IN THE PERIODS BETWEEN 1950 AND 1975 it was still possible to sail on ships with Triple Expansion steam engines working off 150 PSI Scotch boilers. Some of the earlier vessels used heavy fuel oil which looked like black molasses at ambient temperature. This had to be reheated to make its viscosity suitable to pass through the boiler sprayers in a fine ignitable mist.
On 8 November 1952 I sailed on my first ship the ss Irish Cedar of Irish Shipping Ltd, Dublin. She was built by W Grays of West Hartlepool. We were on a voyage, in ballast to St Lawrence to pick up a cargo of wheat for an Irish port. The weather was not too good with gale force winds. Coupled with the pitching and rolling of the ship, the following wind caused some class of vacuum that blew out the boiler fires during the graveyard watch at about 2.00am. The engineer went to the boiler room trying to ignite the taper to flash up the sprayers again. Calamity ensued; they hadn’t a match between them! The engineer went to get matches in the store but in the meantime he had left the main steam valve open to the engine which drained the boilers of all useable steam. The ship came to a dead stop with no boiler pressure of note.
We were all called at about 6.30am and told of our predicament and the proposed solution. One boiler firebox, No 3 was to be rigged with fire bars to burn solid fuel. The solid fuel was to be the ships dunnage, spare feeder boards, and the tween deck hatch covers as and if required. We spent a day or so hauling dunnage from the tween decks checking it for nails or metal then passing it down to a team in the boiler room. Here it was sawn up and fed into No 3 firebox.
Meanwhile ss Camelia of Stag Line stood by a few cables off. They were anxious to take us in tow. At this stage the hatch boards were being sacrificed to the hungry firebox. They had to be debanded and all metal removed before used as fuel. Soon the news spread that we had raised sufficient steam to start the long procedure of bringing all boilers on line. After about another day we were again steaming westwards. As eager apprentices we were buoyed up by our unexpected adventure and most aware of the potential importance of a penny box of matches.
1 Cathedral Walk
Cloyne, Co Cork
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