In the Spring of 1975 I was appointed Chief Engineer of the ‘City of Hull’, one of Ellerman Lines modern cargo liners. She was built in 1971 by Robb – Caledon at Dundee and was propelled by one of the loves of my life – a 17500bhp 76J7 Doxford engine. I was really looking forward to the experience as at just four years old she would be well run in and settled down. It was Ellermans first venture into the world of automation and mine too so very exciting days lay ahead. As a point of interest, there were three of the class built, two at Dundee with Doxford engines and one on the Clyde with a Sulzer engine. I sailed on all three and my favourite would have been the Clyde built vessel with a Doxford engine – just to be awkward. I had a bit of a gripe against an unknown fellow from the Dundee yard which could be the subject of another wee tale in the future.
I joined the ‘Hull’ at the port of Hull and went through the usual handing over procedure with the chief who was a good few years senior to myself and was a splendid fellow, then in the course of the general conversation afterwards he mentioned that there was an engine room ghost – tongue in cheek of course. Evidently when at sea there was a strange tapping noise in time with the engine revs which was not obvious within the engine room but was very much so from the internal stairway of the accommodation which was adjacent to the funnel uptakes. It must not have disturbed the ‘old mans’ sleep as evidently the cause had not been investigated too closely. I made a mental note and within days we were off coastwise and eventually sailed from London on the Strick – Ellerman service to the Persian Gulf. It was some weeks later after I had found my way around the estate and settled down that ‘the ghost’ started to intrigue me again, though I was reminded of it every time I used the internal stairway – tap tap tap -115 rpm!.
The first step was an internal funnel inspection, nothing unusual there apart from the sauna effect – a canny excuse for the cold beer that was to come later. Thence to the engine room where one thing had been on my mind for a while. The Doxford was fitted with two exhaust gas turbo-chargers, one at the aft end and one for’d of the top platform. They were mounted on fabricated stools attached to the engine entablature lying thwartships and when the engine was running at full speed the forward machine had a noticeable movement pulsating to the beat of the engine – very noticeable. From there I followed the path of the exhaust uptake to the top of the engine room where just below the skylight there was an almost horizontal section prior to it disappearing up the funnel. There I observed a large steel bracket attached between the exhaust trunk and the deck head above. The normally cream paint of the bracket and deck above were blackened indicating an exhaust leak to me. The trunking was all insulated and sheathed in beautiful tin plate so the bracket attachment to the exhaust pipe could not be seen. There was no option, the lovely tin plate had to be disturbed to gain access for inspection and the trunk was found to be fractured in way of the bracket attachment, obviously a stress fracture possibly aggravated by the unacceptable movement of the turbo-charger stool.
Whilst in the port of Durban the fracture was welded and also an oval shaped doubler fitted between trunk and foot of bracket I think the root cause of the problem was stress induced by the movement of the turbo-charger stool and that in turn was due to the fact that the construction of the stool was short on stiffening brackets compared to the aft end one. After this was rectified and we next put to sea it was all peace and quiet on the accommodation stairway, exit ‘The Engine Room Ghost’.