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Author Topic: Nautical "Strange but True!"  (Read 137878 times)

Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #25 on: March 07, 2008, 04:09:43 PM »

Job was done but how low can you go?

I guess about 6 miles from your previous post.  ::) ;)
Used to tell nervous first-trippers that the ship was seldom more than 3 miles from land....sometimes took a while to percolate.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #26 on: March 07, 2008, 05:05:53 PM »

More on the River Plate.
The cable repair ship based in Rio quite often had to visit Montevideo. Always interesting...but bloody cold in winter. My first visit was again to act as a stand-by ship for an international summit conference...as Kennedy was there it was probably early '63.
Entering the 'Plate was odd as it is so wide the shoreline on either side is invisible, but, like the Thames, it is heavily silted and so shipping channels are used. Not that cables followed these channels of course. My first view was that of a real "Dreadnaught" type battleship that was used as both a lightship and a pilot station. (Recolada?). A lovely sight. Montevideo harbour is pretty big, and is (was) divided by a central detached breakwater to protect the inner harbour. (Gets pretty windy down there). At this time the air service between Monte and Buenos Aires used Sunderland flying boats. These things used to have to go flat out from the word go to generate just enough lift to get over the middle breakwater, land again and continue their take-off run. Nerve jangling to watch, Lord above knows what it was like for the pilots...never mind the passengers!.
At ths time the very top of the "Graf Spee" was still visible at low tide. As Sods law would have it she was sat on a major international cable-link, and as she subsided into the mud (yellow horrible stuff, claggy and very smelly and very deep). But sods law came into it again with the scuttling of an ex-Royal Mail liner. (Highland Brigade or somesuch). She had been sold and was used to transport whale oil/meat from S.Georgia to Monte and Argentina.The tale we were told by the local authorities was that a disgruntled engineer had sabotaged the ship. True or not, he was given a hefty jail sentence. At this time she was not consumed by the mud but was just about "decks awash". Naturally, her cargo began to rot. If the wind was from the SSE living in Monte was almost unbearable. The stench was just unbelievable! However, as luck would have it she also settled on the same cable as the "Graf". Something "had to be done". Like cutting the endangered part out and laying a by-pass section. The mud was so deep and claggy that our normal methods of lifting were useless and we had to revert to using an old fashioned "Admiralty" type anchor to dig a trench. Days of trawling this thig up and down until we found the cable. Yeuch. At the end of this marathon C&W decided that we needed a short dry-docking period to repair minor damage and clean the hull etc. (Known to one and all as a "D&C"). We first went into a floating dock in Monte, but it refused to float. An outfit in BA was hired. At the time, their dock was an ex USN Dock Landing Ship of WW2 vintage. She was moored very close to the city centre which pleased us all immensely. Except...when we were safely ensconced within her...off she sailed to a point about 5 miles offshore. Rats..or words to that effect. Naturally, all our ship systems (sanitation, heating etc.) were turned off and the "host ship provided electrical power...but not sanitation.
In those days the USN used communal showers and toilets. So on one side of a broad alleyway we had about 20 open toilets separated by half bulkheads but no front door or curtain. On the other side were the open communal showers. So in the early mornings we had the hilarious sight of senior officers having the "morning george" and trying to maintain a little dignity whilst a bunch of "all ranks" were trying to do the same in the showers. Purgatory. I'm still sure it was done on purpose!

The next one will be for "Chingdevil". Tonight if I get bored with telly. By the way...fixed my lathe. Now to get to grips with posting pics again. BY.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #27 on: March 07, 2008, 07:04:03 PM »

A reply to Tiger...I think a lot of seamen get asked to write a book. Very few do. Partly to protect the "innocent" and partly to avoid incriminating oneself. I have no desire to write a "warts and all" story of so many years at sea. It could hurt too many people....me included. I am gratified that these "odd bits" are being reasonably well received, thats enough gratification for me.
As most of these tales have been about cable ships I thought I would remind you what the actual ship looked like. c/s "Norseman" pictured here loading cable at Greenwich. The cartoon I think I may have posted at an earlier time, but so what. The cartoon is closer to real life than you may think.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #28 on: March 07, 2008, 07:53:39 PM »

