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Tuesday, August 20, 2019
AEI TurbineIt has often been remarked in maritime journals that first hand accounts describing the engineering department and machinery of ships has been poorly represented. Possibly this has been due to the reticence of those involved to put pen to paper, however even in the current all seeing medium of television this trend has prevailed. Often to be seen broadcasted today are a number of televised accounts of cruise liner operations, which go to great lengths to describe the navigation, passenger amenities, and the often gory accounts of the catering and galley functions, but nary a mention of the bits that ensure smooth running of the whole shebang.

The reasons for this may be that it is too hot or noisy to tempt the cameramen or producers to descend too far below decks, granted that there is not a lot to see out of the modern engine control room, or to excite the observer looking out over the rows of cylinder tops of a multiple engined ships, but there are still a few ships trading that can produce some visual impact.

The throb and movement of the pistons of a slow speed diesel engine, triple expansion reciprocating engine, or the impressive whine, and clinical appearance, of a well maintained turbine propelled ship should be able to elicit some excitement.

The navigation and deck offi cer aspects of merchant marine life has been well documented in books and magazines, but whilst we implicitly relied on those up top to keep us out of trouble, and avoid bumping into any other ships or rocks, the power for all the things shiny, whirly, glowing and bleeping, which they could play with, emanated from us lads down below.

To give them their due on the Brocklebank ship Maihar they always gave us early warning when about to turn on the radar scanner, the “sshteam puri wallah” to quote the Hindi vernacular, with a 110 volt system produced by any two of our three dinky toy steam driven generators this was a welcome and early cue to give the governor a delicate clout with a small hammer, handily placed for exactly that purpose, to ensure it responded to the greatly increased electrical load.

Some of us can even recall when the triple expansion reciprocating steam engine was the prime mover, with steam being supplied by multiple Scotch boilers, either oil or coal fired.

The Maihar was such a ship, with a fairly large reciprocating steam engine having cylinder diameters of and stroke of inches, fed by steam from four oil fi red Scotch boilers.

To paraphrase, a sewing machine would perhaps be stretching it too far, but give the monster steam, and a modicum of lubricating oil to ease its joints, she would seemingly have run for ever, indeed she did soldier on from 1917 to her demise in 1962, only fi ve years short of her half century.

Maihar Nevertheless, her engine needed its bearings and other running clearances checked periodically whenever in port to ensure that the wear was not excessive and the clearances were not too great to cause a thump, and the lubricating oil to run out.

This was perhaps the most onerous job on this type of engine, the bottom end crankpin bolts had to be slackened off and the bottom end dropped into the crank pit, then three thin lead threads were spaced along the length of the crank pin and placed around the circumference of the crankpin, and the bottom end then pulled up and bolts fully tensioned again to squeeze the leads.

The bottom half had to be dropped again, and the now fl attened leads measured with a micrometer to check their thickness, if memory serves correctly 1.5 thou per inch of diameter of crank pin was the desired clearance, more than that then some thin brass shims were taken out between the two mating faces of the halves of the top and bottom ends to reduce the clearance to the requisite amount. All this was done in the oily wet and slippery crankpit, and often in temperatures reaching 140 degrees F in Calcutta or worse in the Red Sea ports, thus our cool lime juice at smoko time was very welcome.

It may surprise readers that Brocklebank still issued limejuice in the 1960’s, a surviving legacy from the palliative that was largely instrumental in eradicating the scourge of scurvy on sailing ships where the lack of fresh vegetables encouraged the onset of this dreaded malady.

Other medicines which we took daily in the tropics was Paludrin tablets, an ICI product, supposedly issued to all their overseas employees, where any onset of malaria was proof of not taking the requisite dose. Next were salt tablets, to replenish the salt content in our system.

Sweating profusely as we were in the engine room, the fi rst sign of trouble was when our sweat did not taste of salt, some engineers took the raw tablets with a drink of water, and others added a couple to soup at meal times.

In the engine room it was customary to have a couple of water cans hanging handily to take a sup, these held about a gallon, and had a small nozzle spout which was perfect for sucking out a refresher, in any case after a short time in the engine room the water was lukewarm, but taking our cue from our native engine room staff this was much safer than taking a gulp of iced water. Preferred refreshment was tea of a similar tepid temperature, any ice water or cold beers had to wait until on deck after the end of the watch

Read the rest of this article with additional pictures in Sea Breezes Magazine - December 2015 Issue
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