Bill Long's RECOLLECTIONS
Read some recollections sent in by Bill - It may well bring back those lazy, hazy days of your youth !
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Written December, 2011
As you may recall, I have been known to make saucy remarks about Stokers, but they were made without malice and no disrespect was intended. I think that only the crushers and the chefs had more jibes than my branch, and we didn’t really deserve them!
My recollection of the association with the Engine Room branch are recalled with pleasant memories and gratitude for their assistance in my job. So I think a little bit of explanation is in order.
Superb had finished the annual refit in Chatham Dockyard for the ‘52-‘53 cruise, and we left for sea trials off Sheerness. During the refit, new expansion joints for the engine room had been designed and installed but, unfortunately, they did not work, so we returned to the yard and some more new and improved joints were fitted.
There was an element of time arising as we had to relieve Sheffield on a certain date and these setbacks were reducing the time allowed for us to work-up and arrive at Bermuda on time. The replacement joints didn’t work either and with many trips through the locks, the pilot became very familiar with the handling of the ship in and out of the dockyard.
Again, new joints were installed with the same result and, finally, they were fitted to the original design.
Finally our sea trials were pronounced good and we headed back to the dockyard, happy that the delaying episode was behind us. As we were going through the lock at the entrance to the yard, I was down below and, as well as everybody else, was amazed at the speed the dockyard buildings were passing by. This led to much conjecture on the part of the lower deck, with such observations as that the pilot thought he was driving his Daddy’s yacht or was on a promise and wanted to get home early.
Suddenly the situation changed as we came to a rapid stop, for no apparent reason.
It turned out the dockyard maties had installed the wrong fenders in the lock. One of the locks was about 10 feet narrower than the other, and they put the wide set in the narrow lock. They were about 6 feet wide, 4 feet deep and about 15 feet long, and were placed two on either side.
The first two encountered were swept from their mooring lines and slid along the lock wall with the ship, which was finally halted by the second pair.
Efforts were made by the tugs to free the ship by going astern, but there was no movement and Superb was wedged tightly. Luckily the dockyard was able to close the lock gates behind us and we stuck for the night.
A conference was held with all the experts and it was decided to open the lock gates to the river and lower the ship on the ebb tide, allowing the fenders to roll over with the weight of the Superb, and this was indeed what happened. Unfortunately it created a long crease in the ship’s side, which was not obvious, but there was quite a bit of buckling on the internal steelwork.
The Commissioned Chippy made an examination and found no gaping holes and as there were no signs of the watertight integrity being compromised, it was decided to continue with the planned departure for Bermuda.
When the news about Superb’s mishap reached the Admiralty My Lords were, to say the least, a little peeved that their pretty ship now had an unplanned line running along the ship’s side, and expressed concern about how far the damage extended inboard, and the condition of the double bottom. To allay their fears they decided that the whole of the ship’s hull should be surveyed, and issued instructions that it be completed forthwith.
So, as we left the U.K. the bottom party, a Stoker P O, four SMs, and I, were detailed to make a report on all of the compartments of the double bottom. This was carried out by the Stokers unbolting the manhole cover and ventilating the area for about 12 hours, when I would enter and make the survey.
These compartments had not been opened since the ship had left the builder’s yard in 1945 and many of the bolts were rusted and hard to undo. But the Stokers diligently did their job and worked about 24 hours ahead of my entrance. All the time I was in the compartment one of the SMs was detailed to follow me down under the manhole as a safety feature, in case I ran afoul of bad air or something similar.
The compartments were honeycombed with mini bulkheads and accessible through lightening holes which, if my memory from the naval architecture course is correct, were 21 inches wide and 15 inches deep. The depth of the double bottom was 36 inches, so I crawled along the bottom and then slithered through the lightening holes like a snake. Mind you, I weighed 10½ stone in those days, so it was fairly easy.
It did cross my mind when I was below the engine or boiler rooms that we’d swept all the mines from WW2, as I’d been on a minesweeper after the war and was very aware how dangerous they could be. I carried a pad for notes, a pusser’s torch and a chipping hammer, which tended to slow me down and hinder progress.
There was obvious buckling in the area around the point of compression and this was expected, but the situation in other areas was disturbing, to say the least. When the ship was ordered and being built there was a change in priorities, and immediate requirements were for escort vessels, so Superb lay, half constructed, on the stocks, exposed to all kinds of weather, which manifested itself in later years.
Many of the compartments did not have a coat of paint at all, resulting in extensive rusting which, in some cases, were large sheets, which fell away when hit with a chipping hammer. In others the rust had fallen away and lay desiccated, covering the bottom like dried tea leaves, to a depth of approximately a ½ inch which, considering the pristine condition of the rest of the ship, was very disturbing.
I dutifully wrote up my findings in the mess every day and, somehow, it always seemed to happen at about 11 o’clock, amazing luck!! Any way, I had a good relationship with the little gang and was very appreciative of the support they gave me.
Maybe the report was the initiation of the Admiralty’s future plans for the ship, as it was never sold to any other navy, as was the usual practise, but ended up in the breaker’s yard.
A sad ending for a happy ship with so many pleasant memories.