A special for "Chingdevil"!
Lets start with the cable itself. A old deep sea telegraph cable was somewhere around 1.25" in diameter. The copper core was not much more than 1/4" in dia. This was enclosed in an insulator of Gutta-Percha, which was in turn wrapped with a sort of canvas. The cable strength came from high tensile steel wire (about 1/8" dia) pre-formed into long spirals that wrapped around the canvas. Very strong and when "pulled" would obviously tighten up. When a cable had to go across shallow water rocks, reefs or any other area that may damage it the armouring was doubled or even trebled.The core remained the same. When a cable came ashore it was usually clad in a drainpipe sort of thing. Porthcurno in Cornwall was the centre of the universe as far as underwater cables were concerned. Nothing big or fancy. Just the opposite. A liitle shed just off the beach (probably still there) with a load of connecting boxes in it. And that connected tis country to the rest of the world.
The reason why deep sea cables are so small is at least twofold. One is that not much is going to damage a cable a few miles down. Early pioneers did'nt reall appreciate that "sea-quakes" could be just as destructive as "earthquakes" and so a lot of cables got buried.But most kept working. Another reason is the sheer weight. Although when a deep cable is brought to the surface it looks vertical, in reality you could be looking at maybe 30 miles in suspension on both sides of the ship. Thats a lot of weight. Sometimes it got too much and a method was used to relieve this (later). The machinery used to lift this was 2 pretty big steam engines under the deck. About the size you would find in a harbour tug of the time,each driving a drum of perhaps 10' in dia. In "shallow water it was not unusual to see the lifted cable looking bar tight for a few hundred yards out on either side. I only once observed a tight shallow cable snap with any injury to anyone. When the cable is brought to the surface it is obvious that a "bight" cannot be brought inboard...so it has to be cut. Big manually handled bolt cutters. Before cutting the 2 sides are wrapped in strong "seamans stoppers" (criss-crossed wires and such) and the wieght gradually transferred to the stoppers...then the loose bit in the middle is cut and the 2 ends brought inboard. The cable techs then test the cable. At least one end will reply. Buoy that end off and hunt out the "dead end". If it is a fault then easy. If a "loose end" is found then the hunt starts for the other live end. Once that is found and lifted a new bit is spliced in and paid out to the buoyed end. Both ends tested and if OK joined up and chucked back into the sea. (actually, it is lowered carefully with the ship just going slowly backwards...but the principle is the same).
End of part one. Next is the navigation.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #29 on: March 08, 2008, 04:41:49 PM »

A reply to Tiger...I think a lot of seamen get asked to write a book. Very few do. Partly to protect the "innocent" and partly to avoid incriminating oneself.

Hi Bryan
I think it was Roger in France who mentioned the book.
Yes, But it was Chingdevil who rose to the bait about finding cables!
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Roger in France

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #30 on: March 08, 2008, 06:51:56 PM »

Are seabed cables becoming obsolete in this era of satelite communication. Funny, but as I typed that my mind conjured up a picture of Bryan in a ship sailing through the heavens trying to catch a sat. which needs repairing!

Roger in France.
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Colin Bishop

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #31 on: March 08, 2008, 07:06:56 PM »

I think they are more important than ever. The latest optical fibre versions have huge data throughputs are are essential to the operation of the Internet among other things.
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chingdevil

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #32 on: March 08, 2008, 07:34:07 PM »

Roger
There was a program on UK tv a few weeks back showing how they repair the fibre optic cables very high tec the repairs very low tec how they get them up. Apparently there is a ship on stand by for just this job, I think it is berthed in Boston USA not sure, it is crewed mainly by brits which is good news.

I believe there is a French ship, not sure of the company that lays these cables.

A couple of weeks ago a lot of the call centres on the Indian sub continent went down after a ship dragged its anchor and broke a couple of these cables. Virgin Media, Abbey, and BT were just a couple of the companies that had their call centres go down. Virgin Media actually lost 80% of its call centre capacity, they had to re-rout the calls through satellites, very expensive.

So yes the cables are important even in this day and age.

