Hello everyone. I have been off writing lately since the fiasco that happened with my charter vessel in 2017.
Last year had an interesting start for my family and I. As most of you that follow my blog posts may remember, my family and I had a crazy season in 2017. I was away from them for most of the year while I guided up in Northern Ontario at a fly-in fishing resort called Slippery Winds. I then embarked on a cross country adventure fishing from province to province to help raise money for a great charity called, Feed My Starving Children. Once that was done in late August to early September I headed home to help on the build site of our new home as our family was chosen to partner up with Habitat for Humanity earlier on in the year.
Then, in the Fall of 2017, I started chatting with the CEO of St Lawrence cruise lines about working on the ship I worked on back in 2016, ( The Canadian Empress) As some of you may recall the blogs I had written about working on the Canadian Empress back in 2016, I wrote a short 5 part series. If you would like to recap about my adventures? Then before reading any further then please go ahead and read the series again and come back to this blog for the continuation LOL. they start at the following link.
in January of (2018) I had been in contact with St Lawrence Cruise Lines about a possible job position and returning to the company for that up coming season. After respectfully declining a position offered to me to come back to the ship as a deckhand I was presented an offer I felt was hard to refuse. Mr Clark had offered me the position of First Mate/1st Officer putting the stripes on my arm I had hoped for when I left the ship in 2016. under a few conditions, 1st I must complete the courses required over the winter months in a timely manner. these courses were as follows,
1- Marine First Aid , SEN-1 or Simulated Electronic Navigation, MED-A2, 2 written tests from Transport Canada, A Collisions regulations Exam, and a Seamanship Exam. after that I had to Take a Medical by a physician where I had to perform the dreaded “COUGH” test LOL, now once I completed all this I was still 3 months short on my local sea-time so I was forced to find the captain I had worked for, (over 20 years ago) out of Aberdeen Scotland, and get him to sign proper documentation called, a testimony of Sea service. This is required by Transport Canada in order to have enough sea time required to be able to take the position in the first place. NO PROBLEM LOL.
Let me back up a bit as per the regulations in order to run a commercial charter fishing business, in Ontario, I needed several courses in order to become the captain of a small vessel and be able to take paying clientele out on water for excursions. I was under the assumption that some of the courses I already had would have sufficed for the position I was now looking to fill, however I was very wrong, I needed upgrades to my MED certificate, an upgrade to my First Aid certificate, and other than my marine radio license I did not have 1 correct certificate for the position. Nor did the 6 years of experience running a commercial fishing charter business on Lake Ontario and the Bay Of Quinte go towards any of my documented and registered sea-time that Transport Canada would consider to be good enough for the position I was now faced with.
Transport Canada would only take sea-time if the vessel I worked on was over a specific size and or weight. I had received testimonials from several separate commercial fishing boat captains within Canadian waters however Transport Canada would not recognize them as registered sea-time because the vessels were just shy of the minimum tonnage required. This left only 1 more option for me to be able to get my registered time required, in order to accept the position for the 2018 season on the Canadian Empress. I needed the testimonial of a captain I worked for over 20 years ago in Aberdeen Scotland. when I was approx 20 years of age.
In March 1997 I found myself travelling around Europe, I was in Aberdeen Scotland at the time, and was on the last of the money I had to my name, I was down on my luck, broke, and homeless. I decided to spend the last of my funds on a half decent hotel, then as I passed a street kid on my way into town to get a bite to eat, I thought to my self, should I give this pan handler the rest of my cash for what would I do with 20 quid ($35 Canadian dollars) anyway? Then It hit me, I’d offer the guy a meal instead.
I remember taking the stranger to get a Burger-King meal and then to a pub to share a couple pints with him. After that I would not even have enough for a meal the following day. I remember telling the man that I would be seeing him the next day on the streets and asked him if he had any tips for me on how to beg for money, remember I was going to be a newbe LOL.
