What on earth did engineers on steam ships do? - Ships Nostalgia
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What on earth did engineers on steam ships do?

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  #1  
Old 1st June 2006, 23:13
benjidog benjidog is offline
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What on earth did engineers on steam ships do?

Ladies and Gentlemen,

There is an ever-decreasing number of people alive that served as engineers on steam ships. It occurred to me when reading some recent threads that I have never seen an account describing the duties of ships engineers and that, unless someone writes one, this information will be lost forever.

By this I mean an account describing in enough detail that someone who has never been on a steam ship would understand them, things like the following:

(a) What did ships engineers do just to keep the ship moving along - e.g. from stoking to responding to bridge commands
(b) What standard maintenance tasks had to be performed on a daily/weekly/monthly or whatever basis
(c) What kind of running repairs were undertaken when things went wrong
(d) Risks and dangers

The key point in all this is to bring alive for future generations what it was like to work as an engineer on a steam ship.

Is anyone aware of a work that does this already? If not is there someone out there who is interested in writing it all down before it is too late? I am not necessarily talking about publishing a book, but maybe a personal account that could be made available to interested parties. I would be pleased to help anyone wishing to take this on in terms of editing, formatting, and generally tarting the final product up but only a real engineer could provide the raw materials.

What do you think - is anyone interested?

Regards,

Brian
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  #2  
Old 1st June 2006, 23:57
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Brian there is a very good description of part of what you are asking in the thread called "Stokers and trimmers"
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  #3  
Old 3rd June 2006, 21:07
Jim S Jim S is offline   SN Supporter
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Engineers on Steam Ships

Quote:
Originally Posted by benjidog
Ladies and Gentlemen,

There is an ever-decreasing number of people alive that served as engineers on steam ships. It occurred to me when reading some recent threads that I have never seen an account describing the duties of ships engineers and that, unless someone writes one, this information will be lost forever.

By this I mean an account describing in enough detail that someone who has never been on a steam ship would understand them, things like the following:

(a) What did ships engineers do just to keep the ship moving along - e.g. from stoking to responding to bridge commands
(b) What standard maintenance tasks had to be performed on a daily/weekly/monthly or whatever basis
(c) What kind of running repairs were undertaken when things went wrong
(d) Risks and dangers

The key point in all this is to bring alive for future generations what it was like to work as an engineer on a steam ship.

Is anyone aware of a work that does this already? If not is there someone out there who is interested in writing it all down before it is too late? I am not necessarily talking about publishing a book, but maybe a personal account that could be made available to interested parties. I would be pleased to help anyone wishing to take this on in terms of editing, formatting, and generally tarting the final product up but only a real engineer could provide the raw materials.

What do you think - is anyone interested?

Regards,

Brian
Brian,
I feel I owe you an apology, - when I saw the title of your thread I thought it was those motor ship men having a dig. Once I had read it though I see that is not the case.
As an exercise some years ago I embarked on writing "memoirs" of my time from an apprentice fitter to Chief Engineer of which 6 or 7 pages was a brief description of the duties and development of the sea going engineer. Four pages illustrated the preparation for sea and watchkeeping on a typical oil fired steam turbine engined cargo liner of the 1950-60s.
Regards,
Jim S
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Old 4th June 2006, 01:29
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On steam ships we sweated gallons ( Engineers )
We had a wooden "Pani " ( water ) bucket for the engineer officers of the watch which held something more than a gallon which was repenished by the " Tail Wallah " ( oiler ) at least 2times if not 3 times a watch East of Suez. This was in addition to the 3 or 4 "tea breaks " we indulged in . Always a big bottle of Salt Tablets on the E/R Desk !
If your sweat didnt have a salty taste then time to consume a few " Salties "
One of Brocks vessels lost a 5 th Engineer in the Red Sea due to a combination of heat exhaustion ( Lack 0f Salt ) amd he also apparentley had Astma . He was buried at sea .
My Kids still dont believe we had to drink about a gallon and a half pof water per watch and take the salt tablets .
In the dining saloon there was always bottles of salt tablets on thetables at all meal times .
The worst thing however was " *****ley Heat " which was a very bad Itch all over the body and the only thing which would reliev it " Temporarily " was a hot shower .
It took months to get rid of it !!!