Brian
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #33 on: March 08, 2008, 07:59:52 PM »

Not so strange, more of how cable-ships used to work.
Mariners of the deck persuation are well aware that the little purple squiggly lines on their charts represent a cable of one sort or another. But these are only charted within port limits or areas where a ship may be tempted to anchor. Out of these areas the cables are marked on more specialised charts..usually as an overlay on the standard nav.charts. Other countries have their own systems but generally speaking it is in everyones interest to pool information. Ocean nav. charts are far too small a scale to be of any use except for general navigation. A typical ocean chart may well be at a scale of 1/8th" to a mile or less, but a cable chart would be at 1" to the mile or more. In some tricky areas such as the Bay of Biscay we would draw our own charts at double that scale to try and avoid hooking other folks cables.(This was only possible after the introduction of the "Decca Navigator"). As I have said, its like a bunch of loose knitting down there.
Jocular comments on this forum aside re. the lack of "sea-time" C&W were assiduous in keeping a full world-wide portfolio of charts up to date...one never knew where the next call would come from. Once we sailed the standard nav. charts would be used  until we were somewhere within the area of interest. As A hypothetical example, let us assume we are going to a point mid-way between Rio and Ascension Island. Mid ocean tropics are not all blue skies and calm waters. I guess that that there as many overcast days as anywhere else. Any stray celestial object would be "shot" and plotted. Most "sights" were "doubled-up" to provide both corroboration and training for the juniors (me). No matter what watch he was on or how many meals he may miss the navigation came first. As the 8-12 watchkeeper I would be regularly called for "stars" just as the evening meal was to be served. We always used to try and get between 6 & 8 good stars. The senior guys could do that, work them out and still eat. I would still be working them out by the end of my watch. Tired and hungry. Not all beer and skittles. But one lives and learns. The "good" guys wouls normally put a box of 8 stars into a half mile box. I was lucky to be within a mile.
Getting close to the area we wanted to be in the cable charts were brought out. Every detail of the cable history was here. In this example I am looking a at a depth of 4,000 fathoms. 4 miles. Think of somewhere 4 miles from your home and put it vertical.
Its a long way! So about 20 miles from where we think the cable is we slow down to about 5 knots and begin paying out the rope.
Next one soon.BY
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chingdevil

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #34 on: March 08, 2008, 10:09:34 PM »

Bryan
How would you capture the cable, in the program I saw the used a certain type of grapple until they had the cable close to the surface, they then changed to a grapple/clamp with a soft jaw. Is that how you would have done it?

Bryan this is an excellent thread please keep it up!!


Brian
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malcolmfrary

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #35 on: March 09, 2008, 01:53:26 PM »

Cables are still vital, not so much for the sheer volume of traffic they can carry, but because sending a telephone call via satellite brings in the problem that radio waves only (!) travel at the speed of light, and the trip due upwards to a geostationary satellite, possibly across to another sat, and back down again is a minimum of 50000 miles, or a third of a second.  This is a very noticeable delay on a phone call.  Cables do not suffer from this. 
Thanks for the stories and insights, Bryan.
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Shipmate60

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #36 on: March 10, 2008, 11:57:37 PM »

Young Mr Brian is right,
Most seamen have lots of tales to tell, but in a career at sea which can span over 30 yrs times change and attitudes with them.
We have all got up to some "capers" which at the time fuelled with copious amounts of alcohol did seem very amusing AT THE TIME.
And before the Health and Safety Culture some (not myself of course) operated in a quite hair-raising way.
We had 1800 in our organisation and had several fatalaties annually, this has now dropped to a rarity now because of the culture. Think of hard Hats on Building Sites in the 70's no one would wear them now everyone does and doesn't give it a second thought.
I consider myself very lucky in having my career on ships, no not deep sea, mostly coastal and in harbour, but used to really enjoy going to "work".
I was chatting to an ex master the other night and we got chatting about the "Old Days", and the subject of a book came up, as it usually does in the pub!!
BUT
We think it would be catalogued under Fiction as times have changed so much.
And Bryan, my present ship is an ex MOD Cable Layer, RMAS Newton, but she has had almost all her cabling gear including the Cable Engines removed now.
Just my thoughts on the subject.

Bob
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dreadnought72

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #37 on: March 11, 2008, 01:28:39 PM »

Not sure I can make the thread more informative - but here's a tale for you!

