"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29: 11

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Back to School

John Simpson - the man with the donkey - of Gallipoli legend was from South Shields and is celebrated with this statue in the main mall

Those of you who have followed our journey with Mercy Ships from the start will know that I came to South Tyneside College (STC) in the UK five years ago to complete my bridging training between the Navy and Merchant Navy. Well this year I went back to school in South Shields again.

South Tyneside Marine College

I am working towards my Second Engineer's licence and between September and December took two classes - Electrotechnology and Naval Architecture - at Chief's level and prepared in my own time for two others - Applied Heat and Applied Mechanics. This was a pretty full on load but I had covered most the work before albeit 25-30 years ago! The benefits are that if I pass all 4 exams I will only need to return for a six week Engineering Knowledge (EK) course, two exams and an oral exam sometime in 2016. I was hoping to also sit the EK exams in December but the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) would not exempt me coursework for EKs. In fact I was hoping for exemptions from the exams for Heat, Mechanics and Electrotechnology as I covered all of these to a higher level at Uni. However the MCA only recognises UK and EU member states degrees so it was back to school for this little black duck.

Why am I doing this? Whilst I have enjoyed a season of less management and more hands on as Third Engineer, I realise I have more to offer. I have had 7 Second Engineers in my 2+ years onboard the Africa Mercy and when I left in September, Mercy Ships were employing a contracted Russian Second Engineer to meet our minimum manning requirement. From my experience and training in the Navy, I know I can do the job. I now need to jump through the hoops again to get the licence.

I won't beat around the bush. The farewells in Madagascar were tough. Some, because by the time I returned, some good friends had completed their service and returned home themselves. The family was tough because it had been 5 years since we did such a long separation and the boys are that much older now. However God has led us this far and looked after us so I was  convinced this is part of his plan and he would be with me for the 3 & 1/2 months I was away.

Dr Winterbottm Hall

I stayed in Dr Winterbottom Hall, the accommodation attached to the college which make some things easier. I didn't have to cook for myself or shop for food and there was pretty good wifi. Plus the library was literally 100 metres away. The down side was some of the fellow residents - mainly cadets - were far from the cleanest people in the world to live in community with. Sometimes it feels more like a fraternity house.

B Block

Scene of much study

I bought an old second hand clunker bike to get around campus and into South Shields. I bought it from a pawn shop for £35 and have a £18 lock to go with it. Unfortunately this is a fact I learnt living in London that you need to spend almost as much on your bike security as the bike.

The old clunker

Last time I was at the College I bought and sold a road bike on Ebay and rode with the Sunderland Clarion Cycle Club. I hooked up with them before I arrived and a club member very kindly lent me his beautiful Bianchi ViaNirone7 road bike. 

The Good Bike - a loaner

I joined the South Shields Velo Cycling Club and went out riding almost every Saturday covering on average 100km around Durham and Tyne & Wear. Amazingly every Saturday except two were dry although some were a bit chilly at anywhere as low as 0 degrees C.

Alan Harris' Saturday morning ride - where "it's all downhill from here"

On weekends they only serve brunch in the College so I would have a pub dinner at The County where students get 10% discount. 

The County

I've watched a few Rugby World Cup games there but for the big ones - Wallabies v England, Wales and the All Blacks - I went to the Westoe Rugby Club with some friends from the Velo - Steven & Nicola. I copped a bit of crap when I was the only Aussie among about 500 Geordies supporting England but they were quiet when the Wallabies won! I looked at going to watch one of the three games played at St James Park in Newcastle but the cheap seats were £80 - way out of my budget.

Westoe Rugby Club

Westoe Rugby Club watching RWC

I also attended a local church - Westoe Road Baptist. This was recommended to me by Jan Tuinier and they have been really welcoming. I am not a great theologian and like a simple straightforward sermon, something I like about Westoe Road. Simple messages that speak to my everyday life.

Westoe Road Baptist Church

I also spent a week in Glasgow during the mid term break at South Shields. I needed to do a Human Element Leadership and Management Course and there was not one running at STC so I traveled up to Glasgow for the week to do the course at Glasgow Maritime Academy. Not much of the course was new material to me having done months of leadership and management training through my Navy career, but it was another box ticked. Glasgow looked lovely but I did not get much chance to explore.

