Update August 2018

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As you can see from the previous article Free web hosting it’s been a while and as some of you may remember the site came and went then eventually went for good some years ago, I can’t put a date on it because I deleted all the emails but since then I heard about Low End Box but didn’t have the skills to implement it.

Roll on five years and I applied to a local charity who take in old computers and refurbish them for sale. When I discovered this summer that one of their number had the technical skills I required off I went and while it took a while to get the information the fact that the site is running again speaks for itself.

The alternative is paid hosting at £30 and above, a sum am not prepared to fund myself (unemployed for years) and could not source from the membership owing to the atrocious deductions by Paypal from contributions received when I last tried it, 25p in the pound.

The technical knowledge required to set up a Virtual Private Server is not greatly different from that required to configure normal paid hosting and there is the added bonus of being able to run a reinstallation which wipes the slate clean and lets you start again within ten minutes. The server on which this is hosted in New York is very fast.

At the time of writing (1748 14/08/18) the site is largely up as before, with the sole exception of the dated Forum which I only keep for historical purposes since its software developer went out of business years ago. Fortunately however I kept the configuration files.

You will find odds and ends that lead nowhere, links that no longer work, photographs that don’t appear and the occasional error message. All these things I will deal with over the coming days and weeks until it is as near restored as I can make it.

Welcome back!



Free web hosting

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It’s been a while since this website had any attention from me, but prompted by the latest invoice from Orchard Hosting wanting another £24.99 plus VAT and mindful of the hassle last year in collecting that amount from the membership, not that you weren’t willing, you were, but rather the hefty charges taken by Paypal and the administrative workload I decided this time to look for a different hosting company, and preferably free of charge.

To my surprise there are a fair number out there and I chose http://www.heliohost.org/ and put the site on “Stevie” because I don’t need all the Microsoft functions like asp.net since this site uses PHP/MySQL.

Moving the Discus Forum and the WordPress blog were the most difficult tasks, or rather getting them working again after the move.  Still it’s been a lesson learned and changing the URL paths in several files (in the case of Discus), and reinstalling the themes (in WordPress) seemed to do the trick.  It doesn’t help that Discusware no longer exist as a company and so I have been struggling in the dark a little to get Discus working again but there it is, up and running.

I have been delighted by the goodwill shown by several of you who have written nice things in emails mainly along the lines of thanking me for my work and dedication to keeping the site running as a history about the college.  I think the general feeling has been that many of you would have been sad to see the website go.  There were several generous offers of payment for the whole hosting fee or to be split between two or three people but in the event this has not been necessary.

At the time of writing twenty people have re-registered on the mailing list and I would hope that this will increase over time.  Before the move there were 152 email addresses listed but I don’t think that many of these were active and so the move has had the secondary effect of revealing who is actively interested in keeping in touch.

Lastly I am always here, you are welcome to write to me via the website and I look forward to and enjoy hearing from former staff and students, or indeed the occasional visitor from other marine related organisations.  Thank you for your continued support and goodwill.


ROV employment

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I recently attended an exhibition in Birmingham (30th October 2010 Dive exhibition) where a stand from one of the major trainers in the industry (UW centre) was set up and I took the opportunity to ask a series of questions about employment in the ROV industry for ex-seafarers.

Where are the base engineer positions and do they also do open days?

Aberdeen / Portland (Global Marine) / Portsmouth / Lowestoft (wind farms)

Is embedded programming required to maintain ROVs?

No, I’ve never seen anybody writing code offshore.

What is the weakest point in the ROV / umbilical chain and how do you repair a break?

The weakest point is where the umbilicial joins the ROV and you need fibre optic joining skills for this.

Do umbilicals ever break in the middle?


Down to what component level are repairs required?

Module level only because boards are repaired ashore and there are two/three flights a day so contact with the shore for spares is routine.

Are the electronics modular i.e. changing boards?

See above.

If 70% of “graduates” are now employed what are the 30% doing?

Some have family issues, pressure from wives and relatives keeping them ashore.  Some have trouble adjusting to self-employment and going out looking for work, selling themselves, some have been out for a trip and didn’t like the environment and chose to pursue a different career.

I’m 55, what are the realistic chances of employment offshore as an ROV Pilot / Technician?

If you were working on hydraulic ROVs for deep water drilling then 100% because divers cannot work at those depths and hydraulic ROVs are required to do the heavy work and there is a shortage of suitably qualified people.

On the purely electrical / electronic work you have less chance of permanent employment which in case depends on the oil price.  $80 / barrel is a figure above which employment is highly likely and below which it will be more difficult to find full time employment owing to the poorer returns for the oil companies.

He went on to say that age can work in your favour because much of the equipment is valuable and some of it worth millions of pounds so the oil company may well prefer to have a mature candidate rather than a youngster in charge.  He certainly didn’t think that age was a barrier to entry providing one has the skills.

