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Following the Commodore story here is The British Centaur story:

“This is a draft excerpt from a book I am slowly writing on the differences between life in the British and American Merchant Navies.”

In mid January 72 I received a phone call from Head Office Personnel informing me that I would be joining the MV British Centaur as Chief Engineer at Falmouth on or about the 25th of January and also that the Fleet A Superintendent David Gibbons wished to see me in Britannic House prior to joining the ship.

Hope my memory serves me well and I’m sure you will understand why I have left some names out.

I duly attended Head Office and met with Dave Gibbons and his assistants for one whole day during which time I was wined and dined and informed that I had been chosen for the Centaur due to having sailed previously on the Commodore both as Third Engineer (Motor Ticket Time) and as Chief Engineer. Dave Gibbons also informed me that the Centaur, after completing discharge in Skoldvick (spelling?) would Tank Clean and proceed to Falmouth for some Voyage Repairs. I forget exactly what the repairs were, IG System rings a bell plus a Top End Bearing Lloyds Survey plus other misc. repairs which BP were allowing two days alongside a repair berth at Falmouth Dry-Dock. They omitted to inform me of several other pertinent items which I guess was par for the course in those days.

That night I stayed in one of BP’s usual hotels (Queensway???) where the room was about three miles and two decks from the nearest bathroom and caught the early express to Falmouth. On arrival at Falmouth I reported to the local agents as instructed and was quickly put on a boat and taken out to the Centaur which was anchored off Falmouth. On the way out in the small boat I noticed that both gangways were rigged and remember thinking “that’s strange.” The boiler was also smoking thick black smoke almost continuously followed by short spells of white smoke.
As I boarded the ship on the Port side and reached the main deck I was met by a Deck Cadet and a Pump Man who both offered to help with my bags and take me to my cabin. It was at this moment that I noticed a lot of activity on the Stbd. Side and asked the Cadet what was going on. “Oh” he said “That’s the Chief Engineer being taken ashore strapped to a stretcher.” I was also told that he had not had an accident and that I could not meet him. I will not give his name here or any further details. Suffice to say I was somewhat stunned!

The ship remained at anchor that evening and was scheduled to berth at 9am. on the 28th. I was signed on almost immediately by Captain J.A.M.Wilson (January 26th ) and then met the Engineers and toured the Engine Room.

Having left the Commodore almost exactly one year past in a clean, safe and trouble free condition I was appalled at the state of cleanliness of this Engine Room. The engine room bilges were thick with a mixture of fuel oil, lube oil and sludge which had covered the lower hull plating when the ship rolled. One Main Lubricating Pump Motor was missing. The Boiler Front was covered in fuel oil and the main engine itself was filthy from top to bottom, the cylinder heads covered with oil from leaking fuel valve cooling system connections. I could go on but suffice to say the whole engine room was filthy and very unsafe. It was also immediately obvious to me that the watch keeping engineers had minimal knowledge of how to operate the boiler.

Later that evening I signed the hand over letter left by the previous Chief Engineer but I believe was completed by the Second Engineer. Fuel oil and lube oil quantities listed were correct when checked. During this same evening I went into the Officers Lounge/Bar and met three wives sailing on the vessel. They were very busy continually punching holes in blank paper with three hole and two hole punches. I was intrigued and asked what they were doing. We’re making confetti for the Third Engineers wedding they replied in unison. This intrigued me more and eventually they told me the whole story. The Third Engineer (who I will not name) was getting married by special license during the time the vessel was berthed in Falmouth and still on articles. This was one of the things they had “forgotten” to tell me in Head Office, not that I would have had any problem with it as it was none of my business.

