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Wednesday, 30 March 2011

The Final Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Where sky and water meet,
Where the waves grow sweet,
Doubt not reepicheep,
To find all you seek,
There is the utter East.... End of London. Namely, St Katherines Dock!

Gracing us with their presence amidst a gaggle of journalists and presenters were Prince Caspian, wearing his girlfriend's cardigan and Eustace Scrubb, who may I say is a very polite young man. They would spend the entire day locked in the hold giving interviews to the world's media regarding the pending DVD release of the latest Narnia flick.
The journalists, whilst waiting for their time with the cast, would be kept occupied by learning the ancient art of sword-fighting. Not happy with the low fatality odds of such a sport they were also made to climb to the crows nest. Needless to say all survived and a good time was had.

It was nice to see this sort of event at work. Everyone there inducing the excitement that they themselves were surrounded by. A self perpetuating media orgy of cheeky northern presenters fooling around through to a Japanese over actor wearing a deck chair. Madness. I had to sit back and take it all in...
...The sun kissing my skin, London bustling away, the clink of sword on sword under the shadow of a dragon. WHAT THE F%*K?!

How did I go from marking oil rigs to this?
Here's how!

Drive as fast as you can from Harwich to Ramsgate, the town of the dragon makers. Or, the last stop before London where one can logistically turn a medieval caravel into a dragon.





One fully functioning Dawn Treader. 

The trip through to London was mostly non eventful and quite relaxing. We did find that the moon being the closest it has been to earth in 19 years upset the tides a little. Consequently we spent an hour grounded in the entrance to the Thames estuary. Did we panic? Of course not. We ate dinner and played music until there was enough water to float us through to our anchorage near Tilbury Fort.

The morning saw us motoring into a sun stricken London, where at Greenwich we picked up a small boarding party to continue on to St Katherines Dock.

Friday, 11 March 2011

When the oil dries the wind shall rise!

This is a dead oil rig.

Once the oil is depleted, the rig proved uneconomical or too old for purpose, a transformation occurs. All of the useful gear that was there is stripped away. This also includes any navigation equipment to warn vessels of its presence. So to ensure that it is visible there are cardinal markers placed around the structure at a distance of 500 meters.

The diagram below shows how the 'place of interest', or our oil rig is marked. This is the case for most hazards at sea.
At night they will flash white to direct a vessel around the hazard. An easy way of remembering what does what is seeing them as a clock.
                                                            N- A continuous flashing.
                                                            E- 3 flashes.
                                                            S- 6 followed by one long (In a rough sea you may not catch all of the flashes, the one long at the end emits any confusion)

                                                            W- 9 flashes.

SO! The Buoys are in place, situated 500 meters from the rig. But what next?
We move the buoys from here... here...

Now they will lay at a distance of 1500 meters from the hazard. This gives the removal men and women the room they need to break down the rig. To manoeuvre ships,  swing on anchors and whatever else they need to undertake such a task. The rig itself will be broken up to the level of the sea bed or below and will no longer pose a threat to navigation.

We shall be seeing the numbers of oil rigs in the North Sea diminish and perhaps even be obsolete entirely within the next 25 years. For reasons why, I'm not privy to such information. I can merely speculate that the 50 years worth of oil that was previously thought to be in these wells, was a figure based on a population that has been exceeded.

As the horizon clears of such structures, it shall in the near future be host to masses of wind farms, some as large as 25 square kilometers.
Funny really, for the three weeks I spent out there there was piss all wind.

There was however plenty of sea, a sea that is host to strong tides and, at times, large waves. This begs the question; Why not use tidal or wave 'farms'? Sea bed tidal generators being planned for the Orkney area should prove to generate as much as 1.2 GW of energy. This rivals some major nuclear power stations! Maybe it's the vast infrastructure that would have to be installed to allow such endeavours to flourish. There would be a need for new ports and a new grid to wire up to the existing one. 
Maybe someone somewhere will see that the investment would be worth it, to light up 75,000+ homes on a resource that is always there and always creating energy.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Ours is not to reason why, Ours is but to chip and grind.

For those avid followers of this humble Blog O Gramme, you will be all too aware that I often mention how much painting, greasing, grinding &cetera that we as deckies undertake.
It is not that we are ragging the ship into oblivion, merely getting on top of things before the work overtakes the workforce. I don't envy those on The Patricia or any older ship that must be doing this all of the time to then watch the bit they've just done rust over again!

Galatea has spent the last couple of week in Harwich undergoing a general refit. Now as you can imagine this is a gargantuan task. Not only is it a boat, it is also a floating home for the 20 crew and officers on board. Not only this but a floating depot/storage facility/worksite. You can imagine the damage a 2 tonne sinker would do as it is lifted from the sea in a swell were it to strike the boat.
The consistant use of the gear, most of which is made out of heavy metal takes its toll.

