The Normandie is currently undergoing refit in the Gdansk ship yard, Poland, as she will be there for approximately five weeks, I was asked to go out to the shipyard for a few days to find out what is going on.
During January and the beginning of February this year Normandie was in the Gdansk shipyard in Poland undergoing refit. She was there for approximately five weeks and I was lucky enough to be asked to go out to the shipyard for a few days to find out what was going on.
The day I travelled up to Stansted the south of England had snow - good preparation for the weather in Gdansk - enough for the train timetable to be changed leading to a quick change to travel plans. Otherwise the train journey was fine and very picturesque with all the snow, although I'll gloss over the state of the on board toilet. Once I arrived at Waterloo I had to contend with the tube with a suitcase which is not at all easy when you consider the amount of stairs and escalators there are, and one tip for you when on a tube train, keep a tight hold of your bag especially if it has wheels as you'd be surprised just how far it can travel down a carriage!
As the plane touched down in Gdansk and the doors opened I got my first taste of Polish winter as an icy blast swept through the cabin. I was collected from the airport and after dropping my bag at the hotel we set off to see the Normandie. As we drove through the shipyard gates I saw many ships either in refit or being built and as we turned a corner I was surprised to see the black pipes of the Normandie's funnel poking out of some scaffolding high above me, I'd expected the ship to be in a large hole in the ground similar to the dry docks I'd seen many times in the Naval dockyard in Portsmouth. Instead she was sitting high and dry in a vast floating dock.Normandie Garage Deck
After climbing the scaffolding stairs from the dock up to the garage on deck 3 my first thought as I walked around the ship was "Oh my goodness", or words to that effect. The outside and inside of the ship were covered with spare parts, new parts, old parts, drums of this, pots of that and skips full of rubbish. There was also a bewildering amount of electric cabling and hoses snaking across the decks that then went through doors or hatches which then disappeared up staircases or down into the darkness of a tank or void space. If you can imagine a situation at home where you call in the decorators, the plumber, the electrician, the roofer, the gardener and the builders all at the same time then you'll get the idea.
The Chief Engineer explained the logistics of the floating dry dock. When the ship arrived at the shipyard the dock was submerged to allow the Normandie to sail across the top of it; once in position the floating dock gently raised itself to just before the point where Normandie's hull touched the pre-positioned supports on the floating dock's deck. Once everything had been checked and everyone was happy, then the floating dock lifted Normandie out of the water, with constant checks being made to ensure everything stayed in place. This process took two hours then a further four hours was needed to make the ship safe and ready to work on.
As you can see from the photos Normandie has a flat bottom (please don't tell her I said that) which explains why the only supports needed are beneath the hull, with none to the sides.
Every day at 10 o'clock a meeting was held onboard between the ship's senior officers, and supervisors and foremen from the shipyard as well as various sub-contractors, during which jobs that have been completed are checked and will be inspected later to ensure they are up to standard, a progress report is given and jobs due to start are discussed. These meetings are conducted in English.
You'd be surprised how time-critical every job is, however small. If one job isn't completed on time it can have a knock-on effect on another job which can be a bit of a pain if you have sub contractors arriving to do a quick job over a couple of days.
As we Brits know the weather is a favourite topic of conversation and so was the case at the morning meetings, especially with regard to the exterior paint jobs, so everyone always had a close eye on the all-important Gdansk weather forecast.
The shipyard workers work around the clock; during the day when it is busiest there are around 120 of them. The ship's crew totals 50 and their working day starts at 7am and finishes at 6pm so put them together with the sub contractors and you have nearly 200 people on board, all working on their own jobs inside or out but as a team working together to make sure Normandie is ready to sail from Poland on time.
Of course some of these are fairly critical like replacing plates on the hull and welding in structural areas to name a few, for these jobs concerning Normandie's safety there is an inspector from the company who issues the ship's safety certificate, who comes on board everyday to inspect every critical job being carried out to ensure it is to standard.
The shipyard workers are provided with plans of the ship to help them find whatever pipes or nut and bolt they are looking for this cuts down on their reliance on the crew and so saves time for everyone, (to be honest I could have done with a plan myself!) On more than one occasion I climbed a set of stairs looked left and right to see the large doors in the corridors closed and everything covered in plastic and no idea which way to turn.
All this and working in conditions where although temperatures in the accommodation areas were respectable, on the garage decks it was between +3'C & +7'C and outside the highest temperature I recorded was -4'C and the lowest -10'C one of the shipyard workers told me that night it had dropped to -17'C! So fairly chilly! Luckily it wasn't the damp cold we have in the UK with very little wind, so yes, it was cold when you first stepped outside but you didn't shiver and curse as you normally do, no if you stood around for too long this cold sort of creeps inside your coat, overalls, thermal layers , gloves and hat so that after just 15 minutes even your bones are freezing. On the plus side all my electronics (no I'm not a robot) still worked in sub zero temperatures, which I have to say I was a bit worried about as a blog without photos would have been disappointing.Food delivery
Of course some of these are fairly critical like replacing steel plates on the hull, and welding in structural areas. All these jobs were monitored closely by an inspector from the company which issues the ship's safety certificate to ensure that work was up to the required standard.
The shipyard workers are provided with plans of the ship to help them find whatever pipes or nut and bolt they are looking for, cutting down on their reliance on the crew and so saving valuable time. To be honest I could have done with a plan myself - on more than one occasion I climbed a set of stairs and looked left and right to see the large doors in the corridors closed and everything covered in plastic, leaving me with no idea which way to turn.
And then of course there's the cold to contend with. Although the temperatures in the accommodation areas were comfortable, on the garage decks it was between +3C - 7C and outside the highest temperature I recorded was -4C and the lowest was -10C. One shipyard worker told me that at one point it had dropped to -17'C! So fairly chilly! Luckily it wasn't the damp cold we have in the UK, and there was very little wind, so yes, it was cold when you first stepped outside but you didn't shiver and curse as you normally do, though if you stood around for too long this cold sort of creeps inside your coat, overalls, thermal layers , gloves and hat so that after just 15 minutes even your bones are freezing. On the plus side all my electronics still functioned in sub-zero temperatures, which I have to say I had been a concern - what's a blog without photos?
You'll recall that the easiest access onto the ship was via a scaffolding tower with a staircase up to the stern, access to the bow door was also via scaffolding but using ladders - not for the faint-hearted! So when the Purser told me that two pallets were being delivered for the galley, one of water and another of fresh vegetables, salad, cheese (of course) and yoghurts, I had visions of everyone climbing up and down the stairs with boxes of lettuce but thankfully, one of the yard cranes was used to lift up the pallets onto deck 8 right outside the doors to the main restaurant leaving us to form a chain and pass boxes and crates along through to the galley. The ship had brought enough dry & frozen food with them so they didn't have to order any more while they were away.
Everyone was working really hard in dusty, cold and sometimes cramped conditions, at the end of the day everyone was pretty exhausted, looking forward to a good meal and some well earned sleep including me, despite the fact I only followed crew around taking photos and asking questions, I don't normally climb that many stairs or ladders during a days work, still it helped to get rid of the Christmas excesses.
Thanks for reading so far, and if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below. In the next article we'll take a closer look at some of the work that was going on during the refit.