Oh Happy Days ?????????????????????
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  #5  
Old 4th June 2006, 03:15
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Engineerson Steamships

Jim S: I'm sure many of us would be interested in reading those "memoirs" of yours. It's good that Brian's suggestion may have given you cause to share it. Any chance of posting it on the site??
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Old 4th June 2006, 04:11
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"Jim's Memoirs"

Jim;

The gang is right. You should give us all a treat, and let us know the way it was. You are very good at writing too. I asked you about the UFCo BAYANO and BARRANCA, the Spanish built mini Containers that look more like a Great Lakes boat than anything else. You wrote me back a complete history, and all the details of the teething troubles experienced when you took her across the Pond on her Maiden Voyage.

I realise therse two were Diesels, but the story was fantastic. By the way, in case you deleted your copy of the email I still have mine over here.

Cheers,
Rory
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Old 4th June 2006, 04:32
wakaman wakaman is offline
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''Sweat''

Derek Roger is right,sweat and salt tablets were the order of the day,the
one and only steamer I sailed on was american built,everything was metal,
on a 75 day voyage from Liverpool to Sydney,average temp on the
manouvering platform was 115 fah,the space between the boilers and the
bulkhead was 28 inches,thats where the soot blowers were,you went in
did 3 or 4 turns then got out,you had to have a mate watching you.
After 2 days at sea,it was impossible to access the e/r from the eng,s
alley way,you would fry before getting halfway down,lol...but the dhobi
dried in about 5 mins.The boiler feed pumps were an abomination,with 3
vertical pistons that always needed the glands tightened or repacked,
no stopping to do it either !! manouvering was an art,the telegraph was
behind,the eng and fireman on the bailey board was way over the other side
of the m/e,trouble was there was a bloody great big stm pipe in the way,you
had to bend down and signal the boiler boys with your fingers,one finger up
=dead slow ahead...one finger down=dead slow astern..etc..
Ah Doxfords....!!!!
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  #8  
Old 4th June 2006, 15:19
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Sailed on many steam driven ships,both coal fired and oil burners, I was too busy shoveling coal or looking at the water glass and pressure gage to worry about what the engineers were doing. They came into check the fires during the watch but most of the time they stood under the vent cooling off.(Kidding Guys). All the engineers I sailed with worked hard,especially when we dropped the bottom ends and we all took turns swinging that large hammer,we were dressed in shorts and sweat rag and the ginger beers were in boiler suits,now I know why they called them that,hotter than the hobbs of hell they were. Hope to see the paper written on the engineers posted soon.
John
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  #9  
Old 4th June 2006, 17:06
benjidog benjidog is offline
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Jim,

I know a great deal of my postings are tongue in cheek but I was deadly serious about this one.

I have always been fascinated by steam power since I was a lad in the 50s and we had real steam trains. In this day and age it sounds almost unbelievable, but when I was about 8 or 9 I used to sneak into the railway engine sheds near where I lived in North-West London with a friend (1A Willesden and 81A Old Oak Common if there are any railway buffs out there) to watch the engines being serviced, tested and cleaned. The railwaymen used to tolerate us most of the time though occasionally we got caught by the lughole and turfed out by a supervisor.

My interests next graduated into the early atmospheric and low compression steam powered beam engines in mines in Cornwall and elsewhere and finally to the pinnacle of steam - the unbelievably huge steam engines in ships.

Maybe someone has written an account of the type I was suggesting already and I just haven't come across it - if so I would welcome a pointer to it. It would be a tragedy in my opinion if the operation and maintenance of these superb pieces of machinery were not recorded by someone who could paint a first-hand picture of what it was all about - dirt, steam, noise, heat - the works! Photos are fine but so limited.

I hope you will share your "memoirs" with us - I am sure a lot of SN members will be interested in reading them.

