What Exactly Caused the Loss of all Power on SS Camlough's Fatal Last Trip? - Ships Nostalgia
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What Exactly Caused the Loss of all Power on SS Camlough's Fatal Last Trip?

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Old 29th April 2018, 17:37
Nswstar2 Nswstar2 is offline
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What Exactly Caused the Loss of all Power on SS Camlough's Fatal Last Trip?

Steamship Engine Room and Boiler Room Expertise Needed– SS Camlough’s Last Trip (January 1932)

I’m continuing to tease out answers to some unanswered questions from all the available contemporary evidence.

Apologies for the length of this post – but I would be grateful if people who have insights are able to respond with comments/information on:

* the different newspaper quotes (lettered A, B, C etc.)
or
* responses to numbered QUESTIONS.


From the evidence we have, it’s clear that the situation in the engine room and boiler room of the SS Camlough was very challenging during the last hours when the ship was running with an engine that had been partially repaired (so running under reduced power).

A few days after the crew had been rescued, the chief engineer, Harry Tompson, was quoted at length in The Besfast News Letter, giving a graphic report from his perspective in the engine room, including as repairs were being made after the ship had experienced ‘engine trouble.’ (I attached the full article from of 16 January 1932 to a previous thread ‘What might have Caused Engine Failure on the SS Camlough?’ which I posted awhile back on the Coasters forum of this site - it makes fascinating reading, and in many ways is a 'character study' of a chief engineer on a steam coaster).

Thompson’s provides us with the most extended, detailed and coherent description of the entire sequence of events surrounding the voyage.

When it comes to describing the initial engine trouble, Thompson is quite detailed:

He is quoted as saying that after ‘engine trouble’ first developed, ‘We realised at once that the position was serious, and so we worked like niggers to get the engines right, and for this purpose we had to stop for about an hour to make the disconnections... The engine-room was filled with steam, which made matters worse, but the second engineer, the two fireman and myself struggled to get the engines [sic – Camlough had one triple-expansion engine] right, and for this purpose we had to stop for about half an hour to make the disconnections.’

‘After an anxious half-hour... we got the engines [sic] going slowly but were not able to put them completely right.’

So after an anxious half hour when the engine was stopped for these repairs to take place, Camlough had been left with the engine ‘going slowly’. In this state the ship was capable, as Thompson states later in the article, of travelling in increasingly windy/stormy conditions at about four knots.

The previous post to Ships Nostalgia's 'Coasters' forum helpfully suggested that from Thompson’s description it sounded as if one of the cylinders of her triple expansion engine had failed and the temporary repair would have had the engine running on two cylinders.

The repair left Camlough capable of running with reduced power and speed in increasingly foul weather for nearly 11 hours (from 8.15 that evening to 7 am the following day).

Unfortunately, when it comes to describing that last 11 hours’ running, Thompson gives less detail about what was happening in the engine and boiler rooms.

*** I’m trying to get a clearer picture of what was going wrong in the engine and boiler room of the SS Camlough AFTER this repair was in place.

There is further information to be gleaned, but it’s partial and has to be pieced together from different sources, each with its own ‘angle’ on telling the story.

FIRST QUESTION is about what Thompson said about the actual repairs, that the Camlough’s second engineer and two fireman were helping with the repair, helping to ‘make the disconnections’. DOES THIS SUGGEST THAT REPAIR WORK WOULD HAVE BEEN GOING ON IN THE BOILER ROOM - OR DOES IT JUST SOUND AS IF THE EXTRA HANDS WOULD HAVE ALL BEEN NEEDED FOR REPAIR WORK IN THE ENGINE ROOM??

When it comes to the following 11 hours after the repairs were made, the Belfast News Letter article doesn’t detail all that happened, by any means. Thompson’s interview was given a few days after the crew had been rescued when they were back at home in Belfast. The chief engineer’s account is compelling reading – especially direct quotes in his own words. However, by the time he spoke to the reporter, he would have had had time to reflect on the situation, which means that this is in some respects a guarded account, which he knew would be reach the eyes of local readers (including his employer).

After Thompson’s account of initial work on the engine repair, he does give us a clear idea of the engine’s efficiency after the repair (able to achieve a speed of around four knots, even in worsening weather conditions).

