Thursday, December 6, 2007

Voyage 3 - First Trip

For the seven of us the midnight flight to London was our first experience on a plane but everybody was rather well behaved and excited on our first trip abroad. The service and food on the flight was better then what you get flying MAS today. We landed at Heathrow Airport early in the morning and it was still dark when they took us to our bed and breakfast hotel. It was cold but the heather and excitement of finally in London kept us warm.

Before noon we were taken to the Malaysia Hall to meet Pak Wan the student council. After the registration at MSD we were given a pep talk by Pak Wan for us to keep our focus on our studies and not to be swept away on the new culture and lifestyle that we are going to face in Liverpool. Being fresh and obedient we listened without much questions. We were in London for a few days before taking a train to Liverpool. My quick observations, there were two types of Malaysians in London. One was the very friendly and concerned, especially to us the new comers and they were willing to spend time talking and advising us on the life in UK. The second type was arrogant and unfriendly Malaysians, they will not even response to your greetings or talk to you, maybe they felt that their eyes were already turning blue and hair creeping blond.

We were more then happy to leave London for Liverpool, our final destination. At the Lime St. Station, Liverpool we were received by Cadet Officer Manoharan. He was very angry with me for mistaking him as a porter when I asked him to carry my luggage. Sorry Sir your uniform made you look like a porter.

Anyway we were taken to Aulis the training centre and hostel for Ocean Fleets Ltd the famous and one of the largest shipping companies in UK those days. The facilities and hostel was quite good and the warden friendly. The first few weeks in Liverpool was quite challenging because the local could not understand our English while we were lost on their scouse slang. The only positive part was that all the girls and Mak Cik Salleh there called us “Love” …. How are you Love ….. Charrr Love ….. some of us began to feel that the girls were falling in love with us.

We did go to the Malaysia & Singapore Club at Jermyn St, Liverpool 8 to get the taste of Malay food. The Pak Cik sailors there were very friendly and happy to receive us …. the budding mariners. We kind of remind them of their adventurous and care free sailing days. In fact they started sharing with us their sailing experiences and gave various good tips to survive the sailing life.

After undergoing two months induction course on seamanship and maritime safety we were ready to be sent on board as Midshipman. Three of us were sent MV Flintshire, a Glen Line general cargo ship trading the Far East route. The ship will take us back to Penang, Port Klang, Singapore, Manila, Cebu, Hong Kong, Taiwan and back to Rotterdam and London. Fancy that sailing back to Malaysia just after two months of flying out to London. By now we were clearer on what going to happen to our life for the next ten years. It will takes us about ten years of sandwich courses between college and sea time for us to become a marine professional - Master Mariner or in my words Master of the Sea. In fact two thirds of our time will be spent on board roaming the seas on all types of ships, like Vasco Da Gama, Magellan and Henry the Black @ Panglima Awang in the early days. At College we will be taught on the theory of seamanship, navigation, ship stability, cargo work, shipping business law, meteorology, astronomy, naval architecture, marine engineering etc. While at sea we are expected to put the theory to works. In fact we are going to do a parallel program where at the end we will receive both our academic and professional qualifications. In the end we must be competent to sail the ship to any parts of the world …… takes her pass the storm and depressions to reach the port safe and sound. I know ten years going to be a long voyage but then it’s the route that I have chosen …. So open sea here I come.

The crew of MV Flintshire was all British with the exception of three of us Malaysians. But they were all friendly and professionals, in fact I could say that all seafarers are global people without much prejudice on culture or race. We settled in the half deck behind the ship funnel separated from the crew and officers …. It’s going to be the home for the six of us midshipman for the next four months. Our ship sailed down from English channel to the Mediterranean Sea, Suez Canal, Indian Ocean and finally to the Straits of Malacca before calling Penang and Port Klang.

As a Midshipman, we have double life on board, one as ship crew and the other as budding deck officer. As a crew we have to do all the dirty and heavy jobs like chipping, painting, greasing, washing down the deck, rigging and securing derricks, lashing and securing cargoes and all other jobs that the crew chose not to do. This is what they say learning from right at the bottom ….. some of my friends start to wonder why the hell we were doing all this after scoring good grades in MCE and given multiple choices to study abroad. Have we chosen the wrong course or getting soft??? The other life as budding deck officer wasn’t that bad at all. We put up smart uniform learn how to use all the navigation equipments on the bridge, shoot the sun and stars using sextant to get our ship positions in open seas, practical aspects of ship handling and emergency maneuvers/drills and many other duties including to be an officer and a gentleman.