Regards,

Brian
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  #10  
Old 4th June 2006, 17:27
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Go on watch check some temperatures, sit down under a forced draught fan and wait for the tea to arrive one hour later,3 1/2 hours later take some readings, enter into log book and wait to be relieved. It was a hard life. If on 8/12, come up shower, clean mess room boiler suite (Bombay style with cotton butons)and scout decks for any spare passengers.
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Old 4th June 2006, 20:23
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On Maipura we had 3 Scotch Boilers supplying the steam Turbine . On ' Stand Bye and maouvering we had one e/r rating on each bolier watching the Gauge glass and adjusting the boiler feed valve which was manual additionaly we had the Tail Wahlla ( Oiler ) who stood handy to do any other chores as required by the engineeer who was on the control wheels . One for ahead and one for astern . On Maipura the contol wheels were about 3 to 4 ft in diameter and could be easily swung ( spunn ) I think it was about 20 turns from open to closed and of course we contoled the turbine / shaft revs by adjusting the number of turns open .
At the same time in the stokehold there was a fireman or Tidal at each boiler furnace front and he was resonsible for lighting or pulling ( shutting down ) the 4 separate fires in the boiler Maipuras boilers each had 4 furnaces .
The engineer would watch the telegraph and respond to orders at the same time as checking the water level in all boilers and watching the steam pressure ; trying to keep it as close to 250 PIS without lifting the saftey valves ( That cost a case of beer and a lot of ribbing by the rest of the crew )
The steam pressure was controlled by the engineer who who had three light panels ( one for each boiler )each with 4 switches ( one for each furnace in the boiler.)
In the stokehold each boiler had its panel with 4 lights ( each one a different color ) and the engineer would switch on which fires / furnaces he wanted lit and which shut off /Pulled .
At the same time the fireman had to watch his smoke and adjust the air supply to give good combustion and no smoke .
As apprentice I was on the telegraph and movemnt book as well as watching and adjusting the gland steam on the turbine. Also My duty was to ensure the feedwater heaters had about 6 " of water in the glass and also adjust the amount of extra feed to keep the main condenser glass at the correct level .
Everytime we were given a movement change all these parameters had to be adjusted .
After about 6 months on Maipura the 3rd Eng put me on the controls and I became quite adept . One had to be a bit of an octopus but after a while we could antisipate what was going to happen and all the adjustments became automatic without thinking exactly why we were making them .
While all this was going on we would be having a smoke / coffeee and talking about the last / next "run ashore "
Talk about Muti Tasking We had absolutly no automation at all with the exception of the steering gear telemotor.
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Old 4th June 2006, 21:27
Ships Agent Ships Agent is offline  
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Steam Engineers

I sailed on the P.S.N.C. Kayeson which had two 4 oil fired burners controlled by a Somalian donkeyman (no English) located behind the manouvering consol with a similar set up in that the watch keepers adjusted the speed according to the bridge telegraph orders. we had two turbinesHP & LP the juniors job was mainly to watch the boiler gauges during manouvering while the lecky kept the log after full away it was just the usual maintainance of the various pumps steam up and downers as well as electric pumps check temps on the turbo alternator bearings dodge the steam leaks (superheated steam leaking is no joke as you cant see it and it can cut through skin and bone no problem) when in port for maybe just a few hours the engineers operated the cargo pumps manually 1st open the steam valve to warm the pumps through and hand crank the oil pump on the pump as required bty the deck officer as req. pumps located on the same flat as the turbines and as you can imagine it was very humid most times, pump the bilges leaving the oily residue of course, it would not do to discharge the oil overboard now would it. Being a Hastie's man I was given the job of checking the levels of the steering gear.Plug the condenser tubes clean the desalinator of lime and on a good trip you got to do a boiler clean. Then of course you got to sleep of a run ashore Usually out of sight behind the switcboard. Kayeson was a steam tanker sister ship to the william wheelright
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Old 5th June 2006, 08:22
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One of Brocks vessels lost a 5 th Engineer in the Red Sea due to a combination of heat exhaustion ( Lack 0f Salt ) amd he also apparentley had Astma . He was buried at sea .

What ship and when?
----------------------
Tony C
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Old 5th June 2006, 14:20
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I dont recollect what ship but it was in the mid / late sixties when I heard about the incident .
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Old 5th June 2006, 17:43
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May I suggest that in the Red Sea you are never more than a few hours away from a Port where medical assistance is available for someone so seriously ill or in the worst case to land a body for autopsy. I believe that the days of burial at sea were long over by then apart from ships having a doctor to determine the cause of a death. If someone had died in the Red Sea probably the body would have been landed care of the British Consul in Aden.

On "Malancha" in 1956 we steamed back 2 days to Capetown to land a Khalasi
who had died.( During the first Suez closure )
------------------------------
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Old 5th June 2006, 19:50
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We used to give salt tablets to engine room crew on both Canberra and Arcadia.

And we were still conducting burials at sea during the early to middle 70s Tony on Canberra when she was still employed on 'line voyages, and Arcadia when she was crusising full time firstly from the west coast of America, and then from Australia. I left her in 1975, and we were still conducting autopsies and burials at sea then. Countries would not allow us in with a body on board be it Red Sea or wherever. Nowadays cruise ships in particular have proper storage facilities, so the body is either brought back to the home port or landed. Also, ships that have doctors on board would not give a cause of death without an autopsy. By the way Tony, the medical condition you and Deryk mentioned would be Asthma. There is an H in the word!. I am okay with medical spelling, but hopeless at other spelling?!.

