Part 5: Cruising The St Lawrence

At The Helm

The Canadian Empress runs with two crews.  The Hospitality and Navigation Crews. I was on the Navigation crew. This consisted of 2 Deck Hands (one on day and one on night shift), a Chief Engineer,  a First Mate, and of course the Captain. Our crew worked hard. The Navigation Crew is a combined effort that is ultimately responsible for the boat, the crew, the passengers, and getting the boat safely from A to B. As some of you have read in my past posts, my experience  has mainly been in the fishing industry when it comes to working on boats. This has been an amazing experience over the past few months.

20161004_212147 Mate Pap enjoying an off duty, drink I chose for him.

With all amusement set aside,  I want to take a moment to show my respect to my Officers at the helm of the ship. The First Mate, Mate Pap. Although surprisingly young for this type of position, he takes his job seriously. Mate has completed his courses necessary and has put in the time needed to be in this position. A very impressive accomplishment. My children had the opportunity to meet Mate Pap. While it was slightly amusing to introduce a gentlemen a handful of years older then my kids as my ‘boss’, he was a great example and inspiration to show them what one can accomplish with dedication and determination.  I enjoyed working for Mate Pap over the past few months. You need to be a people person when working in this environment and Mate Pap has that down. However the vote is not in yet whether Mate Pap was always being requested for photo ops  because of his approachable sunny personality or his manicured, waxed, curly mustache the lady passengers would ga-ga over.

20161004_103632Captain Emtage dressed in his blues, helping his crew scrub the back of the Empress at UCV.

I have saved the best for last (to clarify, this is considered sucking up), Captain Emtage. This Captain is absolutely remarkable. It was a pleasure to work for such a calm, knowledgeable, & professional Captain. Captain Emtage is modest, well respected in the industry, and any company would be better off having this Captain at the helm. He is not affraid to get his hands dirty. He helps his team with tasks when the ship is at dock. And when it is not, he amazes me with his skill.  The Captain can efficiently maneuver a large vessel any day, but especially in high winds, in a small harbor ,filled with very expensive boats. The slightest touch would send most of the other boats hurtling to the bottom of the harbor, and Captain puts a 200 tonne boat filled with passengers gingerly onto a small dock with ease. He does this while looking as if he is ready for high tea. I know from experience, this is a very high stress position, however Captain Emtage makes it look easy. I can only dream to be this talented one day.

After completing a season of running (more like walking) a marathon with 4 levels, 8 stair cases, 2 ladders, and 5 hobbit like hatches of obstacles I can surprisingly tighten my belt a few holes even with James sizing all my 5 star meals. I have met and heard incredible life stories from the guests aboard the Canadian Empress and have shared many laughs with guests and crew alike.  When this crew arrived in Quebec City on that inaugural cruise with me as their new deck hand I am sure they imagined this 300lb man would not be of much use.  I feel (and hope they do too after seeing that this large man is not a lazy man), that embarking on this adventure with me aboard, made their jobs easier, made them smile more often, and left them wanting me by their side next year. While my body may need some healing I am happy to announce my boat is now fully repaired and ready to begin Sea’s The Days fall walleye season. As I flip back to position of Captain, sadly I won’t need or have a crew of 13 for support, to tie off my boat, heal my ‘hangry’, or assist my clients going forward this fishing season. But I will see you all in May, hopefully with stripes on my arm (hint hint Jason)!


Part 4: Cruising The St Lawrence

A Crew That Keeps Me Going

Over the past few months i have learned that every ones job on a cruise ship is just as important as the next. It takes everyone to create a smooth running opperation.

 The Galley is the busiest areas of the ship and the Chef and Galley Assistant have an incredibly difficult job. They pump out up to 80 plates three times a day out of a searing hot, tiny compact galley.  The food is extrodinary. Don’t piss these guys off or you may not be eating.

 I try to take care of these two guys the best I can because I need them to cure my ‘Hangry’ disease (for those who don’t understand,this is when an individual becomes irritable, and angry without just cause due to hunger). If the chef likes you he will take care of you, and he must REALLY like me. This has not gone unnoticed by the rest of the crew. The Cheif engineer now tells the chef, ‘I am good friends with James, if he is looking for a few extras on his plate. You have heard of super sizing your meal at Mcdonalds,? Well on the Canadian Empress we James size.

thumbnail_20160920_084002Chef’s way of curing my Hangry at breakfast

The Chief Engineer keeps the engines running.  A ship this size which runs contsant from may to october has no time for down time.  This is a feat that requires years of experience, knowledge and hard work. It is a thankless job from those you are providing a service for because to the guest, the Engineer is never heard, or seen. For all those guest who never thought to thank you, I salute you.

