Tuesday, January 15th, 2013
By Kate “Bob” Addison
Another beautiful day deep in the South Pacific Ocean, and all is well aboard Barque Picton Castle. The sun is bright, the seas are sparkly and skies are blue, and all on deck are busy working away on their projects for the morning – the bosun and his mates are sanding the port pin rail for varnishing, the sailmakers are working on the new lower topsail, the watch is setting the lower stuns’ls and Hege has the big teak helm.
But below decks, out of sight and hidden away from the sun’s rays there is (literally) a darker place – mysterious, underground and poorly understood by the deck department, it is visited only on the hourly ship-check, and inhabited by mysterious and talented men and women – we call them The Engineers.
Welcome to edition 2 of the “daymen” Captain’s Logs. Today, we shed an unaccustomed spot light on the shadowy world of the daymen engineers.
It’s 9am and there is a dull hum coming from the port generator as it charges the battery bank and runs the reverse-osmosis watermaker. We run one or the other of our generators for only six hours a day, which produces enough power to charge our battery system for our navigation equipment and nav lights as well as our freezers, ship’s lighting and other domestic needs for the full 24 hours. Under sail, one of the best moments of each day is the sound of silence when the generator is shut off at the end of its charge. For 18 hours out of the day there is no sound of machinery at all.
But the fact that we can sail in silence for so many hours a day means that the state of our lead-acid battery bank is of intense interest to the engineers – if you want to start a conversation with one you could do much worse than the enquire after the batteries’ latest specific gravity or voltage readings. Of course this battery vigilance also encourages the rest of us to conserve power – the use of bunk lights and lights in compartments are not restricted, but the engineers show no mercy to people who leave a light burning in an empty compartment, or charge their laptop outside of generator hours. Aboard Picton Castle, even the engineers are eco-warriors.
It’s not just the generators and electrics that the engineers look after – all of our ‘systems’ fall under their remit, from the impressive 7-cylinder Burmeister & Wain alpha main diesel engine to the heads or marine toilets, showers, water maker, water tanks and pumps, bilge pumps, fire pumps, deck lights, nav lights and domestic lights, and freezers. Engineers need to know how to start, stop and monitor all of these systems, and how to fix any problems with maybe a month or two before the next hardware store. There is always maintenance to be done too – today the two apprentice engineers Pete and Pete were painting the main engine.
Chief Engineer David Brown, or DB, of Pitcairn Island learned his engineering skills working at the Island’s power plant, and his skills and resourcefulness at fixing or making anything also seem to come from growing up on a very small and remote Pacific Island; the very same remote Pacific Island that we are sailing towards right now. But our best engineers have always come from a panel beating shop in small town England or a farm in rural South Africa or Switzerland or now an island far off the beaten track in the lonely Pacific Ocean.
Our people are very much looking forward to our stop at Pitcairn Island – the Captain introduced the Island yesterday and the aloha deck chat is all of Pitcairn. Should be less than a week until we drop the hook now, and everyone is wondering exactly what time and date that will be. Not least because nearly the whole crew subscribed to the arrival time sweepstake that DB organized…