On the morning of Jan 28th. the vessel berthed in Falmouth Dock Yard. The weather was lousy, windy and raining. Maneuvering the engine and preparing everything necessary for berthing was done as I would expect. The Second Engineer Bob ??? had a good handle on everything but appeared to be doing nearly everything himself.
At F.W.E. we left the Boiler and Turbo Alternator in service as due to the fact we were only scheduled for two days repairs it was not worth changing to shore power. I spent the next two hours or so inspecting various parts of the engine room equipment and eventually made my way up onto the poop deck level via the steering gear compartment and was witness to an amazing scene, the weather had worsened with gale force winds, the bow lines had broken and the bow was way off the berth. The stern was also away from the berth with no lines remaining. Tugs forward and aft were trying to push the ship towards the berth. The Second Mate screamed at me for more steam pressure and I realized that their must be a problem with the boiler as steam was suddenly being used urgently both fore and aft. I raced off to the Boiler Room the last thing I observed being the fact that the only line between the ship and shore was a telephone line put aboard by the repair firm. When I arrived the boiler was down to about 70lbs. pressure with still only one burner in use. I fired the other two burners and handed over control of the boiler to the Third Engineer who had arrived on the scene due to the Second having rung the Engineers Alarm. He was told to raise the boiler steam pressure as quickly as possible and maintain good combustion
Half an hour later I went back up on deck to see what was happening. The tugs had managed to push the vessel back along side the berth and the deck department was attempting to get lines secured. Thick black smoke was discharging form the funnel and descending onto a local resident’s bungalow the owner of which was in his garden waving his fist at the ship. I went back down to the boiler and adjusted the fan and fuel pressure until proper combustion was obtained. I feel sorry for the gentleman who owned the bungalow to this day but I understand he received some help from the shipyard in cleaning his property.
Eventually the ship was re-secured to the berth. Quite an afternoon and even now I cannot remember any phone communication between Bridge and Engine Room.

A few hours later the repair firm started work on opening up Number Eight Top End bearing for Lloyds Survey and other miscellaneous repairs. By noon on the 29th. The Number Eight Top End bearing was ready for examination and survey. They had taken the clearance which was excessive at 16/1000” which concerned me but examination of the bearing caused me greater concern as the bottom half white metal was broken up. The pin was not bright and shiny as one would expect but a dull brownish colour. The remaining intact white metal was also a dull brownish colour. The Resident Engineer Superintendent John Buckley instructed the Contactor to re-metal the bearing and polish the pin.

Being very concerned about the excessive clearance and the dull brown colour I had a lengthy discussion with the Second Engineer as to the probable causes but learned nothing unusual from him.
I decided to have all the Top End Bearing clearances taken and all were excessive.
I then decided to have all the Bottom End Bearing and Main Bearing clearances taken. All clearances were found to be excessive.
Due to these findings I requested the Resident Superintendent to have one Bottom End Bearing opened up for examination and he agreed to open Number One.
The white metal on both halves of this bearing were black in colour. Both halves were coated in an extremely hard black coating that was difficult to remove even with a bearing scraper. Journal was a dull colour brown.

By this time it was 0900 on January 30th. and I was wondering what I had got myself into. Nobody could offer any explanation as to the hard black coating so I started my own investigation. First I had oil samples taken from the sump and sent for analysis. The crankcase lubricating oil felt slightly gritty and was darker than usual. I was assured the Lubricating Oil Purifier had been in continual use and operating correctly. Then it hit me like a thunderbolt – Stuffing Box Drains, but once again the Engineers assured me that the Stuffing Box Drain Oil System had been operating correctly but I did not believe them and went to check the system out.
I discovered that the piping for the system had been altered and the stuffing box drain oil was being returned directly to the main engine sump without being treated in any way. Obviously this and the current Senior Engineers were the cause of the problem! The huge problem facing me was now known but “how do I tackle it” I wondered.

Later on that morning in my Office with the Captain and Second Engineer we were confronted by a very abusive Third Engineer. (The man due to get married later that day). It was all about the amount of time he would be getting off and I told him his fellow engineers had already agreed to do double watches to help him out plus the Second was going to do a watch for him and beyond that he would have to stand his watch. The three of us decided that his conduct was due to his emotional state due to the impending marriage and on this occasion we agreed to forget about it.

However, late the same night after the wedding he was very abusive to me in the Officers Lounge/Bar in front of the majority of the ships Officers. I was hoping he would take a “swing” at me but he never did. Wedding Day or not I was not prepared to put up with his behavior and told him to see me at 0900 the next day.
I also informed the Captain that I wanted him off the ship. The Captain agreed and I told the Third to pack his bags at our morning meeting. He very quickly left the ship. I have wondered about this many times over the years but still believe I did the right thing.

While all this was taking place I was wondering how to deal with the Engine Bearing problems and overnight had reached a decision. I would tell the Resident Superintendent Engineer that I would not sail this ship from Falmouth until all engine bearings had been examined, sump cleaned, oil renewed and Stuffing Box Oil Drain System overhauled. I informed John Buckley and his assistant Gordon Flaxman of my decision at 1030. I thought John Buckley was going to have a heart attack when I told him and he was lost for any real words for several minutes. Finally he said he would inform Head Office of my decision and that I should have my bags packed and then marched out of my room and headed to his office.