The few further pieces of information he shares about the 11-hour period of running at reduced power are:

A) The engine room was still full of steam and we were not able to see, but luckily no water was getting into the vessel.’

B) At a time in the early hours of the following morning, some hours before Camlough lost all motive power and after they had managed to escape being driven on rocks, ‘It was necessary at this time to get water into the boiler, and so we stopped the engines [sic] for a half hour again while the pumping was going on, and we re-started them at the same slow speed.’

QUESTION TWO: WHAT KIND OF PUMPS WOULD HAVE BEEN USED TO GET EXTRA WATER TO THE BOILER? Would they have been using some kind of hand pumps to get extra water to the boiler (Thompson says the engine was stopped while pumping went on - why would they have had to stop the engine in a dangerous stormy sea)? Any idea FROM WHICH TANK the fresh water for the boiler would be likely to be drawn?

Then when it comes to the final loss of power, Thompson says:
C) ‘We kept going steadily on – tremendous seas hitting us on the port side – until about 7 am on Wednesday, when I noticed that the engines 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.’

Speaking a few days after the events, when he was safely home in Belfast (and would have had time to reflect about the implications of his words) Thompson leaves the reporter and his Belfast readers to infer from his words that ‘the trouble’ which finally left the ship with no power was a continuation of the initial engine problem.

HOWEVER, the Scottish newspaper reports of the time, which were taken from interviews in Portpatrick with Camlough’s crew immediately after being rescued, suggest a different scenario. These reports give details of events which Thompson chose not to recount in his interview a few days later and they indicate a different reason why the ship eventually lost all motive power. The reports were in ‘The Galloway Gazette’ (GG) and ‘The Galloway Advertiser and Free Press’ (GAWFP).

Camlough’s crew would have been both exhausted and hugely relieved when they spoke to reporters in Scotland immediately after their rescue from what had been a terrifying ordeal.

Unlike the report in the Belfast News Letter, the timeline of events in the Scottish accounts is more jumbled and confusing (and facts are occasionally inaccurate). The Scottish reports contain few direct quotes, but provide nuggets of information from events which would have been raw in the minds of the newly-rescued crew.

Additional information - quotes from the Scottish newspaper accounts:

D) ‘When about 15 miles from the Isle of Man [having already gone past the I.O.M. behind on the outward journey] the main engine gave out. [the initial engine problem which Thompson and others worked to repair]. The stokehold became full of water, and the fireman, standing knee deep in water were unable to get the engine going.’ (GG)

QUESTION THREE – if (as it appears) the quote above is another description of the situation <immediately> after the initial engine ‘problem’ WHAT COULD HAVE CAUSED THAT KIND OF WATER ACCUMULATION IN THE STOKEHOLD? Thompson says that the ship itself was not leaking, and that the two fireman were helping with the initial repairs (not wading in the stokehold).

QUESTION FOUR – WHAT WOULD THE FIREMEN'S ROLE HAVE BEEN? presumably it’s an error on the reporter’s part above when he says that the <firemen> would be trying to get the engine going (instead of one or both of the engineers)? Or might this perhaps another way of talking about the joint repairs which were described by Thompson? Perhaps the reporter was interviewing firemen instead of engineers?

E) ‘The skipper... ordered the ship to return to port and set the pumps going.’ (GG)

QUESTION FIVE – WHICH PUMPS MIGHT THESE HAVE BEEN? (i.e. to remove the water from the stokehold)? Presumably these pumps would have run off the engine, once it had been repaired and started up again going at slow speed?

F) ‘Good headway was made until early on Wednesday morning... and then the crowns were blown out of the port and starboard furnaces, rendering the vessel helpless with no steam at all.’ (GG)

QUESTION SIX (a big one) – THE BOILER FAILED – WHY/HOW MIGHT THIS HAVE HAPPENED?

Camlough was fitted with one Scotch Boiler (which it appears had at least two furnaces). If the crowns were blown, then this would appear to have been the final and definitive reason for Camlough losing all power. It would seem (despite the pumping Thompson said went on in the early hours of the morning) that enough water hadn’t been reaching the area of the boiler over the crowns. WHY - AND WHAT ELSE COULD THE ENGINE/BOILER CREW HAVE DONE TO PREVENT THIS HAPPENING?

