What is your position onboard?
I am currently a second cook onboard the arctic-going vessel Nordika Desgagnés.
How long have you been working at sea?
My original goal was to be a seafarer for ten years. I have since changed my mind, but I’ve been working at sea for five years. In those five years I have acquired a total of one year logged sea time.
What type of vessels have you worked on?
I have worked on one tanker, one bulk cargo carrier and one general cargo ship. They have all been large commercial vessels.
What does a normal day for you look like?
My job is not a regular 9-5 job. I work a series of small shifts, broken into several sections required for what we need throughout the day. I usually work for a total of 9 to 10 hours.
My day starts when I wake up at five. I start to prepare for breakfast – eggs, bacon, sausage, fruits, sandwiches, muffins and usually one specialty meal like pancakes or French toast. When the rest of the crew is taking part in cargo operations breakfast and hearty meals are especially important. They are also working early and long hours, so it’s important that they are well fed. After breakfast I take a break and later return before lunch. The Chief Cook prepares the lunch, but I help with the service, I make salads, wipe tables and do the dishes.
I also make the desserts. Usually after supper, around five to six, I bake the dessert that I have prepared earlier. I do this a day in advance, after the Chief Cook is finished using the oven. If I don’t prepare the dessert the day before, I simply wouldn’t have time the next day. I will do the dishes and clean up after supper then sign-off until the next day. The following day I will do my artistic work, adding the final touches and getting the dessert ready to serve.
I have become quite efficient at my job. My day runs smoothly, but it is all about preparation. The galley on a ship is very different from a commercial kitchen on land. We have one oven, and very limited space. The Chief Cook and I must be synchronized. We have to develop a routine so we can share the galley equally. It is a skill and rhythm that you develop over time.
What school did you attend?
I was enrolled in a Bridge Watch Rating program in Quebec. Originally, I had planned to become an able-bodied seaman. At the last minute there were not enough students enrolled in the program, so it was cancelled. Instead, I decided to get all my marine basic training on my own. It’s not cheap, with living expenses it put me in debt for a total of 8500 dollars, but at the end I had my ticket, and I was ready to go to work.
That’s when I joined the Seafarers International Union. The SIU is an excellent organization if you are looking to enter the marine industry. In my opinion it is the easiest way to go. I sent all my information and documents to the SIU. You have to wait in person and hope for a position to open up so you can get a job. I went to the SIU every day. I was waiting for them to announce a job opening for an Ordinary Seaman. I wanted to get my six months working as an Ordinary Seaman so I could then go on to become an Able-Bodied Seaman.
After you spend some time in the SIU you will gain seniority. After one year you can skip the queue and you get the first pick of the jobs. I remember after I showed up for one month straight a woman announced a few positions opening up over the speaker. There was a job position opening for a second cook, but I was still hoping to get an Ordinary Seaman position. The Vice President of the SIU happened to be there that day. He noticed I had been there every day for a month, so he jokingly told me he was tired of seeing me. He then asked me if I had any experience working in a kitchen.
In the past I have worked at a pizza restaurant, I had basic cooking and food handling skills. I told him that and he told me that it would be enough. My first language is French, so the woman asked me if I spoke English. The ship was going to be an English-speaking ship. Thankfully I did, I was excited. At some point while I was waiting, I realized that I was in debt, I desperately needed money and this was a well-paying job, so I decided to take that job. Days later, my bags were packed, and I was embarking on the ship.
Later, the SIU offered to send me to a fully paid Chief Cook training course. I politely refused. I would rather be a good second cook than a rushed Chief Cook.
How much are you paid?
In roughly four to five weeks, I can make 10 000, before tax. The thing is you don’t need money on the ship, so it builds up fast.
Where do you see your future?
I eventually want to put working on ships behind me and become a welder. I would like a more physical job. I also want to change career paths because working away for long periods of time no longer fits my lifestyle. Being away for four months can be rough. When I had a job that was 35 days on and 35 days off it was a good balance. Now I don’t want to lose my girlfriend at home. It’s a sacrifice but she’s so worth it.
Do you have any advice for those who are thinking about pursuing a maritime career?
Don’t be shy to try. A maritime career is a good way to start your life. Working as a second cook can be a great opportunity for entering into the marine industry. You can get a taste for life at sea, and it doesn’t require as much prior experience. I really think working at sea gives you experience that you cannot get anywhere else, in any other industry. When I move on from here, I will be a different person. My phone is full of pictures, and I’ve been able to experience some things that people dream of.
Also, if you join a ship and you don’t like the atmosphere, don’t give up, be persistent. There are so many different vessels out there, all of them doing different voyages, to different places with varying lengths at sea. You will find that every ship is just a little bit unique and you can find one to work on that best suits you.
What is your favorite story / memory from being at sea?
Last year we found ourselves in the middle of a storm. It was October, late in the arctic season when seas started to get rough. We were returning home to Quebec. I woke up in the morning, like I usually do, but everything was shattered and rolling around. I was jumping around the ship and my hair was seriously touching the roof. The whole day I was laughing and having fun. It felt like a rollercoaster.