Warming Through

1st July 2009, 12:21
Warming through,

I dream a lot these days nothing exciting, nothing grim, rather tedious at times.
Many of the dreams seem to be flashbacks to earlier days, even some involving my father at the age that I remember him although I am now older than him in these meetings.
Funnily enough Ship’s Nostalgia seldom features, perhaps because I do a lot of the dreaming while reading or posting on the various threads but the other night my dream was that I was out mowing the lawns when my partner came out to say “Ring Mr. Douglas, he wants you to join a ship as soon as possible”
Now Mr. Douglas was the Assistant superintending Engineer of the Union Co in Auckland who used to call from time to time so I replied “Rubbish, I stopped working for him 50 years ago, I’m too old for that caper.” She shrugged her shoulders and walked away and the next moment I awoke struggling with the blankets and in a lather about the seeming reality of it all.
After lying there and thinking about it for a moment I asked myself, are you really past it? Could you really go back on board an old ship and know what to do to ready the engine room for sea?
So to sort it out and now fully awake I set myself the mind task of doing the job.

I chose the little banana boat Navua, my favourite ship, with her 5 cylinder 1500 hp trunk piston Sulzer engine and on arrival at the dockside in the early hours of the morning she was like the Marie Celeste, abandoned by all living souls but with shore power connected there were at lest a few glimmering lights, enough for me to find my way down on to the engine room plates to start the job of enlivening the ship’s propulsion ready for sea.
I walked around in the dim light of the essential shore power illumination, every thing was as I remembered it, ship shape and Bristol fashion as they say so first step, start a generator but this move was stymied by almost empty air receivers.
OK, start the sanitary pump to get some water up top and some coolant for the emergency single cylinder diesel driven air compressor. A few turns on the crank handle with the valve lifter on then drop it to be rewarded with the clonking sound of the engine bursting into life and to plug away at slowly topping up the air start receivers.
What next? A wander around the engine room to refresh my memory after 50 years, turning gear in, check, TG notice hung over the telegraph face, oil in the sight glass lubricators, generator sump levels OK, close up lube oil and fuel oil purifiers ready to run, wander down the tunnel to check the stern tube gland, a few drips, mental note to nip up later, check all skin fitting suction and OB discharge valves for correct settings. Check, check, check.
We now have enough air pressure so off with the single lung banger and connect air to No 2 generator, use the semi-rotary oil pump to pressurize the bearings and chuff we are away as the gene surges into life.
Connect generator cooling to the main engine jacket for warming through then up to the switch board to pull down the breaker to connect the ship’s power and trip the shore power supply.
The Ammeter barely lifts off its zero stop, must get some load from somewhere so on with the main air compressor motor, the fuel oil purifier to top up the port and starboard daily use tanks, the lube oil purifier drawing oil from the header tank with its outflow heater .
A big improvement in load but still not enough, what I need is for the AB’s on deck to start topping the ship’s gear, to start using those Clark Chapman winches, for some one to ask for water on deck via the fire pump but there is no one there.
Feel the main engine jacket, it’s warmer than a cold bum but not much , the compressor has finished its job so blow down the receivers for another fill, first time I have ever had start air to waste.
Time to start a main lube oil circulating pump and to start the turning gear for a rev or two, give a few cranks on the lubricator cam shaft to dribble a bit of oil to the liners, walk along the tops with the indicator cocks open and feel the waft of air being discharged with the palm of the hand, is it dry, is there no sign of moisture? All OK so out with the turning gear, remove the sign off the telegraph, and replace it with “Gen. Heat on ME” sign
While every thing is going nicely put the power on to the steering gear then go down the tunnel with a big ring spanner to nip up that stern gland stuffing box, for me this takes a bit of courage as I tend to be claustrophobic and although I have related this story before, I think back to another time on this same ship.


We were set down to sail from Adelaide at 4 pm and the engine room watch started at noon.
Cargo was still being worked using the ship’s gear so I directed the generators cooling water to circulate through the main engine to warm through ready for sea and then set about all the other tasks to get ready to sail.
My motorman arrived late on watch and rather drunk so I gave him the option of going up stairs to find a replacement willing to take his place otherwise he was on report. He disappeared and I went down the propeller shaft tunnel to make the usual checks, stern gland etc, and on attempting to go back to the engine room found the water tight door shut. It turned out that the wayward motorman had few friends as none of the other watch keepers were prepared to take his place so he returned to the plates and on finding me down the tunnel made the spur of the moment decision to lock me in. He then sat down in a corner and went to sleep.
Now I am claustrophobic mainly in tight places but I widened my horizons in this direction when I realized that the second and fourth engineers were still ashore and although the chief was in his cabin he had no reason to enter the engine room. My first effort to get out via the tunnel escape ladder was thwarted by the door being locked while in port to deter stowaways etc and the keys were in the engine room desk.
OK I decided to use a handy hammer to bang on the door, but no response. Next I tried banging out a deliberate SOS code with the hammer on both tunnel access doors, the ship’s hull, the bulkhead, the deck head above which was the no 4 hold floor and any surface that may transmit a sound but no, nobody heard it. About 3 pm the generators had heated the main engine jacket to the limit temperature and the audible alarms started to sound, not that I could hear them but the now back on board second engineer did and after getting tired of waiting for me to rectify the problem came down, realized the position and release me.
Scary indeed being locked in a big steel box and fearing what the drunk outside might be up to.


