Andy and I needle gunning rust and paint from the fish room. It is intended that this space will become a workshop and storeroom. PPE or what?
Some photos by Andy of me disappearing down a hole to take some photos.
Aye going yet.
Are we there yet?
Just round the next corner.
The Explorer was powered by steam , because her operational requirements were more easily met by the use of steam. Yes diesel electric and straight diesel were around when she was being built, but neither could compete when it came to noise and vibration. A research vessel then as now has to be as quiet as possible, and the diesel engines which were around at the time of her planning and building were quite noisy and had vibration problems as well , both of which were considered difficult to solve at that time. There was even a proposal that the generating sets should be steam as well, but difficulty in sourcing suitably heavy duty sets meant that reluctantly they fitted diesel sets.
In hindsight this was a fortuitous decision as no one in 1955 could have foreseen the massive demand for electricity for scientific use , which arose over the life of the vessel. This is something which is considered at the design stage of new research vessels now, calculate the demand then at least double it, preferably quadruple it.
It should be noted that Scotia three which succeeded Explorer had a raft on which her three British Polar vee engines were mounted. The theory was that the vibration from the engines would not be passed on to the ship . The sister ship to the Scotia also had this arrangement with three Allen in line engines and an acoustic hood for good measure as well to cut down on radiated noise.
The Scotia’s raft was initially an unmitigated disaster in that the inherent vibration produced by these vee engines caused significant and destructive vibration right through out the ship , resulting in the vessel being tied up for over a year while various engineering boffins searched for a solution. They eventually came up with tuned vibration sources which were bolted to the corners of the raft . These would be tuned to an equal and opposing vibration to that produced by the British Polars, and bingo this worked. However if it ever did go out of tune, the vibration was so severe that it broke whip aerials, damaged sensitive scientific equipment , and sheared deck lights off at the bulkheads.
So , the Sir William Hardy launched just before the Explorer was also a bit of an engineering disaster, the theory was that the small medium speed diesel generating sets could be easily removed from the ship and serviced ashore at Torry Research Lab. However in practice this proved to be way more complicated and troublesome than was initially envisaged, and was abandoned. The engine room also had ventilation problems when the ship was working hard and the soaring heat led to all sorts of mechanical and other problems which meant that the ship spent quite long periods of time in port. When she was launched she has D.S.I.R. on her funnel which stood for Department of Science, Innovation and Research , however most of the locals in Torry and around the hahrbour thought it meant “Don’t sail if raining”.
Therefore the choice of steam as the main propulsion system , given her stop start work a day existence and the requirements for smooth , quiet, flexible power was the right choice in 1955. Explorer gave excellent service over her long career while other ships of her age who had been fitted with either straight diesel or diesel electric all had significant engineering problems, which shortened their operational lives.
It should also be noted that the current Scotia set a new bench mark for quiet research vessels. In fact so quiet that it became the I.C.E.S. (International Council for the Exploration of the Seas) standard. This also one of the reasons that the current Scotia has been copied by so many countries all over the world, and that her good design has been incorporated into some of the largest and most prestigious research vessels .
Why was the Explorer powered by a triple expansion steam engine when contemporary trawlers were being powered by diesel engines? This is a question which has vexed us here at the SSEPS for years. A couple of bits of information have revealed themselves over the past few days which give rise to a theory.
First of all, in John Dunn’s “Herring Larval Blog” below, it is clear that it was necessary for Explorer to steam at slow speeds of considerably less than 5kts for some tasks.
Second, her slipway companion Sir William Hardy (Subsequently Rainbow Warrior), a research ship being built for the Ministry of Agriculture and Food for the same purpose as Explorer was fitted with diesel electric propulsion.
Contemporary trawlers were fitted with medium speed geared diesels. A Diesel engine of course has a minimum tick over speed which means that the ship it is propelling has a minimum cruising speed. This will vary a bit, but I would estimate it to be four to five knots. This would make low speed tasks difficult to impossible.
So I am theorising that Explorer and the Sir William Hardy were built with machinery which would comfortably cruise at speeds of one or two knots. The Scottish Office conservatively opting for a traditional steam plant. The MAFF being more adventurous and fitting the first diesel electric plant in a trawler. This adventurous decision would bite them on the bum for a while as inevitably with new technology, there were teething problems.
“During the trials it was found that insufficient air was entering the engine-room when the propulsive machinery was operating at normal power. There has been a six months’ delay due to this. The cost of the additions to the ventilation will be about £3,000. I am afraid it is impossible to assess the cost of the delay in the use of the vessel.”
