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Monday 5 December 2011

Engineering as it used to be–part 7.

I left my reader (Hi Christopher) some months ago, hanging on with bated breath. Here is the next episode in the saga of engineering and debauchery at it’s finest. (I might just leave out most of the engineering bit).*

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

For those of a non technical bent, look away now.

On sailing from Singapore, which was a relief because my funds were severely in the red, we set off for a visit to the land of the rising sun. Japan.

What I was not expecting was that my boss had volunteered me to do an exchange with one of the accompanying warships (I’m showing my age here. It was a “Battle” class destroyer). I would transfer over in exchange for one of their midshipmen. Of course this would be done at sea whilst we were underway, by means of a jackstay transfer.


This involved passing a rope between the two ships travelling at speed and then being hauled across by a bunch of tossers who thought nothing of relaxing the jackstay enough to allow yours truly to be partially immersed in the South China Sea. Bastards. (I can say that cos it’s my blog). These days transfers are usually carried out by helicopter as H&S has virally infected our armed forces.(I’m surprised that they are even allowed to shoot the Taliban).

One thing that never ceases to amaze me was their choice of sleeping quarters for me. A camp bed in the radio room. On an RFA vessel the only people permitted entrance were those that had Top Secret clearance or above and positively vetted, (it was another 15 years before I obtained that level of clearance, due to the fact that I had to work round those big nasty things that went bang and emitted a large mushroom cloud).

Next came disillusionment. Being a callow youth and believing everything I’d been told, I thought that I would live the life of a naval officer. Swanning around, practicing a plummy accent, and drinking copious quantities of pink gin in the wardroom (Bar).

Not so. I was to attend the midnight to four watch in the boiler room. Bugger. A quick briefing ensued, where it was explained to TFE that naval boiler rooms had a different set of rules. Let me explain. In the RFA they had a perfectly reasonable way of getting air into the boilers to aid combustion of the fuel. You use a fan to feed air directly into the furnace. Made sense to me. Not so in Her Majesty’s Royal navy.

Their idea was to pressurise the entire boiler room. As explained to me, if I was to enter the boiler room and endanger this pressurisation, the flames in the furnace would leap out and engulf all.

So the boiler room had an airlock system that you had to enter by. With a safety feature being that the outer door had a switch that turned on a light in the airlock. When this light illuminated then it was safe to enter the boiler room.

Ten to midnight loomed. After struggling to find my way I arrived at the first door and opened it with trepidation. Not knowing my way around, for all I knew, I might have found an outside toilet. The next paragraph shows that I may have needed one.

I’m in the airlock. I close the outer door. Oh fuck, I’m still in pitch darkness. Try again. Nope. (Twenty times later), Expecting to be engulfed by the fires of hell, I inch open the inner door. To my surprise there was no agonising flaming death.

All  I found was that the boiler room crew (laughing hysterically I saw), had deliberately unscrewed the light bulb. Bastards.

An interesting aside. The following day I was informed that I’d be  on one of the dog watches. I was somewhat taken aback by that statement. Yes, my last ship had a cat. But the navy kept dogs onboard? That really intrigued me. Was I to spend the time cleaning out the kennels of attack alsatians used to repel boarders, or were they Officers’ pets? I was wrong. Oh well.

*Fooled you. this post was always going to be about the engineering (Or lack of it). Next post. Japan.

One day i might even let you know about my bit part as a submariner. That was fun. Especially the toilets.