As a "round the buoys" lake, loch and reservoir sailor, I took my Enterprise dinghy down to Cornwall a few years ago, and had a couple of weeks of belting sailing in and around the Camel estuary. One day, with a fine westerly blowing, I launched the boat at Rock and took 'er out for a solo spin, leaving my (fatter) crew on the beach eating ice cream.

I was about 11 stone at the time and the Enterprise, with no reefing, is a handful with so little weight in it. But after a few minutes it struck me that she wanted to plane without any effort, and - like the big show-off that I am - I brought her in to no more than 5m from the beach (which runs north-south and shelves quite quickly) to wow the crowds and my crew with a blisteringly-fast "sail by".

So there I am, literally going faster than I've ever sailed before (8-10 knots?), leaning out as far as I can, sheets are straining, and there's spray everywhere, the sun is shining, all is right with the world, the boat's singing and it's perfect. Then, peeking under the mainsail, I noticed a toddler on the beach not more than eight metres away, walking faster than me!

The Camel estuary is renowned for its currents. They are fast and close inshore.

After about two minutes of grannies, people in wheelchairs, and dogs with three legs passing me, wondering why anyone would have such a grin on his face and only be going about half-a-knot, I tacked 180 degrees and showed them!

...Nearly got left behind by the boat as it rocketed off, though.

Andy
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #38 on: March 11, 2008, 06:57:25 PM »

So where did we get to. Paying out the "rope" I think.
The basics of it all is a length of rope with a hook on the end. Except. The "rope" is not exactly a rope as you would imagine a rope to be. This stuff is pretty specialised. At 3" in dia. and having 6 strands. Each strand has a high tensile steel core, this gives the rope a massive breaking strain...there is an 8 stranded one, but that isn't used too often. A cable "repair" ship used to be a lot smaller than a "layer" mainly due to the amount of cable a layer had to carry. The repair ships had a limited amount, but of various types. If a repair ship ran out of the sort of cable it needed there was generally a simple solution at hand. Go and find another bit of the right sort. The "odd lengths" of unwanted cable were often re-laid  in a sort of cable bank. Just unfastened lengths sat on the sea bed ready for further use. Where better to keep them? So these odd caches of cable were all over the world. The repair ship would only carry perhaps 120 miles of cables..perhaps we can talk about "layers" later. But it's time to look at the "hooks". The various grapples evolved over a lot of years to cope with differing sea-bed conditions. The most commonly used is (was) called a "Gifford" (all grapples appear to be named after the genius who first came up with the idea). A single element of a Gifford is a cast steel unit about a foot long and shaped like a half open fist. A bunch of these are latched together on a "chain" with the hooky bits at 90 degrees to each other so that there are always some of the hooks scraping the sea bed. Put about 8 of these things on the end of the "rope" and you have nearly half a ton. Use these for a sea bed of silt, sand or gravel where the cable is likely to be on or near to the surface (of the sea bed). Then we have the "Rennie"..similar to the Gifford in that the elements are "chained" These are much heavier than a Gifford. The basic construction is a heavy steel plate about 3/4" thick and 18" long with a 1' long "prong" sticking out of each side. When these are chained up they look pretty primeval. These things can tear through a rocky bottom. The 3rd commonest was the "Lucas". This is a real heavyweight and is used by itself. Only really used when the expected strain on the cable could cause the cable to snap. This could be because of age or one part being buried under a seaquake or whatever. The Lucas has this ingenious gizmo that will cut away one side of the cable when a predetemined strain is reached. The ships bow can actually swing when this happens far below the surface.
So here we are, miles and miles of rope out and doing about 2 knots. Grapples on the sea bed. The Ch.Officer then mounts his saddle. And there he will stay come rain,hail, or anything else the elements can throw at him. The saddle? Just a short wooden plank that fits over the "rope". He sits on this and using his experience can feel the vibrations coming up the rope from the sea bed through his bum. There was a "back-up" (if you will excuse the connotation in this context) called a Dynamometer. Pretty basic but effective. A bit like a McPherson strut on a car with a wheel on the side. The wheel went up and down and an attached pointer indicated the strain on a painted wooden board. If the strain and the C/Os bum agreed then the consensus was was that we had snagged. The ship would now be quite a few miles ahead of the "hook point", so as the rope was being wound in the ship would match it by going astern until it was thought that we were more or less over the hook point. And that is it................................
..........."He had bought a large map representing the sea...
........... Without the least vestige of land...
........... And the crew were much pleased when they found it to be.....................................................................................
........... A map they could all understand...
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #39 on: March 12, 2008, 06:23:11 PM »

