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Spongebob
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Discussion Starter #1
Claustrophobia ,the fear of enclosed spaces , a scary place on a ship

I had finished my first six months of my apprenticeship in the training workshop , carving perfect one inch cubes out of a billet of 2" mild steel bar and other development exercises, before going on board the Cruiser Black Prince to scrape steam pipe flanges until I was blue in the face as well but at last I was allocated to a fitter and let loose on some real work.
We were in the forward boiler room of the Black Prince working on the boiler soot blowers and my job involved lifting a chequered floor plate to get at a flange below and my work platform , before the words 'health and safety ' were even invented , was a length of 4"x2" dunnage strung across limber holes in the ship's frames .
The fitter working a few feet away called out "morning teatime Bob" so I finished what I was doing ,wiped my hands , then thrust my legs downward to vault up onto the plates when , 'snap' the timber broke in two causing me to drop down toward the bilges with my feet feeling wedged and myself in a state of complete darkness, as black as the inside of a cow .
The ship was out of commission and the only lighting was our personal lead lights and mine had dropped down with me smashing the bulb.
My mate was well gone by then, a loud callout yielded nothing , so at first I kept my head by reasoning that the fitter would take five to ten minutes to reach the canteen, then to fifteen for a cuppa , and five or ten to get back on board .
I couldn't tell the time , I didn't wear a watch at work but after a few minutes that felt like a lifetime I began to think , What if he needs to go to the toilet ?That can take a while when you are a Dockyard matey, what if he has an accident , takes ill , gets an urgent call from his wife ? All such scenarios crept into my mind and I started to panic . Add to that the thought that I was below the water line and ships do sink at their moorings especially if someone is careless around skin fittings . You name the hazard , I thought about it !
I threshed my arms about trying to find a handhold to pull myself up but I was well below the plate steelwork and I was scared to move my feet in case I slipped further .
As it happen the fitter was back inside a half hour but by the time he came aboard he could hear me hollering like a banshee from fifty feet away , I had worked myself into a real frenzy and his first words to me were "calm down you silly beggar or I will pour a bucket of water over you" , or words to that effect.
Once they handed a new lead light down I could see that had I moved to one side I could have found hand holds to climb up but fear of a confined space had taken hold and the rot had set in .
They took me up to the sick Bay where the medicine Man gave me a
Cup of tea and insisted on a half hour lie down and I was back on the job after lunch albeit with a stronger lump of timber .
My work mates gave me more stick than sympathy , even my father expressed concern then laughed about it so I soon buckled down and realised 17 years of age in this job was not the time to be a sissy.

More incidents of this came kind over the years but none as frightening as this one, going through boiler drum manholes was one I coped with , but only if someone was alongside.

Bob
 

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A fitter lifting a floorplate, that would have caused a strike when I was an apprentice in Wallsend in the 60's.
Floorplates could only be lifted by boiler makers in the ER and boiler rooms, fitters could move handrails in the ER but in the boiler room it had to be a boiler maker.
And they wondered how they lost the jobs, best thing when I went to sea you could do everything.
 

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When I was involved in climbing in to pressure vessels or any enclosed space I made everyone aware, seniors and juniors that if there was any buggering about or silly buggers I would personally kill them when I got out. And I meant it. Never relished it but it was part of the job.
 

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I never knew I had a tendency to claustrophobia until I was sent on a week long course at the Siebe Gorman factory in Cwmbran. One day we were told that wearing full fire fighting gear and equipped with CABA we would be sent, two at a time into a smoke filled obstacle course, in complete darkness, with only 20 minutes of air. Each pair had to navigate their way through, with no knowledge of where the exit was, before the air ran out. The smoke, we were assured, was toxic.
Me and my partner, a member of the Shell fire brigade at Stanlow refinery in Ellesmere Port, made it with a couple of minutes to spare but not before a couple of episodes of utter funk threatened to derail me completely. My partner, was not afflicted to the same extent and grabbed my harness and led me through the worst of the maze.
A horrible experience, made worse by the disclosure that the smoke wasn't toxic at all. I guess we should have worked that out.
 

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My nastiest memory of this type was having to work in the water drum of a boiler on a 50s builit steam tanker. As I recall ( and it is a bit hazy, given the number of cans of Tennants required before and after the job ) we had to ream out the inner bore of a leaking tube end before fitting a plug. There must have been a corresponding plug in the steam drum but someone else must have done that end. Anyway, I seem to recall that the water drum contained a desuperheater tube nest, and we had to wriggle in over/around it to get to the offending tube end. It was then a question of working a hand ratchet drill with a reaming tool, at arms length above your head, while lying full length. There was a rope noose around the ankles with a boilerman on the other end peering in the manhole, if you stopped making a noise and didn't respond he was supposed to pull you out feet first. I can' t remember where we were, but we were underway on the other boiler, so it was not cool to say the least, and you could only work in there for about ten minutes. Details are a bit hazy after forty odd years, but I do remember thinking at the time it was a bit hairy from the health and safety point of view . I think the 2E actually fitted the plugs, and the CE wanted to check them himself , but he couldn't fit himself in through the manhole due to his beer belly. He got halfway in, got stuck, and we had to pull him back out. Happy days? on reflection, I think not.....
 