In early November I took a study break heading South to visit my cousin Katie and her family which was a lovely break. They treated me to dinner out and Spectre at the movies.

After that there was about 5 weeks more study and then exam week - 4 x 3 hour exams in 5 days. i hadn't done that many 3 hour exams in a week since 1988 so it was a bit stressful. anyway I had prepared well, had a legion of people praying for and encouraging me and blitzed the exams finishing them all well within time and leaving early. Results are posted in February.

It is now December and I am back onboard for 8 weeks. I will be returning to the UK in February for 8 weeks to complete EKs course and exams plus my refresher courses for Fire Fighting and Personal Survival. The refreshers are a new requirement which come into effect for all mariners on 1Jan2017 so it is prudent to do them whilst in the UK this coming time rather than returning for a third time. And then if I have passed everything I can apply for my Class 2 (Second Engineers) Motor Certificate of Competency which I hope to receive by 1 August 2016 when we sail from Durban to Cape Town.

Sunday, November 29, 2015


I've befriended a patient onboard this field service. I still have a soft spot for the VVF ladies after my time with Annie in Congo. Last field service, I was focused on my job. This field service, Mick left 10 days after our arrival in Madagascer to study in England - he'll be back in 3 weeks time after 3.5 months away. I didn't think I'd be able to commit to befriending a patient whilst Mick was away - however, once you listen to a patient's history, in your heart,  you're already committed.

I remember as a 14 year old thinking how hard  life was - probably based on what someone else was allowed to have or do - or the amount of homework I had. Perhaps some chores were not to my liking. But my concerns were of a child still being a child and acting as such.

My patient is 14 years old - her name is Minette. She has an obstetric fistula after mis carrying very traumatically a few months ago. She was very malnourished - weighing only 28kg when she arrived. She also had some nerve damage in her legs as a result of the birth and has just started to walk again without the walking frame - but with a supportive arm. it is a long road ahead and full recovery may not even be possible. 

I visit her on Wednesday and Sunday because she is in the Obstetric Fistula Clinic operated by Mercy Ships in the grounds of the local hospital. I ride my bike over when the boys are in school - or on Sunday, when the younger two are at karate. So today, Jack and I rode over and it hit me: how blessed we are to have grown up in Australia and all that means.
Seeing Jack - side by side with Minette :
-They are the same age and approximately same height
-He's in his 9th year of school - she's had 5 years
-He weighs about 40kg and she's gained some weight but probably in low thirties still.
-She has an obstetric fistula and the possibility of Hope and Healing for her incontinence through Mercy Ships
-Jack has Asperger's syndrome and we accessed every therapy recommended for him when he was diagnosed.  He made huge improvements immediately.

It wasn't until they were sitting side by side today that I realised how much we take our medical system for granted. We don't need to hold out hope for help in Australia, we just need to make an appointment. Sometimes we have to wait a few days, weeks or months. Rarely - years. In Madagascar - the help you need may not even exist in your country. 

Obstetric fistulas are a big problem here somewhat due to the culture of marrying very young in some people groups. It is estimated that there are 50000 women with this condition in Madagascar with up to 2000 more occurring each year. Mercy Ships has partnered with Freedom from Fistula to train a team of nurses, set up Operating Room and clinic to leave behind when we sail away in June 2016. It's awesome to be part of this.

I don't mind admitting that I've struggled with my own little pity party these last few months whilst Mick has been away. It's hard being remote from friends and family - especially with the turnover of volunteers onboard. It's hard single parenting - even with daily phone calls. And all jobs have days when it's not great.

However - imagine living with incontinence from a fistula from age 14, for the rest of your life.  
What does that do for your dreams of the future - for family, employment, community. 
How do you feel about yourself?

Minette and the other patients at the OBF clinic bring our purpose in being here in Toamasina into focus - we are here to bring Hope and Healing, one patient at a time. 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Church with the patients at the HOPE Centre

This morning we biked to the HOPE centre for a Sunday church service. HOPE stands for Hospital OutPatient  Extension. This is where our patients wait to receive surgery or for those who need to stay on whilst they have follow up appointments and therapy. It's kind of like a guest house, on a larger scale.