Continuing this thread ...but off on a tangent.  First of all is a query about the "Newton"...sorry she had her gear removed, but wasn't she involved with more, shall we say, "quiet" operations? Or have all these systems now fallen into disuse?
The pic. shows the 2 repair ships "Recorder" and "Edward Wilshaw" exchanging crews in the Cape Verde Islands in 1964. The background is really as bleak as it appears...looks like a transplanted Aden. I think the sailing ship was a Chilean training ship (but it was a long time ago that I took the pic). The wharf we were alongside had some beautiful paintings on them...perhaps if you increase the pixel count you will see 2 of them. I hope they are still there. "Recorder" was being transferred to the Rio station and "Wilshaw" to the Singapore station. "Recorder" had a Malay crew (Muslim) and "Wilshaw" had a Portuguese crew (Catholic). Much grumbling from both sides! Didn't stop them all going ashore to get rat-arsed together though. But that's going to be another un-told tale. Cape Verde was pretty primitive in 1964. Very odd, but of the 2 main islands only 1 had water and was arable. The other was bleak, barren and dusty. But the population lived on the arid one and used the other as a supply depot. Maybe they were not all that daft....but now the whole place is a tourist resort.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #40 on: March 12, 2008, 06:27:34 PM »

When I get my thoughts together perhaps I may post a couple on laying cables as opposed to repairing them.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #41 on: March 15, 2008, 06:24:12 PM »

I am now coming towards the end of the saga of the "old" repair ships, but a few illustrations first. The pic of the "Lady Dennison Pender" is crap, it was taken as a slide on an old Voightlander camera...but I use the pic here to show her size compared to the pic of Mercury at the same berth (the old destroyer pens at Gibraltar). The week that the pic of the LDP was taken a large yacht moored up opposite so a few of us went over to have a look at it. This very large American gent came over to talk to us wondereing if the little white ship (ours) was a prison ship as we had protective bars over the lower ports. After a wee while we all realised that this guy with the big gut was John Wayne. All memories of hero-worship vanished in an instant. But to the pics:
Cable 2 is of the deck of "Recorder" whilst tidying up some scrap cable after a job. Gives a reasonable idea of an ocean cable size.
Cable 3 ..Removing the insulated core from the pre-formed steel covering...this one is especially for Bunkerbarge.
Cable 1..Stripping the cable. The bit with the "flat" on it is the gutta-percha insulation in the process of being knifed off to expose the copper core.
Can I go on to Cable Layers next? BY
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #42 on: March 15, 2008, 06:25:57 PM »

Forgot 2 of them:
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #43 on: March 15, 2008, 09:49:26 PM »

