MEET THE MAN WITH THE MOST SEA TIME ON BOARD MEKO A200 CORVETTES

From the SAS Mendi, at sea.

Who would think that the person with the most sea time on board the SA Navy’s four new Meko A200 Patrol Corvettes is a civilian? And then he is ‘nogal’ from Sasolburg in the Free State. Graham White is a service & commissioning technician at Siemens SA. He had the privilege of not only working with the crews in Germany, but also to sail back to South Africa on board all four patrol corvettes.


Graham White on board the SAS Mendi in Atlantic Ocean

Siemans Germany supplied the integrated platform management system (IPMS), including the software, for the patrol corvettes. Siemens SA sent Graham to Germany to study and commission the system for future maintenance by Siemens SA.

Graham’s speciality and experience at Siemens SA is the maintenance of programmable logic controllers (PLC), hence his deployment to Germany. On a Tuesday morning, two years ago, he received a call to ask if he wanted to go to Sishen for six months or Germany for two years. Needless to say, he chose Germany and only then phoned his wife to ask her if she would mind. The next Monday he was on a plane to Germany.

Born in Handsacre, England, 42 years ago, he emigrated with his family to South Africa at the age of six. Graham has been married to Jennifer for 19 years, has a son, Clinton (25) and a daughter, Jaclynn (19). He joined Siemens 19 years ago, after starting his career at the then South African Post Office and Telecommunications Service.

His favourite sport activities are golf and scuba diving. He has golf handicap of 13 and his daughter, who is a first year student in psychology at the Vaal Triangle Campus of the North-West University, is his diving partner. He is an avid Western Province and Springbok rugby supporter, and "a huge couch sportsman."

Graham is very impressed with the level of professionalism in the SA Navy. He says that the people on board ships are definitely "a different breed, but in a nice way." He is especially impressed with naval discipline. He found that the high levels of discipline did not stop the sailors from enjoying their stay in Germany and the voyage back to South Africa. "Keeping in mind that it is only half of a normal crew bringing the ship back to South Africa, the people are working very hard. Due to cost implications the crews had to work hard in Germany as well, as to spent as little time as possible on foreign soil."

He is impressed with the smooth integration of the two sexes and the many South African cultures on such a fairly small platform. "The accommodation, ablution and mess facilities are relatively comfortable and the standard of cleanliness and hygiene is exceptionally high. This was the case on all four ships. The food is fine, but the best chefs were definitely on the second ship, SAS Isandlwana."

He said that he was very privileged to have had the opportunity to work and sail on board the ships. He is very proud that he has a ship’s cap, a ‘Crossing-the-Line’ certificate and that he will have a medallion for each of the four patrol corvettes. (The entire crew receives a commemorative medallion on arrival in South Africa.)

Graham said that he was warmly welcomed and immediately integrated as a member of the ship’s company on all four ships. "For some strange reason I always ended up in the Warrant Officers’ Mess. If you ask me, it is probably because of the age category... the most experienced sailors, especially with a run ashore." After appearing in front of ‘King Neptune’ as a landlubber on his first journey to South Africa, he acted as ‘Queen Amphitrite’ on the other three trips.


Queen Amphitrite alias Graham White

According to Graham the downside of being deployed on ships, is that the crewmembers are away from their families and loved ones for lengthy periods with very limited communication with home. "The only way to communicate is by short e-mail messages every few days. We cannot do it daily, because it is done via satellite and thus very expensive."

Graham has celebrated his 41st birthday anniversary on the first ship, the SAS Amatola, his 19th wedding anniversary on the second ship, the SAS Isandlwana and 19 years at Siemens on the third ship, the SAS Spioenkop. He said that although he will grab the same opportunity with both hands if it is presented again, he cannot wait to see his wife on arrival in Simon’s Town on Friday 17 September.

GENERAL INFORMATION (AS ON 11 SEPTEMBER)

The total distance from Kiel to Simon’s Town: 5 186 nm
Distance covered to date: 3 386 nm
Remaining distance: 1 800 nm

Average depth of the water: 5 500 m
Sea state: 2
Nearest land abeam: Island of St Helena (starboard - 397 nm)
Weather: cloudy
Wind: south-east, 25 knots