Since you like steam Brian, you would no doubt like a trip on Shieldhall from Southampton?. She is running trips at the moment. I bumped into her crew a few weeks ago after they had finished getting her ready for the new season. Like steam train enthusiasts, they are all volunteers. I saw her steaming off St Catherines the other day after collecting my grandchildren. I hope to do a trip on her in the next few weeks. David
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Old 5th June 2006, 20:37
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David you are talking about ships with a Doctor and full medical facilities aboard. Unfortunately this was not the case in Brocklebank ships.
---------------------------------
Tony c

(Just off to Malta for a fortnight.Lots of "Ships Nostalgia" there. The War
Museum is very moving with memorabilia from the Malta convoys)
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Old 5th June 2006, 21:22
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No, I don't suppose you did Tony. But doctors, even with medical facilities aboard ship do not give a cause of death without an autopsy. It must have been very difficult for crew on cargo ships not used to dealing with this, and still would be of course. And the days of steam which Brian opened this thread for would have been even worse?!. David
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Old 6th June 2006, 13:05
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Why do engineers always go ashore in threes? Because one can write, one can read and the other likes to be seen with intellectuals
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Old 6th June 2006, 21:17
Jim S Jim S is offline   SN Supporter
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What did engineers on steam ships do? - Burials at sea

Amazing how this link went from what engineers did on steam ships to burials at sea - with that in mind with your indulgence I will continue in similar vein.
I served on Elders & Fyffes CAMITO between 1969 to 1971 as 2nd Engineer.
She carried up to 100 passengers that could be categorised into two distinct groups 1- individuals, couples, families travelling out to Trinidad, Jamaica or Bermuda to start a new life. 2- round trip passengers, the latter as couples or individuals, invariably elderly people. Sometimes one of this latter group would not make it. In my 25 trips there were three occasions when we had a natural causes death on board and a "stop at sea". Always a great ceremony highlight of the voyage - for the surviving passengers that is. It is certainly true that the sale of film and cameras from the ship's shop would increase when the word got out that there would be a burial at sea in the offing.
The service would be held by the Master on the 4 to 8 afternoon watch and those off duty were expected to attend. Reverting to engineers mode now - with a ceremony set for 16.30 hrs, shortly after taking over the watch at 16.00hrs preparations would be taken to stop.CAMITO was a twin screw turbine steamer and speed would be gradually reduced until approaching the alloted time the propeller revs had been reduced from the normal 110 rpm to manoeuvring speed of 80 rpm. Astern guarding valves and turbine drains would be opened, bled steam shut off and live steam opened up to plant such as feed water heaters and distillation plant that might require it.
Normally the 3rd Engineer would return to assist and the daywork Donkeyman and Storekeeper would go to the boiler room to assist the watchkeeping fireman deal with the firing of the 3 Babcock boilers - each with 4 oil burners.
The telegraph would ring STOP and the engineers would bring the turbines to a stop using Astern steam and maintaining the use of astern steam to ensure that both propellers did not rotate (to prevent any unpleasant accident).
The Master would say a few words and the bosun and his AB's would lift the board containing the body to the ship's side and on the order tilt the board and let the body slide out from under the Red Ensign to the deep.
Soon Full Ahead would be rung - the bosun would receive the traditional bottle of rum, the spectating passengers would head to the bar to compare notes and toast the dear departed shipmate. The 2nd Eng. and his assistant would start restoring the plant to normal sea conditions and in the case of one of the 3rd Eng that I sailed with - depart the engine room to get showered into his uniform and see if there were any young females that might have been traumatised by the afternoon's events so that he might afford comfort.
I always kept a stock of diesel generator bottom end bolts (used), and some blank flanges to be used as weights by the bosun when doing his sewing up of the canvas shroud. I should add that CAMITO carried a doctor.