I remember the bewildered look on the mans face as he couldn’t help but to ask, why had I spent the last of my funds on him? I remember telling him that I truly believe in this saying, “what goes around, comes around”, meaning if I helped him ( a man down on his luck) that someone may do the same for me as I was surly going to need a miracle soon if I were to get out of my current situation, LOL.
As it turns out, the next morning I woke up , it was my 18th birthday, and it was early, around 4am (ish). To this day I wonder why I spent the last of my cash on a hotel if I was just going to wake up so early and leave the hotel anyway’s. I remember a good friend Of mine that told me when he was desparate for cash he would go to the fishing boats and look for work. he told me it was such a crummy job that they were usually short handed and would take new guys all the time.
I decided to head down to the local wharf to see if anyone was willing to take an “inexperienced” young man to sea with them? That morning I had no luck getting a job, however, the last boat I had asked also said they were not looking for help either, so I asked him if I could just come aboard for the experience? The Captain said “sure why not”, and on the ship I got with my nap sack full of all my belongings and an ever slowly growing hunger.
the day was a fast wake up call, the sea was angry, the boat tossed like a kids toy in a bath tub. the catch was small, not too many boxes in the hold. I could feel the tension and the stress of the Captain. he was not willing to chat too much and gave very short answers to any questions I had, if I was lucky enough to even get an answer, most of the time it was a short grunt under his breath. I decided to try and give a hand in gutting and sorting fish throughout the day on deck as the captains helper seemed much more willing to chat.
On the way home to port we were listening to vessels over the radio being asked to anchor outside the harbor as the seas were too rough for them to enter. I was getting excited that we might have to spend the night on the water as I had no place to go to anyway, and it might be an opportunity to lay my head down for the night. Well no such luck, My captain was too experienced, the harbor master gave the OK for Captain Gordon Penny of the BOY GORDON, to make his way through the seas into the harbor. all I remember is looking out the windows holding on to whatever wouldn’t move and seeing nothing but Sky, then nothing but SEA, as we rode each wave up and down getting closer to the entrance to the harbor. Now for the most exciting part, and really this is where the rest of my memory gets a bit hazy, but as we were abreast of the Lighthouse just entering the harbor walls to either side of us, a Gigantic swell picked up the 30 plus tonne vessel as if it was as light as a feather and we rode that wave in like a surfboard until we were several hundred meters into the harbor and back in protected waters. I looked at the Captain and asked if that was a normal day on the water? I got another grunt and we went to his slip, tied off the ship and we were done for the day.
realizing all of a sudden that I was in the same situation I had been in that morning with no money, food, or a place to sleep, a miracle did happen.
As the day was coming to a close and I was helping the deckhand (a 45 year old gentleman), clean the remainder of the days catch. I told him my story and what I was doing in Scotland and that this had been a perfect way to spend my 18th birthday. The deckhand read between the lines of my story and then he offered me a place to stay for the night, at his flat, that he shared with 2 other roommates. Of course I took him up on his offer and went home with the guy LOL.
Over the night the deckhand, myself and the one of his roommates sat down, shared some stories, and drank some suds. By morning I got woken up by the deckhand of the Boy Gordon He asked me if I wanted his job. A bit confused, and still half tipsy from the night before, he told me if I wanted it then I’d have to get my rear end to the boat ASAP, he had a bicycle for me to use and after the day’s work I could come back to the flat and could continue to use the room they had empty until HIS other roommate comes back from working on an off shore drilling rig in a week or so.
It was too good to be true, or at least it seemed. I hopped on the guys bike and rode to the Boat to let the Captain know that his deckhand would not be joining him that day, and if he wanted a hand that I would be more than happy to give it to him. The Captain stuck for help told me to get in and we quickly untied the vessel and headed out to sea once again.
