British Curlew

16th April 2008, 15:22
“This is a draft excerpt from a book I am slowly writing on the differences between life in the British and American Merchant Navies.”

Previously on this thread I detailed the experiences suffered by the engineers and myself on the mv British Commodore. All of us learned a great deal during that six months about life at sea and of the ingenuity, tenacity and good humor in adverse situations exhibited by Marine Engineers. Despite the breakdowns it was a very happy ship. One of my fondest memories is of Captain Joe Beattie teaching me the finer points of growing Coleus plants. After six months my cabin was decked out in wonderfully colored Coleus plants. Joe was very proud of his pupil. But as my father (he was also a Marine Engineer) used to say “Engineers never make good gardeners.” He was correct as my passion for Coleus plants and gardening in general never returned after departing the Commodore.

Hope my memory serves me well and that this is not boring for the non engineers.

I received instructions to join my next ship, the mv British Curlew in Dubai in early April 1971 after three months leave. This came as quite a surprise to me as I had never sailed on a Bird Class before but I had heard only good things about the “Bird Boats” and looked forward to a reasonably peaceful trouble free trip!!!
Captain was S.T.Mann. What a character!! Second Engineer W. J. Ivison (Bill) who was a Great Second. I next met him when he was Chief on the British Poplar in Swansea Dry-Dock and I was the attending Superintendent. Have never been able to locate him since. Believe he was from Hull.

After joining in Bahrain the ship loaded at Bandar Mashur with orders for Luanda and Ango Ango (spelling) which is up the Congo. Trip was trouble free until a crankcase and camshaft chain case inspection was commenced at Luanda. The Third Engineer Alan (Alistair?) Slater found the Lower Fuel Pump Side Chain Damper detached from its support bracket and lying at the bottom of the chain case. The support bracket was severely damaged in way of the damper securing bolt holes. The chain had slight rubbing marks on the aft side.
The Middle Chain Damper support bracket securing bosses had sheared from the Ford. A Frame. This Chain Damper was reversed and fitted to two identical bosses on the aft A Frame.
The Lower Fuel Pump Side Chain Damper support bracket was removed and taken ashore for repair. The repaired support bracket together with the damper were refitted and it was noticed that the damper was out of alignment with the chain, the brass rubbing strip being opposite the chain links instead of the chain rollers. This indicated that the support bracket was and must have been out of alignment prior to the failure. (I know it sounds ridiculous). I assume that similar trouble had been experienced in the past and that the support bracket had been incorrectly repaired. However there was no record on the ship of previous failures.
It would appear that these dampers were fitted after the ship went into service as they were not mentioned in the Sulzer Engine Manual and the necessary clearance sheet has been added to the ships records on a separate piece pf paper.
In all probability this was the reason for the Damper securing bolts working loose as it would have been impossible to set the Damper/Chain Roller clearance correctly without the damper coming into contact with the chain links. The links, having an uneven contour would have set up vibration when in contact with the damper probably causing the bolts to come loose. No evidence was found of any split pins having been present in the securing bolts. The support bracket was returned ashore, the centre girder burnt off at the weld to the cross girders and re-welded in the correct position. The bracket and damper were then refitted, clearance set and chain tension checked.
This Camshaft Drive Chain had been surveyed at the last dry-docking in Amsterdam in November 1970??

Part cargo discharge was completed in Luanda and the ship proceeded to Ango Ango. There was no shore leave in Ango Ango and the ship remained on Stand - By the entire time at this delightful port.

Shortly after departure from Ango Ango and with the engine at full rpm we decided to examine the camshaft chain through the inspection ports. This inspection revealed that the two lower chain tension wheels were moving fore and aft on their respective keys I inch, Sulzer’s recommended maximum being 6.5mm. This caused us considerable concern, speed was immediately reduced and after consultation with the Captain the engine was stopped.
All four chain tension wheels were inspected and it was found that the two lower wheels were missing the set bolts that lock the wheels to their respective shafts which allowed the wheels to move fore and aft on their shaft keys. Locking bolts on the upper two wheels were secure.

Third Engineer Alan Slater had done every chain case inspection since the previous dry-docking and had never found any bolts lying in the bottom of the chain case and I therefore assumed that the bolts had been missing for a considerable length of time.