Last edited by Jim S; 6th June 2006 at 21:20.. Reason: addition
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Old 6th June 2006, 22:04
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim S
Amazing how this link went from what engineers did on steam ships to burials at sea - with that in mind with your indulgence I will continue in similar vein.
I served on Elders & Fyffes CAMITO between 1969 to 1971 as 2nd Engineer.
She carried up to 100 passengers that could be categorised into two distinct groups 1- individuals, couples, families travelling out to Trinidad, Jamaica or Bermuda to start a new life. 2- round trip passengers, the latter as couples or individuals, invariably elderly people. Sometimes one of this latter group would not make it. In my 25 trips there were three occasions when we had a natural causes death on board and a "stop at sea". Always a great ceremony highlight of the voyage - for the surviving passengers that is. It is certainly true that the sale of film and cameras from the ship's shop would increase when the word got out that there would be a burial at sea in the offing.
The service would be held by the Master on the 4 to 8 afternoon watch and those off duty were expected to attend. Reverting to engineers mode now - with a ceremony set for 16.30 hrs, shortly after taking over the watch at 16.00hrs preparations would be taken to stop.CAMITO was a twin screw turbine steamer and speed would be gradually reduced until approaching the alloted time the propeller revs had been reduced from the normal 110 rpm to manoeuvring speed of 80 rpm. Astern guarding valves and turbine drains would be opened, bled steam shut off and live steam opened up to plant such as feed water heaters and distillation plant that might require it.
Normally the 3rd Engineer would return to assist and the daywork Donkeyman and Storekeeper would go to the boiler room to assist the watchkeeping fireman deal with the firing of the 3 Babcock boilers - each with 4 oil burners.
The telegraph would ring STOP and the engineers would bring the turbines to a stop using Astern steam and maintaining the use of astern steam to ensure that both propellers did not rotate (to prevent any unpleasant accident).
The Master would say a few words and the bosun and his AB's would lift the board containing the body to the ship's side and on the order tilt the board and let the body slide out from under the Red Ensign to the deep.
Soon Full Ahead would be rung - the bosun would receive the traditional bottle of rum, the spectating passengers would head to the bar to compare notes and toast the dear departed shipmate. The 2nd Eng. and his assistant would start restoring the plant to normal sea conditions and in the case of one of the 3rd Eng that I sailed with - depart the engine room to get showered into his uniform and see if there were any young females that might have been traumatised by the afternoon's events so that he might afford comfort.
I always kept a stock of diesel generator bottom end bolts (used), and some blank flanges to be used as weights by the bosun when doing his sewing up of the canvas shroud. I should add that CAMITO carried a doctor.
Jim,
Great story, especially the bit about the "3 E", obviously a very caring person.....
P.S. I hope the flanges were also "used", no point in wasting new ones..
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Old 7th June 2006, 04:13
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My memories of steam are a Norwegian Liberty,no forced ventilation,no booze & sweating so much that one did not pass water for days.Ice water in engine room tho & a plentiful supply of salt tablets.Taking settling tank dips ones feet literally squellched in shoes & the sweat just ran from fingers.Maloja not quite so bad as there were vent fans but there were spots where one felt the heat & probably the engine room lift was as good as it got. Kiwi
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Old 7th June 2006, 08:00
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As a first tripper and junior on the Corinthic one of my duties was to make a cup of tea for the watch. But I was able to get the best tabnabs especially the cream filled ones. And who said Shaw Savill was a poor feeder. Not on their first class passenger ships. Us engineers ate the same food as the passengers.

Another job I got was to do maintenance in the galley for the chef. After that I always got the best of steaks cooked by him. He was chef on the Gothic when the queen was on board.

Apart from pumping bilges, looking after the generators, blowing the pre heaters on the night watch, taking the log, learning to blow the evaporator down ,pack glands, check the steering gear, keeping a eye on the boiler water levels plus a dozen or so other jobs life was a breeze.

Oh yes on the 12 - 4 New Years eve I laced the tea with rum. Brought a smile to the thirds face.
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Old 7th June 2006, 21:46
Chris Field Chris Field is offline
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You didn't have to be an engineer to get heat exhauston in the 1950's in the Persian Gulf in a Liberty ship- City of Colchester in my case, as a first trip deck apprentice on 10 quid per month...
When they got me back from the hospital in Mina al Ahmadi I was th only fit white person on board. Interestingly, the hospital served Guinness or light ale for lunch-the greediest consumer was a RN frigate captain who was also in for heat exhaustion...
24 salt tablets per day was my ration, with unlimited water- a far cry from the twice -a - day water supply we had on the ship! Following the Gulf we had a relatively cool trip to Colombo and Chalna, my sympathies with the poor old engineers down below!
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Old 8th June 2006, 00:57
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In a former post i referred to '*****ley heat ' but the system removes some letters as being sear words so I shall try to spell it another way so we can get a response . " Pr1kly Heat " Anyone who was in the Red Sea Gulf area knows of this . Not all got it but when you did it was not Fun .
Derek
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