to pass a test about the RFA.

Week 7 sees you return to Dartmoor to complete the the Assessed Basic Leadership Exercise (ABLE) which involves a march carrying your bags followed by 3 nights on Dartmoor where you’ll have to lead 2 practical leadership tasks per student. Again, just do exactly as you’ve been told before – if the Marines tell you to sleep in trainers and socks, then that is what you should do. This is the big one of the RFA course and this is the assessment of you as a leader and a team member. It is hard and you will be tired but you’ll also feel a massive sense of pride when you finish it. You will be completing ABLE alongside your RN colleagues, talk to them, help where you can – however hard you’re finding it, they’re probably finding it worse. RFA cadets carry daysacks but RN ones carry full kit at all times including webbing and a weapon. RN cadets regulary get ‘beastings’ from the Marines but because we’re civvies, we don’t. Believe me when I say that having to stand and watch your colleagues get a beasting is a humbling experience. You should feel justifiably proud to have completed ABLE.

Week 8 The time has flown by and every morning this week will see you doing doing ceremonial training practise for the Pass out Parade on Thursday. There is also a Maritime leadership exercise involving up to 3 boats being deployed on the river building stuff you learned in week 3. It may be the last week but there’s still time to work on team building and leadership - you’ll spend a morning dangling from ropes on the high ropes course.

And suddenly you’re on the parade square at BRNC in front of your family and friends having successfully completed the RFA Initial Officer’s course. It’s a proud moment and one you’ll remember for the rest of your life.

Here are my top tips for the RFA at BRNC Course:

  • Bring suitable clothing, you’ll spend all your evenings in ‘dog robbers’ – think chinos, tie & blazers (minus tie for the girls though).
  • Be prepared to be eating your meals in a very grand hall, wearing smart clothes
  • Work on your fitness. Passing the RNFT in week one will keep your stress levels down.
  • You will be issued some Army combat boots before you start the course – make sure you break them in. You will be thankful for it on BLD.
  • Take a kettle and brew making facilities.
  • You will have your own cabin but take things to make it feel more like home. Photographs, duvet covers etc
  • Invest in decent waterproof black gloves. You won’t be able to use them for BLD but you will be very grateful for them on ABLE.
  • Same for a headtorch with a red filter!
  • Same for dry bags! (Think canoeing)
  • Compression shorts are an excellent choice of underwear for long days on the moors (reduces/eliminates chafing).
  • Buy the most expensive iron you can afford.
  • When you buy sandwich bags (it’s on the kit list) get the ones that press to close not the zip ones. You will need more than you think you will.
  • You don’t need to spend money on a fountain pen, you don’t really need one…
  • Don’t bother with denim, it’s the devil’s cloth.
  • Do exactly what you’re told to do and nothing more/less.

There are things that I’ve not detailed here but I don’t want to completely ruin the surprise: Good luck and enjoy!

RFA Cadetships: The application process

For those of you who are interested in joining the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, the application process is as follows:

1. Call RFA hotline to determine eligibility to apply: 08456 040520, 0900 to 2100 Monday to Sunday except Bank Holidays.

2. Receive application pack, fill it in and post it off.

3. If your application passes a paper sift, you’ll be invited to take the Royal Navy Recruit Test (RT) at an Armed Forces Careers Office (AFCO) near you. You sit the test, leave and the AFCO will pass on your score to RFA recruiting, you do not find out this score.

4. If RT is passed you will be invited down to Portsmouth for a sift interview with RFA recruiting where they will assess your suitability for a cadetship and whether to put you forward for the Admiralty Interview Board (AIB).

5. AIB. Three days of Officer Selection to look forward too and it as at this point you will have a fitness test. Be prepared to sit the bleep test, which is scored by age and gender. Whilst there is no pass mark for the RFA, you are assessed on effort – it’s not too much of a challenge to work on your fitness before going to AIB… You will be told whether you have passed or failed the AIB at the end of the three days but if you pass it doesn’t mean you have been successful in getting a cadetship. It’s a very good sign but you’re not there just yet.

6. Conditional offer of a job from the RFA subject to a few things namely: getting an MCA ENG1 medical with no limitations; a security check; innoculations and getting a discharge book.

7. Once all the paperwork is in and clearance given, the RFA will make you a formal offer and send you your contract. It’s a condition of employment that you attend a two month course at BRNC Dartmouth. These currently run twice a year in September and May.

Presuming you make it that far and once BRNC is a mere memory, you will start the civilian phase of your training at Fleetwood Nautical College.

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RFA Cadetships: Training

As many of you know I’ve recently fulfilled a lifetime’s ambition by joining the military, except that I haven’t really because I’ve joined the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) which is a civilian manned MOD owned fleet. It’s pretty warry for a civilian job, we go to war zones, wear uniform and have big guns but we’re still civvies at the end of the day. The RFA is a unique organisation that lies somewhere between the Merchant fleet and the Royal Navy, because of this my training will consist of both civilian and military courses. Most people I’ve spoken too are pretty confused as to what I’ll be doing over the next few years so I thought a blog post would be useful.

I’ve joined the RFA as a Deck Officer Cadet and I’ll be training to become an ‘Officer of the Watch’ meaning I’ll be responsible for the safety of the crew and the ship for each of the four hour periods I’m in charge on the bridge. I’ll be trained to use advanced satellite navigation systems, how to assess weather conditions, to conduct Replenishments at Sea (RAS), moor the ship and how to load cargo.

The first stage of my cadetship was a two month course at Britannia Royal Naval College (BRNC) Dartmouth, developing leadership, communication and teamwork skills – these two months warrants a whole blog post all of its own! The next stage for me will be to join cadets from other parts of the Merchant Navy (MN) at one of the Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA) accredited training establishments to begin a three-year course. I’ll be studying for a Foundation Degree (FdSc) in Nautical Science because I’ve got a few UCAS points in addition to the required GCSE results (I’ll write another post on entry/selection to the RFA). Those without the required UCAS points work towards a Higher National Diploma (HND). Both routes also lead to the Certificate of Competency: Officer of the Watch qualification allowing you to work on a MN ship. The three year course is split into five phases interspersing time at college with time at sea, ensuring plenty of time onboard ship shadowing qualified officers to build skill and knowledge. The course culminates in a gruelling MCA Oral examination and after successfully sitting that, I’ll be qualified and wearing the rank of Third Officer.

My Royal Navy training will also be fitted in as and when is appropriate, as a Deck Cadet (and hopefully a qualified Officer) I will have to do quite a few RN courses as we work so closely with the Navy. It’s certainly going to be an interesting few years and I’m looking forward to it: I’m being paid a decent salary to get a degree, an MCA qualification and to see the world. I’m pretty happy with that.

I should also add that the RFA (and other Merchant Navy companies) offer cadetships in Marine Engineering and Systems Engineering, but why would you want to study them? Everyone knows that Deck is the best department…