Spare locking bolts were taken from the spare wheels and fitted. Damper clearances were reset, chain tension checked and passage resumed. At over 90 rpm the chain began to knock heavily on the non tension side dampers and rpm’s reduced to 80 to completely stop the knocking. As I considered that the chain must have been subjected to some very considerable stresses over the past few months plus we had narrowly avoided a complete disaster when the two dampers had failed the Captain was informed that the engine rpm would be restricted to 80 for the duration of the passage to Durban and he duly informed Head Office.

We arrived at Durban on July 4th and myself and Second Engineer Bill Ivison met immediately with Gordon Jefferies, BP Resident Engineer Superintendent and the Repair Contractor Foreman. After I had described the sequence of events the Superintendent decided to fit the spare chain and fit all of the spare chain wheels. All the existing chain wheels were worn and if not changed would have very shortly damaged the new chain.

Upon completion of removal of the four tension wheels the clearances of the tension wheel shaft bearings were taken. In all four cases the bearings were found to be oval with twice the maximum clearance. Bearings were re-metalled as spare bearings were found to be in very poor condition and condemned.
Upon completion of fitting new Camshaft wheel, Crankshaft wheel and the Tension wheels and new chain the engine timing was set. Chain Damper clearances were set to makers recommended. A Sulzer Representative now in attendance recommended complete removal of the Middle Damper.
The chain tension was set to a maximum of 2” deflection as recommended by the Sulzer Rep. The Sulzer manual on board recommended a maximum deflection of between 2” and 3.5”. The Sulzer Rep. stated 3.5” was too slack.
During the subsequent engine trial alongside the berth at 40 rpm the chain was running smoothly over the sprockets with no fore and aft movement of the tension wheels. However the noise from the region of the upper Fuel Pump side damper caused by the chain running over it was to my mind excessive. The Sulzer Rep. stated that the noise level was satisfactory and normal but any increase in noise at higher rpm would not be normal. However he suggested increasing the clearance of that particular damper slightly which was done by ship staff prior departure.
Shortly after leaving Durban the vessel ran into heavy weather and was rolling considerably. This caused the chain to knock heavily on the Upper Fuel Pump Side Damper. Engine was stopped and the Damper clearance reset to Sulzer’s recommended and the chain tension increased slightly. These adjustments solved the noise and knocking problems and at full engine rpm the Damper noise was a “rumble noise” as one would expect. It was obvious that chain tension is very critical, small adjustments having a considerable effect.

Everything was fine for the next couple of months as the vessel went from Durban to Walvis Bay then Walvis Bay to Aden to load for Montreal. The Captain left at Aden to go on leave and was replaced by J. Potter, another excellent BP Master. I was very lucky in my career at sea with BP judging by the Captains I sailed with.

To digress from the engineering for a moment ::-
Prior to joining the Curlew my wife had told me I was getting fat ( beer belly) so on joining I had decided to lose some weight, not an easy task at any time but I found it very difficult on the Curlew. However, after three months I had gone from 190 pounds to 166 pounds and was very proud of myself. The Chief Steward, cannot remember his name after 37 years was very helpful and I ate a lot of fish and veg. Cutting out the beer was the hardest but I soon acquired a taste for Scotch on the Rocks at the bar prior to dinner. Since that time I have managed to maintain around 170 pounds and still prefer Scotch to beer. The Chief Steward also had me conned into eating a whole raw onion every day but the Captain eventually complained about the stink!

Shortly after leaving Aden with a new Third Engineer whose name is also long forgotten we experienced another problem. The Stbd. Diesel Generator Engine had just had its lubricating oil cooler drained and opened up for cleaning. Upon completion of cleaning the oil cooler and prior to starting the engine the oil system was not primed, there being therefore an air pocket in the cooler oil space. In order to start this particular make of engine the low pressure lube oil trip mechanism has to be manually overridden until the lube oil pressure is sufficient to hold the trip in. It is possible therefore to start the engine and run it without oil pressure. I was informed that the engine ran for three minutes before being shut down. All main bearings were severely wiped and condemned. A new set of main bearings was fitted and bedded in until a satisfactory set of crankshaft defections were obtained. All bottom end bearings were examined and required dressing up and adjusting. The generator was fully operational prior to arrival in Montreal.

From Montreal the ship proceeded to Aarhus via Cardon and she behaved like a Bird Boat should, then Smiths Dock for her annual dry-docking.

One point of interest to me even after all the years that have passed is how we ran the engineering watches on this ship for the entire time I served on her.