The thing about the HOPE centre is that it lives up to its name. This morning, a little girl pulled faces at me as we clapped the rhythm for Malagasy hymn. The fingers on her right hand were deformed and twisted out of shape due to burn contractures. I know our plastics surgeon, Dr Tertius, is back onboard and in the next few weeks, that little girl will have her surgery and the start hand therapy to regain movement in her fingers, hand and wrist. I look forward to seeing her again as she starts healing, either onboard or at the HOPE Centre.

I held hands with the man next to me and his wife as we sang and swayed together. He had a large dressing on his neck. I have no idea which surgery he had onboard - his smile and that of his wife and child, said enough.

I looked around the tent and saw many babies with cleft lips and palates. I know the Max Facs team will be preparing to see them soon. How wonderful that we are here when they are babies. The adults with cleft lips and palate repairs have a hard life living with that easily repairable deformity. We have often wondered if they divide their life into before and after chapters, once they have their surgery.

Up on the balcony were the ladies from the OBF ( Obstetric Fistula ) clinic that opened this week. I have a special place in my heart for these ladies and their courage. Sometimes they have lived with decades of exclusion and isolation. To see them form their own support community as they heal together, is inspiring.

My boys asked why we go to the HOPE centre service. I told them that we go for the patients, to show them they are loved. We are here for the patients and it is easy to get caught up in work and forget why we are here. However, one morning at the HOPE centre is a reminder of why God called us here and what He is doing here through Mercy Ships. It is privilege to be part of that through trading smiles with a little girl, holding a grown mans hand as we sing together or visiting the OBF clinic and saying "Salama" to the courageous women there.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

We're going back to Madagascar!

We've been volunteering on the AFRICA MERCY for two years now. As most of you know, it's a hospital ship that provides free surgeries and healthcare education to the poorest people in the world. I'm no surgeon and Mick's no nurse - I am volunteering in the Supply department and Mick keeps the machinery working and the poo disappearing.

We don't get paid to do this. We give our time and expertise to serve aboard the AFRICA MERCY for free. Or you could say, we donate our potential earnings to the organisation as Gifts in Kind.
Not only that, but we have to pay to live onboard the ship - things like food and accommodation, compulsory health insurance, school fees and all the usual things you need like toiletries, cleaning gear, clothing and shoes for growing boys! Roughly it costs us A$38,000 per year ( just over $3k a month) to serve and it gets better or worse depending on what the Aussie dollar is doing.

How do we pay for this?
Firstly, we have rented out our home - the leftovers that the mortgage doesn't swallow, come to us.
Secondly, our church - Bayside Community Church - raises the funds for the boys education each year. An amazing blessing.
Third, a few family and friends have donated money to Mercy Ships Australia and designated it to come to the Dunne family. They get a tax deductible receipt and it finds its way into our bank account.
Fourth, we have some savings.

So, why are we writing about this now?
Because we are going back again and we need your help to stay there. Simply put, we have a finite amount of savings which will cover our expenses for a period of time. Beyond that, we need to build a support base.

Asking for help, financial or otherwise, is a tricky thing in modern Australia. It goes against the grain. We all grow up wanting to be independent and successful in what we do. 

However, Mick and I have seen a different type of success. Success for us now is measured on a different scale - one of shipping containers received, motors rebuilt, surgeries completed and individuals lives changed. 

This type of success is not individually based - it is a total team effort. The surgeons, doctors, nurses, and lab techs get their meals in the Dining room - from food that the Supply team orders.  The Engineering team keeps the Operating rooms cool, provides drinking water, hot showers and makes certain the toilets work when you press the button. 

For Mick and I, being part of this team is the most successful work we have ever undertaken. And we're wondering, if you'd like to help us stay on the team?
https://www.mercyships.org.au/donate - please put Dunne family in the "My donation is for" box 


Saturday, May 30, 2015

Ship sisters

It's late May. Aboard the AFRICA MERCY, that means the season of farewells. To places but more importantly, to friends.

Almost two years ago, we arrived in Texas, knowing no one in our Gateway course. Within 6 weeks, we had become a close knit support group for each other. Within 3 months, we had our ship family. We have shared two Christmases, Easters and field services. Countless conversations. Too many dining room meals. Prayed for and with each other. Comforted each other. So many hugs and tears.

