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Friday, 15 April 2011

Engineering as it used to be - Part 4


In Part 3 I left you at my hotel prior to joining my first ship. Now comes the start of what was to become my career for 43 years…………….

And I strolled up the gangway whistling……………………..

No I didn’t. I struggled up that gangway lugging those two suitcases, sans wheels, sweating my bollocks off in 35 deg of heat and 100% humidity.  At the top of the gangway I was met, by a nigh on, geriatric individual, who demanded to see my ID. Not knowing what rank he was, (He could have been the  captain for all I knew. He in fact turned out to be a quartermaster), I fumbled out my seaman’s card which was readily accepted with a cursory glance. After a bit of questioning by me I was pointed in the direction of the Officers accommodation and given rough directions to the engineer’s office. Needless to say I got hopelessly lost. For a person that has never been on a ship before, directions like “ It’s on 01 deck, For’d, Port side” is akin to being spoken to in a Martian dialect.

Eventually I did find it after two days without sleep, water, and food, and met my boss, The Second Engineer (The Chief Engineer is GOD and never wants to see cadets). Surprisingly, he was very nice and showed me to my cabin which I was to share with another engineer cadet.

Anyway a week later the mighty vessel set sail. (I didn’t want to bore you with tales of drunkenness, debauchery, and the tale of falling into a monsoon ditch complete with Akai reel to reel tape deck, as I know that, is of no interest to readers of this blog. I have high standards to uphold).

That day I descended into the ninth circle of hell. The Engine Room. The moment I opened the door, two things hit me. Heat as I’d never experienced, and a noise that would keep the dead awake for all eternity.

Most of this was brought about my the most humungous piece of machinery in the middle. The main engine. A six cylinder J type Doxford. All the rage in those days. This was an engine that had two pistons in each cylinder (yes you heard me directly, TWO), whilst one went up, the other went down. They nearly meet in the middle. (An interesting fact is that they had common rail , fuel injection. The very system that modern car manufactures boast about).

More noise was created by four diesel generators producing 110V DC. (DC is the electrickery that comes out of your battery to start your car. AC is wot we use to light our houses and power our computers, etc). DC was the medium that powered the electrical circuits of ships in those days.

Have you had enough yet?

No, Ok I’ll continue.

The sheer size of the engine room left me flabbergasted. The height alone was equivalent to a four story building. And in every corner there was some sort of contraption of, which at the time, I had no idea of it’s purpose.

After a couple of days of being allowed to wander round , I was told that I was going to be on a watch. What’s a watch you say? Well, before we had automation and unmanned engine rooms, someone had to be up and around. Therefore the day and night were split up into four hour watches. I was nominated for the 4-8. Ie, 0400 – 0800 & 1600 – 2000. Hell for an eighteen year old.

However I did managed to survive this vessel. Just an interesting side note. It’s cargo was ammunition and smoking was allowed almost anywhere. Mind you, you weren’t allowed to smoke in number two hold. That’s where the big bangs were kept. (Think Hiroshima).

Would you like to hear about my next ship? It involves lady boys, the Beira bucket, and more ramblings that will bore even me.


  1. Keep 'em coming FE. You compose 'em; I'll read 'em.

    Your comment "the most humungous piece of machinery in the middle' reminded me of some pictures I stumbled across last year.

    Being a landlubber and the largest boat I've been on was just a cross-channel ferry, I was amazed at the size of engines used in large ships.

    The site was Wärtsilä's and the Googled images ere incredible.

    BTW the wv is INappropriate: fibbzf

  2. As a MN Sailor for 12 years I thought every engineer was totally nuts working in the heat and noise.

    I expect thats why your a deaf blogger now.

  3. Ancient and tattered airman15 April 2011 at 22:57

    More please. Much more.

  4. I can't be arsed to Google it - presumably the Doxford was an opposed piston, uniflow, two stroke? Did it have twin crankshafts linked together, or rockers and conrods like the Commer TS3 lorry engine?

    Talking of ships, you (and others) might be interested in this:

    The links to the engine & generator rooms should be right up your street. Some good descriptions of DC power systems. The Ross was faster than any of the Icelandic patrol boats during the "Cod Wars", so could just haul up her nets and escape!

  5. Ah, the very sound of twin Doxfords kept me, and all my 'oppo's, fast akip all night long on a trip down to Oz, and the only time we woke up was when the tempo changed in one or other of those engines!

    Oh happy daze!

  6. Captain Haddock16 April 2011 at 00:41

    Keep it comin' FE ..

    I wanna hear about when you got lumbered with "Forenoon, Dogs and Middle" .. ;)

    BTW .. Good to see another Member of the infamous "Monsoon Drain" gang .. One hasn't really lived until one has seen the sun coming up, over the concrete lip :) :)

  7. "Well, before we had automation and unmanned engine rooms..."

    Where do they put the bonnet? You do realise, that you could end up the James Herriot of the 7 Seas...

  8. Very interesting but more detail please

  9. Captain Haddock16 April 2011 at 09:43

    "You do realise, that you could end up the James Herriot of the 7 Seas"...

    No, Harry .. I think the RFA stopped delivering live animals, as food, to Warships around Nelson's time .. :)

    Unless of course FE is older than he's letting on ? .. ;)

  10. I may have mentioned on here before that the first engine I sailed with was a B&W double acting diesel engine, 8 cylinders with 3 yes THREE pistons in each cylinder, 3 diffferent sizes of bore and 2 different sizes of stroke to each cylinder as well. You can see an almost identical one here,
    It used to have a scavange fire a couple of times a week, an absolute shed of a thing but I am now so glad I sailed on it, just to talk about it.


  11. Captain. Even I'm not that old.

    Daedalus. Yes there were three still in service whilst I was at college. A wonder to behold.

  12. Hanging on every word. Keep 'em coming.

  13. Yes, I would like to hear about your next ship.
    No, I don't really want to hear about the ladyboys.

  14. The Doxford was probably the smoothest marine diesel ever built. I was on one, a 3-cylinder with 2 Sunderland Forge steam reciprocating DC sets, together making a quiet engineroom, the generators with their squeaks and hisses probably being noisier than the main engine.
    So much so that one night the 4th engineer, on watch with just an oiler, fell asleep leaning against the crankcase. The oiler was up getting 2 cups of tea. An alarm sounded and the 4th slept through it. He slept as the engine slowed down then gently stopped, he continued sleeping until rudely wakened by an irate Chief Engineer who, together with all of the rest of us, engineers, electrician, firemen, oilers, had run down below, or slid down on the handrails, responding to the unanswered alarm.
    Don’t make ‘em like that nowadays.
    Peter Melia

  15. Thanks for all your comments. I'll see what I can find for those of a technical bent. The story will continue.

  16. Captain Haddock17 April 2011 at 10:46

    As its Sunday .. let us sing Hymn number 69 ..

    "I'm just a Stoker who cain't say NO ..
    I'm in a terrible fix ..
    When I go on watch, down below ..
    I never wear any knicks ..

    All the other Stokers tap me up ..
    I really ought to tell the Engineer ..
    But I haven't the heart to rat on them ..
    You've guessed it ..
    Darling's, I'm queer ..

    I'm just a Stoker who cain't say NO ..
    Men are my favourite food ..
    When I'm in the mood" ..

    (sung to the tune from the musical Oaklahoma)

    All joking aside, this is not an attack on FE, nor is it intended to contain any personal comparisons ..its just a former Booties way of taking the good-natured piss out of "Jolly Jack" .. as featured in many a "Sod's Opera" .. ;)


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