On the flip side the two most visible crew members who spend their days with our guests are our Purser Lori, and our Bartender Matt. 

Matt, works the latest shift out of everyone.  He is stationed at the bar until the last guest retires to their room. Getting to bed hours after anyones shift has ended. I am sure he can top any story any of the crew can recall from the guests.  Not only does he have a ear to listen and a bar to lean on for the guest but he has to be knowlegable of all the ports the ship visits. Matt has put up with me with great patients as I harass him to keep me hydrated almost hourly.

Without the Purser, Lori, the ships organization would probably get thrown out the hatch. She is the glue of the ship.  Lori takes care of all guest logistics, activities, and ensuring we follow protocol. With all this responsiblity she still finds time for humour.  One day she had me believing I was to lead a napkin folding seminar with my new found talent. I entered the saloon to a room of about a dozen, bright eyed ladies, eagerly anticipating my arrival….all I can say, I wore a new shade of red that day. But it was all a ruse and all I was needed for was to collect the garbage. I had never been so happy to haul garbage!

Part 3: Cruising The St Lawrence

Top Marks For Bravo Team

Today I need to give credit to  the hospitality crew, especially the hostesses. These 4 girls work very hard on our cruise ship. They are the ones that make your bed, clean your rooms, take complaints, take your orders, serve your food, organize and reorganize the dining/ entertainment room, and are basically your personal servant on the boat. While in some work environments you will routinely hear, ‘That is not in my job description’, These girls know what it is to be apart of a team.

 There was a time we were coming into port in Quebec city where the wind was blowing and the ship was being blown off the dock. The other deckhand, myself and the first mate were trying to tie off the 200 tonne vessel to the dock, and we were having one hell of a time! The hopitality girls, while deep in to their housekeeping chores, 

looked out to see if we could use a hand. Covered in sweat, exhausted, hanging on to the ship with everything I got, I was not in a mood to be pleasant. I yelled “get over here!” The girls came without hesitation to lend a hand to tie off the boat. We were now running late and instead of returning to their duties the girls proceeded to help us deckhands get all the passengers luggage off the boat. They worked like  well oiled machines. Getting luggage off the vessel is the duty of the deckhands. Our whole crew has this team mentality.  We drop anything for eachother to get the job done, I have even been known to help fold a few dozen napkins and do laundry (don’t tell my wife I can be domesticated).

 This crew, known as the Bravo crew, is the stongest team I have had the 

pleasure to work with. They routinely go above and beyond and will work back to back cruises when the other crew is short staff becuase they understand the impact this can have on a guest experience. And if this were not enough they will work twice as hard without complaint (ish) when we are short handed.

While we can work like an amazing team, lets get real for a moment. Every work place comes with behind the scenes shenanigans and conflict but at the end of the day you leave it all behind. On a cruise ship you work, eat,and sleep with your coworkers 24/7. However, although one might think spending this much time with those you work with would make less then desirable work conditions, credit must be given to officers and upper management. No matter what could possibly go on in the lower deck crew quarters, everyone provides service in a professional manner. All guests I’ve spoken with feel the cruise runs problem free, a sure sign of a company that knows what they are doing. The guests never realized I was running off the boat at 9pm at night to the grocery store. Phone in one hand, explaining to my wife on the other end, (while she was cozy in her bed back at home) the Chef needs me to pick up 4,000 ml of cottage cheese and I don’t know what cottage cheese is!

While I run unforeseen urgent cheese errands, the guest get treated to nightly entertainment. I can appreciate the amazing talent the cruise line has each night even though they have chosen them based on their retired demographic of guests.  Once dinner had been served and the last person finished eating, (the last person was usually First Mate Pap. I mean WOW that boy eats like a sloth!) the hospitality crew continued to work their butts off. The girls made everything run smoothly, moving dinner tables and chairs into an entertainment setting and back again at the end of each night ready for tomorrows breakfast and lunch. A lunch that included a lasagna with 4,000 ml of cottage chesse specially hand picked by yours truly.

