A new start at sea
HND Marine Engineering alumnus and Maritime and Coastguard Agency Cadet of the Year 2021 Gabriel Verne tells us about his experience at Warsash Maritime School, and how life at sea is treating him.
I was always interested in how things work and how they are made. I took pleasure in taking all sorts of things apart from the youngest age - to my parents’ discontent. And when I moved to Bournemouth when I was 12, I instantly fell in love with the sea. But those things didn't really combine into an idea for a career until later on.
I didn't really know what I wanted to study at the age of 18. I realised that I would probably work in the same field for many years to come, and I just wasn't ready for a commitment, among other personal issues. Since we spend most of our active lives at work I wanted to pursue something that would make me feel accomplished. I worked a few different jobs, mainly in office environments, and felt strongly that they weren’t my place.
I thought that I should go to university, but the mechanical engineering course I was accepted for would end up being 5 years long (foundation degree + 1 year abroad). I backed out last minute. Soon after that I heard about the opportunity of a cadetship, which I couldn't believe, so I went to an open day.
Leaving paid full time work after 6 years to return to studying was no easy feat. I must admit that finances and the fear of failing exams were strong, but they also propelled me to succeed.
There was a few different reasons why Warsash was a great choice for me - I'd heard great things about Warsash from a few of my friends in the maritime industry even before I came a cadet and its reputation was certainly appealing. Having grown up in nearby Bournemouth it also meant not being too far from my friends.
Studying as a cadet
Southampton’s a great town for students in general, you feel like you're in the heart of everything - plenty of takeaways to choose from for the revision sessions, or shops to choose from if you prefer cooking yourself, transport links and you've got one of the biggest UK ports right on your doorstep! Getting a part time job is also relatively easy in such a busy place.
Studywise, the tutors were great – their professional experience, their approachability, their connections. Most importantly however, the fact that they genuinely cared. I wasn't just a number on a sheet - in their eyes I was a future officer and they had to ensure I was up to the required standard. Nothing worth having comes easy, however, and there was a fair amount of studying to do!
The theory taught at Warsash combined with the sea time, hands-on experience is a very good mix. The facilities are great, the workshop is well furnished and the teaching aids at the campus really help with the understanding of the subject taught. I did wish – along with many others – that we had a bit more time in the simulator suite at the main campus, but can’t have everything I guess.
All at sea
Still, no matter how much you learn and research about ships, there is nothing that will actually make you feel like you're onboard. My sea time was an extraordinary experience! I was lucky to have shared it with another British cadet which was great.
I was sponsored by Maersk for most of my cadetship and both vessels I sailed on were containerships, both having the RTA-96C two stroke crosshead type diesel engine - really impressive in size! I learned lots, the first sea phase was mainly all about safety however I was able to prove myself in a few different jobs onboard and got covered in oil quite a few times.
I also travelled outside of Europe for the first time - went through the Suez Canal, had shore leave in New York, Miami, the Bahama Islands, Vietnam, China and Singapore - it was like a dream! At the end, I was looking forward to seeing all my friends again, but managed to ask the Captain to delay my flights by a week so I could stay in Singapore and do a little sight-seeing!
Now I’m done, and I've made some fantastic friends along the way. And as it goes in the maritime industry you may bump into people you know in different sectors in the future, as some may decide to be shore-based. I'm actually onboard with another ex-Warsash cadet whom I remember from my phase one! And on my previous vessel, the chief engineer was an ex-Warsash cadet.
The Warsash network is great, everyone is always happy to talk about people they've come across and within the superyacht industry it's easy to bump into a familiar face in different ports! There is a strong sense of really devoted people and a close knit community of sailors or ex-sailors who understand the everyday struggles of being at sea.
But the main takeaway for me, of course, was the Engineering Officer of the Watch ticket which enabled me to start off an amazing career. I have a Certificate of Competency which allows me to work as an engineering officer on ships without any tonnage restrictions – and I was also able to achieve all exemptions which will make my 2nd and chief engineer tickets a lot easier to obtain.
The story so far
After qualifying I was very keen to start work ASAP, and got in touch with multiple agencies to get my foot in the door. So far I have worked on two privately owned superyachts as a 3rd engineer, and as I'm writing this we are currently sailing in the Mediterranean Sea.
My role is watchkeeping – ensuring we are safe, have enough water, electricity and available propulsion when we need it. I’m currently doing 12 hour watches, ensuring the stability of the vessel, sufficient load available for the electricity, operating the water makers, ensuring discharge of sewage and making fine adjustments on cooling and ventilation systems. I'm also in charge of preparing the vessel for departures and arrivals as well as watchkeeping during sea passage.
Among all that, winning the Maritime and Coastguard Agency Officer Trainee of the Year 2021 Award caught me by surprise. I believe Warsash put my name forward as I also won Cadet of the Year at Solent Uni, but to win? Completely unexpected and made me feel like I was on the top of the world. I think it definitely helps with being noticed among other applicants during the recruitment phase, and on the personal side of things it certainly boosted my confidence!
So… that’s it, really. But if you’re thinking about a career in the maritime industry, definitely go to an open day! Speak to existing cadets, companies, research online, go on YouTube to find out more about the industry! Maritime gave me a new start in life, something that I can grow within and can definitely see my future in it.
To find out more about our maritime cadetships, visit https://maritime.solent.ac.uk/careers/officer-cadet-training