And now we are here - at the end of this stage and contemplating the next. But this is a painful place to be. It hurts when your friends go because when you share your lives as deeply as we do onboard, you cannot help but give away little pieces of your heart.  And a little hole is left - a little vacuum - where your friend use to reside. It doesn't hurt as much if you keep your friends at arms distance. But if you open your heart to be loved, you open your heart to be hurt as well.  Though this is the good hurt - it tells you that you are capable of love and being loved in return. I have my identity as being beloved child of God. It is immensely comforting to know that He continually places people in my life, that seek to see me in this way.

I don't have any sisters by birth. But I have several very close "ship" sisters who are leaving in the next few weeks.  

To my "little" sister:
Thank you for showing me what a daughter is, irrespective of age. For becoming part of our family, even to the the point of getting vegetables on the boys plates when I wasn't there. Thank you for sharing your heart and dreams with me - for allowing us to be in your story.

To my "African" sister:
Thank you for being vulnerable, real, sarcastic and fun!  For including us, all of us, in your adventurous plans. For being willing to join our family. Thank you for staying the extra year. And for the many hours of conversation giving me a whole new and different perspective on life. It has been awesome seeing you "shine" over the past few months. 

To my "youngest" sister:

Thank you for your wisdom. Your advice has left me speechless so many times as it belies your voice and your age. Thanks for repeatedly showing me what is really important but also your enthusiasm for what you do and what you plan to do. And for so many hilarious misquotes "Buddha -y ism" and laughs - a whole songs worth of actions! But most of all, your God given strength. I can't wait to see how He will use you.

To my older and wiser sister:

Thank you for kicking my butt when I needed it, for challenging me on a daily basis but above all for listening, over and over again, without judgement. Thanks for being my organisational translator and for an opportunity to do something different. For cups of tea and movie night. And occasional pommes frites. I am more than appreciative. Most of all, thank you that you are coming back to visit!

Overall, I know that God will bring new "sisters" to the ship but at this moment, I'm going to take some time to grieve over the relationships that are changing from "incredibly accessible" to "geographically challenging".  I'm prioritising my remaining days and hours to create more memories with these ladies and to reminisce over our shared experiences, enjoyable and otherwise.  Mostly though, I'm making the most of our time left so that they can all leave well and I can let them go. I know that we will catch up again in the future sometime. I don't know when or even where. What I do know is that Friends are the family we choose for ourselves. And I'm glad and sad at the same time, that these "sisters" chose me.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

ANZAC Day - Madagascar Style

We wished to honour our fallen servicemen and women on the 100th anniversary of the landings at Gallipoli so arranged our own little ANZAC Day dawn service on the dock followed by a gunfire brunch at a local restaurant, El Harato. Tammy did a great job pulling it all together with an order of service, music and gunfire breakfast. The rain stopped just as we arrived on the dock at 0525 and started again as Mick read the final prayer.

Welcome by Mick

ANZAC Day commemorates the landings at ANZAC Cove in Gallipoli that occurred a century ago, at this time of the day.  The Allies - including Australians, New Zealanders, British, French, New Foundlanders and Indian, lost some 50, 000 killed with almost 250,000 casualties. The Turkish forces lost 87,000 killed and sustained similar heavy casualties.

Gallipoli was the first time that Australians and New Zealanders participated together in a major conflict. The name ANZAC – from the acronym Australian and New Zealand Army Corps - became universally recognized symbol for the soldiers of both nations and for those who fought and died during this conflict.  It is a significant occasion in both countries to pause and reflect on all who have served and died in the service of their nation. To understand what the first ANZAC day was like, we have an extract from a letter from LT William Britt, Australian Infantry describing the landing in a letter to his mother.

Reading 1 by Tam Lowe

"We knew what we were there for - the attack on the Dardenelles," he wrote. "The 3rd Brigade was picked for the covering party - that is to land first and clear the enemy away from the shore. The 11th Batt was the first to land. We left the island at 2pm on a Saturday afternoon and steamed up towards the Straits. At 12 midnight we anchored and climbed silently over the side down rope ladders onto a destroyer.