8/12 – Junior Engineer and one GP Trainee
12/4 – Fourth Engineer and Junior Engineer
4/8 - Third Engineer and one GP 111
Also one fireman on each watch.

Day work - Second Engineer and Electrician.

The Junior Engineer on the 8/12 was not a first tripper and of course had to agree to this arrangement.

I often wonder how other Bird Boats staffed the engineering watches and would be interested to hear from others.

I did request an opinion from Head Office but never received a reply.

As a point of interest I have noted in the book “History of BP Tankers” that the Engines listed for the Curlew and her sister British Fulmar are Sulzer 6RND76
This is incorrect. The correct engine type being Sulzer RSAD 76. This engine has a chain driven camshaft whereas the Sulzer RND76 camshaft is gear driven.

I also noticed that the Engine Type for the British Venture which I had previously sailed on as Second in 1969 is listed as just Sulzer without a type. The correct engine type being Sulzer 8 cylinder IRD90.
I realize this has been boring content for the non engineers who managed to read this far and I must finish with one of my fondest memories of my time on the Curlew.
During the repair time in Durban the Repair Contractor Manager, a Welshman ex Swansea invited the Second Engineer and me to accompany him to the local horse racing track for an afternoon of gambling, eating and drinking. (Gordon Jefferies the local Engineer Superintendent agreed we could both leave the ship together as long as the remainder of the engineers remained on board.) Bill (2/E) suffered from an ulcer at the time and occasionally would drink whisky with milk. This day he decided to hell with his ulcer he was going to enjoy himself and drunk several whisky’s (but still with milk). Our new Welsh friend suggested what horses to bet on and to our disgust we lost the first three races although we were not placing heavy bets. However by the fourth race Bill, feeling no pain wanted to recoup his losses and I agreed. So ignoring our Welsh friends suggestion we placed much heavier bets on a horse chosen by Bill called “Yorkshire Filly.” This rank outsider came from almost last to win by a nose at long odds (50 -1 if I remember correctly) and I will never forget Bill screaming at the top of his voice “ xxxxxxxxx xxxxxx It won! It won!” We also picked the winner of the fifth race, although at poor odds and called it a day. We returned to the Curlew considerably better off than when we left and Bill had forgotten all about his ulcer.

I finally left the Curlew to go on leave in late October 71 and hoped my future ships would be as happy and relatively trouble free as the Curlew. Boy! Was I in for a surprise!.

Dave Wilson
16th April 2008, 15:54
On the contrary Chief Charles. I found it very interesting and almost forgot I was on this site and reading a routine report.

16th April 2008, 18:13
An absolutely absorbing to read as were the two earlier excerpts from your book. Having been a deck wallah when at sea I'm not sure I grasp all the technical intricacies of your accounts but they are no less interesting for that. I was on two of the 'Birds' in the 60s and they were lovely ships. Neither of mine had a Sulzer main engine, the Comorant had a B&W and the Swift a Doxford. Keep up the extracts please, they are an excellent read.

16th April 2008, 18:43
Chief Charles,
I would love to purchase a copy of "The History of BP Tankers." Is that possible?

Kind regards,

16th April 2008, 19:04
Sailed with Joe Beattie who lived southbank of the Tyne? Had a brown metallic Audi 5T hatchback if I remember if that was of any interest!

17th April 2008, 00:19

I'm sorry to say that I misnamed the book "History of BP Tankers." I was referring to the well known book "BP Tankers, A Group Fleet History," which you probably already have.



11th November 2012, 16:32

I am looking after a drawing (scan) from a cylinder liner from a SULZER RSAD engine with, I believe a kind of "flame ring in top of the liner
Alfons (

11th November 2012, 17:47
Chief, great reading... I sailed as 4th on the Curlew many years before you did, Charles Barley was the CE. Also sailed with Bill, I believe on the Crusader, when I was an EC. The Curlew ran like a sewing machine only issue we had was a broken main SW inlet while I was on watch, the bilges were filling at about 6 inches per min.. Fortunatly the weather was calm and it took about 4 hours to fix... John Potts

11th November 2012, 18:51

I am looking after a drawing (scan) from a cylinder liner from a SULZER RSAD engine with, I believe a kind of "flame ring in top of the liner
Alfons (

The RD had a similar firing ring but they use to come slack and jam in the liner so they were removed.

11th November 2012, 19:02
The RD had a similar firing ring but they use to come slack and jam in the liner so they were removed.

Thanks for the fast response, you was of great help.