RMS Queen Mary Prior to Stabilizers: An Engineers Story - RC Groups
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Jun 24, 2010, 08:26 AM
Shanghai'd Expat
herrmill's Avatar

RMS Queen Mary Prior to Stabilizers: An Engineers Story

Thought you guys would enjoy reading this account of an engineer on the Queen Mary back in the day before she was fitted with stabilizers. Its from the QM Discussion Forum:

"My first trip to sea took place on 28 March 1949. This was aboard the Queen Elizabeth. After two voyages to New York, I was transferred to the Aquitania where I stayed until she was broken up in November 1949. Incidentally, she should have gone to the breakers yard in 1938, but because the price of scrap was so low, she was left to rust at anchor. Eighteen months later, with the outbreak of war in September 1939, she was pressed into service again. When I joined her she was taking immigrants to Canada (Halifax) and was in a complete mess.

In January 1950, I joined the Mary. She was a happy ship, and I must say my favorite! In those days she had not yet been fitted with stabilisers. During her west bound passages into a head sea she would pitch, getting her bows into the waves. These would run up the forecastle and crash into the prom deck windows which, for safety reasons, were boarded up in heavy weather. On the return voyage i.e. west to east, there was always a following sea and at times she would roll.

To enable any ship to sail the metacentric height has to be positive, i.e. the center of gravity has to be below the center of buoyancy. In merchant ships the difference in these two points is designed to be quite large, making for a stable if uncomfortable trip. In liners however this difference is designed to be at a minimum, as a slow lazy roll is considered more comfortable. In the case of the Queen Mary over-design could leave her floundering at times. This made one wonder whether she would come back upright or carry on with the roll and capsize. Luckily, she never did!

During some trips all this rolling would cause problems down below in the engine room. The automatic feed system that pumped water into the boilers was never very reliable at the best of times. This meant that a trimmer had to constantly monitor the levels in the gauge room. During periods of heavy rolling the gauge glasses, which were of bi-color type, would alternatively show all green (boiler overfull) or all red (shortage of feed water). One had to catch all six during the short period of stability! The brass inclinometers in each engine room (now missing) were graduated 0 45 degrees, both to the left and right of the perpendicular. I have personally witnessed the ship rolling to an estimated figure off-scale of approximately 46 47 degrees. During such times it was impossible to maintain a foothold on the slippery engine plates, so large squares of coconut matting were taken to the engine room from the engineers' store. Turbine bearings were supplied with copious amounts of lubricating oil which also removed the heat from the bearings. It was considered essential to keep this oil flowing so a safety device was fitted to cut off the steam to any engine if the oil pressure dropped from its usual 24 lbs per square inch to below 16 lbs per square inch. A klaxon would then sound and the main steam bulk head stop valves would automatically close. During heavy rolling the lube oil pumps would lose suction and the klaxon would sound. We permanently defeated the safety device to ensure that the turbines kept working. This was on the assumption that after a few seconds the oil pressure would return to normal when the ship righted herself. All this was repeated when she rolled the other way. For many years this was modus operandi.

The rolling of the ship also affected us when we were in the engineers' mess room which was a long room on the port side, just forward of the Verandah Grill. The mess room housed several long tables, 4-seaters and 8-seaters, the narrow ends of which extended into the bulkhead. During heavy weather, the tablecloths were saturated prior to dining so that the tableware would stay in place. Long slats about 1.5 inches deep ran down each side of the tables. These normally formed an edge flush with the table top, but at times of heavy rolling were raised to form a barrier. This prevented meals suddenly appearing in diners' laps!

As engineers slept fore-to-aft, there was always the possibility that we might fall out of bed during a roll. To prevent this we would insert a life jacket under one side of the mattress, making a `V' shape with the bulkhead. Happy Days!"
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Jun 24, 2010, 02:18 PM
Registered User
Thank you, that was a rather interesting and good find.
Jun 25, 2010, 02:23 PM
Midshipman Under Guidance
MUG1982's Avatar
Quite a story, best sleep I ever had though was on the TSES Empire State at sea, the rolling was very comfortable. Myself I went to sea with natural sea legs and always loved watching everyone else heeling to the side in heavy seas.

Super Wave (0 min 27 sec)

This was recorded on June 1st, 2007 by one of my shipmates, I was below decks in the Engineer's hold sitting in a chair with my laptop when this hit and I in my chair slid across the deck!