Obviously I suspected I would be fired almost immediately. John Buckley summoned me to his shore office at 1330 and tersely informed me that the Chief Engineering Superintendent of BP, Stuart Speed would visit the ship the following day. Stuart Speed was a legend in his own time and I was now sure I would be “Royally” dismissed the next day.

Mr. Speed arrived in my cabin at 1030 next morning with the full entourage of John Buckley and Gordon Flaxman. He did not offer me any greeting. He dressed very slowly in an immaculate new white boiler suit, hard hat, white scarf around his face, new gloves and new boots and finally said to me “Show me the Engine Room.”
I took him down to bottom plate level and then aft to the tail shaft and missing Lubricating Oil Pump motor. He noticed the missing motor before I pointed it out! He also noticed the filthy bilges. Viewed the exposed bearings, Stuffing Box Drain Reclaim System and up until this point had not spoken a word. On his way up to the engine tops level he turned to me and said “ Make a full dry-docking and engine repair list as soon as possible.’” No more words were spoken and we returned to my office and Mr. Speed and his entourage returned ashore and I did not see him again for five years when I started work as an Engineer Superintendent in Head Office. His boiler suit, hard hat, boots and gloves were left in my office but he took the white scarf. I had never felt so relieved in my life!! As I had been in Dry-Dock on the Commodore previously, writing the repair specification was not a huge problem for me and most of it was cut and pasted from previous Centaur Specifications.
John Buckley the Resident Superintendent almost ignored me for the remainder of the repair period and I was lucky that his Assistant Superintendent Gordon Flaxman was present throughout and very helpful.

A day or so later I received a visit from the Catering Officer requesting I attend an inspection of one of the Junior Engineers cabins with him. He actually stated that it was probably a waste of time as the problem he was about to show me had been shown a couple of times to the previous Chief Engineer with no result. And also he had raised the subject in the Weekly Planning Meeting.
The sheets of the Junior Engineers bed were filthy after only three days in use. He was either not showering or sleeping in his boiler suit. The Catering Officer stated that this had occurred every week since the Junior joined the ship. Naturally I was disgusted and ashamed an Engineer could behave in this manner. He was removed from the ship the next day after I spoke with the Captain.

Fortunately this was the end of finding major problems with the machinery and frustrating problems with the Engineering Staff.

After completing full dry-docking and engine repairs the Centaur departed Falmouth on March 20th after close to two months out of service and I should imagine a substantial un-budgeted expense.
She sailed with a whole new set of excellent Engineers which included Second Engineer Bill Cosgrove who was eventually assigned to the Centaur for two years service along with me. Bill did not have a Chiefs ticket and at that time had no interest in getting one but he was one real good experienced Motor ship Second Engineer.
Others were (my memory is working overtime )
Third Engineer H.P Cooke (doing motor time ).
Fourth Engineer Bill Winder. ( remember seeing his name in later years as 2/E).
Electrician W.B.M.Symons ( still remember his initials I think ).
Junior Engineers Hasely, Eales, McPherson and Perrett.
Last but certainly not least, one of my favorite Captains, Duncan Campbell.
The next several months were interesting, hard work for all but fun.

I was supposed to serve two years on this ship but after two trips, Fred Day the new A Fleet Superintendent in Head Office decided that I should return to Steam Ships which I never understood. A Marine Engineers life was very different on a steam turbine VLCC compared to the big C Motor ships.
 

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Interesting reading!

The super John Buckley was a close family friend of my aunt & uncle who lived in Falmouth, my uncle being an MD of the construction firm Connelly's who had their HQ within the docks, giving me the chance to wander round and view things from the "inside".
I was only a lad in those days!
 

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Great read, Chief! Having done several DDs at Falmouth, the name Buckley was familiar although I was a Deckie. Also remember a Chief from NI who, on the Venture in '69 I think, was always going-on about 'his' Centaur. Guess that was the time when C/Es & 2/Es were doing their 2 year stints? Last year I uploaded a cargo pipeline diagramm of the Centaur into my gallery, 'case you're interested.
 