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When a man comes old, he gets sick and everything else like claustrophobia, when I was a deck boy the chef asked to chief mate-do you have some small boy from deck to loan to me to put into the boiler and that ex ss officer of pointed to me and said," Of Course. We have here a good boy small enough to fit into the boiler, and as the stab boiler was put up and was cold I climbed on top in and tried put my head through the man hack but couldn't I was to craps off the boiler stone,was my luck that I didn't fit into that hole. I was not afraid of anything no felt any claustro. May year later I was aboard such a livestock carrier which was called 'royal Virgin Sky', Norwegian cruiser, I was an able seaman and We had a job and as farmer, dayman, we had washing every day those freshwater tanks. Finally, when we were in the last deep tank in the aft the ship grounding and the bottom platens were truck in and the ship began taking water in. Never I had feeling like claustrophobic. Now I can even things such a peace. A year ago I was travelling from Warsava on the Kyiv express and the train was packed with a passage and I had to be sitting in the cramped box I got socked and could no breath. Now I afraid of every a small cul de sac
 

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A few hours changing the valve plates inside the scavenge pump of a centre scavenge LB Doxford could be a bit panic making - even if you had the turning gear locked out and the motor fuses inside the pump with you!
 

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In Kaohsiung drydock, I was connecting up and sealing a second echosounder transducer in the fore peak of a UAE vessel. I had put my tools in a bucket and lowered them down on a heaving line, tying off the line to a ‘thingy’ on the deck hatch with a sign, albeit in English “man below”.
Whilst carrying out the installation under torch light, I heard the sounds of gushing water. Where it was coming from I have no idea, just to say, I was a little concerned. On making my way back to the vertical ladder I noted a heap of heaving line at the bottom of the ladder. Looking up, expecting to see daylight, I saw nothing.
Having ascended the ladder and being unable to push up the hatch I commenced to bang hell on the metalwork with my intrinsically safe plastic torch. All the time the sound of rushing water.
Like others on this post, the various scenarios came to mind.
After what seemed like hours, the hatch was opened by a smiling Taiwanese gentleman. Keeping my decorum and self control, he did not go headfirst down the ladder.
But it was scary.
 

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Thank goodness I kept away from a career in the black gang. The only claustro I experienced was hiding in a cupboard under the stairs when the girl friends husband unexpectedly came home.
 

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After managing my Claustrophobia for 22 of my 24 years in the Navy, it became all too much whilst on Armilla Patrol up the Persian Gulf in 67 and I was medicated back to Pompey, where the Trick Cyclist diagnoised me as claustrophobic. Reading some of your dits sent shivers down my spine, which is strange because as a young stoker I would climb into a water drum with my little bag to catch the ball bearings whilst shotting the blr after an internal clean.
 

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Spongebob
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Discussion Starter #13
We talk of confined spaces but I imagine that nothing could ever compare with the old Scotch boiler task of crawling up the furnace flue to reach the combustion chamber in order to place a sealing washer and nut on the hot end of a firetube blanking rod after that tube had sprung a leak .
Fires had been drawn, The grate was insulated with a few old coal sacks and the 'volunteer ' was swathed in insulating clothing as he went in , slapped on the washer and made a few turns on the nut before suc***bed and had to be hauled out by the rescue rope attached to his leg.
I have heard this take from many an older Naval Stoker and Marine Engineer in years gone by. I sounds like an impossible task but it was done Many a time.

Bob
 

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One C/E used to say if the plank you put into the furnace didn't catch fire it was safe to go in😫
 

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Spongebob
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Discussion Starter #15
Another close call,
In my late twenties I was moonlighting for my brother in Law on a building site on Saturday mornings to earn a few extra bob and we were fixing 8' x 4' sheets of fibre cement boards to the underside of the overhead joists to provide a ceiling for a large patio area .
We had nailed the last sheet in place when we noticed that the previously pulled through TPS lighting cable had crept back into the ceiling space so I volunteered to go into the roof space to push the cable back through.
It was a hot 25 degree summer' s day and the black pressed metal roofing tiles had pumped the space temperature up to be nearly able to fry an egg so I wriggled into the wedge shaped corner , pushed the cable through , and hastened to wriggle back out but my leather nail bag belted around my waste had stuck over a joist and as I struggled to get at the belt buckle and get free I suddenly felt overwhelm by the rapidly rising heat so patience and poise became panic as I raised my fist to punch down on the fragile fibre board to create a fresh air source.
As the cool air calmed me the brother in law gazed up with an incredulous look and said "What did you do that for"
I muttered " you wouldn't understand " but offered to stay on for the afternoon to remove the rest of the sheet in preparation for him and his carpenter to re fix it on Monday!

Bob
 

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One C/E used to say if the plank you put into the furnace didn't catch fire it was safe to go in😫
I can remember standing in a watertube boiler furnace and suddenly finding that I couldn't move my feet, because my boot soles were melting and sticking to the furnace floor. Odd feeling, you have to heave your feet up to free them then make for the exit sharpish, like walking on hot tar. As I was told then, and many times thereafter, "You shouldn't have come if you can't take a joke.... "
 

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And after leaving the M-N. I went on (like many did) to become a "Boiler Surveyor"!!. I often wonder from (now) some distance, how I managed!. Mostly single handed, and only (perhaps) some stoker or fitter as backup!. Hopefully, not one with a tendency to go for a "quick drag".
As for working inside "hot" boilers. It was always a relief if you did not draw the short straw!. Even 10in 20 out was knackering!
 

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On the MOBIL ASTRAL GMOH in Skaramangas drydock I decided to crawl underneath the hull to find the echo-sounder transducer, just for fun. R/O with nothing to do for six weeks had perhaps affected my mind.
I didn't get far before it dawned on me that 150,000 tons of steel sitting on some wooden blocks and held upright by baulks of timber to the dockside were above my head.
Crawling in was easy, getting out backwards in a panic was much harder but somehow very much quicker!
 
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