Herring larval surveys on Explorer
One of the jobs which the Explorer did regularly throughout her service career were surveys in the North Sea and up and down the West Coast trying to determine the potential density of herring. It is almost impossible to overstate how important the herring was and indeed still is to the Scottish fishing community and economy. This seasonal fish shoaled in massive numbers off the English and Scottish coasts within easy reach of coastal communities who in the early years would sail or even row out and set their drift nets to catch this rich bounty. The fish move up and down in the water column chasing their food , which are copedods, in fact it is the oil in the copepods which make herring and mackerel oily. The copepods move up in the water column at night to feed on phytoplankton, and then back down in daylight to avoid being eaten by predators. This is what made the herring relatively easy to catch, the drift nets were just like long curtains of net hanging from the surface and down to about six to eight feet. The fish chasing their food simply blundered into the net and got caught by the gills as they tried to back out.
In the early days of the larval surveys they used to use one meter ring nets which were made of silk, however these were extremely vulnerable to damage , and the ship had to tow them very slowly to avoid splitting them.
Later developments included the Bridger Gulf three which had a monel metal mesh cone inside it , and was less prone to damage, but the biggest advantage to the ship was that it could be towed at five knots which meant a huge saving in time and meant that larger areas could be covered than before.
Subsequent developments were the Aberdeen version of the Dutch Gulf three which was made of Aluminium and had a tightly stretched polyester net inside it on a frame which could easily be taken out to allow it to be washed down and cleaned. These high speed samplers were nicknamed the bomb by the crew, who never knew them as Gulf three high speed samplers.
The sample once collected up aft was taken down to the plankton lab, basically the sink in the dry lab. It was then washed into a jar glass originally and then plastic in the later years, the scientific label was written out in pencil, recording all the details of where and when the sample was taken, this was then popped inside the jar, ensuring that it would not be lost or rubbed off. A dilution of formalin was added to the sample to preserve it, and then it was set aside in a wooden box below the bench. In between sample stations sample jars which had sat for at least forty eight hours were opened and the contents poured out into shallow glass dishes with a black plastic board below them. This was to allow scientific staff to pick out the herring larvae which now preserved had turned white. They were just like white threads with little black eyes, eggs which had also turned white were also picked out. This was a tedious and smelly job, as despite the preserved sample having been washed out using a fine mesh bag over the sink the sample still retained formalin and as an angle poise lamp was often used to illuminate the dish this also caused the fumes to rise off the dish. However it did ensure that a reasonably accurate estimation of the potential stock abundance was obtained fairly quickly.
Pitfalls of this type of sampling were that you had to use a set of tables which had been worked out to give the winch man instruction as to how much wire to pay out. This of course if everything was perfect mean that you could get quite close to the bottom and back again without hitting the bottom. However if the ship’s speed was slower than that expected the net sank faster, with disastrous consequences. If the winch man had not reset the mechanical warp counter on the winch or if indeed the counter wheel was not turning properly , could mean you had way more wire out than you thought again with serious consequences.
When high speed samplers were introduced all of these sampling problems were made even worse as the ship was now moving more quickly and therefore everything happened faster and with even more alarming consequences.
This meant that close collaboration between the scientists , bridge officers and the winch man were essential to ensure that the survey was carried out without serious damage or loss of equipment.
Despite the same internationally agreed survey lines, stations and areas being used year after year, it could be very tricky to obtain good samples. The bridge officer had to watch the echo sounders , and the ships speed ,also ensure that he towed the nets or samplers on a course he knew would avoid underwater peaks obstructions etc. This was not always possible as generally we towed into the tide and wind, as the ship could be more easily kept to a constant speed. The scientists had to be aware of where they were in the survey and prepare for emergency action to be taken if a peak suddenly appeared on the bottom. Ironically trying to pull the net or sampler in quickly had the opposite effect as the depressor or weight would bite into the water and actually take the net or sampler straight into the bottom, so stopping paying out wire and then slowly starting to recover it was the best way to avoid hitting the bottom, but required experience and a certain degree of bravado.
Variants of these high speed samplers are still used to this day in larval surveys, however quite sophisticated electronic devices are now used which can identify and count individual fish in a shoal as well as estimate the number in the entire shoal.
As told by Jim Duff. A bit out of date but interesting if you like ships. To see the blog properly, click the pop out icon at the top right.
