Articles and Opinions by Ieuan Dolby

Ieuan has penned an enormous number of articles and essays, some for technical journals, ezines and magazines, some for the companies that he has worked for and many more because he loves to write.

Now, some of these articles are available on this website, but hundreds more require slight edit and potential change. These will be updated here as and when time permits.

 

Article and Essay Image

 

 

 

I was at sea for over twenty years! I refer not to some excruciating indecision but my career as a ship’s engineer, sailing hither and tither as the trips prescribed. From leaving maritime college at nineteen and until I finally stopped sailing twenty or so years later, I was for the most part absent from British shores and, let us have it, absent from daily doses of headline news. Even when on leave, those shorter periods between trips away, news meant nothing to me and was largely ignored. Newspapers existed for the crossword, or to pass the time between girlfriend chasing, or indeed for ideas as to where I could go on holiday (erm,.. to meet a girl).

I left the sea about ten years ago – as marriage demanded - to continue my career in the offices of some shipping company. As a reluctant landlubber, my habitual shunning of the news continued; a freebie newspaper on the bus being about as far as I ever got to reading a daily rag and by the time I had disembarked (the bus not a ship) the skipped contents had already swirled away from the never-plugged news drain in my brain.

 First Published at British Seafarers on 16th June 2016

As I write there is less than a week to go before the EU referendum on the 23rd June 2016: a decidedly choppy build-up that has captivated the world for weeks (some of it anyway) and which has produced some jaw-dropping statistics that defy proportions in their ability to ‘scare and sway’ voters. However, I am more interested in how a decision to leave the EU will affect seafarers and their jobs, rather than learning that such a departure will cause sewage to reappear on our beaches (some dubious claim from an equally dubious politician) or a ‘bomb’ to be placed under the economy (wasn’t that a supposed outcome of Y2K also?).

I therefore set out to find some relevant information but came back with a nearly blank sheet. It would appear that the mainstream news does not regard seafaring as an issue worth covering (apart that is from the fishing industry) and I have come to the conclusion that as far as the EU referendum goes most seafarers will ‘be at sea’ on the issue. Therefore, whilst the remainder of this article is without full research or quantifying opposing opinion, it will hopefully provide some links for further reading on the subject.

 

My ‘Google’ trawl of the internet immediately revealed that the 80,000-member Transport Union, RMT, have laid out six clear points advising why Britain should leave the EU. Point 2 (the only vaguely seafaring point) states that: “The EU has promoted undercutting and social dumping leading to the decimation of UK seafarers. The same is now happening in the offshore sector. EU directives also require the tendering of our public ferry services.” The RMT position opposes that of the larger (non-marine) trade unions which have mostly joined together, with the Labour Party, to back Remain.

First Published at 'British Seafarers' in two parts: 

PART ONE - published on the 18th April 2016

PART TWO - published on the 25th April 2016

 

The last decade’s worth of shipping headlines have been dominated by the advent of mega ships, ever increasing sizes that break new records faster than the last can be comprehended. In 2009 the largest container ships had an average capacity of 13,000 TEU, whilst the 2015 delivered MSC Oscar has a capacity of 19,224 TEU. The first of a series of 35 very large ore carriers, Vale Brasil (now Ore Brasil), delivered in 2011 has a deadweight of 402,347 metric tonnes and a length of 362 meters. Harmony of the Seas of Royal Caribbean is due for delivery in 2016, able to carry 6296 passengers. In contrast the 2003 built Mariner of the Seas has capacity for 3408 passengers: less than half.

However, the trend to build exponentially bigger may have an end in sight. The sheer scale of such enormous assets verges on the uninsurable and the carried worth of the cargo on a single ship reaching the hundreds of millions of dollars. A single incident is simply too great a cost to entertain.

More recently those mega ship headlines are being displaced by prospective rumours of soon-to-be ‘unmanned vessels’; autonomous units to be operated by a crew of suit-wearing, joy-stick operating, square eyed ‘seafarers’ on navigation (and machinery) watch from some slick office in central London (possibly one with a fantastic view – the same view every day or night).

Undoubtedly, in one form or another, a selection of unmanned ships will one day become reality. They would (most likely) initially be designed to sail between dedicated anchorages, coast to coast, potentially with a similar load/discharge format to the 1960’s Lash Vessel’s, or prospectively be traditional ships (minus the accommodation) sailing between two dedicated hubs and able to be brought alongside by manned tugs. The best situation for an unmanned vessel would be repetitive work (trips), whereby performance-enhancing data can be obtained from each voyage to improve upon the last.