Now I stayed with this captain for the next 9 months before I decided it was time for me to get back to Canada and start my next adventure in life, Of course I have many a story to tell about the days on a fishing trawler in Scotland however that is for another blog. (LOL)
Any way the point to this story is this, Now this past spring it took everything I had to try and find this captain I had once worked for all those years ago. The Captain responsible for my first introduction not only to commercial fishing, but my first introduction to a life at sea.
I started by calling the port authority’s in Aberdeen, they gave me the name of the captain I was looking for however they gave me no other information. I started looking at all the Gordon Penny’s I could find on line and called every one of them until I eventually got a hit and found the right individual I had worked for on the old Boy Gordon over 22 years ago.
now after explaining my situation to my old Skipper he agreed to sign the document I desperately needed for my new position for the 2018 season aboard the Canadian Empress. now I’m not going to pretend there wern’t any problems with this plan, like trying to get an old fishing captain to give a s_it about a deckhand he had over 20 years prior, or the fact that the Captain was a busy individual still fishing and really wasn’t too into modern technology to figure out how to fax a document to me, that’s right we did this the old fashioned way, Air-mail. I sent him the document, and he signed it (eventually ) and then took a picture of it and sent it to me through messenger. LOL. I actually took the photo to the ministry and told them the original was on its way, they said when they got the original that I would finally get the registered time I needed. all sounds great right? well I did not take into count that my old captain thought the picture was good enough and did not actually send the original backto me.
A few weeks went by I called the ex captain again and asked where the original Document was? and without hesitation he said quite happily ” it was somewhere on his desk”. might I mention that our season was to start in a week from this time.
anyway long story short(end), the document arrived approx 1 week after the start to our season here in Ontario and lucky for me that The St Lawrence Cruise Lines had enough faith in me that they held my position open for me until I had all my papers in order, but until then I would not have my stripes.
After the papers were in order and a thorough walk around and practical examination on board the Empress performed by Transport Canada, I received my Mates Limited over 60 Tonne Licence and was ready to accept my stripes as a new 1st Mate aboard the Canadian Empress. Just in time too for the 3rd trip of the season was commencing and it was my scheduled time to be on board.
So the year has been an eye opener to say the least. As a deckhand I was not aware of the management side of the opperation so this season has been a bit of a shocker LOL, nothing I can’t seem to handle mind you but a wake up call for sure. Now I have been a manager of a large organization in the past and had over 30 employees under my watch. I have run my own landscaping company in a busy city environment with over 8 people to oversee at one time, so I did not think that Managing 2 deckhands of a vessel would pose much of a problem if I were to be completely honest. Well it took its toll on me to say the least lol.
Working on the water is much different than being on land and being on a vessel away from home for a week at a time isn’t for everyone, thats for sure. so to go over some of the challenges at sea on a small cruise line just to paint a picture for you.
1st even though most of the individuals hired (not only on this cruise line but on most I’m sure), have some great experience in their respected fields, it can be a much different experience when you go to sea. What people don’t take into account when applying for and accepting these types of jobs are as follows.
1st you basically live at work for the period of time that your trip is designated for, in our case it is usually 1 week at a time before you get a week off. this means at the start of the season you are essentially living with strangers in a very confined space with nowhere to escape to. secondly – time off, or off duty time, means you are still at work with no personal space to unwind before the start of your next shift, 3rd – basically if your eyes are open, and you are on the boat, then you are effectively – ON DUTY. Off duty time only happens if there are no real apparent problems happening and is a shceduled time off for the individual, or you are sleeping.
Now there are many other Items I could list to take into account before you take a job position on a cruise ship but It would be a very long list lol.
Now moving forward into 2019. Although I had plans of returning to the Canadian Empress this year, it seems once again I have made a move and changed jobs once again. At least this time I believe I have made a lateral change and started a position on the Glenora Ferry out of Picton Ontario as a 1st mate once again.
This is a government position and the vessel runs year round and is not just a seasonal boat.Stay tuned for more story telling adventures as I move forward as a mariner in southeastern Ontario.