Sunday, November 16, 2014

Things I Learned in the Engine Room

Looking at leaving tomorrow night, unless something goes wrong, which makes this my second to last day of working in the engine room. Reflections, therefore, are in order.

  • I have learned that painting all day in an environment that permits no distractions can eventually get old. When on deck we could usually paint with earphones on, and while I could conceivably purchase wireless earbuds to wear under some over-ear mufflers, I haven't done so yet.
  • Apparently, and this must be a thing that was planned out, everything that you could possibly hit your shin on in the engine room is all placed at exactly the same height and at the same angle against the shin, such that once you hurt yourself walking around once, every subsequent injury will occur at exactly the same place. I have had a small red bump on my shin for most of this month, and just when I think it is about to go away, Bam!.
  • Painting just by standing around with a brush or roller is pretty dull, but painting that involves crawling, climbing, and fitting yourself on and into things that you don't quite fit in is much more exciting, like Bruce Willis crawling through the building in Die Hard, painting terrorists above the wire beds.
  • Fixing piping seems to be a large part of the engineer's job, and it isn't all that difficult if you know where the problem is. Just isolate the problem area, unscrew everything, replace parts as needed, then screw it all back together.
  • In fact, very little seemed all that difficult so long as one knows what they are looking at and what they are trying to accomplish. For those few tasks that did seem difficult we would call down the Chief, who would exclaim worriedly and then say, “well, guess we have to (leave that for layup / call a specialist)”
  • That said, you really do need to know what you are doing down here to an extent that you sort of don't anywhere else on the boat. Hence, I have spent most of the month painting.
  • There is a window in the engine room, but it isn't anywhere near where there is work to be done. I don't end up seeing nearly as much of the magnificent scenery as I did in galley, and far less than when I was working on deck. On the other hand, we have a repeater monitor from the navigation computer, so I know where we are more exactly than I did previously.
  • The bilges in general aren't as bad as they are made up to be, but the spot where it all gets washed down to and pumped out really is that bad. We went in yesterday to clean it out, not even a very thorough cleaning, just pulling a couple buckets of muck out of the bottom, and I wasn't the one doing most of the cleaning, but three showers and a day later and my hands still smell faintly of oily sewage.
  • I learned, contrary to what piney point insists, you don't have to go to Piney Point or other accredited school to upgrade or get endorsements. Anyone with sufficient appropriate sea time can call up the coast guard and sit for the test. There are advantages to going through the union school, most importantly that some of the hiring hall guys may hassle you for getting a ticket outside of the union.
  • I learned that there are fewer and fewer onboard unlicensed engineering jobs. They get replaced either by more duties for the watchstander and the remaining QMEDs or they get offloaded to specialist electricians/mechanics who live on shore and only get called out to fix particular problems.
  • I learned that the unhappiest person on any bulker is the conveyorman, because apparently his job sucks. That certainly seems to be the case on this ship.
  • I have learned that the real punishment for being an idiot is that people will tell stories about you when they go to other ships. Actually, the real punishment is being injured or killed, usually during your off hours from alcohol abuse, and then becoming nothing but a cautionary tale. I heard stories about the chief who would jump up and down throwing temper tantrums, the chief who would work and call people into his office while completely naked, the engineer who sweated booze (and died from taking his medication with alcohol), the time a famously short tempered chief shouted at a famously short tempered first until a boiler exploded, and other such tales of people who simply aren't in control of their thoughts and emotions.
  • The engine room is probably the only place where reasonable people will set up a portable heater unit right next to a fixed AC outlet and have both running full blast next to each other. It isn't even a bad idea, since that keeps the engine cool on one side while keeping the working space warm on the other, otherwise it would be way too cold outboard near the hull that sits in the cold water and way too warm in the middle of the room where the engines and machines sit.

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