Tied off to a bouy near Gananoque last night 


Part 2 Of: Cruising The St Lawrence

Suck It Up Buttercup

Day one starts with a 7 hour dive to Montreal. After getting lost, we all managed to get to the vessel in Quebec city. The boat which stands docked in front of me is an old style river boat fashioned to the era of the early 1900’s.  It is designed like an old River steam  boat but was in fact built and launched in 1981.  It stands at 108 feet in length, powered by two huge diesel engines, and outfitted with modern up to date Transport Canada approved equipment. This boat is dressed to impress. Also dressed as such is the crew, who are all in attire to match the old world flair.

thumbnail_20160920_071534 THE SUN DECK

After one shift I realized that this was going to be much more difficult for me than I originally thought. The work itself is not difficult. The trouble is my size (LOL)! I am a 300 lbs, beast of a man and this ship has 4 levels, 8 stair cases, 2 ladders, and 5 hatches.  I am no stranger to hard labour. Give me the heaviest task and I do it with ease but make me walk a marathon and I might collapse. On a typical night shift you need to walk the entire boat once every half hour, which is approximately 18 times. We do this for safety and security.  I walk around with a 10lbs clock slung across my chest


and at 7 different check points during each of my 18 hikes (up 4 levels, 8 stair cases, 2 ladders, and 5 hatches)  I enter a key into the clock which records I have made all 7 checks on my rounds. The engine room and ships storage are accessed by ‘hobbit’ like doors. To access these tiny doors which would fit better in ‘Middle Earth’,  I need to turn sideways and suck in my gut to fit through. Everything happens for a reason and luckily my uniforms which I gingerly squeeze into like a large hand into a small rubber glove, conveniently holds my large gut in.  If it weren’t for this I might have had to make a trip to the galley each night to grease down to fit through the hatches and hobbit doors. And even greased I could quite possibly POP through the doors like a champagne cork.



I may have also miss calculated my physical endurance levels. After the first shift I realized that while I can dead lift extreme weight, it is a bit difficult for me to be going up and down these stairs and ladders 18 times a night. I ended the night with severe knee pain which has lasted for the first couple trips. I thought the pain was due to different muscles being worked that I don’t normally use, so I tried just working through the pain. After the 2nd trip and my knees not any better I decided to go to a doctor to see what this could be.  Diagnosis: overworked, arthritis, and gout!

Over worked –  ya you think? Over worked by carrying a 300 lbs man up 8 flights of stairs 18 times a night. I thought that was a very nice way to tell me to loose some weight LOL.

Arthritis – That’s what your parents get! The Knees are swollen and it has triggered my arthritis that I didn’t know I had.

Gout – .”WHAT?”

I took my own advise for the next month and a half…

“Suck it up buttercup!”

….the next day I was on the boat with my own medicine cabinet in my suitcase.



part 1 of: Cruising the St Lawrence


Since Mid August, people who care to follow my little adventures, know that my boat has been down due to broken motors. With the costs of fixing my motors, along with the hope of continuing to contribute to the family household expenses, I decided that I needed to get a full time job until the motors were fixed and I could be back on the water full time.

While scrolling the online adds, I found an opportunity for a full time position with a reputable Local company, The St Lawrence Cruise Line. The position was for an entry Level Deckhand. I was very interested in this because it would allow me to continue spending my time (while my boat was getting fixed) on the water. In recent years I have found the desire to be on the water growing stronger. I knew flipping burgers somewhere would not surffice and this would be a much better option.

I realized in the Interview for the deckhand position, that although it was not a great paying job,  it had great potential to turn into an incredible opportunity for me down the road. This was not a dead end position, there seemed to be opportunity to move up in the company at a decent rate, where in the future I may be able to captain such a vessel. Don’t worry, I am not giving up Sea’s The Day!  But when I heard that the staff work an equal amount of days on the ship as they get off the ship, I realized it meant that I would have plenty of scheduled days off to be able to run my fishing charters alongside this position.

The Job was offered to me.                                                                                                                       And of course I took the position.

I was fit for my uniform, and when I say fitted, I mean they did not have anything big enough.  With a 6 week wait time on uniform delivery  I needed to take what I could and squeeze into them like stuffing a large hand into a small rubber glove. So a few days after being fitted, I was on route to Quebec City to spend 7 days, 24 hours a day, in close quarters, with a crew of people I have never met. A crew that innocently arrived that day not knowing what they were about to embark on, with me aboard.