Work stories -2

Departure Fuzhou. Leaving port is always a tricky operation. A lot of the machinery which is ordinarily switched off is powered up and kept running for the entire period. The chances of things going wrong or running into an unforeseen trouble increase with the increase in number of running equipments. Add to that the fact that departure operations have only got the duty engineer, chief engineer and a cadet who usually doesn’t know anything. The chief pretty much stays busy with his reports and his several cups of coffee. So the duty engineer pretty much runs the show. After leaving this port we transit through a narrow channel with Islands on either side and it is quite scenic to be honest. That however means that there is no room for error else we would run aground. The navigation aspect is handled completely by deck officers but there’s a whole new world down in the engine room where I was. 

After starting the spare generators and thrusters we cleared the port and sped off towards the exit channel. I insisted that we begin with the process of starting the steam turbine as we were producing enough exhaust to produce enough steam to run the turbine. This however is a critical process as a turbine is a very delicate machine. It is extremely moody. It has to be run in a particular way in a sequence of steps and anything else would trigger a shut down. Some safety features also include a forced slow down of the main engine. And like I said there was no room for error based on where we were. 

Add to that the fact that the chief is new to the company and is relatively inexperienced in this particular turbine sequence and the cadet is pretty much a blank slate. However the cadet wants to learn and the chief is responsible for my assessment and progress towards my next rank and my future. So no room for errors there either. 

I started the sequence to start steam production, simultaneously answering the cadet’s questions and informing the chief about what I was doing and what my plan was. 

The steam drums originally contained water at a lower pressure. When the pressure rises and the water heats up it tends to swell and the level rises in the boiler. This however is superficial as the amount of water in the boiler stays the same but the level goes up. A high water level triggers an alarm and shut down and the same for a low water level. It allows for a narrow margin where you have to maintain the level. So you can’t just fill up a boiler completely and then you can’t let the water level drop too much either. It needs to be monitored every second. 

With one eye on the screen and one eye on the chief behind me I kept monitoring the water level. Fortunately it behaved well today and there were no unexpected issues. The water level rose slowly, stabilised and then started to fall back down and that’s when I opened the feed water valves again. Easy peasy. 

The turbine then followed and the operation sequence fell in place nicely and powered up properly. 

Let me explain it better. We use the heat from the exhaust produced in the engine to generate steam in the boiler. This steam then powers a steam turbine that generates electricity to power up the ship. This reduces the amount of fuel burnt in the generators thereby producing economical, greener ships. And isn’t that something we all want.. 

Just another day at sea.. 

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