What are the certificates required to work offshore and in what order?

1) Offshore medical  2) Helicopter Underwater Evacuation 3) The BOSIET (Basic Offshore Safety Induction and Emergency Training)

Who are the major employers?

You will be provided with a list at the end of the course.

What are the shifts?

12 on and 12 off or on ROVs working with divers more likely to be 8h x 3 shifts around the clock for safety.

What is the rotation in days?

28 on / 14 off or 14 on / 14 off or further afield up to 96 on, depends on the distance from home.

What knowledge will get me employed in Brazil?

Being a Brazilian citizen will help, they have a labour law that requires 60% Brazilian citizens working in the industry.  When I pointed out that 40% is a big number he replied that that is already occupied by foreign contractors in different sectors of the industry.

Is it possible to freelance or is it better to get in with one employer and stay there?

The answer was related to the answer above about the oil price.  How well the industry is doing seems to depend entirely on the oil price.  Above $80 barrel seems to be the threshold value.



friends reunited & mnc

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In my ongoing quest to modernise this website (Greenhithe) I have added links to the fr_table.php page which lists students from MNC who have registered with Friends Reunited

By clicking on the last name of anybody listed you will be taken to a page showing the notes (if any) they have made on the FR website. The advantage of this is that you may now view details about people from the college without separately logging in to FR.

In due course I hope to combine the biography pages of the Greenhithe website with the notes from FR so that both are available in one location. This is an ongoing project and when I have reached a suitable marker point in the work then an email update will be sent out to the membership.


P.S. Despite the date this is not a joke.



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In the beginning was a static[1] website that had pages written in HTML, student and staff names in static tables and a little Javascript for the rollover navigation buttons. This was fine when the website had only a few pages and didn’t need much updating. It became more of a problem as the site inevitably grew and updates and additions kept arriving by email.

Some years after the creation of the website in August 2000, I found a book by Microsoft which contained a chapter on databinding which I had read about in a magazine. This seemed[2] to be the answer to my prayers of being able to keep the student and staff names in a database and create a table that was only as long as the data available to fill it, without showing empty cells.

So it was that I spent three weeks one lonely Christmas manually converting all the staff and student data in tables to XML pages which data would be read into HTML pages by the ‘magic’ process of databinding. It worked but little did I know what a headache I had created for myself.

Some years later, while working on a contract for the RAF I met a programmer, he proved to be a friendly guy as well as a good programmer and when I put it to him one day that ‘my’ college website was in need of a technical makeover he said “use PHP/MySQL”.

Knowing very little about it, but curious, I first setup a MySQL database with the help of Martin Francis (who kindly hosted this website for some years), and then paid for UK hosting while learning more about it.

The end result is that after a lot of work converting the data from XML to MySQL (don’t ask), and using Dreamweaver to write the PHP code (I didn’t know how to at that time), we now have a website that has very few static pages and many dynamic[3] pages, giving great flexibility in appearance and maintenance.

[1] As opposed to dynamic pages created on the fly from a server as you browse the website

[2] This was a blind alley because the Microsoft route to web technology is long and tortuous

[3] The staff and student data is held in a database and copied from the server to the browser at the time the page is requested by the viewer, you, and the tables are created at that time, they do not otherwise exist.



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Hi folks, it’s been a while since I’ve had the chance to write here. I’ve just ended a contract away which leaves me free to work on the site after a long absence.

Had to do some work on the site because Orchard (the website hosting company) had upgraded Perl with the result that the logging and search functions had packed up which is why you couldn’t look for anybody on the website lately, sorry about that! I’ve reinstalled both now and the search is working fine again.

Like the first cuckoo in spring I had an email yesterday (12/2/08) asking about the reunion. Much to my relief it is this year in the hands of another, Mark Croucher, landlord of the Two Brewers in Dartford, so if you have any questions please address them to him.


reunion 2008

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The 2008 reunion will be organised and hosted by Mark Croucher, landlord of the Two Brewers in Dartford, more details will emerge in due course, as to date, venue, and cost.


reunion 2007

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Attended (in order of arrival)

Tony Fish (local)
Paul Bird (Cambridge / Dover)
Simon Langlois (from Jersey thanks Simon)

Bob Payne (Tenterden)

then in no particular order (because I don’t remember)

Sally Chapman and partner (ex Port of London authority)

Mark Croucher and partner (former and future reunion organiser, landlord of the Two Brewers in Dartford)

Tim Strickland (Hastings College – former MNC lecturer)

Keith Forbes and brother

Martin King (Herne Bay)

Mike and Diane Ackers (Cambs)

Gary Little and wife

That totals 16 which is a respectable showing and I would like to thank those who made it.