First job of the day was Jim preparing sandwiches for our distinguished visitors. Muggins here spent a couple of hours removing corrosion from the smokebox prior to carrying out a boiler survey on Tuesday. Going by the condition of the smokebox, it doesn’t look good, but I shall dive inside on Tuesday armed with a torch, a camera and a good bit of swatting up on Scotch Boilers and they’re defects.
Mucky job. Yuck.
We then entertained and toured a small group of visitors led by Eric and Maxine Reynolds, chairman of the SS Robin Trust. We harvested some good information in exchange for tea, coffee and sandwiches.
I discovered a box of documents which appears to have been beamed onto the ship from some unknown source. Alan Hush, our document geek is going to give it a good bit of attention on Tuesday however, I thought these photos might be of interest to any plankton geeks out there.
Larger versions at the bottom of the In Service gallery. The Blog page doesn’t seem to allow them to embiggen.
The crew of the SS Explorer would like to extend our thoughts and sympathy to the friends and relatives of Duncan MacDougall and Przemek Krawczyk who are missing after the Tarbert fishing vessel Nancy Glen foundered in Loch Fyne on Thursday 18th January.
Yesterday we welcomed George Wood who came all the way from Aberdeen by bus to visit the Explorer. His father was a Chief Engineer on-board. George tells us that when the ship was doing research on currents and tides the Explorer used to deploy buoys with tags on them. When they were subsequently gathered in and brought back to Aberdeen with the required data the tags were taken from the buoys. George would go down to the Explorer and his dad would gave him the tags to take up to the Torry labs and that was one of the ways he earned his pocket money.
For around twenty years, the Edinburgh Dock in The Port Of Leith has been home to the SS Explorer. I suspect none of the volunteers on the SS Explorer realise how much the dock has changed over the years. I certainly didn’t. One of the potential plans for a permanent berth for Explorer was the Alexandra Dock. This aspiration has been quashed by the discovery that the boutique hotel ship Fingle has acquired this berth. Searching for alternatives we looked at the graving dock inside the Edinburgh Dock. The Edinburgh Dock is an unloved and neglected part of the Port of Leith. But in days of yore, it was busy and largely home to Leith’s Trawling Fleet.. We at the SSEPS have a germ of an unattainable idea of berthing the SS Explorer in the graving dock, and heaven forbid, transforming the adjacent Victorian dock shed into a Port of Leith Maritime and Heritage Museum. The dock shed was once part of a pair, it’s sister having been demolished, presumably when part of the dock was “reclaimed”. Wouldn’t it be great to save and repurpose this pigeon roost at this neglected end of Leith. Please spread the word, share and generally get the word out if you agree.
Enjoy our “Then”
I came across this document during a trawl (gerrit?) of the internet for FRV Explorer stories. It describes one aspect of Explorer’s (And FRVs Clupea and Mara) research and although it contains some hard sums, there are also some pretty drawings. Enjoy.
Some cleaning and water damage repairs were carried out today but the main task was to clear the starboard fish room with a view to descaling and painting in the hope of converting into a workshop/storage area. It had developed into a bit of a dumping area for all sorts of rubbish.
Some large pieces of electrical equipment which were obscured have been identified as a shore power transformer, a rectifier and battery charger and a battery storage cabinet. They look like they might not be original equipment.
After our labours, Chairman Andy and I went over to have a nose at the Royal Nore which is on the quayside of the Edinburgh Dock. She is a 61ft Royal and Diplomatic yacht built for the Port of London Authority and recently gifted to the Britannia Trust. We were given a tour of the yacht by the staff and found the accommodation to comprise a 16 cover dining table, and impressive galley and a large observation lounge. You can see her here and here.
By Jim Duff
Radio Room Clock
RADIO ROOM CLOCKS
The sinking of the Titanic resulted in the Radio Act of 1912 that required 24-hour radio watches. The disaster also led to clocks in the newer radio rooms featuring three-minute periods marked in red. That three minutes provided a silent period when only emergency radio messages could be transmitted.
First: where does it come from?
It all started quite some time ago, the early days of radio communication, and it has to do with maritime radiotelephone communication in distress situations on the typical marine MF bands: the 2182 and 500 KHz international bands for emergency and distress. In fact the sinking of the “RMS TITANIC” triggered a lot of safety rules and this is believed to be one of them.
Why a radio silence period?
This allowed any station with distress, urgent or safety traffic the best chance of being heard at that time, even if they were at some distance from other stations, operating on reduced battery power or perhaps reduced antenna efficiency, as for example from a dismasted vessel.
