John Kelly, Belfast - Question about Repairs to Steamships in the Kelly Fleet - Ships Nostalgia
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John Kelly, Belfast - Question about Repairs to Steamships in the Kelly Fleet

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  #1  
Old 27th March 2018, 17:54
Nswstar2 Nswstar2 is offline
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John Kelly, Belfast - Question about Repairs to Steamships in the Kelly Fleet

I'm wondering about what the arrangements for Kelly's steamships when they needed engine repairs would have been.
I've been researching the last voyage of the SS Camlough in 1932, when the ship suffered engine problems, which were repaired leaving the engine running on reduced power (and filling the engine room with steam).

Camlough's captain decided to limp back to Camlough's home harbour of Belfast rather than continue on to Birkenhead where Camlough had been scheduled to pick up a cargo.

Unfortunately he ran into an unexpected violent storm and the engine failed, leading to the eventual stranding/wrecking of the ship.

So firstly: does anyone know whether Kelly's had repair facilities at their Belfast location?

It's been suggested that this would have been a failure of one cylinder of the triple expansion engine, so that she would have been operating on only two cylinders.

Presuming that the engine would have at the very least required spare parts if not a major overhaul after a voyage in this kind of jury-rigged condition then there are other questions:

Would a repair like this have been possible at Birkenhead?

Would it have been more expensive to do the work there rather than 'in house' at Kelly's home base?

Would it have meant extra 'lost time' for the repair to be done away from the Kelly's base?

Thanks in advance for any thoughts.
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Old 30th March 2018, 17:16
JohnBP JohnBP is offline  
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If there is lots of steam in the ER, then a cracked cylinder head could be a cause. Both Birkenhead and Belfast has very good repair facilities in 1932. Probably the captain would rather go to home port, depends which was closest at the time. Dont know of any Kelly repair facilities in Belfast...
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Old 30th March 2018, 17:43
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Kelly's had most of their work done by Harland and Wolff. Regular dry dockings of the fleet were a regular feature in the Hamilton drydock.
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Old 30th March 2018, 20:22
Nswstar2 Nswstar2 is offline
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Thanks for this information.

The story of this disastrous last trip is an unfolding puzzle.

Putting pieces together from various accounts it appears that the Camlough was actually a LOT closer to Birkenhead than its home port of Belfast when the first engine trouble occurred.

But the captain still decided to turn back and head for home port after the temporary repairs had been done.

Of course they would have had no idea that a truly exceptional storm was brewing (which they would be steaming right into) and that the ship would actually need its full engine power. It's hard for us these days to appreciate just how little advance weather information a captain would have had (and no radio on the ship either).

Camlough was travelling 'light' in ballast, and it sounds as if both the chief engineer and captain were (falsely) confident that the temporary engine repairs and reduced engine power would be sufficient to get their ship home to Belfast.

It appears that all the crew lived in Belfast, most had families there, etc., and this may also have weighed in the decision.
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Old 30th March 2018, 20:23
Nswstar2 Nswstar2 is offline
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Thanks for this information!

In this case, Camlough's hull was in good shape, it was just engine trouble.
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Old 31st March 2018, 09:53
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As with most decisions in shipping the economics of the situation greatly influenced the outcome. The UK was not in great shape in 1932:-

The Great Depression in the United Kingdom, also known as the Great Slump, was a period of national economic downturn in the 1930s, which had its origins in the global Great Depression. It was Britain's largest and most profound economic depression of the 20th century. The Great Depression originated in the United States in late 1929 and quickly spread to the world. Britain had never experienced the boom that had characterized the U.S., Germany, Canada and Australia in the 1920s, so its effect appeared less severe.[1] Britain's world trade fell by half (1929–33), the output of heavy industry fell by a third, employment profits plunged in nearly all sectors. At the depth in summer 1932, registered unemployed numbered 3.5 million, and many more had only part-time employment.

Particularly hardest hit by economic problems were the industrial and mining areas in the north of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. Unemployment reached 70% in some areas at the start of the 1930s (with more than 3 million out of work nationally) and many families depended entirely on payments from local government known as the dole.

the Master would have to balance the loss of a cargo and the probable more expensive repair in Birkenhead with the cheaper repair in his homeport. I do not know if the vessel had a Radio Officer or if they were in contact with Kelly's Head Office in Belfast, I presume not. Masters made such decisions using their experience as a matter of routine in those days.
One other attraction of returning to Belfast, if the Chief Engineer believed a major repair was needed, was the desire to be berthed within a bus ride of home for a few days or maybe weeks.
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Old 11th April 2018, 22:29
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Economic considerations in the captain's decision...

Thanks for this view on the situation. I had already started to think about the way that the Depression (or 'Slump') would have influenced decision-making in this situation. I know that numbers of smaller shipping companies were going out of business at this time.

The picture is becoming clear.

The opportunity for Camlough to take on the scheduled cargo of coal would be lost because time was needed for a repair, wherever the Camlough put in to port (it was unlikely that the ship would have undertaken the Birkenhead to Belfast run with a full cargo of coal and an under-performing engine).

Home port repairs would have been less expensive than repair in Birkenhead. The captain would have had to justify the additional cost of putting in to Birkenhead to Kelly's head office, and with the information he had at the time (especially that his chief engineer was happy with the decision to head back to home port in Belfast) it would have been difficult to do this.

And Belfast was 'home' in the real sense, too - most of the crew lived in Belfast (and many if not all would have family there).

The decision was definitely the captain's - based on what he could see of the developing weather conditions and also on the chief engineer's assurance that his temporary repair would get the ship back to its home port. Both the captain and the chief engineer are quoted in various newspaper reports saying that the storm was more violent than any they had previously experienced... so they would not have anticipated the pounding that the ship would experience in the mountainous seas.

And no, there was no radio on the ship, and so no chance of consulting with anyone back in Belfast - the decision and responsibility were completely the captain's.
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