Before we took off to sea all the six of us helped the crews to secure cargoes on deck and in the holds. Secured the twenty four derricks that we have on board and took the soundings of all tanks and cofferdams on board. It was important to ensure that the ship was fully battened down to face possible bad weather at sea. Any heavy movements of cargo or equipments in bad weather will change the ship stability and may result in the capsizing of the ship. Sailing was not much of a problem to me because of my experience on fishing and passenger boats in Mersing, the difference was that I am now on board a bigger ship and oceans.

The weather was good to us even as we crossed the famous Bay of Biscay but as we entered the Indian Oceans heavy depressions hundreds miles away gave us the taste of wind force 4 to 5 resulting in heavy rolling and pitching to our ship. Our Ship Master Capt. Black Mac was an old sea dog, very serious, competent and highly disciplined. I hardly see him smile and he always talked in a Commanding note. Every Sunday morning he will inspect our half deck wearing his white gloves ….. he just runs his fingers on our deck head and beds ….. if his gloves turn brown or dirty we will all be reprimanded. At times he even lifted out mattresses to see if there is any rubbish down there ….. all this are very unfamiliar to me but surprisingly we all take it in stride and as a challenge to become a good officer.

As we approached Sabang to enter the Straits of Malacca, I could see the glitter and smiles on all the crew faces ….. everybody was joking and laughing as if we were going to a party. The thought of reaching our first port in the Far East after one week at sea was such a wonderful feelings.


Zawi said...

Good thing that you blog about your early experience. It will be something for the young mariners wannabes to guide on. . I am learning up on it too. Giving an insight into things that you had experience like mat salo did will definitely useful knowledge to everyone of us. Keep up the good work

Zabs said...

Salam Jaflam,
My first trip onboard a warship was sailing into the Meditterranean Sea too. We spend about 7 weeks cruising and taining in the Med. However the unforgetable exprience was when we encounter rough sea as we enter the Med before our first stop at Gibraltar. Naik ke bridge untuk duty watch, bawa baldi dan duduk dekat radar. Muntah hijau pun keluar. Masa tu memang ada niat nak berhenti je!

jaflam said...

Zawi, I hope to write the bit and pieces of my experiences before it fades away from my memory & as you said it will be useful for those interested to join the sea career. This year MISC doubled their cadet’s intake to 500 pac and more the 8,000 applied. I guessed we the pioneers have showed good example to them that they don't mind to take seafaring as a career. In fact we have more then 30 female Cadets at Akademi Laut Malaysia ( ALAM )now and some of them are very determined to be a good professional mariner. I used to be the Examiners for the Masters & Mates Examination Board but now contributed as Member of the Academic Council of ALAM.

jaflam said...

Zabs, you are right, the notion that Mediterranean is a calm enclosed sea is very wrong. I have many unfortunate experiences there including losing a few containers overboard and listening without being able to do anything on SOS from nearby sinking ship. The weather was just too bad .... we were lucky to able to save our ship on that incident.

I am happy that we shared common memories of the sea.

Mat Salo said...

Bang Jaflam.. I really enjoyed this one, seems that you might compile this into a book one day. Scouse you say? Haha. While a student in the US I visited some friends (flying on the first budget ariline from NY to LHR - Freddie Laker's) over Christmas. This was in 1980. A senior of mine "ported" in coincidentally so I spent the night in one of the "bunga's" in Liverpool. It was the first time I ever went in a ship! Little did I know I was doomed to spend my remaining years in one. Well, at least of the immobile kind.

Ha-ha, porter eh? Hope that Mano guy has forgiven you by now...

jaflam said...

MS, there was a belief among mariners that once you have drank the tank water ( air tangki dlm kapal ) you will always long to come back onboard and to sea. Maybe you are one of the victims of the spell.

