Help with understanding the last hours of the SS Camlough (Engine and Boiler Room) - Ships Nostalgia
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Help with understanding the last hours of the SS Camlough (Engine and Boiler Room)

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Old 19th March 2018, 21:03
Nswstar2 Nswstar2 is offline
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Help with understanding the last hours of the SS Camlough (Engine and Boiler Room)

I'm in the process of researching the SS Camlough, which was wrecked near to where I live on the coast at Monreith in Southwest Scotland. Part of the remaining stern of the vessel has been exposed by this winter's storms.

On 14th January, the vessel came to rest, stranded high on rocks and beach during an exceptional high tide and storm with high winds (described as a 'hurricane' in one contemporary account). All the crew were rescued by the Portpatrick lifeboat.

I've been trying to reconstruct the desperate situation for the captain and crew as the Camlough experienced engine and boiler problems which left here helpless in the gale. In particular, I've been trying to imagine what it would have been like in the engine room and boiler room during the crisis.

I posted an earlier query about what might have gone wrong with the engine, that the Engineer had to jury-rig repairs which left the ship making progress but not with full engine power. I and got back a very helpful response that likely one or more of the cylinders of its triple-expansion steam engine failed.

But at the time I asked this first question, I was relying on the account given by the crew, which was reported in the 'Belfast News Letter' (BNL) immediately after they had returned to their home port.

I have since accessed microfiche of the contemporary accounts in the local Scottish papers, The 'Galloway Gazette' (GG) and the 'Galloway Advertiser and Wigtownshire Free Press (FP) which rely on interviews given immediately after the crew had been rescued.

I've been trying to pull together supporting (and conflicting) information from the various reports in order to get a full picture of the sequence of events on 13th January from when the engine first developed a problem to the point where there was no chance of Camlough moving under its own power.

None of the newspaper accounts gives a completely consistent time sequence of events regarding the Camlough's loss of motive power.

When the accounts are read together, there is some sense that (certainly by the time they were back in Belfast_ the crew was attempting to put the most favourable slant on their activities.

So I'd appreciate any comments to help me understand the position the crew were in as things were going awry, and whether anything else <might> have been done (or done differently) which would have kept the ship's engine and boiler functioning.

The ship was travelling in ballast from its home port in Belfast to Birkenhead, where it was scheduled to take on a load of coal.

About 15 miles off The Isle of Man (in view of the Chicken Rocks) the ship had to stop for a repair to the engine which left it running - but at reduced power. At that point (when the weather was still calm) the Captain took the decision to make a run for home - but unfortunately a very bad storm with high winds soon developed.

The Chief Engineer described the Engine Room as being full of steam, which 'made matters worse' as he, the Second Engineer and the two Firemen 'struggled on' while they stopped for about a half hour to 'make the disconnections' They got the engine going 'slowly, but we were not able to put [it] completely right'. BNL

They then travelled for about 4 hours at slow speed (approximately 4 knots) 'making good headway, in spite of the increasing gales'. BNL

'We were shipping heavy seas fore and aft.' and ''The engine room was full of steam and we were not able to see, but luckily no water was getting into the vessel.' BNL

They had to stop at one point 'to get water into the boiler, and we stopped the engine for a half hour again while the pumping was going on and we re-started them again at the same slow speed.' BNL

'We kept going steadily [illegible] tremendous seas hitting us on the port side until about 7 am on Wednesday, when I noticed that the engines [sic Camlough had one engine] were losing their efficiency. Very soon afterwards, they came completely to a standstill, and although we did our utmost to get the trouble right, we found it was impossible.' BNL
---------------

The GG interviewed the crew shortly after they had been rescued and brought to Portpatrick. This account says:

'The engine room was full of steam and the engineers were unable to see the amount of water in the boilers. The engines were stopped. The stokehold was soon flooded and the coals were being washed out of the bunkers. About eight o'clock on the Wednesday morning, the crowns fell out of the furnace, rendering the ship useless and the crew helpless.' GG

----------------

The other Scottish newspaper account includes the following which sheds some additional light on what happened:

The day was calm and mild, but when about 15 miles from the Isle of Man the main engine gave out. The stokehold became full of water, and the fireman, standing knee-deep in water, were unable to get the engine going. The skipper, Captain H. Harvey of Belfast, ordered the ship to return to port and set the pumps going. Good headway was made until early on Wednesday morning, when the vessel was about 14 miles off the South Rock vessel light on the County Down coast of Ireland, and then the crowns were blown out of the port and starboard furnaces, rendering the vessel helpless with no steam at all.

Later on in the article he is quoted as, 'Captain Harvey, a stout-hearted skipper, remained on the bridge for twenty-four hours and was the last to leave the ship. “It was the worst storm I have ever experienced.” said Captain Harvey. “And when our engines gave out entirely we were being knocked about the sea at the mercy of the storm.' FP

'Mr W Bows, the fireman, said he thought it was all up with them when the engines stopped, and he could not get them going.' FP

So... given the common threads in these accounts, I wonder:

* What would have caused the hold (or stoke hold) to flood in this kind of situation?

It's only the Scottish papers which mention the crowns falling in the furnaces of the boiler (certainly Camlough would have had no chance of motive power after that point).

* Would that fatal problem with the boiler have been caused by the engineers not being able to read their water gauges properly and maintain enough water supply? Or might it just happen anyway after the engine had finally stopped working altogether?

* Chicken-and-egg... did the second failure of the engine cause the boiler problem - or was the boiler problem itself (and no steam) the cause of the engine finally stopping?

* P.S. What would the lighting have been like in the engine and boiler rooms if the engine was stopped? Presumably the lighting would run <off> the engine, but there would be some kind of battery back-up?

Many thanks in advance for any insights and information you can share.
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