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A birthday at sea

Duration: 4:06 minutes
Accession No: TWCMS : 2009.317
This story has been viewed 5894 times

Summary
Derek's story is about a very memorable birthday.

By Derek Vincent

Inspiration

Other information

This story was inspired by the Doxford engine from the collections at Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums


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Video transcript

In November 1961, I was Junior Third Engineer on the MV Nordic and we were half way through our trip having completed having completed our voyage around the coast of New Zealand and about to leave for the UK. We finished loading in Auckland and sailed on the 28th November, heading out into the Pacific bound for Panama Canal, the half-way mark you might say. My birthday falls on the 30th November and I was quite looking forward to having a little party to celebrate the occasion. It would be the usual thing as practiced by sailors the world over of a few beers or whatever was available, a lot of old banter and probably a sing-song to help the show along. The weather was fine, it being summer in the southern hemisphere and we were making good time, the old tub fair romping along, both engines positively singing, if an engine can sing. I should add at this point, for the technically minded that the ship was twin screw equipped with two five cylinder centre scavenge pump Doxford engines. She was getting on a bit, the keel was lead in 1944 but she was always good for a steady twelve to thirteen knots, given a fair wind and sea.

The fourth engineer and I both did day work. This involved doing the maintenance work around the place and we worked a five day week plus all standbys. We were both very happy with the situation, oh the joy of not having to keep watches. On the big day we finished at our usual time of 16.30 hours and after showering etc, made ready for dinner at 18.00 hours after which it was party time, or so we thought. We and a few like-minded chaps had barely got started into our first can of beer when we heard the engines rhythm change and the ship began to slow to a chorus of loud groans, I recall. One of the disadvantages of day work was always being on call in the event of an emergency and here we obviously had one right on cue. The party was over before it began and it was time to don our boiler suits once more.

Down below the starboard engine had been stopped and it was found that the scavenge guide shoe had shed all its white metal. This material was now lying in several pieces in the sump. The engine was now shut down completely and work started to clear the sump and retrieve all the white metal. After some discussion with the second engineer, the chief organised a work squad to hang up the scavenge pump and strip out the crosshead and guide shoe. This work went on all night.

Meanwhile the ship limped along on the port engine making about seven knots, the watches changing as normal. It took almost three days of hard graft to get the crosshead onto the deck, clean it, measure it and make a new bearing. We used all the white metal from the stores plus what we could salvage from the old stuff. The chippy (carpenter) made a wooden mould out of packing cases and with the aid of a blacksmiths type forge, the metal was melted down and a new bearing was cast in place.

Sounds easy now but it was pretty difficult at the time and there followed a great deal of measuring, filing, scraping, cursing and swearing and more measuring, filing and scraping. The weather remained fine and warm and lots of tea, coffee, water and beer later we got the whole job finished and the engine back in service. Nobody knew how our handiwork would hold up but it did and got us back up to twelve knots again, all the way to Panama and home. The birthday celebration was completely ruined of course but it still remains one of my most memorable. A chief engineer called Joe paid for all the beer afterwards so everything worked out fine. We had Christmas and New Year in the Atlantic and thankfully no more problems on the way.

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