"When all was ready the destroyer crept silently away in the darkness. We layed on the deck and had a short sleep. At 3.30 we could see land in the dim light and we crept closer and closer the big battle ships looming up on either side of us. It was fast getting light and when we were 600 yards from the shore the destroyers stopped and we prepared to get into the boats.

"Our first warning was a sharp crack and a flash from the hills in front of us and the ping of a bullet overhead followed by another and then a score. One of our comrades was hit and died after wishing us good luck. We scrambled into the boats about 50 in each boat and started to pull for the shore. By this time the bullets were splashing all round the boat and a great many of our fellows were hit some fatally. We had to row 600 yards in the face of a murderous fire, machine gun and rifle and not a man flinched. We could see the flashes from the hills in front but not a Turk could we see.

"The boat grounded 30 yards from the Beach and I jumped into the water icy cold and up to my waist. I was carrying 250 rds ammunition. Pack with clothes and kit weighing 30 lbs. Haversack with 4 tins dog biscuits etc, a water bag, 3 cement bags rolled up to be used as sand bags. Well I waded to the shore (by this time they had our range and men were dropping all round me. They had measured the range previously of course.

"I got a bullet through the cap as I stepped out of the water. I threw off my pack and took cover behind a heap of pebbles. There was no cover from bullets as the Turks were entrenched on the top of a cliff which ran round in a half circle and rose straight up at a distance of 500 yards from the water. Well I was loading my rifle by this time and trying to make out the trenches in the half light but could see nothing but the rifle flashes. We were getting it hot by this time. They were using dum-dums & explosive bullets which crack over your head like a cracker.

"Two of my chums fell here both killed instantly. Then one of my lacrosse chums, Corporal Danes, was shot and a lot more. Then someone spotted the trenches and we put a hot fire into them and drove them out. The first Turks I saw was crawling up the slope. I underestimated the range first shot but got him the second. We took the hill and advanced about half mile and the Turks counter-attacked and then the fight started properly.

"The machine gun and rifle fire was deafening and the shrapnel burst all over us. My rifle got so hot once I had to stop firing. The Turks were estimated at 50 to 1. The fight lasted all day..

Reading 2 by Larry Robbins

LTCOL William G Malone, Commanding Officer, Wellington Battalion to his wife from Gallipoli, 5 August, 1915
My Sweetheart,
In less than two hours we move off to valley where we will be up all night and tomorrow in readiness for the big attack, which will start from tomorrow night.  Everything promises well and victory should be with us.  God grant it so and that our casualties will not be too heavy.  I expect to go through all right but my dear wife, if anything untoward happens to me there are our dear children to be brought up.  You know how I love and have loved, and we have had many years of great happiness together.  If an anytime in the past I seemed absorbed by affairs it was that I might make a proper provision for you and the children.  That was due from me.  I is true that perhaps I over did it somewhat I believe now that I did, but did not see it at the time.  I regret very much now that is was o and that I lost more happiness that I need to have done.  You must forgive me also for anything unkindly or hard that I may have said or done in the past.  I have made a will and it is in the office in Stratford, I think it was justly drawn.  Anyway, I intended it so to be.  I hope and think that the provision for you and the children will keep you and them in ease and comfort.  I know that you will never forget me or let the dear children do so. I am prepared for death and hope that God will have forgiven me all my sins.  My desire for life – so that I may see and be with you again, - could not be greater but I have only done what every man was bound to do in our country’s need. It has been a great consolation to me that you approved my action. The sacrifice was really yours.  May you be consoled by our dear Lord.
Your loving husband,
William G Malone.
LTCOL Malone was killed in action three days later on 8 August, 1915.

Address by Tammy

The landings a Gallipoli were a military catastrophe for the ANZACs.  The campaign was a litany of errors from the word go: they landed in the wrong spot, Turkish troops were already entrenched and waiting for them in superior positions and they were cut down in their hundreds before they even reached the shore. And yet we commemorate this failure annually.  What is it that we are commemorating?

When I was child, I went and watched my Grandfather, a World War II veteran, march every year through the streets of Sydney.  We clapped and cheered the original ANZACs as they rode in vintage Jeeps, looking frail and ancient to my young eyes. I sat with him and my Grandmother through the memorial services.  And we took the time to remember those that did not return.  Those soldiers, sailors and airmen that fought for freedom – to thank them for their sacrifice and to promise them that we would not take it for granted. 

As time went on, the World War I diggers, became fewer and fewer – but other conflicts brought more veterans to the marches – those from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and more recently, the Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan as well as a host of smaller but no less significant, conflicts. ANZAC day marches were predicted to wane as the original veterans grew older and eventually passed.  However, this has not been the case at all.  In fact, there was a ballot in Australia for places at the ANZAC Cove service today in Gallipoli – to cope with the influx of expected visitors in such a small strip of land.  Gallipoli has almost become a place of pilgrimage for young Aussies and Kiwis. They want to see that it is real.  It is so steeped in our national mythology that young people want to know it’s real and see it for themselves.   What is it that they are seeking? 

I believe they are seeking the real stories behind Gallipoli. Those individuals lives’ are inspiring: men who faced certain death with courage and fortitude. They thought beyond themselves. They laid down their lives for each other. And they were ingenuous – as evidenced by the cleverly planned and well executed withdrawal 9 months later.  And they faced all of this and more with a dry sense of humour – a typically ANZAC trait.

Jesus said in John 15:13
"Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends"

And there were so many stories at Gallipoli in both nations, of men who did just that.  And that is what the young people seek.  That love.  People who would sacrifice themselves for their mates. And that is what we commemorate on ANZAC Day – those that gave their today, for our tomorrow. So despite the fact that Gallipoli was an unmitigated military disaster, it left both nations with a united legacy, that we will never forget. 

Prayers by Sue Clynes

Prayer of St Francis – A Soldier’s Prayer

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, let me sow pardon;
Where there is doubt, let me sow faith;
Where there is despair, let me give hope;
Where there is darkness, let me give light;
Where there is sadness, let me give joy.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.

The Ode by Harry Dunne

They shall grow not old, as we that left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

The Lord's Prayer

The Australian National Anthem - Advance Australia Fair
The New Zealand National Anthem - God Defend New Zealand

Final Prayer by Mick

In ocean wastes no poppies blow,
No crosses stand in ordered row,
There young hearts sleep… beneath the wave…
The spirited, the good, the brave…
But stars a constant vigil keep,
For them who lie beneath the deep.
'Tis true you cannot kneel in prayer 
On certain spot and think. "He's there."
But you can to the ocean go…
See whitecaps marching row on row;
Know one for him will always ride…
In and out… with every tide.
And when your span of life is passed,
He'll meet you at the Captain's Mast.
And they who mourn on distant shore
For sailors who'll come home no more,
Can dry their tears and pray for these
Who rest beneath the heaving seas…
For stars that shine and winds that blow
And whitecaps marching row on row.
And they can never lonely be
For when they lived… they chose the sea.

It was quite a bit of work to pull it all together but totally worth it knowing that all over the world wherever Kiwis and Aussies were they would be gathered together remembering those first brave ANZACs. The thought of rowing one of our 50 man lifeboats 600 yards to shore at dawn under murderous machine gunfire from entrenched positions on the cliffs is absolutely terrifying, and very sobering as you look up to the open lifeboat in the dawn light and imagine it. 

Plenty of others have commented that they really wanted to do something for ANZAC Day but were not sure how to go about it, so we are glad we made the effort.
Photo credits - Dave Forrest

Thursday, April 9, 2015

A Few Good Men

One of the hardest things about serving on the ship is constantly saying goodbye to good friends. It is a fact, everyone leaves the ship eventually but if you are long term crew you say far more goodbyes to friends leaving the ship. And because your friends are constantly leaving it is necessary to keep working on new relationships because if you don't you will blink and your circle of close friends will have dropped to a few.

In the last few months this has been driven home to me as a few of my close friends have left and I contemplate some other possibly leaving in the next few months.


Mark was lead dentist last year and probably my closest friend onboard. He was ex-army, had three boys, one who was very similar to Jack and we just clicked as a family. I miss Mark, Tam misses Gretchen and the boys all miss Jacob, Matthew and Caleb. The good thing - I know our friendship is strong enough that we will see each other again.