As Britain inextricably dodges its way towards the (fateful) EU referendum on the 23rd June 2016 the heat rises faster than the poured bucket loads of non-researched opinions can cool things down.

More so than the recent Scottish referendum the outcome of this vote will define Britain’s future and place for the next decades and for our children’s children. Yet the leaders of both the ‘Leave’ and the ‘Remain’ Camps act rashly in their attempts to convince voters, with the usual resort to political manoeuvre and threat for immediate self-gain. No visible or sustained emphasis has been placed on physical livelihoods, on the community or sense of belonging. No thought has been given to correcting a country that has bred ill-will and individual isolationism, and no coverage has been given to sovereignty and the desire to control one’s own destiny; passed over for the current unilateral laws that detract from and often destroy old-age customs and ways of life.

The Remain Camp has continually used the threat of economic sufferance, and what they suggest will be a waterfall like drop in our nations standing on the world stage. They harass the public with these fear-stirred drivers in order to gain the necessary support for Britain to stay within the cuckold nanny state of the EU. They have produced a barrage of statistics (one of which suggested a defined loss of £4,800 pounds per person by the year 2030) interrupted by long bursts of Gatling gun type threats, for example, of the country falling to the ‘back of the queue’ on future trade deals (made by a Remain Camp supporter and foreigner, Barack Obama).  In most instances the main tool being wielded is ‘threat’, the result is a painting that portrays economically dark outcome with individuals growing poorer by day, volubly shunned and despised by neighbours and by those who the nation once had a ‘special relationship’ with.

Meanwhile, the Leave Camp has taken to the trenches and dug themselves in. They have not yet resorted to producing an opposing barrage of economic statistics – this could well be at the printers – and they are sporadically and without a manager to guide them, batting away the bullets with a tennis racket; mostly ineffectively, mostly without forward plan.

This article was first published at British Seafarers

 

Towards the end of a particularly lengthy and arduous dry docking the exhausted chief engineer of the vessel and the overly-large superintendent repaired to the nearest bar for some much needed fluids. After more than a couple of pints, during which the conversation meandered its way through engines, engines and more engines, the superintendent burbled, “We would have preferred it if the engine had completely failed in order to claim the repair costs back on insurance than to actually fix the ‘d*** thing in the first place.”

The Chief Engineer, who had spent over twenty years at sea was rather shocked by this statement, not for its abrupt (burbled) blatancy but because he had spent those last twenty years believing that preventative maintenance was the ‘be all and end all’ to his daily work. He also felt that the superintendent was rebuking him for fixing the engine before it actually broke down. However, the chief engineer decided that any response to such a statement would fall on deaf ears and so he diverted the conversation to women, drink and the crew (safe topics to ramble through – the superintendent was after-all buying the beers).

Struggling authors invariably attempt to produce what they perceive as the books in demand, to write novels that are demanded by the main stream publishers. Today, this invariably includes harsh language, shocking scenes, graphically detailed scenes of rape and death and a penchant for psychotic murderers and stressed out morticians who go through hell in order to fill the pages. From the publishers point of view such books sell (sadly), usually well, and are the income generators for those authors that manage to move beyond the penny sales at the self-publishing arcade.

It is also the case, if an established author steps outside of his or her comfort zone that the reception of such books reduces in-concert. This is often a similar path for actors: for example Mr. Rowan Atkinson's desire and attempts to establish himself as a serious actor. However, viewers don't want a serious Mr Bean or a Sensible Johnny English, they want the funny man and indeed many will demand it by shunning anything remotely serious that Mr Atkinson involves himself in, not giving him the freedom or opportunity to show and develop his worth on other platforms. J.K. Rowling is another example, an author who stepped outside of her Harry Potter success zone. Her publication of 'Casual Vacancy' in 2011 was targeted towards adults, and whilst heralded as a success, with over 1,0000,000 copies sold, it was never followed-up: the wonder being if she actually enjoyed writing the book and if it's sales were the result of her prior fame rather than having written a worthwhile book in its own right.

Readers, viewers and publishers are therefore the directors, leading authors and actors onto a required and set path, with limited option for them to then take another. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule but they are far and few between. It is therefore essential, for any struggling and unknown author or actor to cast the initial net wide, to write and act in as many varied roles as possible, knowing all along that when (not if) the hook sinks in the bandwidth narrows and the die is cast.

