Dispatch from the Global Symphony
Out of the blue one Saturday morning The Block Island Times received an email with a picture of Block Island emerging out of the fog. It had a short and simple message:
“Hi, here’s one taken from Global Symphony the other week.” Regards, Colin Cowie.
Readers will recall the fascination with the Global Symphony, the 426-foot ship sent by Orsted to complete its portion of the cable reburial project, threading a new section of cable through the pre-laid conduit and then splicing it onto the existing cable that delivers electricity from the Block Island Wind Farm to the mainland.
The gleaming ship with the red hull and a helicopter landing pad on the bow arrived in Providence on March 17 and then departed for - and arrived at - Block Island on the following Saturday, March 20. As it sat just offshore, it’s size defied perspective, at once appearing far off, and at other times so close it looked like perhaps it had crawled up onto the beach. It dwarfed the Block Island Ferry and yet, the still, dense fog of late March days completely obscured it from view at times.
Of course The Times asked Cowie if he would be willing to share his story, and perhaps some more pictures, especially of the boat and the crew. And he delivered, sometimes in Doric. (Google it he wrote.) “Aye Renee I wis winderin if yed got a the foties cis yi hidna gotten back ti ma.”
The ship had sailed from Southampton, England. It was delayed, we were told, because of Covid-19 related quarantines, and our Scottish correspondent almost missed the boat. “I was lucky to get here,” wrote Cowie. “The original date for me to join was 29th January and I fell off my mountain bike the day before and broke ribs. As it turned out they needed someone and I joined in Southampton a month later.”
For Cowie it was the fourth trip on the Global Symphony. The first was back in July. “Covid has meant longer trips away from home for us. Normally we would do a month on and a month off.” Some trips last as long as 10 weeks, and this one to Block Island took seven.
“Normally a ship would sail with minimum crew, as there is not a lot to do getting across the Atlantic,” said Cowie. “I was one of the day-shift riggers. There were two, plus a deck foreman. Three guys operate remotely operated vehicles. There are two on board. And four lads for the trenching machine.”
There was a “project crew” onboard, that Cowie describes as “regular,” and a more permanent crew in charge of the ship. The project crew, numbered at about 38, are from Scotland and England.
In running the ship, all sorts of nationalities were represented, a mix of Filipinos, and eastern European – Polish, Croatian, and Lithuanian. “The Filipinos do the cooking and cleaning. Inside stewards they are called,” wrote Cowie, adding that “sometimes the food is good, sometimes, not so good.”
“The eastern Europeans man the engine room and the bridge. They are in the process of changing out to just Filipino in all departments except the deck. Usual cost cutting – it’s the same on most vessels.”
Cowie calls Buckie, Scotland home – a small town on the coast near the North Sea. And yet, of working off Block Island, he says: “It was strange working so close to the beach and seeing people walking their dogs and stuff like that.”
“As you seen, the job went well, or should I say, better than it sometimes can. The weather was obviously very kind. Being close to the beach in shallow water is not ideal.”
The crew on the boat finished up their work in about eight to 10 days and then headed out. A few days later a Facebook post showed a picture of the Global Symphony in Bermuda. Instead of sailing straight back across the Atlantic, the ship headed for Bermuda, where it stayed for five days as some of the crew waited for a flight home to the United Kingdom. The weather “was kind” as they sailed, and Cowie says it was a shame that no shore leave was allowed anywhere (due to Covid) especially since “it was probably the only time most people will be in Bermuda.”
Six stayed on to sail the boat to Falmouth, England, where the boat was due in dry dock for a month or two of maintenance.
“We left Bermuda on the seventh and sailed south-eastish for a few days, then west past the Azores on Thursday, then headed northeast. This was to avoid the weather, and it has worked, because believe me, this boat can roll for Scotland in good weather, never mind bad.”
When The Times first heard from Cowie, he didn’t quite know how he would be traveling the 700 miles due north from Falmouth to his home. “I may drive as there are no regional flights. The train is 14 hours. Anyway, the good news is I retire when I get home.”
As it turned out, after pulling into Falmouth on a Tuesday, on Thursday, April 22 Cowie left the Global Symphony for the last time, staying overnight at the famed Jamaica Inn before taking a flight to Inverness, Scotland.
“You would have read the book I presume,” he wrote, referring to “Jamaica Inn.” No, but it turns out it’s by Daphne du Maurier and was turned into a movie by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara.
“Take care. Kind regards. Colin Cowie.”