Manoharan forgive me after a while but he never forgets me until today. He is a classic case among our sailing buddies. He was sent to sea by his father who works at Penang Port, who desired his son to be Ship Master and maybe later on Port Master. The poor chap was a bit soft and always missed his mother and family. Onboard ship he will look at the full moon and start talking to the moon as reflections of his mother who he believed is looking at the moon too. He jump ship and ran home once but was sent back to the ship by his father. We thought he will never make it to the peak as Master Mariner. But we were all wrong he completed his Master and was working in Shell Miri for more then 15 years before migrating to Australia. Sorry Capt. Manoharan Sir for sharing your life story.

ruby ahmad said...

Hello Jaflam,

This note is about tomorrow's tea with Kak Teh and Awang Goneng. I do apologise as I can't join the group. Thank you so much inviting and it is lovely to note that you are so pro-active. Hope you will have a good time with the group. Cheers.

jaflam said...

Ruby, I am just doing my little bit to our wonderful couple Kak Teh & AG.We will miss you and hope to catch up in the future.

U.Lee said...

Hi Jaflam, wow! Enjoyed reading this part of your life.
Reading of your first flight experience reminds me of my first flight. I left for England for further studies in 1962 on a BOAC Comet IV jet from Sungei Besi airport.
Would you believe, on board the plane at night I was feeling cold, the air hostess enquired whether I wanted a blanket or cover and I told her I did not bring mine. She I think had to look away quickly to stop her laugh.
In London headed for Malaysia Hall Bryanston Square and you are right, some Malaysians will help newcomers giving advice or a friendship hand, while some looked at us like Simpang Empat country bumpkins. I had my fair share of those.
I must tell you this...not knowing or forgetting about Summer being a long day I was on second day in London at Speakers corner, Hyde park and seeing the sun still high up forgot about dinner till my tummy started growling, then only glanced at my watch and Holy Smoke! I had missed dinner at Malaysia Hall. So it was 'fish & chips' at a nearby store. I sure learned fast.
Gosh, I bet you guys had a quite a life travelling the four corners of the world on a ship.
So? How many times you crossed the equator and enjoyed Neptune's fun and games?
Have never been on a ship yet, only the British Channel ferry, Penang ferry and tongkangs
but practically lived on board planes for years.
Very interesting post, Jaff, you keep well, Lee.

jaflam said...

U Lee thanks for visiting my port. The first experience was always memorable and will linger on for the rest of our life.

Just like crossing the Equator Ceremony. We were made to dress up in rags and hide all over the ship and the King Neptune army hunted us down with their daggers and fork. They caught me hiding at the focle locker and were brought to face the King Neptune - Lord of the Sea. His majesty shouted at me for crossing the equator without purpose and good intention. I pledged innocence and told the Court that I did not know how to apply for the permission to cross the Equator. They said ignorance was not an acceptable defense. For punishment they poured the used grease all over my body and I was made to eat the Neptune poison cake. It was the worst tasted cake that I have ever eaten - made of rubbish I guess. Then I was made to crawl around the deck like mad turtle. Finally the King Neptune pardoned me and even offered me to marry his princess – she looked damn ugly. I thank the King for the offer and told him I was engaged to a kampung girl and just happy to get my Certificate for Crossing the Equator.... so that in the future I will not be subjected to the King Neptune Court again…

Kak Teh said...

jaflam, i hope you write more abt your experience at sea. would love to meet up and hear more from you. Anyway, just to say thank you very much for organising the met at Kino. Am touched - from both of us - THANKS!

rosn2000 said...

yeah you remind me of manoharan. he was my chief mate when i first went on board bunga orkid. he's not soft, i think he's timid. i never got permission to land in european ports as he never even step ashore. even a slight trim or list, he'll make sure we were ready with the wilden pump. he's trying to impress our nice british master. nevertheless my second mate always took me ashore as he used to say "work hard and play hard". yeah you are right again. each time we reached penang port, all in the family will be aboard but i bet he missed his mum's curry more. i did meet him up at shell miri once, guessed he was a mooring master there and i was already a senior marine officer. but as you said it "first impression always last".

jaflam said...

Kak Teh, you are most welcome anytime. All the best to both of you always.

jaflam said...

Nan, you certainly have a better understanding on Mano ... I never sail with him, kalau tidak teruk dia balas dendam heheeee.