And so it begins (day 1)…

This was the first day of my 2 weeks at Babcock. As I walked toward Albert Gate it felt a little bit like my first day at school, a mixture of excitement and nerves.

Excitement… because it was a totally new experience for me. I went straight from school to university to becoming a teacher so the opportunity of 10 days in industry really appealed to me.

Nervous… because it was a totally new experience for me Even though I know people who have worked for Babcock, I wasn’t sure what they did behind the high walls of the dockyard.

As I walked through the gate, security guided me to the pass office (a single storey building where I would be receiving a pass allowing me in and out of the dockyard). A very friendly lady asked me for my passport, why I wanted to visit the site and who I was visiting. Then I received my pass it was stamped ‘ESCORTED’, meaning throughout my placement I needed to be accompanied by a member of staff. The nerves started to outweigh my excitement, this was all very serious. But as I later found out Babcock share the dockyard site with the MOD, so security is paramount.

We were met by an employee of Babcock who took us to get PPE (for those not in the know this is ‘personal protective equipment’) as we would need it when entering certain parts of the dockyard. In a massive supplies warehouse we were given: a safety helmet, safety glasses, steel capped boots, a high visibility vest and a white jump suit.

The whole list above was put into action in the afternoon. We were going on board HMS Argyll, the oldest type 23 Frigate in active service, a royal navy warship measuring over 100m and weighing nearly 5000 tonnes! The ship was currently in dry dock, balanced on specialist blocks, to allow them to service the whole vessel. We were shown around by two of the mechanical managers for the boat, interestingly one had come through the apprenticeship route and the other through the graduate scheme. Their knowledge of the boat was very impressive, from the lights use on the deck to aid landing helicopters to topics outside engineering such as how the crew functions aboard a type 23 frigate. They were very passionate about their work and felt a sense of responsibility for keeping service men and women safe by supplying them with the highest quality servicing possible.

I could probably fill a fair amount of pages with what I saw on this tour, but as a maths teacher (and very slow typer) here are my highlights from the tour (if you want more info just ask!):

  • Graduate’s Great Idea- An employee on the graduate scheme came up with a system to remove the blocks that the ship sat on, allowing them to service that area then put the block back in. Only one block can be moved at one time and took a long time. This graduate came up with a winch system to allow them to remove the block in quarter of the time saving the company a lot of money. The graduate was rewarded handsomely for their ingenuity!
  • Colour Code- Different colour helmets allow other people on site to know who you are: white = manager, orange = slinger (cranes and lifting), fluorescent yellow = apprentice/new to the site and finally yellow = me (visitors).
  • Painters vs Hotwork- A whiteboard in the entrance of the dock lists all of the painting and the hotwork scheduled for that day. Hotwork is any job that may cause a spark (i.e. welding, grinding, etc) and as the paint used is flammable hotwork and painting need to be kept well away from each other. This can sometimes frustrate those on either side of it is up to the managers to make sure the schedules run smoothly.
  • Captains Bath- We looked at the living accommodation on board the ship and as crew members moved up in rank their quarters got a lot less cramp. The captain had a living room bedroom and a bathroom, whereas the ratings lived in rooms of 8-14 with less than a suitcase worth of storage.
  • Warship Workshop- A lathe, drill and tool kit can all be found in the workshop on board. This allows the naval engineers to create/mend makeshift parts when there are faults on the ship at sea. Imagine trying to do precise work using a drill or a lathe on a boat!