My first day in Singapore was spent at sea, as my friends had arranged for a yacht cruise around the Singapore waters. It was a memorable day and the idea of living at sea enchanted me. I haven’t got the opportunity to do that yet, but recently got a chance to visit K on his ship, which was docked at the port of Singapore. There are lots of ships anchored around Singapore, as it’s one of the five busiest ports of the world. K works in the Merchant Navy and invited me to come onboard his ship, a tanker, for a day. I was told to coordinate with an agent at the Marina South Pier and he would bring me to the ship.
After immigration at the pier, we took off on a speedboat for the ship. As we moved away from the shore I could see the entire Singapore skyline, it looked beautiful, and it reminded of my first day on this island country. It took around fifteen minutes to reach the ship from the pier and on our way we crossed ships of all sizes and types. I had never been on a ship before and didn’t know what a tanker looked like, or how big it was. A tanker is a ship, used to transport liquids like oil, chemicals and liquefied natural gas in bulk. The size of a tanker’s capacity can range from several hundred tons to several hundred thousand tons. I didn’t realize what these numbers mean till I actually saw the ship up close!
As we approached the ship, I was overwhelmed just by the sheer size of the vessel! It was HUGE, almost like a skyscraper stretched in all directions! We circled around the ship, which itself took another fifteen minutes, to figure out which side was better to get onboard. A staircase on either side of the ship, called a gangway, is used to climb on to the ship. And while climbing the gangway, I realized why I was given the dress code of pants and shoes! I hopped on to the gangway and held it tight, and bravely climbed up to the upper deck, which was more than three stories high.
K was waiting with a big smile in his crisp white Navy uniform, and helped me with my bags. He had been on the ship for the past five months and had a few more weeks to go before he signed off. He was thrilled to have me on the ship, as I was the first from the family to visit him on his ship. I was excited to see him after a year, and eager to see the ship, his room, his work place and every thing else on the ship.
I just had a few hours on the ship and wanted to make the most of it. As we caught up on what’s going on in our lives, he took me on a tour of the ship, and explained the workings and structure of a tanker. I felt like Alice in wonderland! It was a lot of information and a maze of stairs, hallways, doors and complex metallic structures in the beginning, but I got the hang of it slowly, as K explained patiently.
The body of a ship, also called a hull, is a watertight compartment and the main structure of the ship. The front of a ship, called a bow, is from where the anchor is dropped down. This part of the ship was made quite famous by the movie Titanic. K mentioned that sometimes dolphins swim in the wake of the ship, in the front. The back of the ship, called a stern, is where the cabin and the bridge are located. Cabin is the accommodation deck for the crew, and the bridge is basically a control room for navigation, which is K’s main work place on the ship. It’s on a higher platform, has huge windows and offers unobstructed views of the front and sides of the ship.
Port and starboard are the nautical terms for left and right sides of the ship respectively, while facing the bow. At night different colored lights indicate the sides, the port (left) side with red and the starboard (right) side with a green light. The engine room is a few stories down, at the bottom rear of the ship, and earmuffs have to be worn before going to that part of the ship, as the sound of the engines is deafening!
We moved on to the crew deck and I saw the mess hall, which is used for dining, relaxation and recreation, the kitchen, the massive refrigerators for the food supplies and a cabin converted to the gym. All the crew was busy loading and unloading cargo & supplies for the ship and it seemed like work never stops here. There were safety and instructional posters & signs almost everywhere.
On the accommodation deck, which is at the rear of the ship, we went through a series of stairs, doors, hallways and more doors, before we reached K’s cabin. It was a compact space just enough to fit a single bed, a couch, a table, a wardrobe and a bathroom. The only view and opening in the room was a small window, the size of my 24” iMac screen. At first it looked quite sweet, but imagining myself living here for almost half a year with nothing but a view of the infinite deep ocean, gave me the shivers and I felt isolated and claustrophobic!
We talked over a cup of tea in his cabin, and K told me stories about his experiences at sea, how they navigate through the star positions as a guide at night, the nautical twilight and his newfound love for photography. As he showed me pictures from the ceremony of ‘crossing the line’, commemorating a sailor’s first crossing of the equator, and all the awesome and remote places he’d been to, it was time for me to leave.
The impression I had of a sailor’s job was one of adventure as they get to visit so many exotic places, but spending a day on the ship and I realized that life at sea is tough and solitary, with most of it spent beyond the reach of land. Even so, it’s quite enticing and I would definitely like to spend a few days or a month to experience what it’s actually like, to live at sea.