Enjoy the freedom of variation now, not later when fame strikes.

I joined my first ship, at the overwhelmingly ignorant age of 18 and I soon had a few drinks under my belt as the crew celebrated a quiet moment in port. Later that first evening I casually slobbered in the direction of a gentleman with four gold stripes on his shoulders, one who had at that precise moment entered the ship’s bar.

I burbled out, "So, who the are you then?"

The beer instantly froze over, the silence was deafening and the clock started to tick louder than it had ever before: nobody dared to move. It quickly turned out that this fine gentleman, with enough gold-braid to sink the ship, was in fact the captain. Or more specifically, I had just met God. From that day forth and until roughly six years later, I could never look another captain in the eye.

I met this Brit abroad the other day who quite happily - without any provocation to do so - harangued me on the apparent decay and loss of the British culture! For a whole hour, as I cowered alone in the corner, hoping that I would not get drowned in his spittle, I listened to him. At frequent intervals I made sounds of what I hoped was agreement, laced with unsubtle hints of ‘yawn’ but there was no stopping his tirade.

I myself lived for many years abroad and I admit that I often forgot to follow the events of life back home (obviously I was not as strongly connected as he was). Back then, Britain was a distant and forgotten memory: perhaps subconsciously I had noted that the Dutch considered Britain the best comedy show in town, that the French gave giggling parties in our honour and that Russia considered us an inconsequential nation! But, until this stranger accosted me, I had never considered that the British culture had become indefinable or lost.

The poor soul who accosted me, him with a tree trunk sized chip on his shoulder, sprouted out, "Religious studies at Britain’s schools no longer resemble an explanation of world cultures, they have become a propaganda outlet for alternative religions and foreign cultures. Children are being forced to take-on a culture that is anything but British."

With desire to fill a notable void in commercial maritime fiction and drawing upon life's experiences, both in Scotland and Asia, Ieuan has authored a variety of books that blur the all-restrictive genre boundaries.

At a young age Ieuan rapidly noticed, despite the inherent romance, travel and cultural shocks that a 'life at sea' invoked and the immense impact that such an industry has on all of our daily lives, how most authors remain on the beaches, unwilling to get their feet wet. Indeed, his decades of voracious reading adequately confirmed that not since the likes of Hammond Innes has any author made accurate effort to take the real merchant navy into the sitting room. In fact, the last great author to do so was Tom Clancy but whilst his writing achieved critical acclaim and his adventures were indeed thrilling, Ieuan points out that his ship and shipboard descriptions were often factually incorrect or at the very least glossed-over for a landlubber audience.

Many years ago and after having sailed around the world at least twice, Ieuan visited his local hairdressers for a quick trim. As per usual routine a conversational tidbit was thrown out by the hairdresser:

The hairdresser said, "So, what do you do?"

Ieuan replied, "I'm an engineer in the merchant navy."

A long pause followed during which the suddenly deafening 'snip' of the scissors broke the obviously strained silence. Then, with hesitant reluctance, the hairdresser rekindled the subject, where perhaps she should have chosen a new one.

 She said, "Oh ... so what do you do when ... erm ... you're not fighting?"

Ieuan, completely stuck for words and of course without a whole day to break such a loaded question apart, replied, "Err ... we play cards."

And so the silence descended once again; a black-cloud status-quo that neither participant was willing to break.

This apparent and open ignorance laid the foundation for the writings that soon followed and what will undoubtedly be a large part of Ieuan's future output.

Ieuan's wife now cuts his hair.

 


 

 fall of the suns cover

Title: Fall of the Sun

Status: Published 21st October 2014

ASIN: B00OS42BV0

ISBN 10: 150330678X

ISBN 13: 978-1503306783

Word Count: about 88,000

Genre: Maritime Fiction/Crime/Humuor

Places to buy: Print/Ebook at Amazon (UK)(USA)(JP)(CA)

Brief Blurb: Mad crime gone wrong with a cast of buffoons and an extremely tall preacher, a pretty captain and Ray, the MI6 agent.

 


 

Title: The Pickled Memory of Captain Silas E. Parks

Status: Published 15th September 2015

ASIN: B012DMF7MS

ISBN 10: 1515202275

ISBN 13: 978-1515202271

Word Count: about 88,000

Genre: Humour/Maritime Fiction

Places to buy: Amazon (UK)(USA)(JP)(CA)

Brief Blurb: Twenty sea-hopping misadventures of the retired and pickled captain as he props up the bar at his local.

