I first heard about the Merchant Navy through my grandfather, who worked his way up to becoming a Master with Shell Oil. But I didn’t give a career at sea any serious thought until I went to university to study Naval Architecture. While I was designing these big ships, I read more and more about the vital part they play in everyday life, and decided I’d much rather be on them than thinking about them.
At the moment I’m in phase 4 of my HND Deck course. Although I qualified for a Foundation Degree, I decided to start at HND to get a good grounding in the mathematics and general knowledge involved in Deck work.
This means I’ve been to sea a couple of times, working on cargo vessels. I love the variety that comes with this job. We’re a tramper company, so can be chartered anywhere at any time – I could be in Egypt one day and then be given orders to sail to Ecuador. Last sea phase I spent on average a week in each port. So the variety of cultures I get to see is fantastic.
It’s a truly different lifestyle, and one that I miss when on land. My friends and family have been really supportive. But I think they get bored when I come back because I have so many stories to tell!
On general cargo, the work can be quite physical. You could be woken up at 4am to drop anchors, because the crew is so small. But this means you get to learn a lot in a very short space of time, and it comes with a lot of responsibility. Even as a Cadet in training, you play a really important part.
The most rewarding moment of my career was my first bridge watch. It was from 12-4am and I’d never set foot on the bridge before. When you open the door, it’s lit by a dull glow from the dials and radars. It’s very exciting, because it’s what you’ve been training to do.
Life at sea comes with its own challenges and rewards. You don’t get the Internet, so it can be hard not using things like social media as much as you’re used to. But the complete digital detox turned out to be one of the things I like best. Along with reading a book on the hatch covers in the sun during my time off, and BBQ parties on deck.