My daughter is the real engineer in the family, but she has often commented that I could have easily been an engineer in another life. She is probably right, I love all things mechanical and I have spent the last thirty days talking to Chief Engineer Paul about the operational details of his ship.
The first thing that strikes me is the scale of the ships systems. The ship is powered by three, sixteen-cylinder, Caterpillar diesel engines and one, eight-cylinder engine, affectionately referred to as Three CATS and a Kitten. Each of the big engines produces 1800 horsepower that is used to generate about 1090 KW of electrical power. It takes two of the big CATS to generate enough power to drive the ship’s propellers and provide the lights, air conditioning, and water for the scientists and crew. Under normal operating conditions the Melville is producing enough power to run all of the electrical and heating systems on the Colby campus during a cold day in January. And you don’t want to offer to split the gas money on this road trip; the ship has burned 80,000 gallons of diesel fuel on the cruise.
The video below provides a short tour of the mechanical systems of the ship. We have traveled long way from land and have to be self sufficient for all services including water, sewer, AC, and fire protection. Most of the mechanical systems on the ship are run in pairs, if one system fails the backup system is designed to start automatically. The ship even has an emergency generator to run lights, pumps, and fire systems if the four main engines fail.
All of these systems require a lot of maintenance. The engineering crew consists of the Chief Engineer, three Assistant Engineers, four Oilers, two Wipers, and an Electrician. The crew typically works four hours on and eight hours off on a staggered schedule. Someone is always in the engine room 24 hours a day while the engines are running. You don’t check the oil every 3000 miles, you check the oil every hour, and they will use 80 quarts of oil for an oil change.
Tomorrow we arrive in Cape Town, South Africa. The Melville has carried us safety across the Atlantic Ocean and provided the services we needed to focus on the science. It is easy to forget the machinery at work to make this cruise possible until you sit quietly for a minute and hear the rumble from below of Three Cats and a Kitten.