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Coming Down From Drydock

Tuesday June 10th, 2014

After 11 days ‘up on the hard’ the Picton Castle was ready to relaunch from the marine railway at Suva, Fiji. It would have been maybe only seven days but for the four days of torrential tropical rain that put a halt to some projects. But this had been a good dry-docking at a good yard. But that came as no surprise.

What work have we done to our ship?

Well, mostly the usual; high pressure water blasting the bottom for removing growth after two years in the water. Then, of course, spot painting epoxy primer followed a full coat of nasty anti-corrosive and then a full coat of fresh antifouling paint; new zincs that prevent electrolysis to the steel hull underwater. It works just fine too, no evidence of any electrolysis on any part of the ship since last dry-docking. We also removed all the bronze through-hull fittings for inspection and any rehabbing as needed. Some of them needed some lapping and re-seating. Through-hull fittings let water into the ship as cooling water for the main engine and generators, as well as the water maker which converts salt water to fresh and also seawater for the heads.

We also pulled the main engine propeller shaft and propeller. This must be done from time to time to inspect for wear on bearings, seals and the shaft itself. This is quite a big job too. First the rudder must be removed, then the sternpost cut away, that’s right, cut away, that’s the only way. Then of course, the long, 6 inch (150mm) steel shaft must be unbolted from the gearbox deep down in the engine room and it and the 6 foot (almost 2 meter) three bladed controllable pitch propeller all slide out. Well, it doesn’t really slide out; it takes a good deal of effort and chain come-alongs to get it out into the slings of the waiting crane. From there it is trundled over to the machine shop for examination and whatever work might be needed. We found that the bearings were fine but that the seals needed a bit of reworking. This was done after a few days and the shaft went back awaiting adjustments – it needs adjustment as it is not simply a solid steel shaft with a prop on one end, which, once back in, would not need adjustment – but it is a CPP or “controllable pitch propeller” indicating that the individual blades of the propeller move to provide forward and astern pitch and therefore, thrust and has moving parts in the shaft and propeller. It is a very good system installed in this ship in 1965, works just great to this day. But as it all had come apart, it needs readjustment after going back together.

We also attended getting a generator dynamo cleaned and back to perfect and sundry jobs in the engine room. After a thorough shell thickness survey we inserted a couple bits of new steel plate where it was needed. All the work was done under not only our supervision but that of an independent marine surveyor. This is a big help to have a qualified expert to look over my shoulder. It is also a requirement of our annual re-certification process.

While all this important stuff is going on below the waterline, plenty of work going on up on deck too. Crew were working away getting all the standing rigging chain plates chipped and coated with five or more coats of primer before the finish coat, various carpentry jobs here and there on deck. The anchor windlass got completely overhauled and coated and greased up. We renewed the steel part of the taff rail around the quarterdeck too. Lifted the teak capping and replaced almost all the steel it rested on. This had been installed in 1996, but apparently without much bedding compound so it had corroded significantly in the last 18 years. Other new steel installations from the same time that were treated properly are holding up fine.

The original steel from when she was built seems to last forever. The shipyard manager told me that the Picton Castle was one of the strongest ships in the best condition he had “ever seen, regardless of age”. He has seen a lot of steel ships up on his shipyard over the last few decades. I was quite impressed and satisfied with the quality and standard of both the steel work and the engineering work done for us on the grand Picton Castle at Suva Shipyard.

And… a new non-skid deck covering for the scullery and galley to give a better grip when we are at sea. All new and renewed safety gear as required by regulations. Yards all got painted (nice job!). New INMARSAT computer. And soon-to-return cook Donald’s cabin and the galley getting a nice paint job too.

But that’s not all. Going into shipyard is a bit like going into surgery at the hospital. Must be done, is good and needed to be done, but you don’t always come out of the hospital looking your best. We have all sorts of paint blow-over to remove. The engine room needs a big old cleaning, I mean a big one. The decks did not get scrubbed for about two weeks, accumulating any amount of crud, grime and welding detritus pretty much everywhere and anywhere – so the ship is getting a massive cleaning this week after coming off the dock.

On Sunday past, after a couple days alongside the quay at the shipyard next to a couple Chinese fishing boats who looked like they were keen to get up on the lift, we backed away from the wharf and headed out to anchor in the harbor. At long last and once again, fresh air, cool breezes and the quiet of the anchorage after almost two weeks of banging, clanging, mud, blasting, spraying and all kinds of dirt and crud of the ship-yard. But all good to get the shipyard done too.

Picton Castle on the hard

Picton Castle before going up on the slip

neighbours at the shipyard

Flip flops strictly prohibited

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