All stations using 2182 KHz were required to maintain a strictly enforced three-minute silence and listening period twice each hour, starting at h+00, h+30.
As a visual aide-memoire, a typical clock in a ship's radio room (see picture) would have these silence periods marked by shading the sectors from h+00 to h+03 and from h+30 to h+33 in green.
Similar sectors were marked in red for what used to be the corresponding silence and listening period on 500 KHz between h+15 and h+18 and from h+45 to h+48.
This frequency was used for Morse Code signalling – and is not generally used today.
It is marked in red on the dial, clearly and forcibly calling attention to the radio operator thereto, are the two 3 minute silent periods which must be observed by all radio stations at 15 and 45 minutes past each hour."
"The dial has accurate 4 second marks in red around the outside edge, over which the sweep seconds hand passes, enabling the radio operator to accurately transmit the 4 second alarm signal provided by the International Telecommunication Convention and the International Conference on Safety of Life at Sea."
Modern ships use the Digital Selective calling system (G,M,D,S,S,) – which do not require listening periods as messages are delivered electronically to a consul in the Radio Room.
Topping up the diesel daily use tank was a laborious task involving 20 minutes on a semi rotary hand pump. Andy, our illustrious chairman was undertaking this task today when he noticed this.
So we fired up the harbour generator, opened the appropriate valves and gave it a go. And it worked! 20 minutes later this happened. (It’s the daily use tank overflow sight glass)
With no manual labour. Sorted!
Popped down to check the moorings given 50kt gusts off the berth. All secure. 👍
Festive buffet on the SS Explorer today courtesy of Jim Duff. Sorry to have missed this alcohol fuelled extravaganza. 🍷😜🤪
Our own John Dunn narrates this short documentary about the FRV Scotia’s, one of Explorer’s successors role in marine research.
Jim and Maggie busy cleaning the labs today. I laid a bit more anti slip netting before skiving off for a tour of the Apache II pipe-laying vessel, one of our neighbours. I think Explorer could pretty much fit in Apache’s navigating bridge.
After that back to help Charlie fit a lamp in the aft workshop. Wiring and socket to be installed.
Liberated various items from the Vos Raasay and the Vos Islay which are being broken up in Leith Docks. Various light fittings, cleaning chemicals, lifebuoys and sundry other items. Thanks to Dale marine for allowing us to scrounge.
Must be close to a record with ten volunteers on the SS Explorer today.
A fair bit of cabin cleaning achieved today.
Also the port side ladder to the boat deck was welded on with our new welding machine. The ladder has been awaiting this for more than two years!
At the weekend some mesh was laid on the starboard side of the main deck as it was extremely slippery when wet. Another 5 metre roll to be fitted next weekend to complete the job.
Today we had a new carpet laid in the saloon which is now looking very plush.
After hosting a visit on Explorer by crew members of the pipe laying vessel Apache II, they responded in kind by hosting a tour of their vessel.
A wee poppy on the dockside. Also Explorer moved a metre north to keep new gangway clear of the Armco barriers.
Courtesy Rob Newman. Thanks to Chris Claydon.
After much searching we believe that water leakage into the mess room and engine room is largely originating from the corroded base of this ventilator. So in accordance with merchant navy tradition it will be repaired temporarily with a cement box. Photographed is Jim’s shutter joinery skills.
A couple of DC lights in our rapidly improving saloon were not working so fuses found blown along with a couple of lamps. One dark lamp remaining to fix.
One of the pieces of Explorer’s history which we thought we lacked photos of were the lay-up years in the Cromarty Firth. Today we noticed this beauty hanging as dressing in one of the cabins. Interesting to note what appears to be a large water tank on the monkey island and a large air compressor on the foredeck. The magnetic compass binnacle is missing at that point too. I wonder what the date of the photograph is.
A plan was devised to stop the worst water ingress from rain. (we hope!). An engine room ventilator is badly perforated around the base, but the water doesn’t seem to be directly ingressing there so the smart money is on it travelling through nefarious routes to spread around the engine room. The plan is to build a cement box around the base to stop the leaking until a dockyard repair can be effected.
A modest turn out for the society’s Annual General Meeting.
Attending were: front row left to right Charlie Blyth, Bob Harley, Andy Marjoribanks, Colin Williamson, Derek Learmont.
Back row, Alan Hush, Jim Duff, Cron Mackay, Simon Sawers, Brian Murdoch, Alastair Goodman, Emma Fraser and Bill Fallon.
The Society had a presence at both these events over two weekends raising the profile and a wee bit of money.
Caravan all packed up for the trip to Castle Fraser tomorrow. First thing in the morning I’ll be picking up the newly designed posters and fliers that have been designed by Deborah Mullen DEBORAH-MULLEN.COM
Meeting up with Brian on Saturday to man the Explorer stand and hopefully attract some followers and sponsors.
Weather’s looking super for the rally so all’s looking good.
A busy day on the Explorer. Ingress from the storm last week had brought the bilge levels up.
So two of our pumps were rigged in series to take the bilge water to a slop tank.
Charlie made progress on the mate’s cabin deck light.
And a major leak was attended to in the mess room deckhead. This had previously been covered in a tarpaulin so we weren’t sure what lurked beneath. It turns out that very serious corrosion was hidden below and permanent repairs will be expensive.
As an interim, the metal was cleaned up as well as possible and plastic sheeting laid over sealed with mastic.
A quiet Saturday on the Explorer. Mooring lines a bit slack so tensioned up.
Inspection of the ship after this revealed serious water ingress from the recent rain into the mate’s cabin through the decklight. The decklight has been removed along with the rotten wood in it’s cofferdam. Covered up but fairly urgent requirement to replace the wood and the decklight as any heavy rain will run under the cover into the cabin.
All that rain on Tuesday (60mm+) revealed a few leaks in the superstructure – one behind the Ruston powered harbour generator sounded like Niagra – even above the noise of the generator. Andy found a scuppers drain pipe that was blocked and another that seemed to have a completely bust pipe. The first was cleared resulting in a rush of water from the side deck and out of the pipe outlet on the side of the hull. The other pipe was plugged with a bung. The result was to reduce “Niagra” to a few drips – success!
Now if this sounds a little banal, that may be because most of what I do for Explorer is administrative and that does not give rise to exciting things about which to write. So I have used this little event as a practice subject for my very first addition to the ship’s blog.
A bit of time has passed since the last blog but things are progressing.
The AC generator has been problematic with AVR issues eventually solved and then a persistent over speeding issue which is hopefully now solved.
A lot of internal cosmetic work has been carried out by various members, including repairing the mess room bench, cleaning up the hospital and finally some progress on the deck lights.
Ten sacrificial zinc anodes have been “dangled” around the hull to arrest corrosion which will inevitably be eating at the hull. It is unlikely that any anodes remain from the last docking twenty or so years ago.
The Society now has a Patron in the Office of the Lord Provost of Edinburgh.
A lot of other administrative and recruiting tasks have taken place in the background.
A number of members have undergone a “First Aid in the Workplace” course and are duly certified.
Most of the decklights have been refurbished and refitted making the ship a bit more weatherproof.
AC generator has been behaving itself over the last four weeks so fingers crossed it is now reliable. It was also recently serviced.
Work is in progress to get the saloon up to standard with various bits of joinery being carried out.
Four fluorescent light fittings have been installed in the messroom, galley and passageways giving much better and safer lighting.
Large amounts of rubbish have been removed from the quayside adjacent to the Explorer to improve the general appearance.
A stall was manned in the Leith Custom House on Saturday 29th April to raise the Explorer’s profile locally and hopefully recruit some new members.
The ship’s complement of fire extinguishers have been replaced with new equipment.
General decluttering and cleaning accomplished. Hopefully with the onset of summer the chipping and painting of the ship’s hull will soon resume.
Dog repairs continue. New surplus vent trunking on deck dismantled to make tidy. Galley cooker work continues. Two floodlights installed in ER. Further work to do. Fire detector fitted at ER entrance. Further detector to be installed above AC gen. Fire extinguishers restowed in accordance with advice received.
Our thanks to Technip and the crew of the MV Orelia. Orelia is currently de-equipping in Leith prior to her last voyage to be dismantled. The Company and the Chief Engineer have been kind enough to allow the SS Explorer to repurpose and recycle some of their stores. Among other things, our engine room will be better lit and our hull will be better protected against corrosion. Many many thanks Orelia.
Director’s “Away Day”
Whiteboards and scones and resolving the life of SS Explorer.
Port fresh water tank partially filled to improve list and trim of vessel.
Ballast tank vented and inspected.
Galley floor cooker base screeded. Still to complete.
Work on tidying quayside continues.
Work on hatch dogs continues.
Forepeak ventilated and inspected. Approx 100kg of debris (corrosion and cement) removed. Tank filled with fresh water.
Work started on securing hatch dogs.
Alternator room bilges dried out and various wet packaging and debris removed.