“When we started rolling I couldn’t get over the novel feeling that my bed was on a rollercoaster for young children…”
By: Karen Campbell
As a VIP guest, as some of the guys liked to call me, I was given one of the nicer cabins on board. Everyone on board had their own cabin and washroom, my cabin was just bigger than most. It was the Pilot’s Cabin, situated on the deck house level, directly across from the bridge. Typically it would be used when the ship was on routes that require long stretches of pilotage, where two pilots would be on board spelling each other off. The easy access to the bridge also makes it perfect for visiting students (though it was some five flights of stairs away from the engine control room, which made the engineer in me a little sad).
Aside: I also was really interested to learn why the ship’s small gym had the label ‘Suez Crew Cabin’. Similar in concept to the pilot’s cabin, this communal cabin was designed as a space for the specialized crew that comes on board to take a ship through tricky spots like the Panama or Suez canals.
The pilot’s room had a bed oriented in the forward-aft direction and a couch in the port-starboard direction (at one point I was told that some nights, depending on ship motion, couches were better to sleep on). There was a desk with a window view looking aft toward the stack. A wardrobe by the door contained an immersion suit and lifejacket. The bathroom was lined with the same plastic siding as the rest of the ship, and had tile floor raised three or four inches above the rest of the cabin’s carpeted floor. The faucets throughout the ship took some getting used to – you pushed down to open them and up to stop the flow – and the toilets were on a vacuum system, much like an airplane.
“the omnipresent vibration throughout the ship was something I wanted to pay attention to”
I’ve always had trouble sleeping on any type of transportation – I’m usually way too excited to sleep if I’m moving at all relative to the surface of the earth, or sea in this case! Trying to fall asleep on a ship was especially difficult – being the nerd I am, even the variations in the omnipresent vibration throughout the ship was something I wanted to pay attention to, and when we started rolling I couldn’t get over the novel feeling that my bed was on a rollercoaster for young children. Somehow the entire effect was both unsettling and soothing at the same time.
One night early throughout the trip I woke up to realize we were rolling more than I’d experienced so far. I grabbed my phone to film the objects sliding around on my desk and the curtains swinging back and forth. The dark and blurry film ends with the objects flying off the end of my desk from my perspective as I jump out of bed trying to catch them. I started leaving my laptop on the floor after that night.
In my first few days I was completely enthralled by the case of the ‘wandering water bottles’ as I liked to call them. After several times coming back to my cabin and finding that the waterbottles I’d been given had moved from where I put them simply due to the vibration of the ship (we weren’t rolling at this point), I set up my camera on a tripod to catch their movement in 2-5 minute increments. I told a couple of the officers about my experiment – they thought it was funny how excited about it I was, and teased me about there being ghosts on the ship.
“I learned to time things like opening or closing doors, pulling out chairs, and simply how I moved around with the motions of the floor underneath me.”
Walking around with the ship rolling was also something I had to get used to. The roll period and distance of travel are much larger than what I’m used to from smaller vessels. It wasn’t particularly noticeable below maybe 10 degrees off parallel; above that, it factored into how you might move around – for example I started doing things like modifying my walking to time with high or low points. I was delighted by the prospect that I could walk downhill at all times if I so chose. I learned to time things like opening or closing doors, pulling out chairs, and simply how I moved around with the motions of the floor underneath me. This helped a little, but the motion wasn’t entirely predictable, so I occasionally felt a bit like an oaf as I moved around. I was also significantly more cautious about wandering out onto the wings of the bridge when it was rougher. Taking showers with the ship rolling around was also kinda fun, watching the water bend relative to the walls and slosh back and forth on the floor.
Karen Campbell is a naval architecture and marine engineering (M.Eng.) student at the University of British Columbia. She completed her bachelors in Mechanical Engineering at Queen’s University.
She recently had the opportunity to go onboard one of our conventional crude vessels, the MT Australian Spirit. Over the course of 13 days, she had a front seat view at a vessel in action once it left the shipyard – and also got a glimpse into what life is like at sea.
This series is a collection of essays about her experience. We hope you follow along as she talks about touring the ballast tanks, mealtimes, work-life balance, community and family onboard, social activities, living on a tanker, and being in the bridge while sailing into port.
Read more about Karen’s experience: