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Sean Bryant completed his HND in Marine Engineering at Warsash Maritime Academy in June 2010
I left school at the age of 16 and started an apprenticeship as an engineering machinist at a local machine shop - it was here my career as a engineer began. The machine shopping was certainly a good place to start, it was still a true machine shop, the type of place you could walk in with anything and have a new one manufactured to the highest of standards, the type of shop that others turned to when the job was too complex.
It was here, through 'old school' teaching, that I got to know my trade; everything I was taught on the job. Getting my hands dirty and learning from my mistakes, being given responsibility under supervision, being allowed to think as an independent person using initiative, instinct and not relying on modern automation or technology to save me from the next cock-up. It was in these first few years that my scrap rate was highest, but was this a sign of poor training or good training? To me and the guys at the machine shop the answer is obvious.
I had always wanted to serve at sea as an engineer but never thought the career would be accessible to me, I had always held the engineers serving on board vessels in such high regard, I believed that reaching it would require some act of God and not simply a few GCSEs. After three years at the machine shop I saw an advertisement in the local paper for a career at sea open day. I booked the day off from work and went to see what options were available to me.
I attended a few interviews with different companies, seeing what each one would/could offer. I was lucky, I was applying in what would be the last year when companies could still not fill the quota of cadets needed. After assessing the offers that had been made to me, I decided to choose Anglo-Eastern as my training provider. With regret I handed in my notice at the machine shop and embarked on what was to be the greatest journey of my life.
The first six months at Warsash were far from a pleasurable experience, coming from the machine shop where the learning had been very much practical experience learning from mistakes and being given the time to do so, to going to the MNTB standard of theory and exams. I believe the college lecturers did an outstanding job in delivering the course to us. At the end of the six months with my newly-acquired knowledge I was keen to get to sea.
My first ship was a Pan-Max tanker, A 17 year old newly acquired by the company vessel which had been Greek owned and maintained previously. Jumping from the launch to the gangway as I joined her in Singapore, I got the feeling that I was suddenly doing what I had dreamed of for many years - getting involved in the work on board got me back to what I was used to and what I enjoy, getting my hands dirty, learning practically, making mistakes and learning from the same.
The experience I had gained from the machine shop was to prove invaluable on this vessel. The welding I had trained in extensively was now being used on an almost daily basis, replacing or modifying pipelines throughout the vessel. I was soon integrated into the engine crew, becoming a vital cog in the gears that keep an old ship moving. I had my fair share of disasters on board, be it burst fuel pipes or seized generator; all of which I did not appreciate at the time, but now look back and think it was exactly what a cadet needs.
After three short months I was on the plane back to the UK, sitting next to a pretty blonde girl for the flight back to Heathrow talking to her about her travels and my trip I was overcome with the feeling that this was the life for me.
A short break at home was soon followed by being thrown into phase 3 back at Warsash. Each cadet on the course was eager to tell their sea tales, how some had loved it, how some had hated it - the adventures, the highs and of course the lows. Phase 3 was much the same as phase 1: lots of theory and lots of exams, but it was different this time, the lectures were still hard and, in some cases, boring. The lecturers still did an outstanding job, but the difference was in the cadets, it is amazing how much I and the others had changed in such a short time.
Phase 3 soon passed and I was once again on a plane to join my next ship - a container vessel. This was a trip filled with mystery; little did I know it would turn out to be the biggest adventure of my life to date. The vessel's itinerary was set to take up trading round the Gulf of Aden - the pirate hotspot of the world and to top it off one of our ports was in Somali - the homeland of most pirates. This did little to faze my excitement for the trip!
Once on board I settled in and found the size of the vessel very pleasing. It took me back to my childhood when I used to watch the ships go in and out of South Shields and wanted to be that guy who ran the engine room - this was the ship I had imagined myself working on.
The ship was great for training on - enough things happening to keep people busy but not enough to cause stress or work the large amounts of overtime that seem common within the Merchant Navy. Here I was mentored, the officers and crew taking time to describe and explain things precisely and in detail. There was no such thing as a silly question. As ability was proven, more responsibility was given - up to in charge of changing cross head bearings on the main engine.
The ports we visited turned out to be far from boring, though considered undesirable by most, I had the greatest adventures of my life in them, whether it was snorkelling in Somalia, the monsoon in Aden, bartering for wooden sculptures in Mombasa, going to hospital in Lagos, and many more - they were all memorable moments.
Returning to college for phase 5 was a great time, there was a great buzz amongst the cadets, the journey was coming to an end and the smell of success was in the air. It was by far the hardest we had worked, with end of year projects to complete, oral preparation and final phase exams all to take in. But as with the rest of the course, we cadets took it all in our stride.
Our passing out ceremony soon came around: a night of celebration and thanks to all those who had made the three year journey possible. I was given the honour of making a speech on behalf of the cadets. “Look around you...here ladies and gentleman are the brightest new faces of the British Merchant Navy. The next generation of seafarer, ready to sail the oceans of the world, dutifully under the red ensign.
Every cadet you see before you has undergone a journey...a journey that has seen them work harder than ever before, take on challenges that have pushed them to their limits and seen them placed into a situation where failure was not an option. But this journey was not only a journey of success but a journey of value.
Seafaring has drawn many different types of men and women. And yet we all have one thing in common. The quality that makes us not want to live out our lives in a city or a town, but in the world. It’s the spirit of true independence. But however independent one is, they are not entirely alone. They are a member of something larger...a family, a crew, a college, a company, a nation.
Without the continued and dedicated support of these people, the journey from potential applicants to seafarers would not have been possible.
Our families have remained devoted throughout this journey, with not a moment passing when we have not felt their love. They gave us our principals, which were hammered and honed on the anvil of everyday life, providing us with the foundations on which to build. Tonight is their night as much as our own.
To our fellow cadets and the crews we have served alongside. We have been bound together by one common purpose and from this have grown friendships which will last a lifetime. We have become second families to each other, offering the day to day support to carry us on our journey. It’s been a hard three years for us all, but there is nothing more prized than that of a true friendship.
As for the college, which we have called home for the large part of that three years. They have nurtured us, building on the foundations set by those before them. Giving us the knowledge, judgement and aptitude required to become professional officers, under a world renowned flag. We have had the pleasure of being instructed by some of the best lecturing staff in the world, who have continually demonstrated their ability to go the extra mile while being backed by a skilled management and student support network.
All this would not have been possible without our company's and training managers; they gave us the opportunity to embark on our journey. The opportunity to prove ourselves. They have provided us with vessels on which to train and with that, given many of us our first taste of the enticing life at sea and the awe-inspiring beauty of the ocean. Their support, dedication and encouragement have been a driving force in our journey.
The successful completion of that journey is what we are here to celebrate this evening.....ladies and gentleman, we the cadets wish to extend a capacious and heartfelt thank you to each and every one of you. You have all played a vital part in our journey and without you; we would not be here this evening”
The words I spoke that night ring true in my ears to this date and I suspect will for some time to come.
Now I’m working for Carnival UK in the P&O Australia brand. I’m currently in the last 15 days of a six month trip, a trip has seen me put into practice what I have learned over the three years training, and seen me meet the girl of my dreams.
This is the story of my seafaring life so far and I must say I have loved it. There have been giant lows within it all - nothing is worse than the feeling of joining your first ship: new job, new people, no contact with those you turn to for support, but if you can make it through that then you're set to have the best couple of years of your life.
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