 


Title: The Diary of Ben Small, First Tripper

Status: Under the pen

Word Count: 80,000 about

Genre: Diary/Realistic Fiction

Places to buy: TBA

Brief Blurb: Naive, scared and alone: the diary of a first trip cadet thrown into the clutches of a gruff captain and a mad crew.

 


 


 

Like many, I have recently been pondering over paper books and their place on the shelves of our lives. From a reader's, publisher's and writer's viewpoint I ask myself, ‘do good old fashioned print books retain a place on our shelves or are they all being dropped faster than we ditched the typewriter’? I sometimes feel that the sudden mass availability of apparently worthless books is simply the result of a downsizing trend rather than a complete back turn, whereby books will become a much loved item once again. A mere bump in the road of reading pleasure perhaps?

Paper Books: a fine feel, page turning sensations from a curled up position on the sofa. A sense of wonder instilling itself, the enormity of the written word shouting out volumes of life, carefully crafted prose silently and majestically imposing its cultural will onto eager readers. They take up space though. Wow, do they do just that. When moving house the grumbles and groans are heard as the book boxes are lifted and half the space in the van is reserved for those weighty words. A library of print books is a physical restriction, the size and scope a consideration when buying a house – book shelves are not cheap and realistically only so many books can be bought. And new ones were never very cheap in the first place.

Last week, whilst pushing some pens around the desk in cheap imitation of the English Channel, I dreamt of creating a maritime retreat for writers. This idea should not be confused with a retreat for maritime writers, the emphasis not being on a genre that an author self-classifies themselves as, but on the inspirational setting and knowledge that a maritime retreat would provide to authors of any genre.

Many writing retreats exist: advertised workshops extend from budget bus trips to month long stays in idyllic surrounds. On these retreats, many famous authors bedazzle with words of wisdom and hopeful writers peddle their half-started wares to their peers. Undoubtedly such retreats work to a certain extent.

However, the books that readers demand today are no longer those brimming with delayed suspense built up from the delaying tactics of embellished sentences.  It is also doubtful that the modern book must have a beginning, a middle and an end: the beginning a mere hurdle to the middle and a nuisance to an easy read. Readers no longer dwell on a topic and writers need to provide a galloping journey, twisting plots and clever craft, not work that is steeped in the age-old tradition of a ‘penny a word’. Readers want to read faster and authors need to appreciate this.

Thought provoking words will not automatically jump into life after listening to an excerpt from some published author’s latest book.  The words will not flow whilst studying the bending tactics of a tulip in the breeze and a cup of chamomile tea will not bring peace for thought; only sleep. The idea of sitting in calm surround with an amazing view, sipping ice-lemon tea with a bunch of like-minded hopefuls is all very well and good but the chance of inspiration striking is less than being bitten by a grass snake.

The new order of the day should be thought provoking time-out, un-forgetful occasions and liberal sprinklings of garnish and spice that will stimulate the brain cells, all stirred around in a whirlwind of newness and the unexpected. Therein, a maritime retreat for writers. Set beside an idyllic Scottish loch or an English lake, close to the calm waters and in a …. Step outside to an inspiring view, winter or summer and into scenic gardens – yep, yawn, could be any old writers retreat. Sod the beginning let us get straight to the middle ….

Take a large step, right to the edge, let the water lap towards you and take a deep breath-taking view of the old cargo ship that sits bobbing on the water. Indeed, step onboard, meet the captain and prepare to earn your keep as you sail out of the lock and to sea, rain or shine, and thrill in a vessel filled to overflowing with enough maritime paraphernalia to sink a ship and with a host who has sailed the world for over twenty years. Take your pen or your laptop if you really insist, but at least allow life win you over in an adventure that will have those brain cells tingling for many years to come. Don’t expect to write anything there and then, three meals a day need to be cooked, the deck needs to be swabbed and the old engine needs to be greased, wiped and topped up with the ingredients that keep it going. And don’t let the generator die, otherwise no lights, no power and no bilge pump.

Once ashore have a beer and chill-out – watch the tulips or indeed the thistles bend in the wind. The next day, or even the one after that, grab the laptop and write something and prepare to be amazed.

It’s just an idea. Equally so, and on a smaller scale, similar retreat could be held on wide-beamed canal boat, on a refurbished tug, on a sailing yacht or even in a lighthouse. Always the overriding theme is the motion of the water, to provide stimulation to cobwebbed brains and something new to shake things up a little.

That is what my dream was all about.