IONIAN SEA – "On board the Bulgarian naval research and survey vessel Sv. Sv. Kiril i Metodii, I made a lot of new friends and kept the old ones. Communicating with my family back in Bulgaria and with the people around you helps you cope with the mental stress of a long voyage," Lieutenant Stanislav Stefanov, the ship's Third Engineer and participant in the 31st Bulgarian Antarctic Expedition, said in a BTA interview.
The Sv. Sv. Kiril i Metodii is expected to arrive in Varna (on the Black Sea) on May 2, completing its four-month first historic trip to Livingston Island.
Lt. Stefanov, 24, was born in the Nova Cherna village near Tutrakan (on the Danube). "I have spent most of my life in Nova Cherna. I finished the local secondary school, after which a schoolmate and I applied to the Naval Academy in Varna. I was first enrolled in a navigator course, but later on I opted for the marine engines and gear specialty. I felt that being an engineer was my vocation," the interviewee said.
Thanks to the rigorous routine at the Naval Academy, Lt. Stefanov mastered discipline and time budgeting. "During the first and second year, you very rarely go out of the Academy, even on weekends. Nevertheless, the five years there did not seem particularly hard because I expected an even harder routine. During my fifth year I had to choose where to serve after graduating. I wanted very much a shipboard position, but only one such vacancy was available for my class, in Varna, and I was only the second top achiever. I then started inquiring about openings at the Academy because I knew that a ship was to be acquired shortly, so I stood a chance of landing a job there some day if I was lucky enough. I was told that there would be a shipboard vacancy for that vessel, so I told myself, 'I hit the jackpot'," the young engineer said, recalling his career aspirations.
"After passing my graduation exams, I spent a two-months traineeship on board the ship as part of her provisional crew. We started studying the RSV 421 machinery, and I got familiar with its peculiarities. That was the first time I handled real-life marine machinery, as we had exercised on a ship engine's mock-up at the Academy. I realized that the two months' traineeship taught me more than the five years at the Academy. Then I graduated, got my commission, and was appointed as a full-time member of the crew, which further boosted my motivation. Meanwhile we had started preparing for the voyage to Antarctica. I was put in charge of the fire control system. It had to be re-equipped entirely before the start of the ship's overhaul because of the heightened fire hazard during that process," the Third Engineer told BTA.
His assignments during the trip to Antarctica include hourly checks of each and every operational gear, the lubricant and water in the engines, the fuel level in the tanks, etc.
Another routine task is a daily removal of mechanical impurities and water from the diesel fuel so as to prolong the service life of the engine. Lt. Stefanov is also responsible for checking the quality of the oils.
There have been hard times in the engine room. "We were often on pins and needles because one of the three engines proved 'wayward' and before long we were unable to rely on it 100%. We expected it to shut down any time, but we nevertheless coped with the predicament even though it took a bit longer. One shouldn't panic at such moments but should work slowly and steadily until the problem is detected," the specialist said.
Lt. Stefanov was gratified and enthusiastic to spot Livingston Island on the horizon. His crewmates experienced the same emotions.
"The Tangra Mountains were an impressive sight. The Antarctic researchers told us that we were incredibly lucky because of the clear weather in which mountain peaks can be seen, considering that even those of them who have been there every year rarely see Tangra in its full glory."
"After several days of stevedoring, we had some time off to disembark. It was a very personal moment. You set foot on an almost pristine land, where very few people have been able to come ashore, as if you discover a new continent. We also visited the Bulgarian base. When you enter the main building, you can feel a sense of adventure and coziness. We saw for ourselves how much had been achieved with so little logistics," the engineer recalled.
"Every part of Livingston Island was scenic: no matter what glacier you look at, whatever rock you climb, you can see the beauty of the icy horizon. You listen to the rumble of collapsing masses of ice, and the penguins' curiosity makes you smile... It was not as cold as we expected, and we even waded into the icy water. I for one was not scared by the cold because in may native Tutrakan area winters are harsh and I'm used to sub-zero temperature from my childhood," he added.
Days before his homecoming, Lt. Stefanov is looking forward to reuniting with his family and girlfriend. He hopes that he will have time for some well-earned rest before finishing his master's degree thesis and carrying on with seamanship. (BTA)