Mahseer. Not Quite the Alchemists Dream

John Leary
6th September 2005, 21:36
Brocklebank’s radio department always encouraged a spirit of “can do” amongst their radio officers. No job was ever considered to be too large, too difficult or outside of their capabilities. The downside of that approach was that R/O’s suffered a sense of failure if a problem arose that needed the help of a shore-based radio company.

During my first trip on Mahseer in 1963 in Colombo, the chief R/O Harry Jefferson and I discovered that there was earth leakage on two of the four lead covered cables that linked the direction finding (DF) receiver in the radio room to the Bellini-Tosi loops mounted on the Monkey Island.

Our suspicion was that water had entered a junction box on the monkey island, which was dispelled after the inspection cover was removed. Further tests revealed that when the four cables were isolated at both ends, the two cables from the fore and aft loop showed low resistance to earth.

When a visual inspection along the length of the cables failed to reveal the cause of the problem, we were forced to conclude that over time the lead sheath had become porus allowing salt water to penetrate the cables, causing damage to the paper insulation and in the process permitting corrosion to take place between the sheath and the copper core.

We had conducted spot checks on the DF on the way out to Colombo but were not sure how the problem was affecting performance or accuracy. All that we were able to do on that trip was to estimate what materials were required should the company agree to us replacing the cables.

On return to the UK at the end of the voyage, Harry submitted a report together with a requisition for the cable. The request was greeted initially with scepticism by the radio department until we were able to demonstrate to one of the radio superintendents prior to sailing deep sea again in 1964 that the problem did in fact exist. The outcome was that before sailing we received the cable and saddle clips along with the other radio stores.

We replaced all four cables when we arrived at Colombo. Removing years of accumulated paint from the cable and clips and pulling all four cables through bulkhead glands led to a lot of frustration relieved by some very bad language. We also suffered from badly skinned knuckles.

When the work was done, Harry and I talked about how we should dispose of the old cables. The company had given no instructions about disposal, leaving us to believe that it was unwanted waste. Being eco-friendly before our time we felt that heaving it over the side into the Indian Ocean would be a shame and we should try our luck selling it in Port Said on the journey home.

For reasons I cannot now remember we thought (wrongly as it turned out), that we would get much more by separating the lead sheathing from the copper inner conductor which we did after spending many happy hours between watches with a blowlamp. The copper, which we thought would be worthless, was heaved over the side. Imagine our dismay on arriving in Port Said and in the early stages of negotiations, to learn that lead prices were at an all time low whereas copper was very much the must have commodity!

After what we thought was some very hard bargaining and as Egyptian currency was of no use to us whatsoever, we exchanged the lead for a number of leather goods including the famous camels and a couple of the “bronze” heads of Queen Nephertiti mounted on tiny marble plinths. The buyer must have had his chums in the local teahouse in fits of laughter about our gullibility for many years after that transaction, but heck you live and learn.

Mahseer’s DF checked out very well against the visual bearings we took on the voyage home. The voyage ended at Tilbury and I was asked to stay with the ship and coast her Liverpool. The reason for doing this is another story.

After I left her in Liverpool I never saw her again and can only presume that the DF carried on working reliably until she was scrapped in 1975.

I know that the ancient alchemists dreamt about turning lead into gold but on Mahseer, Harry and I turned lead into camels.

john g
7th September 2005, 15:29
Great Brocks story John those were the days...john g

8th September 2005, 01:01
After many months at Cockatoo Island Sydney under we electricians on P&o Palana had accumulated quite a quantity of scrap cable.There was stiff competition with the Aussies tho.In PORT SAID we negotiated a sale but did not get paid before scrap removed.WOG even had effrontery to not leave ship knowing there was nothing we could do about it.Feeling put out after due preparation I walked behind him & spayed his nice suit with battery acid.Loved to have seen it hours later. Kiwi

9th September 2005, 02:34
Unusually, the DF loops on BHP's 'Iron Cumberland' were mounted protruding from the monkey island above the bridge windows. In about 1988, while discharging Groote Eylandt manganese ore in Bell Bay, Tasmania, a wharfie swung the ship's crane round and sent the loops into the hold. Apparently this wasn't the first time this had happened, but no one seemed to give a 'Bellini-Tosi' about it (excuse the wireless op joke).

The ship would have had to be given a dispensation to sail without DF, so new loops were urgently ordered and sent from Sydney post haste. They arrived and were fitted with great difficulty. After sailing, the DF had to be re-calibrated (another pain), from memory off Gabo Island. The calibration was miles out and the DF loops had to be physically adjusted. The whole thing was a major headache.

About six months later the ship was sold, re-named 'Cumberlande' and registered under some flag of convenience. She loaded a cargo of coal at Newcastle, NSW, and sailed for the USA (I think). A few days later the ship was reported in distress and sinking in the vicinty of Pitcairn Island. Rumour has it that when help arrived the ship was at the bottom and the crew were in the lifeboats, suitcases packed, wearing their best suits and enjoying the balmy weather! All I could think of was why didn't they save my DF loops?

All that work and they ended up mingling with the charred remains of the 'Bounty"!

I tried, unsuccessfully, to find further information about this incident on the internet. It would be interesting to know the result of the ensuing enquiry.

John T.

9th September 2005, 07:27
John I hope it wasn't a faulty DF reading that contributed to the accident LOL

10th September 2005, 11:01
John I hope it wasn't a faulty DF reading that contributed to the accident LOL

Oh no - I hadn't thought of that!!!

With recent unsavoury events at Pitcairn, it sounds like the island is about to become a de facto prison for some of the inhabitants - maybe I should give myself up.

John T.

10th September 2005, 14:13
Cumberlande, sunk12/06/1987 after No;1 & 2 holds flooded while carying manganese. Page 24 of site.
SEE Once you have read this report and survey you will never go to sea on a bulk carrier.