[from the stabenow.com vaults, 2007]
A couple of nights ago we were doing flight ops. Everyone was manned up and ready to go, and we brought the ship to launch course (wind on the port bow, though there wasn’t much except what we were making ourselves).
Except we couldn’t, because for some reason our rudder got jammed at five degrees port. SN Jessica Roberts, on the helm, says, “We’re launching the helo in the middle of the night and they’re throwing a drill at us, too?” But no. We back off on the engines and go around in a very big, very slow circle while the XO has the EO piped to the bridge. I have to say that EO LT Todd Raybonn is one of the more unflappable people I’ve ever met. He listens to the XO describe the problem without comment and retires immediately to aft steering.
Meanwhile, down in aft steering, MK1 Dan Bensley and EM1 Chris Ryals manually bring the rudder amidships, which means now at least we can steer with the engines. They pry the cover off the gear linkage to find out what the problem is.
On the bridge the Captain’s phone rings. He answers. “You’re kidding.” He hangs up and tells us, “It was a dust bunny in the steering linkage.” Nobody really believes him until the EO returns to the bridge and displays said dust bunny. Yup. See photo. Someone was using a rag to mop up oil in the linkage and left a tiny piece of the rag behind, which eventually jammed the steering gears that put all 378 feet of us on hold, naturally at the most inconvenient possible time. Good news is I don’t think the problem lasted twenty minutes before our guys found it and fixed it. “It took longer because it was nighttime,” Chief Dale Brown says apologetically. Uh-huh.
Oh, the helo. Right. Short delay, launched it, no prob.
I swear MPA Andy Molnar is monitoring the water pressure in my stateroom. The instant I get out of my precious daily shower he’s paging me to tour another part of the engine room. The thing is, EO LT Todd Raybon said I might have to be counseled for missing the ballast evolution the other day and then today, I missed the clearing of an obstruction in the forward sewage tank. Yes, when this happens, the tank is emptied and whatever MK is up goes in. There is no special protective suit, but “We all have our little poopy suits,” says ENS Greg Vera. Somehow, I was elsewhere when the call for that chore went out. My only question was, “Is the sea shower restriction eased for the poor guy who does that job?” Todd laughed and said, “I don’t think he’d do it if it weren’t.” No way do I flush so much as a piece of lint down the toilet, only my own liquid and solid waste and the designated tp, that’s it.
So when Andy shows up and says, “We’re washing the turbine blades, come on,” I go. Down we go into the engine room and then down again into the turbine intake room (I’m getting really good at climbing ladders), where a metal mesh air filter the size and shape of a culvert encloses the blades of the Pratt and Whitney FT4A turbine. MK2 Steve Rens first examines the blades with a flashlight (it’s dark down there, and hot, everyone is running with sweat) to check for any damage, and then hand washes the blades with soapy water. Then they start rotating the turbines while they spray water on the fans.
They do this three times. I got to do it the third time. What did you do today? They do the whole exercise every time we use the turbines to rinse off the sea salt we’re sucking in with the air. MK1 (and, by the way, Chief to be) Eric Childers shows me a handful of other stuff that the intake has sucked up in the past, and says the pressure of incoming air is so great that it’s been known to pull the rivets out of the walls. Hence the mesh filter.
On my honor, my second shower today was barely a rinse.
Here’s some interesting figures about our propulsion systems, courtesy of Andy:
Our two Fairbanks Morse Diesel engines combined produce 7,000 horsepower.
Our two Pratt and Whitney FT4A turbines combined produce 36,000 horsepower.
But there’s always a price for increased power, usually in fuel consumption:
At 17 knots, our two MDEs (main diesel engines) together burn just over 400 gallons per hour.
At 28 knots, our two MGTs (main gas turbines) together burn just under 3000 gallons per hour.
It’s cheaper to go slow. But sometimes we can’t. I’ll be writing about why not a little later in the patrol.
I hope I’m making this sound as interesting as it really is, because if I’m not I’m really shortchanging the ship and the guys. We’re out here in the middle of the ocean on a 378-foot cutter with a bunch of different mechanical systems, none of which were necessarily meant to work together when originally designed and some of which are older than I am, and no spare parts other than what we brought with us.
Everything’s still running, in spite of evil dust bunnies.
The Captain has asked me to ask you to check out the comments below.
For more photos, check out ENS Dan Schrader’s
photo essay of our patrol on Fred’s Place.
Click here to order a copy.
Author and founder of Storyknife.org.