In this imaginary preparation now going on in my mind I recall this incident and although I seem to be the only man on board I take the precaution of removing the handle off the rack pinion and taking it with me.
I manage to get about three quarters of a turn on the gland nuts, the drips slow down by half. Nip up the tunnel escape to after deck ladder to look in at the steering gear pumps and motors humming away all OK and it’s back to the engine room at a pace.
The main engine is now warming through at a better rate, the lube oil is warmer, the daily use fuel tanks are full, all the ballast, fresh water and fuel and lube tanks have been sounded via that pneumatic pump sounding device that I cannot remember the name of and logged, the log book filled in as necessary

What else do I need to do?
Start a stand-by generator, all necessary circulating pumps, be ready to take the generator heat off the main engine, put the start air on the main engine and wait for the rest of the engine room standby team to arrive and for the telegraph to jangle

There is a jangle but it is my alarm clock telling me that it is 6 am and time to get up for this weeks golf day
I snap out of it but as I shave and shower I wonder what I had forgotten, what cardinal sin had I committed as a marine engineer, even 50 years away from the job is not really an excuse after taking the job on

Tell me, where have I stuffed up?


1st July 2009, 12:39
The only mistake I can see is that you set the alarm clock and stopped a good story Bob.

1st July 2009, 13:55
Bob, What a brilliant piece of posting.(Applause)

Can't see that you've forgotten anything major, but those idle sods who should have been there to help can sort it out.(Thumb)

1st July 2009, 14:04
ER FD fans. Accommodation fans. Cross head LO P/p. Boiler? was she fitted with one?? Need to slowly warm that bugger through and vent off air. Domestic water and potable water pumps to start. O/B discharge v/vs to check along with injections (Open or closed) Steam when raised to bunker tanks and settling and service tanks. Check cocks on service tanks for water settlement. Circulate HO purifier service tank to service tank. Plug in kettle in the control room and have a well deserved cuppa and think what else have I missed !!!!

1st July 2009, 22:53
You have nobbled me on a few points there ccurtis1, but I can escape a couple. No cross heads, she had a trunk piston engine, just a baby in big ship terms. No steam boiler, only a little Robin Hood type cast iron sectional type hot water boiler which I had running to warm my hands, no heated fuel oil, too cold to start the engine room FD fans at that stage, the potable/domestic pump used to be left running on shore power.
Guilty of not checking settling tanks for water. As for the kettle in the control room there was not one, no kettle , no control room, no motorman to go up top and make me one so the whole stint was done dry.I could not even book overtime as it was my watch.
Good to see that no one has suggested that there might have been a big bang followed by FWE signal to the bridge on start up.


2nd July 2009, 08:32
That pnuematic sounding device you mentioned. I have just remembered that it was the Pnuemercator Tank Gauge.

Regards, John

2nd July 2009, 08:51

Being 'ex deck' I don't have a bloody clue what you are talking about, but thoroughly enjoyed reading your story. Hope you can post some more!
Being up top though we always appreciated what the guys down below did to keep us afloat and moving ahead in all conditions.


2nd July 2009, 09:22
Taff, believe me it was sheer hell, especially without that cup of tea.


2nd July 2009, 10:47

Being 'ex deck' I don't have a bloody clue what you are talking about, but thoroughly enjoyed reading your story. Hope you can post some more!
Being up top though we always appreciated what the guys down below did to keep us afloat and moving ahead in all conditions.



Also ex deck and agree with every word. Always wondered "how the hell" and moreover "why the hell" these guys did this work. I now understand why the hell, "LOVE". thanks Bob.


Bob Hollis

2nd July 2009, 11:44
I think I'll take a hard copy of this thread in case I get a call to go below again(Jester) After 33 years away(EEK)

On my last vessel, an FPSO, my only E/R type pleasure was to switch the Caterpiller driven fire pumps into idle mode before s/d after a test run.
The beautiful sound from them idling made me drool. How sad is that!

