After having been with Debmarine for 33 years, Captain Marek Lipowski is retiring. He currently serves as master of the mining vessel (mv) Debmar Pacific. New Era caught up with Captain Merek as he prepares to leave behind a lifetime of marine mining.
Q: It’s safe to assume being a captain is not something one just falls into. How did you get started in this line of work?
A: I always wanted to work in the outdoors, and away from the hustle and bustle of city life. I never wanted to work in an office and having to travel to work and back. My first choice was to go to sea; had I failed that, I would have gone into forestry.
Q: You have been with this company for the past 33 years, how long have you been at sea?
A: I joined the merchant navy with Safmarine in 1979 when I completed matric. I travelled to all the continents in my eight years with them. After that, I was on the SA Agulhas for a year and half – and sailed Antarctica, Marion, Gough and Tristan da Cunha Islands. After that, I joined De Beers Marine sailing on the Shearwater Bay, Douglas Bay, Louis G Murray, Coral Sea, Grand Banks, Debmar Atlantic and for the past 24 years on the Debmar Pacific. In total, I have been at sea for 42 years and five months, and I have being a master for 28 years.
Q: What has changed for the better from Cadetship to the Captain?
A: Cadet days were very carefree and enjoyable with minimal responsibility. As one advances through the ranks, the responsibility grows, especially when one gets to the senior ranks. My aim when going to sea was always to advance to the rank of master and end my career in this rank. I have never thought of changing to a career ashore nor have I ever regretted my career choice.
Q: What is one particularly memorable moment you have had onboard the DP?
A: There have been many but losing three anchors in the space of three days is one of the less pleasant but more memorable.
We were working in a particularly rough sea bed area and a gale force wind and high swells parted the remaining forward anchor. We had lost the other anchor three days previously.
The one aft anchor had been recovered previously, so the vessel swung around on the remaining aft anchor.
We had to pay the entire wire out and sacrifice the anchor to avoid lying with our stern to the sea and swell, which would have damaged the stern and the rudders. Luckily, we recovered the drill string before the weather worsened; otherwise, we would probably have lost the drill.
We also disconnected the wire from the drum so we could slack the wire over the side with no delay. But for these two actions, I suspect we would have sustained major structural damage and possibly injuries as well.
Q: What do you miss most when you are onboard a vessel?
A: My family, my pets and fishing.
Q: When you are onshore leave what do you miss at work?
A: My shipmates (or most of them) and being at sea in command of the vessel.
Q: Do you recall any funny story that happened in Atlantic 1?
A: In the days that we used to steam 50 miles offshore to refuel from the tanker, the navigating officer on one of the vessels (not mine) managed to work out the courses to the rendez-vous position incorrectly and ended up in a position about 10 miles away from the correct position. He then proceeded to accuse the tanker of being in the wrong position. His nickname from that day onwards was Bathromeus Diaz.
Q: Now that you are retiring, where to from here; what will you be busy with?
A: My wife and I love travelling around the world and locally. Unfortunately, overseas travel is on hold at present due to Covid-19 restrictions, so we are restricted to local travel. Being a wine lover, our travels always take in any wine estates or cellars en route. I live alongside the Breede River, so when we are not travelling, I do enjoy fishing.
Q: What would you say to inspire a 10-year-old to consider the same career path?
A: Firstly, that although you must expect to work long hours, you will learn to work as a team with a group of people who depend on one another and are all pulling in the same direction with the same goal. Secondly, that there is no better way to see the world and get paid to do it. Thirdly, you will not spend 15% of your life stuck in rush-hour traffic. Lastly, when you get to my age and retire, you will have a lifetime of memories and endless stories that you can tell your children.
Q: What do you have on your bucket list?
A: To travel as extensively as possible. To catch a fish larger than the previous one and to taste as many wines as possible.