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ChiefCharles, With your experiences on the two "C" class horrors, it's a wonder that you have retained your sanity!(Obviously your predecessor on the Centaur did'nt--- poor sod).
They make great reading but I bet it was'nt that much fun being there.

I sailed as 4/E on the Centaur 70/71ish and have one or two tales to tell, but am not in my home office at present. Will dig out some details when I get back, but will leave you to ponder this incident " Baked Exhaust Cam ". What can it mean???
Regards JamesM
 

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Electrician W.B.M.Symons ( still remember his initials I think ).
Junior Engineers Hasely, Eales, McPherson and Perrett.
Last but certainly not least, one of my favorite Captains, Duncan Campbell.
.
Hello Charles,

I remember Symons, as we were several times following each other ship to ship etc.

What can I say about Duncan,
He was every ones favourite Captain.

I was on Commodore, Centaur, Ivy, Holly, Border Shepheard, Trent, Hawthorn, with the Hazel being my first.

Great guy.

Graham (electrician)
1976 'ish to 1986 'ish
 

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I was on the Centaur at the end of its time with BP. i had heard all kinds of tales of woe about the Cs yet the Centaur was not bad, She broke down a couple of times but the Boys in the Er got her going again pretty quick. She was up for sale at the time so things were kept just going. She had a B&W 9 Cylynder while the others had Sulzer 9 cylinders diesels. They were the bigest motor ships in the world when built with the bigets motors or so I was told. They used to have problems with vibration. sort of slowly shook themselves to bits. I joined the ship for a couple of weeks before she was sold but it took 5 months. Mostly Rotterdam to Hamburg but took in hound point sulum voe gothenburg IOG and angle bay at different times. After Sold we spent about 2 weeks tank cleaning in Angle Bay. Then I was over the side with a couple of other Cadets to paint the New Name "Earl Of Skye" i cant rember all the names just Corine Eliss. I signed off at Plantation Key in the Center of Glasgow. where she layed up for a couple of years. I remember on the last day the New Owners Rep congradulating us all on how well we had looked out for the ship right up to the end and taking a pride in handing her over in excellent shape. He seamed both surprised and impressed it was not what they were used to. I saw her again for the last time when she was sailing down the firth of Clyde of to be converted into a sheep carrier though i heard this never actualy happened. I enjoyed my time on her and rember a hard working happy ship. It was a sad day painting the new name
 

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I know the C boats had a bit of a rep, glad I missed out on the pleasure, motor ship version of the Eyties by all accounts.

2G
(Cloud)
 

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Roger,

Such an interesting story. It does sound as if your book is progressing at about the same speed as mine about the British Crown, one of these days!

I just realised I have a copy of Ships Movements March 14th 1972 indicating the Centaur arrived Falmouth 26 Jan . I will not mention the names. However a few you named were ex Engineering Apprentices, the good ones!

Bill Winder was not ex EA however I came across him through a third party , Bill's first ship as 2E was the Fal in 1975. Last heard of working Solent Aggregates around 2002.

Gordon Flaxman was my intake EA

Graham
 

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Great story, I was a JE on the Centaur for 9 months with 2 weeks in drydock (liverpool), she was always breaking down, scavenge fires, inert gas system issues, vibration as certain revs.. She was a work horse, on one trip from Rotterdam to the Gulf we had to stop ever 2 days to change the injectors (3 per cylinder) on one cylinder per event. I have no happy memories other than we had a great engineering team. Dooley was the CE, the 3rd engineer was Alistair ?????? Mr. Wallace can fill in the blank...
 

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Great story, I was a JE on the Centaur for 9 months with 2 weeks in drydock (liverpool), she was always breaking down, scavenge fires, inert gas system issues, vibration as certain revs.. She was a work horse, on one trip from Rotterdam to the Gulf we had to stop ever 2 days to change the injectors (3 per cylinder) on one cylinder per event. I have no happy memories other than we had a great engineering team. Dooley was the CE, the 3rd engineer was Alistair ?????? Mr. Wallace can fill in the blank...
Bit of luck there John as I do not have any Ships Movements for that period ( 1965/69) . However I know the 3E on her was Allister Wilson ex BP Clyde EA 1960 intake (BP Clyde's last EA intake) at Stow college, died of cancer March 2007.

His elder brother Brian was a 1958 Clyde Engineering Apprentice , he died in 1999.

