Thursday, February 28, 2008

You want me to weld where!?

During my turnover from Shawn eight days ago, he mentioned that there was a slight problem with the port lifeboat. He said that they had replaced the wires that lowered them the seventy feet or so from the deck to the water. Apparently when they rove the wire through all of the pulleys, they had gone on the outside of a ring on one side instead of inside the ring. Shawn told me that no one had noticed it until a day or two before I got that, and that it in no way affected the lowering of the boat. Both of these statements were blatant lies as my bosun and third mate Kenny told me that they had know about both wire damage and the misplaced wire by February 10th at the very latest, and I am sure at least a month before.

Well I did an inspection and then tried to test the boat by lowering a bit. I quickly learned that the loop the wire went through helped the pulley block get off of hooks that normally support the boat as it swings outward. With one wire inside the loop, and the other outside, the bar attached to the loop twisted instead of popping the block off of the hook. As soon as I saw the twisting I stopped my test and re-stowed the boat. After a much closer inspection of the wire, I saw that as a three-foot section of wire passed through the pulley on the top of the arm as it tried to lift off of the hook, the wire was crushed, the inner fiber core was protruding out of the wire and some of the small wires were even broken. I remind you that this wire was replaced only in November and it looked like a T. Rex had been gnawing on it.

I told the captain about the loop and the wire damage and of course took pictures. Well Shawn had told the captain the same story I had heard about the loop and how it didn’t affect operations. Needless to say, Capt Lou got a bit bent out of shape and a big long email was sent to Walter, the port engineer.

Capt. Lou, in his typical waffling way about things, finally decided to go ahead with my plan for emergency repair. While I certainly couldn’t repair the wire (no spares aboard), I had devised a way to get the wire back inside the loop at least. Today I affected that repair.

The first step was insuring that I wouldn’t die in some freak lifeboat accident. The loop in question was at the very top of the lifeboat launcher, called a davit. This in turn was perilously close to the edge of the ship. I was a step away from a fall of seventy feet, and was suspended on a boat that had slack wires.

The first thing to do was to chain the davit arms in the upright position so that they wouldn’t swing out as I was working and catapult me into the sea below. We used some chains that we use to tie down the trucks, which worked out quite well. Next we attached nylon straps over the davit arms to the boat. Each strap was able to handle in excess of 13,000 pounds, so we could hold up the boat even if the wires were no longer attached. The last hurdle was actually getting to the ring as it was about eight feet above the rail of the boat. To overcome this problem, my ace rigger, Jovino (the Bosun), rigged a stage with one end suspended by the lower block and the other tied down to the top of the lifeboat.

With the boat fully secured, we crossed our collective fingers and slacked the fall wires. The boat worked as it should, soon after I had donned my safety harnass and made my way out onto the stage, which is a 2x8 piece of wood, Sawzall in hand. The electric saw made quick work of the steel rod that was the ring, and I soon had a notch just a touch smaller then the diameter of the wire in the outboard part of the ring. I then used a wrench to jack the wire to the notch, and with a few taps, I had the wire back inside the ring where it belonged. The trouble is now the wire could conceivably pop out of the notch. I had a plan for that however.

After a brief trip to collect some welding gear from the engine room. I was soon climbing back up the stage and now had to try and weld a small chunk of steel just above my head while not falling off of the plank. If you didn’t know, you have to wear a rather dark face shield while welding in order to avoid injuring you eyes from the UV radiation.

So picture this: The bosun is on top of the davit holding the piece of steel in the notch with some vice-grips while I am just below him, balancing on a 8” wide plank 70 feet above the water, blind, while trying to stick a 15” long pencil, attached to a heavy copper cable that trailed down to the deck, to said piece of steel which was above my head. Did I mention that the ship was rolling five degrees during all of this?

Despite these difficulties, I managed to put a mangled bead of steel into the gaps on both sides of the steel and seal up the outside of the ring. A close inspection of the weld will show how terrible it is, but it will hold until we can get to Korea and get the work crew back on the ship to replace the wire and give the ring a proper repair.

As we were cleaning up, the Captain decided to check out the operation and even climbed out on the stage to inspect my err... handiwork. He was happy enough, so I slapped some paint onto the repair and greased the wire a bit near where I was working. I doubt that we will test the boat with the damaged wire, but I am confident that we could get the boat away to the water safely. A good afternoon well spent on board the ship.

(Pictures of some of this event are available at my flickr page as found on the front page link. Thanks to 3/M Patrick for some of the action photos.)

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