P&O Ship visit
By Vinca Russell
Not everyone here at Witherby Publishing has a maritime background and when you’re working on something technical that can be a real drawback. It is one thing to read about engines, propeller shafts and generators and quite another to have experience of working with them or, at the very least, to have seen one up close. With this in mind I recently went on a day trip with our technical adviser John Aitken and another researcher/writer (Anna) to see how things work on a real ship.
We were lucky enough to get permission to go on a P&O ferry that was travelling from Cairnryan to Larne and spend some time with the crew learning more about what was on board and how it all worked together. This started with a tour of the passenger accommodation including a restaurant, a café, a video room and a club room that had one of the best coffees I’ve ever had from a machine – all pretty swanky. Having worked on a fire prevention publication I was also peeking at all the sprinkler systems and fire extinguishers on the way round.
It was then time for the ship to leave port and the Captain gave us permission to come up on to the bridge to watch the departure from up there. It was exciting (sad but true, I was like a small child in a sweet shop) to see the electronic charts and watch the ship’s progress on those as well as out of the windows. I was also curious about the windows in the floor. They seemed like an odd thing but it was explained that they help the Captain to see when the ship is in the correct position in the dock.
Once the ship was underway we got around to the real purpose of our visit, which was to get a feel for the engine room and how things fit together down there. There was a series of extremely steep staircases with impossibly narrow steps (“you’re probably better off going down these backwards if you’re not used to them”) but finally we reached the control room filled with its myriad dials and displays showing what the engine was doing at any particular time. These were explained to us with patience for our endless questions and, with the aid of the diagrams of the engine system that Dougie, the second engineer, brought up on screen, things started to make a lot more sense.
Donning some very fetching ear plugs (I’m still disappointed we didn’t have to go for full boiler suit chic) we made our way through to the engine room itself. I say engine room – and I had expected it to be a single room – but really it was a whole suite of rooms that each housed a separate part of the engine system. There were fuel oil purifiers in one room, generators in another and each of the two main engines had its own separate space. All of this was connected via a series of pipes and tubes that would have been completely baffling if we were left to figure it out for ourselves. Thankfully Dougie gave us a comprehensive tour and by the end of it I certainly understood a lot more about the ship’s engine system than I’d have ever been able to grasp from a book. The engines are much bigger than you’d imagine, they make a lot of noise and they definitely have a distinctive smell. They also work together with so many other bits of machinery that you’d need years of training to understand what they all did!
The ship was approaching its destination by this point so we thanked the engineer and headed back up to the passenger deck. We had plenty of time on the journey back to quiz John about the things we’d seen and anything we didn’t understand (still plenty of things to learn) and the Captain also made time for us (over a spot of dinner), answering more specific questions about the ship, its crew and how the day to day running of the ship worked.
It was an invaluable day for us both and we’ve learned things it would have been impossible to pick up from books alone so thank you to John for taking us and to P&O for allowing us on board.