Make it or Break it (Dec 2)

Make it or Break it

I’ve been training on the Hughes 500c ever since we left port in Suva, Fiji on the 15th, while now here we are 17 days later, and I’ve logged a few hours between the missions and I can say that without a doubt – this is not the way to do it. There is something to be said about real world environment and training experience, but the amount of effort it takes to get the boat captain to approve a training flight has made it almost impossible to get much real flight time in.

I do the starts and compressor washes, and I’ve done a couple dozen landings and takeoffs on the deck of the moving ship, learning to time my approach and set down with the stability of the ship. We even worked on some hovering using the helideck as a reference. All that is left is learning about placing a buoy and navigating back to the boat and my course of work will be done, just in time for Jose to head home and for me to take over here as the pilot.

If I had it to do all over again I would have told Tropic HQ “no” when they asked me if it was alright to send me to Suva instead of the main base in Honiara. In Honiara I would have been properly in-processed and trained at a ground facility and then put onto a boat from there. One nice thing about this approach is that the crew got to see an overlap between outgoing pilot and incoming pilot and we all were able to get to know each other a bit through Jose who has been here a year. He’s also been able to explain certain protocols and procedures on a Korean ship that I would have had to have learned the hard way on my own.

So today we are making a big set around a “payow” and I’m thinking we will fill up and head to Tarawa to empty the holds. Of course all of us are secretly hoping that the Captain sets course to Pohnpei instead since there isn’t anything in Tarawa and we need supplies from the Tropic hangar in Pohnpei. Besides, they need an engine overhaul in Pohnpei too so it would make sense for us to go there since we all need something from the port. Alas, we’re only a day and a half away from Tarawa so I am not going to count on it. Though, the golf course in Pohnpei is far nicer, and the Captain does like golf…

Either way things go today we are planning to fly, a few more set downs with Cabrera in the right seat, and then a half dozen or so with me solo. Then if we do anymore flights looking for schools (doubtful considering our current net full of tuna) I’ll do a few more landings after they get back. But it has come down to the make it or break it point, in less than a week I feel that I will be the only Pilot around and I’m going to suddenly have a ton more flying to do. The experience will come quickly, the landings will smooth out with each one I do, and ultimately, in a year I’ll be salty and tan and an expert platform landing pilot.

I am a bit eager, perhaps apprehensive of the next voyage. With Jose leaving the only other semi-decent English speaker on the boat will be gone and I’ll be left to my own with people that speak Korean and Indonesian and Tagalog, etc. I think in order to do this job one must strike a healthy balance between extroversion and introversion because truly this sort of role demands both. An extrovert is required in order to take the risk, and jump into the unknown and live abroad for a year, whereas an introvert becomes a requirement when you are the ship and you are left to your own devices while the crew does there thing. You must be comfortable with your own thoughts, and reading, and watching movies, and not really conversing much beyond general platitudes and small talk in fake accents. If my understanding of the two terms is accurate than I feel I’ve appropriately analyzed the situation, and am grateful for the balance that has me out on the fish deck slicing sashimi from a freshly caught yellow fin tuna with the rest of the crew, toasting in salt water and fish, and then at other times writing here, or reading one of the book I’ve brought with me.

We changed time zones the other day, which I didn’t realize until the next morning when my alarm went off at its programmed 4:30 am time and I got up, went through the motions of brushing my teeth and hair and applying deodorant and then shuffled down to the galley for breakfast. Which to my surprise was not prepared yet. The cook in fact had just started making it. I glanced up at the clock on the wall in the kitchen and sure enough, it had been pushed back by one hour – I had inadvertently woke up at 3:30 that morning. You know what they say – early to bed, early to rise. The inverse is true as well – early to rise, early to bed – I took a pretty sizeable nap that afternoon.

Actually had a mission today! Sort of, I was training this afternoon on landings with Jose when the radio officer called up on the FM.

“Helicopter Pilot, Helicopter Pilot, you go find fishy fishy, zero four zero, ten miles.”

Umm, excuse me, this is a training flight. So we took off and headed on a course of 040 (more or less) until we found the school of tuna, splashing around in the sun, warming up and eating their bait fish. It was a small school and that is what we radioed back to the Caribe who was waiting to hear our report, and needed only 100 more tons of tuna to be full. They told us to come back to the boat for landing, and as we turned around the school a few more times, that is when the yellow fin showed up, in a massive school of maybe 80 to 100 tons (according to Cabrera) and we called the boat with an update.

Well, that was about 40 minutes ago and now we are stalking our prey, the school dives down and surfaces fairly quickly, the Captain has been maneuvering around them patiently waiting to drop the skiff and nets. I’m really hoping that he catches 100 tons of tuna off of this spotting, because that will make him a very happy man, and when the Captain is happy because of the helicopter pilot – the helicopter pilot is happy.

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