You never forget your first time crossing the Equator at sea – especially when the crew covers you in curry sauce during the Line Crossing ceremony! We spoke to Maria Lapresa, one of our newest Navigation Officers, about her experiences sailing Bold Tern from Belgium to Singapore.
Tell us about yourself, and how you joined FOWIC?
My name is Maria Lapresa, I’m 26 years old and I’m from Spain. When I was young, I always dreamed of growing up to be an airline pilot, but sadly I was just a little too short to be accepted into the training program! So, I thought that if I couldn’t take to the skies, I’d sail the seas instead.
I went to maritime school for four years, which gave me a degree in Nautical Sciences and Maritime Transport. After this I did my Cadetship, which took another year, and achieved my Officer Of The Watch licence. I was then ready to begin my career at sea.
I came across an advertisement for Fred Olsen Windcarrier, applied, and after an interview I was very happy to be accepted as Navigation Officer. This was about seven months ago.
What was your first voyage in your new role?
My first assignment was on Brave Tern, which is currently in Taiwan for the Yunlin project. It was an eye-opening experience! It was simply fascinating to be on a jack-up vessel and to see how it operates, and to get an insight into how the marine and project crews worked together on board.
It was all so unlike anything I had seen before, as most of my sea time before joining the company was on sailing ships, which of course is a completely different experience in every way.
My role was to assist the 2nd officer on all his tasks, while at the same time becoming more familiar with the ship and its procedures. It was exciting to see how Brave Tern installed the first turbine of the Yunlin project. However, this was a relatively short assignment, and I then was transferred to Bold Tern to gain more navigational experience.
Can you tell us about your time on Bold Tern?
I had to fly from Taiwan to Belgium, where Bold Tern was waiting. Our task was to sail the vessel to Singapore, where it is due to be fitted with a new 1600t crane.
The route we planned to take avoided the Suez Canal, which I had been keen to see, as Bold Tern is simply too big to be allowed through. Instead, we sailed round the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. These can be dangerous waters to sail through, so we were careful to wait for the right weather conditions and stay close to the coast to minimize any risks.
Life on board was both hugely enjoyable and educational. A transit voyage like this is of course very different to an installation project, and so my daily routine consisted of various responsibilities as a Navigation Officer, such as making any necessary corrections to our route, checking weather conditions, and preparing for our arrival at our final destination. When doing these tasks, I honestly believe I had the best possible view from any office I can imagine, watching the sunrise and sunsets over the waves and looking out for whales and dolphins. It was paradise!
We operated the vessel with a relatively small crew on board, 30 people or so, which makes for a different atmosphere than with a full installation crew, which is about 80 people in total. This gave us all a great opportunity to get to know each other well. When you aren’t working, you can visit the gym, rest, and there’s a wonderful feeling of camaraderie as you gather in the evenings to watch a movie or eat together.
From the Cape of Good Hope, we went on to Mauritius for bunkering. I was keen to explore the island, but unfortunately it wasn’t possible this time. After this, we went directly to Singapore where we first had to quarantine for two weeks before being allowed to go home.
The voyage took about three months from start to finish, then I flew back home.
What was the Line Crossing ceremony?
The Line Crossing ceremony is something that dates to the Middle Ages. Traditionally it was an initiation rite that commemorates a person's first crossing of the Equator. Its origins are uncertain, but it may have been created as a test for seasoned sailors to ensure their new shipmates were capable of handling long rough times at sea.
It has changed since those days and is now a fun event that helps to build morale and friendships on board. Firstly, there are two groups – Pollywogs and Shellbacks. The Pollywogs, like me, were those who were crossing the Equator for the first time, and the Shellbacks were people who had done it before. Unfortunately, the Pollywogs are the victims!
The Shellbacks set up challenges and tasks for the Pollywogs to do. These might be going to the ‘barber’ for a questionable haircut or going to the ‘doctor’ who gives you a horrible medicine (made from old coffee and chillies) – it was disgusting! Curry sauce is poured over you (which takes at least five showers before you get the smell out of your hair), and lastly there was a freezing cold swimming pool where we were ‘baptised’. It was enormous fun!
After you have been through the ceremony you get a certificate, which in some ways is more important to keep safely with you than your passport, so you never have to be a Pollywog again!
What’s are your plans for the future?
I have greatly valued my short time at FOWIC so far and hope that it is the beginning of a long career with the company.
I have made some very close friends and am already far more knowledgeable than I was before. However, I appreciate that there is so much more to learn, not only to improve my navigation skills, but about our jack-up vessels, cranes, and all the complex processes involved in wind turbine installation and maintenance.
I am already looking forward to my next voyage and to what the future holds for me at FOWIC!