Graham
 

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Thanks Graham, Alistair was quite the lad full of energy and a tough 3rd E. His wife Carol sailed with us for 6 months. Alistair and I became pals and I visited them in Wales during our leave with the promise that we would like to sail together again, we lost touch about a year later.
 

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Thanks Graham, Alistair was quite the lad full of energy and a tough 3rd E. His wife Carol sailed with us for 6 months. Alistair and I became pals and I visited them in Wales during our leave with the promise that we would like to sail together again, we lost touch about a year later.
John ,
I was in touch with his family afterwards, send me an SN PM/email if you want some contact info
Graham
 

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I sailed on the Centaur as a J/E in 1975. At certain revs the ship would shake so much that it was known as "Honeymoon" revs. That ship had lots of problems that kept the engineers at full stretch when I was on her.
 

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I was on the Centaur at the end of its time with BP. i had heard all kinds of tales of woe about the Cs yet the Centaur was not bad, She broke down a couple of times but the Boys in the Er got her going again pretty quick. She was up for sale at the time so things were kept just going. She had a B&W 9 Cylynder while the others had Sulzer 9 cylinders diesels. They were the bigest motor ships in the world when built with the bigets motors or so I was told. They used to have problems with vibration. sort of slowly shook themselves to bits. I joined the ship for a couple of weeks before she was sold but it took 5 months. Mostly Rotterdam to Hamburg but took in hound point sulum voe gothenburg IOG and angle bay at different times. After Sold we spent about 2 weeks tank cleaning in Angle Bay. Then I was over the side with a couple of other Cadets to paint the New Name "Earl Of Skye" i cant rember all the names just Corine Eliss. I signed off at Plantation Key in the Center of Glasgow. where she layed up for a couple of years. I remember on the last day the New Owners Rep congradulating us all on how well we had looked out for the ship right up to the end and taking a pride in handing her over in excellent shape. He seamed both surprised and impressed it was not what they were used to. I saw her again for the last time when she was sailing down the firth of Clyde of to be converted into a sheep carrier though i heard this never actualy happened. I enjoyed my time on her and rember a hard working happy ship. It was a sad day painting the new name
The largest motor tanker built in Britain 1964 was the BORSTEN Fred Olsen(same yard as the COMMERCE) 10cyl.H&W/B&W 20,000bhp
EARL OF SKY b/u Ulsan 28.6.84 (all that work for nothing)(Whaaa)
http://www.shipsnostalgia.com/galle.../title/earl-of-skye-exbritish-centaur/cat/503 (Applause)
 

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Graham, could you do me a favour and post the Lancer crew list from 14/3/72? As I recall, we would have been heading for Kharg (or BMFO) to load for Japan.
Cheers,
Alex
 

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Graham, could you do me a favour and post the Lancer crew list from 14/3/72? As I recall, we would have been heading for Kharg (or BMFO) to load for Japan.
Cheers,
Alex
Lancer 14th March 1972, Crew list.
Sailed, Ravenna 5/3 B.Mahshahr F/O

Master, RW Mountain
CO, JF Hobbs
2M JM Lazonby
3M, BV Williams ( Ex NC)
NC's, NA Jolly, NM Davies, M Simpson
RO, C Sanderson
CE, AG Collis (ex EA)
2E, David Tranter (ex EA)
3E, RD Reeves (ex EA)
4E, GV Ford
X4E, J Sutherland
JE's, IJ Vickery , ADJ Morris, DFB Smith
AJE'S "Alexdron", S Kelly'
Elec, GS Prophet
Cat/O , D Runciman

Graham
 

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Baptism of fire

The Centaur was my first trip with BP and I joined as engineer apprentice in Ravenna in the late 60s.
From what I remember of that trip I spent most of my mornings picking up bits of engine that had fallen off during the night. After lunch we would slow down a bit and replace what we could and even adjust and set the tappets which was great fun.
 

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The Centaur was my first trip with BP and I joined as engineer apprentice in Ravenna in the late 60s.
From what I remember of that trip I spent most of my mornings picking up bits of engine that had fallen off during the night. After lunch we would slow down a bit and replace what we could and even adjust and set the tappets which was great fun.
Hi Phil,
I see another ex BP EA/EC has surfaced I will send you a Shipsnostalgia email.

Graham ( ex 1955 BP EA....www.bpapprentices.com)
 
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