I realise and appreciate that this is a Model Boat Forum and also I am taking up a lot of space on it. But to my way of thinking a touch of how life at sea is led and a few pics of what a ship is like can only help modellers who would love to experience the kind of life at sea (warts and all) that I had get a bit of a "feel" for it. I'm afraid I am tad too young to have sailed with the "Onedin Line", but although I was unaware of the meaning of RTR doesn't mean I am in my dotage.
A bit of another generation gap here as I move on to cable laying as opposed to repairing. During the early 1960s C&W embarked on a new build programme with ships designed for the telephone age instead of the telegraph age. 3 ships were built ( each winning the "ship of the year" Oscar. (Cammell Laird in Liverpool take a bow). So the repair ships "Retriever" and "Cable Enterprise" began the updating of the fleet. The new "layer" was mixed up somewhere in that period. The really old ones like "Mirror", Norseman" and "Lady Dennison Pender" had all had long and illustrious lives, but their time had gone and they were all totally outdated. "Norseman" (I think) was sold to a consortium in Antwerp to become a teahouse or resteraunt or somesuch but I don't think it came to much. The "LDP" (of 1918 vintage) was still chuffing along in 1963 when I was her 3/O. Based in Gibraltar the work in the Med was OK but winter time between Gib and the UK was really tough for the old girl. With a top speed of only 9 knots it once took us 31 days to get from Falmouth to Gib. But it was during one of these slow marathons that (really and truly) the ship stopped "squeaking". She'd had enough. Ooops. Slowly (even slower than before) we made it back to Plymouth and there she was laid to rest. Sad, but welcome.
Apart from the new "Mercury" the UK had only 2 other cable-laying ships. Both really intended for telegraph work. One was the "Monarch" (GPO) later sold to C&W and re-named "Sentinel" and the "John W McKay.  Monarch was built in 1947 in a bit of a hurry, and the McKay dated back to 1923...I think it was owned by an Irish outfit called "Commercial Cables" or something. Anyway, together with the new U.S."Long Lines" (inspired name?) "Mercury" was a "state of the art" ship and an absolute delight to sail in.
She was the only C&W ship I was in that didn't have Steam Recip.engines. She was diesel-electric with 4 bug diesels and 2 alternators...which meant the clankies could shut down an engine and play with it without the ship losing power. (Sorry, BB).
However, the big layers were just as capable of repairs as the specialised repair ships....but much more expensive to operate.
Continue tomorrow after the Aussie GP. BY.
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Shipmate60

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #44 on: March 15, 2008, 10:21:34 PM »

Bryan,
1 Cable Layer you forgot.
RMAS Newton.
She still has the 3 huge Bow Sheaves.

Bob
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Shipmate60

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #45 on: March 15, 2008, 10:28:11 PM »

Bryan
RMAS Newton was built in Scots in Greenock in 1986.
Diesel electric propulsion. Due for replacement 2010 but not by a cable ship.
She hasn't done any cabling for a long time and about 5 yrs ago had all her Cable Engines removed.
I am due to join her on 1st April.

Bob
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #46 on: March 16, 2008, 06:28:36 PM »

Bryan,
1 Cable Layer you forgot.
RMAS Newton.
She still has the 3 huge Bow Sheaves.

Bob
I never forgot "Newton"! I mentioned her a couple of times in previous posts. I would however re-iterate that as far as I am aware she was involved in the more,shall we say, covert side of things as opposed to the wonderful global comms network that is either a blessing or a blight depending on your point of view! Another "silent service" that could be talked about perhaps....I for one would be interested to learn more about those huge underwater listening structures you lot carted around a lot. Cheers. Bryan.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #47 on: March 16, 2008, 08:12:03 PM »