A brief idea of the work we've been undertaking follows.

Chipping back rust spots, priming then painting; Mainly on the Davits (A crane for lifting the tenders in and out of the water),the High Focal Buoy pods, in which we hold our Class 1 big bastard buoys (see Blog O Gramme on Buoy Bashing. Also the life boat cradles and other such areas of the ship that are inaccessible and at use whilst at sea.

Cleaning the hull of ship. It's a big bugger, we reach the topsides by using a cage on a crane. An environmentally friendly cleaning product called Viceroy is used. This took four men three days

Cleaning the big crane on the stern, for this we use a cherry picker on the Quay along with some guys working at height on the crane itself.

Grinding back the welds where windows have been covered over. Enter the crane and cage for this as they are 2 decks high. Each window took four hours and five grinding discs. They were then primed and painted. Of course.

Welding the Gunwhale area from where we lift the Buoy chains onto the boat. The friction here is massive, the effect of the chain rubbing gives a wrinkling effect. When lifting you sometimes see smoke and sparks.

We are having some interior changes done, for which we have contractors working hard day and night.

Servicing the two tenders, one of which is getting a new slip slap slop it on paint job.

The smaller crane on the back of the Ship has just been fixed after a few months of being broken. I was volunteered to be the one to catch the leaking hydraulic oil in a bucket. I'll let you guess how much of the 200 litres reached the bucket and how much found me.

Void inspection. For this we have what is called a Permit to Work. A Permit to work is also enforced if there is work being done by the RADAR. If it was turned on when you were near it then you would be lucky if you were only made sterile. The permit is signed and a note kept by the RADAR monitor warning it not be used. I may post more in depth about Permits to Work later on.
The bridge is notified when anyone is entering a void (Usually a space between hull and boat interior). A team of two enter to check for any damage, especially if we have taken a large knock at a particular point of the vessel. Prior to entering, oxygen levels are checked and two men are on standby with breathing apparatus for those who enter. There are still many cases within the shipping industry of people entering voids and dying. Sometimes through inhalation of noxious gasses, through there being no oxygen, or even not notifying of entry and knocking themselves out or, rarely, being sealed back into the void.
Once here, any damage there may be is welded, ground and chipped, primed then painted depending on severity.

So yes there's a lot to do, the above list is but a mere smattering of the tasks and jobs we undertake. So I'd better get on with it.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Light Work of Heavy Metal

Here is Foxtrot 3
Here is Foxtrot 3. The first light ship that I set foot on. This was actually in January, though I have only just acquired the photos from one of the cadets on board. My job here was pretty much the usual Trinity House deckhand job. Grease what needs greasing, replace what needs replacing and to find a way through the bird shit. I don't know what it is about lightships but birds love crapping on them!

You'll generally find lightships in areas too deep or unsuitable to construct a lighthouse. This one is at the Eastern entrance to the English Channel. Being the busiest shipping lane in the world you can understand the need for a light that can be seen for 19 nautical miles.

19 nautical miles! From a car bulb?! Yes. It's not the lighting that's the clever bit but the lenses they use to project the light. Amazing. Nine out of ten people get really excited when I say I can get them one of these, thinking that they're gonna be bigger than their head.

If you can manage to see through the bird shit you'll notice the damage on the bow from an impact. I find it quite amusing that they are hit so often. 
' Sorry sir I didn't see it?'
'See what young fellow?'
'That fecking great big light on top of a fecking great big pile of red birdshit.'

Maybe it happens more when it's foggy. Though there are two clever sensors that send signals to each other. When the signal is broken by something such as fog or mist, the alarm sounds. Very loud indeed. That get's pretty boring pretty quickly when you're trying to work with such an abrasive din. Still. It's nice to know that it works.

The above picture shows a great big jammer. This stops the chain from rolling out if the windlass breaks. 
'Where does the chain go?'
I'm pleased that you ask. Follow the chain to the depths of the sea and at the bottom of it you'll find a great big shackle, and on the end of the great big shackle is a great big mushroom shaped sinker weighing around 5 tonnes. These rarely drag. If however they do then they have a drag alarm to alert trinity house that it is moving.
Imagine living aboard a boat that goes nowhere, for weeks at a time and with no company other than two other men. Other than a few provisions you'd eat what you caught, the only change in scenery as you sail to no place are the boats that pass you by.
What would you do with your time? Well, tend to the light of course, maybe even on occasions carry out a rescue (this happened, though rarely). Roll a rollie, through out the rod and have a fish. Though by the nature of this work from a modern stand point I have a feeling you'd spend a lot of your time cleaning, greasing, chipping and painting.