Jun 26, 2010, 07:27 PM
Shanghai'd Expat
herrmill's Avatar
More reminiscing from one of the QM's engineers:

One memory concerns something that happened during soot blowing. (This cleaning of the fire side of the boilers took place every night so as not to be visible to the passengers). It was customary during these times to station a couple of greasers in the appropriate funnel who supervised the flue gas washing system. On this particular occasion, at about 3.00am, the drains became blocked with soot and a flood of inky water cascaded down the MAIN staircase. By the morning everything had been cleaned up and the passengers were oblivious to the panic of the previous night.

I remember one hot summer's day in New York when we received the news that the New York baggage handlers were on strike, so the ship would not sail until the end of the dispute. Cunard however asked the ship's company for volunteers to load the passengers' baggage to enable us to get away on time. The only crew who came forward were about a dozen off-duty engineers, including myself. We worked ceaselessly in the humid New York heat with no sign of a drink from anyone still aboard. Due to our efforts the ship sailed to schedule but it was galling to witness the pursers at the ship end of the baggage belt coolly accepting the tips due to OUR hard work. The reward for our efforts, for not only getting the ship away on time, but also saving Cunard hundreds of dollars in baggage handlers' wages, was a single letter of thanks pinned to the notice board!

Each trip the two queens (Mary and Elizabeth) would cross in mid-Atlantic. If this occurred during the daylight, the Captain would announce the event over the P.A. system. Passengers would come up on deck and both ships would greet each other with blasts on their whistles. The ships would be about 2 miles apart. If they passed at night, then all external ship lights would be lit. Normal night time illumination on deck was restricted to the red and green on the bridge only.

Each day at noon, the engine room telegraph would be rung from the bridge as a form of time check. It was also rung as a mark of respect to a passenger who might be buried at sea. The coffin, draped in the appropriate flag, would be slid off a board at the open-ended stern. To prevent the coffin from floating, fire bars (carried solely for this purpose) were placed beside the body.

The Port Authority of New York was very vigilant with regard to ships emitting smoke. The fine for doing so was $1,000 and I'm sorry to say that we were fined on more than one occasion. Photos of the offense were taken by a helicopter. We seemed to attract it quite regularly! I remember the Senior Second Engineer, who was a popular character saying to a group of us, "I'll give anyone a hundred bucks if they can shoot that bastard down!".
Jul 02, 2010, 08:59 AM
Shanghai'd Expat
herrmill's Avatar
An update from another fireman who was on GM:

I joined Cunard 10 years after your Dad, though I did spend four years on cargo boats from London to Canada and later New York, down the East Coast and into ports in the Gulf of Mexico before joining the Mary.

Obviously I was quite familiar with being tossed around in the North Atlantic in 1959 and was introduced to the idea of stuffing the lifejacket under the mattress. It wasn't a case of being thrown out of the bunk, but it did make sleeping easier, rather than rolling from left side to right.

The stabilisers on the Mary did not completely banish the rolling, but they did reduce the rolling immensely. On several occasions she would roll so that the stabilisers would break surface, causing them to be less affective.

As for the "pitching" when it got so bad there was no alternative but to reduce speed. The waves in the North Atlantic can be huge, if you can picture the MARY climbing up a wave and then down, causing tremendous vibration throughout the ship. It can get a little nerve racking in the Engine Room and boiler Rooms watching the steam pipes bouncing around. Did I say a little?

Your Dad mentioned the gauge glasses on the boilers. I had never seen that type on the cargo boats which were built later than the MARY. It really was simple science. Each glass had a vertical strip attached, coloured green and red, water bends light, so that the water was shown as green. The water levels in the boiler rooms were watched at all times by two of the firemen.

I hope you don't mind my inquisitive "mind", but I don't recall the Engine Room telegraph ringing at noon, which one, there was four? For an Engine telegraph to ring at sea, would bring the Engineers rushing to the manoeuvering platform. It could be an emergency stop.

I did spend some voyages in the Number One Boiler Room and If I was on the 8 to 12 watch would get a call to drain the whistle steam line a few minutes before noon. Yes every day at noon it was time to check your wrist watch. If the line wasn't drained, there would be the worst gurgling sound on the planet.
Jul 18, 2010, 12:09 AM
Shanghai'd Expat
herrmill's Avatar
More musings from the retired Cunarder...