Cable laying again. An interesting thought that it could well have been due to people like me (although in a very minor role) that you were all able to watch the Aussie GP live. Although times have moved on since "we" laid the first modern cable to the Antipodes the system still works. And so it should considering it probably cost as much as Concorde did.
Naturally, the biggest difference between a "layer" and a "repairer" is the quantity of cable carried. Also none of the "old-style" repair ships could pay out a cable from aft..all done from the front...not very efficient really, but good for repair work. Nor could the older ships easily handle the large "repeaters" laid within the telephone cables. Some attempt was made as a stop-gap by fitting lifting gantries overhanging the bows of some of the older ships, but a stop-gap was really all it was. Forgive me if I repeat myself, but I may have mentioned that the "repeaters" (amplifiers) were about the same size and weight as a modern air-launched torpedo and were laid every 7 miles. Thats a lot of repeaters across the Pacific. The new repair ship "Retriever" was based in Fiji to be the nursemaid for that section of the Pacific. "Cable Enterprise" based in Singapore was to llok after the SE Asia sections (Seacom). As far as I recall there wasn't much in the way of a cabele network in (or under) the Indian Ocean...but I guess land lines could be used more effectively in that region.
One of the design features of "Mercury" was the large cable-deck (think "hangar deck" on "Illustrious" etc.) that would make the loading, testing and laying of this new type of cable efficient.  This "new" sort of cable looked entirely different to the steel armoured stuff I have talked about on earlier posts. No metal visible. To look at it is a sort of semi-transluscent white-ish  plasticky-polythene kind of thing. And still only just over 1" in diameter. Cost a fortune, and meant to last until judgement day.
For the "leg" I was involved in "Mercury" loaded about 1200 miles. That also meant around 170 "repeaters" each costing around 100,000 each at 1960s prices, and with the cable itself at around 10 per foot made a fully loaded "Mercury" a very valuable ship. The repeaters were attached to the cable at the STC works prior to loading on board. Obviously the sections with the repeaters could not be coiled into the "tanks" with the cable so they were strung on "loops"around the cable deck. It all looked very complicated to a youngster like me. But I just assumed they knew what they were doing. At sea, every now and again "for testing purposes" the cable engineers had to "power up" the whole 1200 miles plus repeaters. Any deck guys reading this will imagine what happened next. Three 400 mile coils with loads of amps being pushed along does NOT make for an accurate magnetic compass! The thing went beserk. Quite funny really. (Yes, of course we had gyros).
For such a big international project we also carried a team of GPO cable engineers to supplement the C&W team. Many of the GPO lads had never been to sea before, and those that had were really only used to coastal waters. "Deep Sea" was a new thing for them. It must also have bemused GPO management as they tried to tell the GPO staff that the voyage between the UK and Fiji would be counted as a cruise and so would be counted as vacation time when the leave entitlements were totted up. Much annoyance. Does the GPO Management never learn?
After leaving Panama everything was looking cosy. Until I hit a whale. Not me personally, but sometime during my 12-4 night watch we did. It must have been asleep on the surface or something, but we were doing 17 knots and the ship nearly stopped dead. Slow down and check for damage. None. Carry on. Hitting semi-submerged things is not that unusual....just unlucky. Loads of junk just hiding under the surface waitiing to be hit. But in the middle of a squillion square miles of ocean a 50' whale and a 10,000 ton ship decided to occupy the same few square feet. The design of "Mercury" was such that the bow at water level was invisible from any point on board. It was only when we got to Fiji that we could see that the whole bow area was covered in dried blood and gore. The enclosed pic does not show this, but may explain why the waterline was unseeable.
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Notes from a simple seaman

Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #48 on: March 16, 2008, 09:04:38 PM »

Laying a cable is not just a matter of matching the winch paying out speed to the speed of the ship. First, the watcheshad to be doubled. One Officer on the bridge and another at the back end. Very tiring. The guy on the bridge really just did the normal things,with one exception. In those days accurate echo-sounders for deep water (we are talking about up to 6 miles deep here) were not available. To get over this the C&W engineers cobbled up another system. I am neither an electrics whiz or a sound engineer, but as best I can (looking at 1967) what they did was to get hold of a "Mufax" machine. A "Mufax" was really meant to print out weather forecasts (another subject entirely) on a wet paper scroll. This was connected to a radio that received pulses and passed the message to the Mufax. So the ship got wet weather maps (the paper, not the weather) about 18" wide in soggy black and grey. Good for its time though. Our Boffins decided to increase the power of the usual piezzo-electric transmitter in the bottom of the hull and re-direct its return echo to their modified Mufax machine. When in operation it all sounded a bit like an old movie with "ping" going out and another"ping" coming in. As we would only be doing about 7 knots the picture of the sea bed was remarkable. Another first for "Mercury". I imagine these scrolls are held somewhere...at least, I hope so.
Thats the bridge, the guy at the back end had other things to do. The cable itself had a black stripe embedded in it that had to be kept as straight as possible (not straight meant the cable had a twist in it...not good). A twist would normally be caused by the cable running up one side of a sheave and curling back to the centre where it should be. The guy at the back would tell the bridge and he up there would swing the ship a little to bring things back into line. The 2nd mind concentrator for the guy at the back was the perio just before, during and just after a repeater was payed out through the 5 sheave paying out machine. A pic will show this.
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Notes from a simple seaman

Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #49 on: March 16, 2008, 09:18:46 PM »

It is pretty obvious that a "torpedo" thingy would not go easily around all those wheels. So it had to travel along the trough as seen in the pic. But the big wheels had to keep turning (where have I heard that before?!!). So a by-pass rope was fitted into the line. It was a bit like changing railway points between carriages. Pulling that lever I always found pretty nerve wracking as a miss-time could cost millions of and weeks of time. And I was only a lowly 24 year old 3/O.  A bit out of context, but this is how the cable was loaded into the tanks. Took a long time.
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Notes from a simple seaman
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