Header Ads

Normando Carandang Jr.: Captain Fant-Istik and Life as a Seaman

In high school, he was tall and reed thin; not at all unlike a stick. He was in my History class as well as my football team, to which I brought from my college varsity team this silly tradition of giving players monikers. For him, I thought Istik would be perfect. The ‘nick’ stuck, I suppose. When he sends me text messages, each contains the text signature ‘Styx’ which is a glamorized version of the original.

This is Normando Carandang Jr. that I am talking about, from the high school class of 1987. His mother Letty was my co-teacher; and although retired will be fondly remembered to this day by many alumni and alumnae as one of the Filipino teachers.

Normando has a brother, Anthony; and four sisters. There of these – Carolyn, Noralee and Lenor – were also my students. The youngest, Charitess, I knew as a little girl with her Mom in the faculty room.

Normando has a lovely wife, the former Leony Pascual. He has two boys: 8-year old Norman Lionel and 6-year old Normando III.

It took Normando a bit of time to figure out what he wanted to do with his life after graduation from high school. First, he enrolled in a vocational electronics course at what used to be the Pablo Borbon Memorial Institute of Technology (now Batangas State University) in Batangas City. Later, he shifted to a degree program in Electrical Engineering.

Three years later and already taking his engineering majors, he decided to take the qualifying exams for a Maritime Science degree at the Philippine Merchant Marine Academy. He passed; but it was still a major decision to make because he was accepted as a probationary cadet for a month and none of his subjects were going to be credited.

Normando decided to go for it; and it was a decision that he would not regret. Of the 800 applicants who passed the exams, 475 survived the first month; 270 were left after the first bone-breaking year; and only 116 graduated. In 1994, he received his Maritime Science degree from the PMMA and was also commissioned by the Philippine Navy with the rank of Ensign.

It was as a merchant marine, however, that Normando wanted to build his career. From the nineties up until the previous decade, Normando sailed with the Norwegian owned Hoegh Fleet Services Philippines. He worked his way up from Deck Cadet to Chief Officer sailing on general cargo and car transport ships with the Norwegian company.

A subsequent move to Aboitiz-Jebsen, a Filipino-Norwegian company with Greek-American connections, proved to be propitious for Normando. With the company, he served as Navigating Officer and Chief Officer before finally being awarded with every seaman’s dream, the captaincy of his own ship.

Normando remembers his first-ever voyage while still a cadet at the PMMA. He flew out to Valencia (Spain) to become Deck Cadet on board a 31-ton cargo ship that sailed the Europe-United States and Asian routes.

Arriving in Valencia was the fun part. “It was very nice as I saw girls on the beach topless,” Normando explains. Getting to the Bay of Biscay off the coast of France, however, was the ‘not fun’ part. “The ship was rolling, pitching and pounding and I started vomiting. I thought I would not survive!”

It took time; but eventually got his sea legs. Surprisingly, however, Normando says that he still gets seasick from time to time. Asked when his worst bout of seasickness was, he immediately replies, “It was when crossing the Pacific with the ship’s ballasts empty.”

For the benefit of those not familiar with maritime terms, the ballast is a device that controls a ship’s buoyancy and stability. If empty, the ship is lighter and, therefore, at the mercy of the waves.

Trying to walk straight when the ship is rolling over waves is one thing. Being right smack in the middle of a storm is another thing altogether. Just earlier this year, what should have been a routine voyage to the port of Grundartangi in Iceland turned out to be anything but routine.

The ship encountered seven storms along the way. His ship was rolling so badly that Normando thought she – as sailors refer to their ships – would sink. “Honestly,” he says, “I called my wife and asked her to take care of our kids.” It was terrifying!

Normando’s hard work and perseverance finally paid off in 2007 when he received his Master Mariner’s (Captain’s) license. “I took my first command as Captain mid-2010 onboard a bulk carrier ship,” he describes the voyage. “I joined up with the crew in Veracruz, Mexico. The route took us to Rio Haina (Dominican Republic), Maracaibo (Venezuela), Santos (Brazil) and Argentina. Then onto the African port of Abidjan in the Ivory Coast and Cameroon. We also sailed to Callao (Peru), Falmouths in the USA, Canada and finally to Puerto Cabello and Puerto Ordaz along the Orinoco River in Venezuela.”

How did he get promoted to Captain? “Luck,” Normando says modestly. “There are many aspirants and few become Captain.” He also notes the hard work that he put in. “I would volunteer for jobs that were difficult,” he says, “even if this meant not being able to enjoy the luxury of sleep. I was also very vocal with my thoughts; and I’m also proud to say that I have a good record with the shipping line.”

Being Captain of a ship may seem, to the neutral, something entirely glamorous. In fact, it is extremely challenging and requires a lot of hard work. “The command and responsibility are all yours,” he says. “You will have to make strong decisions for the safety of all in cases of emergency. Malî ng crew mo, sagot mo. Pero malî mo, sagot mo lang. Libre sila.”

Being Captain is also a 24/7 job. “I used to have regular working hours before I became Captain,” Normando says. “As we say onboard, everyday is Monday. I also conduct routine safety drills. But weather permitting, we also hold grill parties on Saturdays.”

Normando has worked both with Filipinos and other nationalities. He thinks Filipino sailors have an advantage in that they speak English; but also thinks his countrymen can be both sensitive and temperamental at the same time.

So far, he has only captained ships with all-Filipino crews. If they are difficult, Normando says, “They only have two choices – to obey my orders or go home.”

Being as merchant marine has meant that Normando has seen more of the globe than most of us can ever dream of seeing. “Actually, my ship is engaged in worldwide trade,” he says of the travelling that comes part and parcel of the job. “I have sailed to Europe, the United States, around Asia, Canada, South America and Africa. I had also transited the Panama Canal, the Magellan Strait, the Suez Canal, the English Channel, the Mississippi and Saint Lawrence Rivers. I have also sailed to Iceland and Cape Horn.”

Asked if he has any favourite routes, he quickly says Europe-Brazil. His favourite country? “Brazil. The women are beautiful!” I did not ask if they are frequently topless as well.

While being a merchant marine is invariably financially rewarding, being away from home so much is also part and parcel of job. He keeps in touch with his loved ones mostly by way of satellite phone; although he says that even in the middle of the ocean, he can still send SMS to them.

Normando is currently in the Philippines, having just captained the MV Biloxi Belle on a worldwide route transporting grains. When back in the country, he tries to give his family the quality time that they deserve, since the life of a mariner means that he only gets limited time each year to enjoy with them. In a few weeks, he will begin the cycle again by training for his next assignment.

So what has sailing around the world taught him about life? “Never lose hope,” he says. “If you fail, try again. Accept your failures, be yourself and stay low.”

Wise words, indeed; and so typical of how I remember him when he sat in my History class or played for my football team. He was hardworking and persevering but also ultimately honest and simple. All the traits that he needs to become, on board his ship, who else but Captain Fant-Istik!

If you enjoyed this article, please click the Like button or share it freely on social media. It helps to pay this site's domain name and maintenance costs.