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Ottawa, Ontario
Canada

Just a little corner of the interwebz where I occasionally jot down a thought or two. Why do I do it? Partly to communicate in some way with you, the reader, and partly because it's some sad way of leaving a legacy of some kind I guess.

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Ramblings

Ships and Holidays

Jonathan Tom

Morning in the shipyard.

Morning in the shipyard.

I left North America around mid-November in a snow squall for northern Italy across the water from Venice to a city called Mestre. In Mestre is an industrial yard called Fincantieri Navale which is the shipyard where every Holland America Line vessel for at least the last 18 years has been built. I’ve been a part of every build since 2010’s Nieuw Amsterdam but this year I was joining from the contractor side rather than the employee side of things. What I initially thought was going to be quite different turned out to not be very dissimilar at all - the real differences were not having to take part in the drills and not wearing a uniform. The things that were in common were the sudden changes in availability of hot water, elevators, power, trips out to the coffee machines. Having mentioned the coffee machines... some of the best coffee I’ve had has come from machines located outside in an industrial shipyard. Ridiculous!  

Test Patterns on the 270 degree wall

Test Patterns on the 270 degree wall

It never ceases to amaze me how a ship goes from massive pieces of metal to a floating hotel - at the risk of sounding like a Discovery Channel announcer, it’s really a marvel of modern engineering. Not a small endeavor in either time or man power, the end result after over a year is a ~99,000 ton ship.  In the main theatre, the Worldstage, there is a 270 degree video wall which encompasses the majority of the space and a video ring which can fly in and out. Made up of somewhere around 15 million pixels, the wall is driven by two disguise media servers. In addition to the LED surfaces there are also four laser projectors which put content onto the floor for the show Step One Dance Comapny presentation of Humanity. These projectors are fed by another three disguise servers from the control booth in the Worldstage. Despite the amount of technology that we put into the theatre it’s only a small percentage of the amazing tools (and toys) that get installed on this small city.

Step One Dance Company’s Humanity as seen from the Control Booth

Step One Dance Company’s Humanity as seen from the Control Booth

Anyway, we were in the yard for a couple of weeks and then we sailed from Venice to Rome for the “shake down” or soft opening cruise and, following that, we left for a trans-Atlantic voyage to Fort Lauderdale. Quite a few days at sea but the ship was in pretty good shape with only a few minor bugs to work out and the crew was great. We hit land four or five days before Christmas and I flew from Fort Lauderdale to St. John’s Newfoundland to spend Christmas with the family - it was a pretty good time except for the fact that a bunch of us got sick; fortunately no one transmitted their illness to my niece. All in all, after having been away for 6 weeks I got home just before New Year to end off 2018 in Ottawa.

Family Christmas 2018

Family Christmas 2018

yo ho yo ho

Jonathan Tom

This last week was my first week back out on a ship since I left for land life a couple of years ago. I wasn’t taking a pleasure cruise or anything; I was, in fact, out there for work to prepare for the Oprah Magazine Adventure of Your Life cruise on Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam. To the point, I really enjoyed being back out at sea. I knew that I would miss the camaraderie that I had with fellow crew members but I didn’t expect to miss the ship itself and being at sea. Don’t misunderstand me, there is certainly something uniquely attractive about being at sea but after having been at sea for the better part of two decades it wasn’t something I was anticipating would bring nostalgia. That being said, it was really nice to be out there for the week - I’m now back home in Ottawa and enjoying the crisp fall air before it turns into the biting chill of winter.

The view at sea.

out east

Jonathan Tom

It's fair to say that I've been to a lot of places and seen a lot of things; six continents, dozens of countries, and hundreds of cultural experiences. They say that the last places you ever really explore are the places you live, be it your city, your province (or state), or your country. This week I get to check off another province from my list and thus complete my tour of the Canadian provinces which leaves me with just two of the territories left: the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

Enough about the future though, this week I am in Newfoundland near St. Johns and while it's only been a few days it's been really picturesque and all around lovely. Earlier in the week I made it out to Quidi Vidi with my sister for brunch at Mallard Cottage where we split (family style) rhubarb French toast and a pork eggs benny before taking a walk around the area.

Quidi Vidi

We also took a day and wend out to Cape Spear which is the eastern-most point of North America excluding the Danish-controlled Greenland. It's a pretty cool location as you can see from the first photograph in this post which depicts my niece and I on one of the boardwalks there.

Throughout the week I'm planning on trying to make it out to a few other places that have been left on a must-see list for me before heading back to Ottawa. 

a farewell to ship life

Jonathan Tom

A friend shared this post on Facebook today and, though it's been over a year since I stepped off my last ship as a crew member, it still resonnated with me so here are some excerpts but if you can spare a 5 minute read I highly recommend swinging by Derek's Blog for this particular post.

‘Ship life’ is the term used by all the thousands of cruise ship crew members worldwide to describe the unique lifestyle that defines the entire essence of our existence. Whether working on board a 150,000 ton, 3000 passenger ocean liner or a 500 passenger ultra-luxury ship, ‘ship life’ involves the rules, both written and unwritten, the interactions of several hundred crew members representing over fifty nationalities, the late nights in the crew bar and the fish head soup (popular among the large Filipino segment of the workforce), the fake smiles and ‘good afternoon madams’, the cabin inspections, the obnoxious guests, the security screenings, the consistently failing relationships. Nepalese security guards, Ukrainian dancers, Filipino deck hands, South African hair stylists, Moldovan bartenders – everyone survives in an unfathomable underworld that rules every second of how we live and work.

Crew members always joke to each other that the best times off the ship are simply when the ship itself is not in sight. A day spent on a beach with the ship still in view is pointless and better spent on ‘metal beach’, the crew sunbathing area on the topmost deck of the vessel. For those that can get far enough away in order to truly release the day’s frustrations, they undoubtedly enjoy an extremely valuable period of time. But once you re-enter the port gates at the end of your day, and you wipe the sand from between your toes, that first glimpse of the ship forces a dreaded yet necessary alteration in mindset. Back to the routine, back to the ‘ship life.’

Now, when I try to fall asleep each night, the strong winds cause the willow trees outside my window to sway, leaving my room itself completely unaffected by its gusts. Although I no longer wish to float upon the seven seas, I still close my eyes in the hopes of fading into some sort of familiar dream, perhaps one in which the white sands stretch forever, the money flows and the world is my home.

Photo by Sean O. on Unsplash