Apologies were received from David Flack who like Geoff Hudson chose Glastonbury instead, a week early(?)
Also from Roger Taylor (former MNC lecturer who had planned to attend but picked up a bug at a meeting on Friday and didn’t feel well enough). Sorry not to see you Roger.

Also from Richard “Tiny” Carlton who was in the country (as opposed to his normal home of Guernsey) for a wedding in Oxfordshire.

Tony Fish was the first to arrive at the Sir John Franklin before 7pm, I followed along a bit later rolling in about 7.15, late as usual, paid for the buffet (of which more later), bought a pint and awaited Simon’s arrival who had flown in from Jersey with fingers crossed for a good attendance. Simon walked in about 7.30, followed not long after by Bob Payne and the four of us chewed the fat for a while wondering if that was going to be it.

I drank a little too much [Guinness] too soon and so my memories of what followed are a little hazy but from memory and information gleaned from the morning after the night before the following arrived in no particular order and swelled the numbers.

Martin King (ex R/O now doing financials in Herne Bay) came along not a lot later, a welcome visitor having only got in touch the day before in his own words “Just found the site and the reunion at the Franklin (which up until recently was my local)” looking tanned and fit, and proceeded to entertain us, being mainly sparkies we all started swapping salty stories (sorry Tony – deckie). At some point Mike and Diance Ackers who had early on met up with Gary Little and wife, emerged from the beer garden as a foursome and joined in briefly but mainly spent the evening as a group of four catching up 20 years.

Tim Strickland from Hastings way had said he was coming, thanks I think to a phone call from Roger (who sadly couldn’t make it) so thanks Roger, and Tim proved to be entertaining. Several “catch ups” were made that evening with Tim recognising people he’d taught years ago and as the evening wore on the stories all started emerging, and the jokes, which are all probably better left in the pub. It was good to watch and we all had related stories to share about times at sea.

Sally Chapman ex POLA and her beau dropped in for an hour, unexpectedly but no less welcome for that, thanks Sally, sorry I didn’t get to speak to you more but thanks for coming along.

Keith Forbes and his brother came in unexpectedly and added to the ex-sparky numbers so that line of conversation continued and all in all it turned into a Sparkies reunion (sorry Deckies but because the Phases were all at different times it’s difficult to get lots of deckies together).

Later on Mark Croucher and his partner came in which was good news because he and I were able to discuss sharing the planning for next year’s reunion. He has plans for a good venue but I won’t say more until it happens.


The buffet was a disappointment. It’s probably just as well that only five of us went for it, there did not appear to be £37.50 worth of food and what there was was execrable. Diane was quite correct in pointing out that the roll’s filling was covered in a white sauce which disguised the contents. I cannot recommend the Sir John Franklin catering on the basis of what I saw last night and I’m sorry I bothered. By contrast the Pier’s turnout last year was excellent and well worth the money so guess where I’d go next time?

There was a brief altercation with some git who spent the evening stealing the buffet food with extraordinary cheek and when challenged used the words “Don’t be brave”. Given the quality of the food we were probably better off having less of it but he was astonishingly rude.


There aren’t any. There was no suitable moment to get everybody outside at the same time given the dispostion of groups in conversation and so it didn’t happen.


If you were there and think I have mis-represented what happened or want to add to it please register and comment.

If you were not there and wish to comment on what I have written you are equally welcome to register and comment.

Reunion 2008

Mark Croucher has kindly agreed to organise the 2008 reunion and details will emerge in due course. Keep an eye on this blog, and the Google Groups site at http://groups.google.com/group/mncg

Best wishes

Paul Bird



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In a few days from now, a small group of us will meet at the Sir John Franklin (better known as the White Hart to students of the college) for a reminisence about old times. This happens every year at about this time and provides a welcome link with the past, especially now that the college buildings have gone to be replaced by a housing estate.

You are welcome to get in touch at any time to ask about, or to make suggestions for, the reunion, whether location, advertising, who goes, or to volunteer to help with the organisation, to the usual address of paul@greenhithe.org.uk


kentish times

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Today a surprise, received the following to my inbox:-

Hi Paul

My name is Michael Adkins. I am a journalist on Kentish Times Newspapers.

It would be great to speak to you about your website and the Merchant Navy College as we are running a piece about the Cutty Sark and its link to Greenhithe.

Could you please e-mail me a contact number or call me on 0208 269 xxxx extension xxx.


Michael Adkins

So I did, and he wanted to know about the period in the 1930s when the Cutty Sark was moored at Greenhithe so I put him on to the Worcester crowd via their contacts page and he said “is there anything we can do for you?”, when I hesitated he said “what about the reunion?”. After a moments thought I replied that would be great and so we are going to get a few lines to tell the people of Kent about the reunion. Some badly needed publicity coming fortuitously, although I am sorry it had to be this way since the Cutty Sark has long been a favourite of mine.


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