Mark and I the day they left

Mark with his amazing wife, Gretchen


Steven was Fourth Engineer when I arrived and taught me more about the systems onboard than anyone else. One of the sharpest guys I have come across who is now studying at Harvard. Too talented to remain a Marine Engineer other than as a hobby.

Steven loved the outdoors


James, a class mate of Steven's from Kings Point and another excellent engineer. He was additional Fourth Engineer then covered Third Engineer Generators for 3 months before taking over from Steven as Fourth Engineer. Always looking for work and volunteered to come and work in the sewage treatment plants with me. I'll never forget that he also volunteered to crawl inside the HFO sludge tank to clean it out - unbelievable how dirty he got that day.

Working in the sewage treatment plant with James


Jeremiah from Minnesota was the radiologist onboard for the last two field services. Easy going and very popular with everyone onboard. He also had the coolest bike onboard - a blue single speed - which I replaced the forks on after it was left on the roof of a Landie driving through the low port gate.

Jeremiah about to tuck in to Soup de Mer at Hotel Longo

Jeremiah in Toamasina


Marty and his family left the ship at the end of the Congo field service after 4 or 5 years onboard and returned to Petaluma, California. We only really got to know Marty and his wife, Catherine, towards the end of their time onboard, something I now regret as I think we could have had a lot of fun together….

Marty and I on our last night out in Congo


Jaël from Canada was an engineer cadet who came to serve as a motorman and kept extending. I really enjoyed working with him and sharing my knowledge and experience. A solid and reliable worker with a fantastic heart. A great guy who will do well in life. I hope to catch up again one day.

Jaël in the Engine Control Room

Jaël hanging out on deck 7 with a young patient


Frank is an orthopaedic surgeon from Colorado who comes each year for the ortho program. We really got to know him and his wife, Kathleen this year and are so looking forward to catching up with them again next field service. We had a great weekend away with them at Mahambato by the lake. And he went to extraordinary lengths looking after Jack when he fractured his wrist.

Frank with one of his patients

Frank and his lovely wife, Kathleen

Frank examining Jack's wrist


Sigbjørn from Norway was another engineer cadet. We watchkept together from Gran Canaria to Toamasina via Cape Town and he proved to be one of the hardest working most conscientious guys I have served with. It was a pleasure training and mentoring him. I really enjoyed seeing him grow in confidence and ability over the six months he served onboard. And he wrote to me last week to tell me he had been awarded his Engineer Officer of the Watch licence. Bravo Siggy.

Siggy at Hotel Longo

Siggy and Robert - the Norwegian lads


Burrell served onboard as day crew last field service in Congo. Of all the day crew he is the one I came to know best. This field service I have not found the like of him who wanted to learn and get involved. I stay in touch on Facebook and wonder whether we will get the chance to ever meet again.

Burrell and I at the end of Congo field service


Noël the master craftsman from Holland has his own business but has taken a four month break in Congo and a three month break in Madagascar to serve the poorest of the poor. An absolutely fantastic tradesman who makes the trickiest and toughest jobs look easy. Incredibly humble and gracious too. I am so pleased he has returned this field service.

Noel, doing his thing in the workshop


Rob is our amazing high school math teacher from Colorado. He was on our Gateway and although he hasn't left yet, he is leaving the Academy. He is looking to stay onboard in a different role but God hasn't decided which role yet. All I know is he is a great friend and has to be the most eligible bachelor onboard. Recently he arranged a secret dinner for all the other academy teachers (who all happen to be women) where he arranged the dinner, produced a slideshow, got video messages from all their families and spliced them all together, produced a photobook for each of them and had parents come in to honour them. They will have to live many years to have someone top this for them. We've already spent some great times together and I hope we can experience some more.

Rob on the beach in Congo

Rob, Tam and Leanne……and photo bombing guy

Gotcha - fun on the beach in Congo

How cool when your Maths teacher comes to your birthday party
AND gets flour all over his face


John is from New Zealand and God has prepared him over his lifetime to be the most perfect fit for the Engineering Stores Manager onboard. He has fantastic knowledge of engineering stores and the strongest work ethic in the department. On top of this he has great wisdom and patience. Married to Sue, an OR nurse, they are an awesome team. I selfishly regret that they too will move on in the next 12 months and we will lose some more friends onboard.

John visiting the agricultural site in Congo

John in his kingdom