It was another hot and humid day in the tropics, with a start like any other. I got up 6am, which is now classed as a lie in! The early hours were spent in my normal science routine, sampling at the CTD. The morning CTD is always far more relaxed than at lunchtime. As Carolyn describes it ‘Cricket in the morning and football in the afternoon’. This is a good thing since most of us remain bleary eyed for the first few hours of the day.
Breakfast at 7.30am, a good bowl of porridge was truly enjoyed. Then to kit up- boiler suit and steel toe capped boots, and head for the coffee shop to meet the engineers. Oh yes- a day in the engine room!
I was met by George- Chief Engineer, Big Chris- Second Engineer and Young Chris- Third Engineer. Engine room tours for scientists are nothing new, normally something left for the end of the cruise. But I wanted to spend a full day down there, to really experience what they actually get up to. Apparently it really is more than drinking tea on the afterdeck!
Taken to the control room, I was hit by the noise! The view of the four large engines was impressive- pipes and caballing everywhere. The room had a thunderbird feel to it. From here the jobs for the day were laid out. I was presented with a pair of ear guards- essential safety kits when working in the engine room. First up- freshwater production. Although surrounded by water, we cannot immediately drink it or use it for everyday use. So as engineers do, if it’s not to hand then they make it! An evaporation system is used, with heat from the engines used to create evaporation from a seawater flow. It takes a massive 32 tonnes of seawater to produce the 10 tonnes of freshwater which is used daily. This creates incredibly pure water, with nothing left in it. This is why we use this water for showering etc, and bottled water to drink. With Big Chris’s instructions I got the water being produced for the day! Due to the high water demand of the ship, the production system runs 24/7. Even with this, sometimes the system cannot cope- hence our day in the Azores!
There are 4 engines on board, each with 9 cylinders. Only two are run at any time, which gives the ship a speed of ~10knots. It can go faster, but it becomes far less efficient. The little extra speed this would gain would cost a small fortune in fuel!
The engines have a series of alarms and safety systems on them which need to be checked. This was my second job of the day with Young Chris. We tested the alarm- all was ok. Then to check the lube oil; with this one the engine was cutting out at a pressure less than the alarm. This couldn’t be right. So it was all reset, and I had a lesson in engine room sign language from George who was looking after the main boards in the control room. The engine room is so noisy that often you can’t hear someone, so other forms of communication are vital. This was a very effective way of ‘talking’ to one another, from a noisy engine room, through a window to the control board. Some more tests showed that actually the engine was fine, with the alarms sounding at the right oil pressures. It was actually the pump instrument that we were using that was reading incorrectly, which will soon be recalibrated. And finally, we had to check the oil levels in the engine. This is just like on a regular car, using a dip-stick. At this point I think I’d helped with more maintenance on the ships engines than I’d ever done on a regular car. I’m not sure that filled up windscreen wiper fluid really counts as real car maintenance!
The final task before lunch was to take the duty engineers tour, checking that everything was in order, picking up on any leaks and the like. This was not just of the engine room, but all the areas of the ship which the engineers are responsible for. We started at the top, on a floor known as ‘Hobbits Kingdom’ due to its low ceiling. This is a central hub for much of the computer network and other electronically controlled items. Then out to the funnels which are the exhaust pipes of the ship. It was a squeeze to get between them to reach the back. Everything was in order so far. We continued on to the galley, checking the temperature of the fridges and freezers. This is a good opportunity to check that they aren’t having any problems with equipment. Next deck down and we checked the stores and labs. Many of the pipes are getting covered in condensation from our humid climate at present.
Finally back to the engine room. Another walk round and everything was ok, apart from the sludge tank. Being directed to the right pipes and levers, I was instructed how to sort it out. Once sorted, I was presented with a large hammer and a spanner for the afternoon’s work- I had a giant grin on my face! Shown where we were going to be working, it was certainly going to be a different afternoon…
Posted by: Ella Darlington