There was a lot of steam escaping in the engine room, so presumably significant water loss. Could the Camlough have been running short on water or perhaps not have had efficient pumps? Alternatively, might an oversight (by the engineers) in reading the gauges in the steam-filled engine room have contributed to this boiler failure?

G) The second Scottish account is somewhat different, but also refers to the stokehold being awash.

However in this account it that flooded stokehold happened with the final loss of power: ‘The engine rooms were 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 Wednesday morning, the crowns fell out of the furnace, rendering the ship useless and the crew helpless. All attempts to make repairs proved unavailing...’(GAWFP)

So this second Scottish account mentions the flooding in the stokehold happening as part of the sequence of events just before the ship finally lost all motive power rather than at the time of the initial engine problem, some 11 hours earlier - and also mentions the crowns falling in the boiler.

One definitely has to suspect that the Scottish reporters were getting answers from the viewpoint of Camlough’s firemen rather than their engineers, and that the exhausted crew were describing the low points of their terrifying experience, but possibly not being that clear about the sequence of events.

QUESTION SEVEN – What COULD HAVE CAUSED ALL THAT WATER TO BE SLOSHING AROUND IN THE STOKEHOLD - either at the time of the initial engine failure or at the very end of Camlough’s travel under steam when the boiler failed? AND WHICH TIME LOOKS MORE LIKELY FOR THE WATER PROBLEM?

QUESTION EIGHT:WHAT WAS THE CAUSE OF THE CROWNS FALLING? – Might the crowns falling in the boiler have happened because the steam in the engine room had prevented the engineers from seeing that water gauges were low? Or might the loss of steam (and water) from the rough engine repairs have been catastrophic enough in itself to be the most likely cause of the boiler failure (clearly the stopping the engine in the early hours of the morning to pump more water to the boiler had not been sufficient to prevent the boiler failure a few hours later).

Apologies for the length of this long post – but I’m trying to present ALL the evidence I’ve been able to gather about conditions in the engine room and boiler room during the last period of time when SS Camlough was trying to limp home to its home port.

Any and all insights that you may be able to offer as I attempt to tease out the disastrous sequence of events will be appreciated!

Many thanks, in advance.

Last edited by Nswstar2; 29th April 2018 at 17:38.. Reason: Error in Title Wording
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Old 1st May 2018, 10:43
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This is a huge leap of faith but it is possible that the main boiler feed pumps were driven by levers from one of the triple expansion cylinders, now, assuming that it was an expansion stage that had failed it is possible that it was the stage that drove the feed pumps.

There would be a small hand (or steam) operated feed pump for initially filling the boilers but this would not have the capacity to sustain the main engine.

I would suggest that one possible scenario would have been to fill the boiler until the level was just out of the top of the sight glass then steam the engine until the level fell below the bottom of the glass, stop the engine and repeat.

With conditions steadily deteriorating there may have been a calculated misjudgment to continue steaming with no water visible in the glass - particularly if a haven was in sight. Sadly the water would evaporate further exposing the furnace crown and leading to failure (Or water may have been added to the boiler in this condition - again leading to cold shock and failure)

The other alternative may be that the gauge glass was reading inaccurately - there may have been only one, and test cocks fitted or one may have been out of service - normal practice is for two water gauges to be fitted.

As to water in the engine room, I wonder if the condenser extraction pump had also failed (or was not driven as with the feed pump) and the condenser was operating atmospherically (reducing engine efficiency) dumping water and steam into the engine room.
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Old 1st May 2018, 11:27
Nswstar2 Nswstar2 is offline
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Thanks for these possibilities! I still wonder about WATER IN THE STOKEHOLD.

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Originally Posted by Duncan112 View Post
This is a huge leap of faith but it is possible that the main boiler feed pumps were driven by levers from one of the triple expansion cylinders, now, assuming that it was an expansion stage that had failed it is possible that it was the stage that drove the feed pumps.

There would be a small hand (or steam) operated feed pump for initially filling the boilers but this would not have the capacity to sustain the main engine.

I would suggest that one possible scenario would have been to fill the boiler until the level was just out of the top of the sight glass then steam the engine until the level fell below the bottom of the glass, stop the engine and repeat.