What an excellent thread lads(Thumb)


JT McRae
3rd July 2009, 00:40
As always a great yarn from you and I really enjoyed reading it.
Brgds Tim

3rd July 2009, 01:24
You forgot one of the most important..........
Get the chit for "No Divers Down" before engaging the turning gear!
Great stuff! I often play the same thing and I'm only 46!

JT McRae
3rd July 2009, 05:21
Happy birthday Bob! Hope you have a good day.
Rgds Tim

3rd July 2009, 06:46
Well written and very evocative Bob!

3rd July 2009, 08:54
Makko, At the time that I am thinking about the diver would of been wearing that big canvas suit, lead boots and belt plus a big polished brass helmet with a port hole on the front.
I would have seen the dive crew on deck slowly turning the pump activating wheels as they supplied his air down that big rubber hose pipe.
Thanks to all for the birthday greeting which I am celebrating along with Tom Cruise, Sir Richard Hadley and Seekers singer Judith Durham.

Regards Bob

3rd July 2009, 22:40

Belated Happy Birthday from me. You beat me to the 3/4 by a few months.
All the very best mate.

Taff (Pint)

4th July 2009, 07:37

Being 'ex deck' I don't have a bloody clue what you are talking about, but thoroughly enjoyed reading your story. Hope you can post some more!
Being up top though we always appreciated what the guys down below did to keep us afloat and moving ahead in all conditions.


I sailed with a chief engineer who, at the time, held a select few of the deck department with great respect (the rest with a caustic contempt) One of those few was Captain Chris Burtinshaw who had gone below to view the warming through procedures for the main engine - 6RND 680 I think on Cunards little bulkers - and carried it out successfully (under observation of that engineer who was then last trip 2nd prior to promotion) I would hasten to add that it was a routine warming through and not starting from dead ship.

Great tale Bob; we could all do without the non mechanical problems! I have to take my hat off to you, knowing what I know - and I seem to have reached the age where what I know is diminishing at an alarming rate.

4th July 2009, 14:55
Well done Bob - I could imagine being there with you. (Thumb)

4th July 2009, 22:22
I sailed with a Captain that required that the Deck Officers when they first reported onboard to be in indoctrinated of the procedures of the Engine Department. The Mates had to take part during Testing Gear, raising vacuum, putting Steam on the Engine, maneuvering and starting of the Cargo and Ballast Pumps. His reason for this was that the Mates should not think that it was just a press of a button and what they wanted was done.

4th July 2009, 23:44
I sailed with a Captain that required that the Deck Officers when they first reported onboard to be in indoctrinated of the procedures of the Engine Department.

Similarly, that is why I took navigation so seriously. I imagined being in a situation were I was the only officer in the lifeboat and the men looking to me for guidance! Good on the OM!

5th July 2009, 00:30
Well I am pleased that no one has said that I would of wrecked the engine on first pull of the air start lever
In fact I am so encouraged that if the old ship was still afloat I would go and apply for a job.
Alas she is no more but she could exist, several time recycled, in the bonnet of my Toyota or in the drivers door of my neighbour's Hyundai.
So if you drive an Asian made car be kind to it, it may contain parts of your favorite old ship.


9th July 2009, 14:26
Picture this, first trip eng apprentice on watch with bolshie 3/e who disliked company apprentices and would pointedly refuse to teach anything.
Alongside tank clean berth in Rotterdam after major clean (black oils to white).
getting ready to leave I ask if I can have a go warming thro main turbine "no" do somethin useful, should I nip up top for aquick shufty "no" go and take out turning gear.
I oblige and rap the plates with my wheel key to signal ok.
First squirt of steam and whole ship seems to lift as I am on way back up from below.
3/e says dont just stand there get up top and take a look.

Just in time to see the barge we just chopped in half gradually sinking.
we got 10days in dock for new prop.
wasnt party to anything that went on during the inquest.
But kept the 3/e quiet for a long time.

14th July 2009, 08:09
Hello Bob,
Belated, but nevertheless a very happy birthday from a fellow Taff.
Terence Williams.(A) (Thumb)

14th July 2009, 08:34
Thanks for that Terence, The later the greeting the better I like it these days as I hope that the next birthday is at least a couple of years away


30th July 2009, 17:23
Great narrative. As a landlubber, I've now got some idea of what I missed. Is it true to say that some of this procedure would be automated nowadays, with flashing lights, or do they still insist on hands-on methods, for safety sake, etc.? I realise it depends on the size of ship.

What would be the equivalent dream for an electrical engineer? Any takers?