Yesterday morning we departed Novorrosiysk, Russia. It's still a little too cold for the snow and ice to melt on deck.....so now we're a winter wonderland eagerly heading towards warmer waters. I managed to make it ashore before we sailed! I think it's safe to say when you think of Russia you don't automatically think 'fun' however; fun was had! It was snowing something fierce when we departed the vessel so I didn't take Big Bertha (the big camera) with me and instead used my iPhone all day - I'm still trying to get the pictures sorted out.
I'm kinda wondering if maybe I shouldn't write about exactly how much fun I had. In the meantime I'll tell you a bit about the port call itself.
Russia was operationally challenging - in many, many ways....let me name a few:
Russia is corrupt. Cash incentives and gift giving are present in almost all business dealings. We were the first US Flagged vessel to call on the port in almost 20 years - which means we were ripe for the picking. Customs, immigration and port state control descended upon us like locusts. Throughout our stay 'Officials' would suddenly arrive demanding that the perform 'an inspection' of some sorts. Needless to say, such circumstances required us to all 'wear our game faces'.
There were an overabundance of people to accommodate. Normally, upon completion of cargo one individual attends to 'gauge' the vessel. We match ship to shore quantities and the discrepancies are then noted by the 'gauger' - the idea is to have a neutral third party perform the paperwork. There were three gaugers and each one represented their own party. This generates a lot of paperwork and it also generates a lot of grey area - which numbers are to be used in the discharge port? You got me...
It was cold. I know you all get that - since it's basically all I've written about for the last week but, hear me out. When it gets truly cold critical systems start to act up. For example, we were having trouble with our hydraulics. Our valves are all hydraulically operated. Because it was so cold they had trouble actuating. This means that sometimes the valves didn't readily close. Sometimes, when you are putting diesel into a tank you need to make it stop going in there or it will overflow. I'm sure you can see how this could be a problem.
English was only spoken by a few. I realize that this sounds like a very American thing to say. I was in Russia and no one spoke English. You don't say! That being said, English is the International Maritime Language. For realsies. While most dockmen overseas have very limited English they usually have the key phrases down pat. For example, 'Shut Down Cargo'. Every Indian, Filipino, or Greek sailor can say 'Shut Down Cargo' in English.
Let me tell you a little story....
In this port we were loading to draft. We have a draft restriction in our discharge port(we can't be deeper in the water than the water is deep). This means that when we load cargo we are less concerned with the quantity aboard than we are worried about how deep in the water we are. Due to the cold some of the radar lines weren't reading properly. The radar system is the most important component of our automation system. The radar system is what tells us how much cargo is in the tank. Because it wasn't reading accurately (as in saying some of the tanks were empty) we couldn't rely on any other data it was providing. Because of the draft restriction and because we didn't have good data we stationed people on the dock to physically read the draft marks as the ship loaded. I was stationed on the bow (the cadet was on the stern) and we would call in the changes in draft during the topping off process. When the Chief Mate called the dockman to shut down cargo he didn't get a response. He says, 'Meg! Get to the dock shack and tell them to shut down!'. So I start running down the dock towards the shack. I tear up the stairs and burst into the room where there are three Russian guys sitting around a table with their feet propped up. They looked at me like I was from outer space. I'm not sure if they realized that our ship had a woman (which is a whole other story....apparently most Russians have never seen female mariners). Our exchange begins by me blurting out 'Shut Down Cargo!'. The Head Russian puts his feet on the floor - looks at me - and then the fun begins:
Me: Shut Down Cargo!
Me: STOP. STOP THE CARGO!
Russian: Shut Down?
Me: RIGHT NOW! RIGHT NOW!
Russian: (picks up a pad of paper and writes: 30000) metric tons?
Me: (slashing my arms through the air to indicate stop) Stop Now!
Russian: (The Chief Mate is calling on the dock radio asking to stop - the Russian reaches over and turns his radio off.) Not enough cargo?
Me: Shut Down!
Russian: How many Metric Tons?
Me: STOP IT! STOP THE CARGO! (I talk into my ship radio....ME: "Mate, this isn't going well! They wanna know how many metric tons we have!" MATE: "Megan! Tell them to stop!" ME: "I'm telling them! I'm telling them!")
Russian: (Talks into his radio in rapid Russian) Stop? Okay?
Me: YES! STOP!
Russian: Close the header.
Me: (I talk into my ship radio....ME: "Mate, close the header!" MATE: "Well, did they stop?" ME: "We'll find out soon!") I report to the Russian: Header is closed.
Russian: Okay. Header closed.
Me: Okay thanks....bye....
In summation, I think it's safe to say his English could have used just a little improvement.
It was cold. Oh, I said that already? I mean, it was cold and windy. The prevailing NE'ly winds in the winter consitently blew us off the dock. At one point the ship had shifted forward over a meter and we had to shut down cargo until we could move the ship aft. This isn't that easy...you have to call extra people out - the stern lines need to be heaved while the bow lines are slacked. When we initally docked we didn't have very good leads to the shore side bollards. We actually sent ships crew down to the pier to swich some lines around so we had a better combination of forward and after leading lines. The wind didn't help matters any. This point probably should have been labelled the dock had crappy leads.
Hopefully, my dramatic rendering of the story Novorrosisyk :: Our Port Stay left you feeling like you had been operationally overwhelmed!
Can't wait to show you some pictures!
(Also, the photo posted last was a shot I took while ashore....I used my iPone....when I went to grab a bite to eat I found some wifi. Much to the chagrin of my travel buddy I insisted on using instagram and posting on the go! There you have it! A truly Russian post!)