"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.