With conditions steadily deteriorating there may have been a calculated misjudgment to continue steaming with no water visible in the glass - particularly if a haven was in sight. Sadly the water would evaporate further exposing the furnace crown and leading to failure (Or water may have been added to the boiler in this condition - again leading to cold shock and failure)

The other alternative may be that the gauge glass was reading inaccurately - there may have been only one, and test cocks fitted or one may have been out of service - normal practice is for two water gauges to be fitted.

As to water in the engine room, I wonder if the condenser extraction pump had also failed (or was not driven as with the feed pump) and the condenser was operating atmospherically (reducing engine efficiency) dumping water and steam into the engine room.
Great! Thanks a lot for these possibilities.

These scenarios help me to visualise what may have been happening with ongoing difficulties that night in Camlough's engine room.

There are repeated mentions in different sources about the engine room being full of <steam> (and it being difficult to see - with whatever lighting would have been operating in this 1920s steam coaster). However, other than the steam, the accounts don't mention <water> in the engine room...

...on the other hand

WATER IN THE STOKEHOLD would appear to have been a problem at one stage of affairs (either at the time of the initial engine problem or during the final stages when the boiler was failing/about to fail).

I still wonder what could have caused so much water to accumulate the stokehold (graphic details being that it became 'full of water, and the fireman, standing knee deep in water' and with 'coals being washed out of the bunkers').

So I hope that someone may be able to suggest reasons for this influx of water to the stokehold.

But these engine room speculations are very suggestive - thanks again!
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Old 1st May 2018, 12:30
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An 'engine' in steam recip terms can refer to one cylinder and its associated valve gear, if it is independent of other cylinders (albeit sharing a common crankshaft), so that may be the reason for the plural reference.
I would imagine that the boiler feed pump would be a steam recip plunger or 'Weir' type pump.
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Old 1st May 2018, 12:42
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This may be of interest http://ssexplorer.org/the-machinery/ in this case the feed pump and bilge pump is driven by the HP crosshead suggesting a failure of the running gear on the HP cylinder would lead to a reduction in the ability to feed the boiler and pump the bilges.

As an aside, OCL's Baby Bay class had no electro feeder - just two Weir TWLs - boilers were filled up using the drains pump and then fired, you hoped there was sufficient steam available to start the turbo feeders before you lost the water level - if it didn't work it took a long time for the pressure to reduce enough to use the drains pump to top up the boiler and try again!!
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Old 1st May 2018, 13:07
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Pictures 8 & 9 on this link show the pump arrangement on SS Robin which may have been similar http://happysnapper.com/robin/
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Old 1st May 2018, 18:37
Nswstar2 Nswstar2 is offline
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SS Robin Photos

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Pictures 8 & 9 on this link show the pump arrangement on SS Robin which may have been similar http://happysnapper.com/robin/
Thank you for the link to wonderful photos of SS Robin!

I'd already hunted down the official website for this ship and been very disappointed that there were no photos of the engine room on that website, although there is mention of the engine in the description of Robin and what has been done/is being planned for her.

These superb photos are better than much of what is on the official website - and the engine photos are very helpful.
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Old 1st May 2018, 21:28
Nswstar2 Nswstar2 is offline
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'Engines' vs. 'Engine'

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Originally Posted by D1566 View Post
An 'engine' in steam recip terms can refer to one cylinder and its associated valve gear, if it is independent of other cylinders (albeit sharing a common crankshaft), so that may be the reason for the plural reference.
I would imagine that the boiler feed pump would be a steam recip plunger or 'Weir' type pump.
Thank you for setting my mind at ease for a likely reason for the repeated references to 'the engines'. It was only a small 'niggle' in the wording of those contemporary accounts, however your information seems a very likely reason for this use of a plural when discussing one triple-expansion steam engine.

Regards.
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Old 1st May 2018, 21:34
Nswstar2 Nswstar2 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Duncan112 View Post
This may be of interest http://ssexplorer.org/the-machinery/ in this case the feed pump and bilge pump is driven by the HP crosshead suggesting a failure of the running gear on the HP cylinder would lead to a reduction in the ability to feed the boiler and pump the bilges.
Thanks a lot for this link. There's lots of interesting stuff on this website.

Good to see the engine - and see evidence of the kinds of follow-on problems which could happen if there was a failure at sea involving one of the cylinders, even if running repairs left the engine able to continue at reduced speed/power on the remaining two cylinders.
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