Everyone's favorite Skipper was Captain Sorrell. He lived at Hythe, a town with a very long jetty that stretches into Southampton water, opposite Southampton dock. On departure days, Mrs Sorrell could be seen at the end of the jetty waving goodbye to her husband. He replied not by waving back, but by giving several blasts on the ship's whistle. I remember he was a very short man, and needed a draftman's stool to see out of the bridge windows.

Captain Sorrell hated the French, when arriving or departing Cherbourg, he would countermand every order that the French pilot gave to the helsman. The pilot would say the bearing, (so many degrees) and Captain Sorrell would repeat the bearing, but always one or two degrees off from what the pilot had said.

Cherbourg is almost completely enclosed by a long breakwater quay. The gap that leads to the sea is only 200 – 300 feet wide. When leaving Cherbourg, Captain Sorrell would drop the pilot early, and then ring full ahead. The ship would be doing about 20 knots as it steamed through the breakwater, leaving a huge turbulent wave almost capsizing the pilot boat and washing out Cherbourg.

During my time on the Queen Mary, I experienced several strange conversations with American passengers. One such conversation was with two middle-aged women who were adamant that the Queen Mary was an American ship! Another time we were entering Southampton water, sailing between the Isle of Wight and Portsmouth (on the mainland) a distance of about five miles. I watched a middle-aged American look from one coast to the other. Then he asked me "Hey bud, which side is France?" I was ultimately able to satisfy him by saying that we had left Cherbourg that morning "Oh" he said "Cherbourg, that's France, eh!"

Many times, as the coast of Cornwall came into view, the question would be "Are those the white cliffs of Dover? I always answered that the white cliffs of Dover were about 500 miles away, and that we didn't go that far towards the east.

Other reminiscences that come to mind are:

Being the last one to board ship on May 6 1953. My son was born that day, and due to a mix up with a cab, I arrived at the ship to find that three of the four gangways had already been removed. I just made it up the last one, running up while it was about to be hoisted away!

One morning, I was approached by a passenger who asked me the location of Sir Winston Churchill's stateroom. I informed him that it would be somewhere on Main Deck, but that he would have to find a Steward to get the cabin number, I then recognized the enquirer to be Lord Louis Mountbatten.

I once saw the Duchess of Windsor one evening in earnest conversation with a lady friend. Both ladies were walking along the Main Deck corridor resplendent in evening gowns and jewelry. Following on, some ten yards behind was the Duke of Windsor. Cigarette in mouth, dinner jacket unfastened, both hands in trouser pockets and carpet slippers on his feet. The party had just emerged from the First Class dining room.
Jul 27, 2010, 10:48 PM
Shanghai'd Expat
herrmill's Avatar
Here are some new interesting tales that were posted last night...

One incident was spotted from the engineers' deck which looked aft over the open deck near the Verandah Grill. During summer afternoons this deck would be covered with steamer chairs where passengers would relax in the sun. Here they were served with tea, coffee, cakes and cookies in a very relaxed way. It was the Captain's habit to chat to the passengers here, talking to all who might show an interest. On this occasion a woman passenger who had finished with her tray said to the Captain (whom she mistook for a Steward) "Hey Steward, you can take my tray!". Without a word, the Captain took the tray, walked to the leeward side of the ship and threw the lot overboard. He then continued with his afternoon rounds.

I remember once coming close to death in No.3 boiler room. During a midnight till 4am watch I was attacked by a drunken fireman (stoker) who came at me wielding a two foot long oil burner sprayer bar. Luckily for me one of his fellow fireman witnessed the situation and managed to floor my would-be-assailant with one perfectly delivered right cross. The following watch, my now sober attacker apologized profusely. He was normally such a placid chap who had acted totally out of character. To be safe however I reported the incident. He was seen next day by the Captain and fired when the ship returned to Southampton.

An elevator ran from the engine room top to the engineers' accommodation. Over-riding control was from a switch in the floor of the elevator pressed by the occupant. This gave the person already in the elevator priority use. On one midnight to 4am watch, a young engineer failed to turn up in the engine room. After waiting some time, the engineer who was waiting to go off duty decided to go up top to seek out his late relief. He was found to be drunk and sound asleep in bed. The engineer dragged him from his bunk, marched him the seventy or so feet to the elevator and bundled him in. When the elevator was about half way through its descent the drunk decided to press the stop button and continue his sleep. Some time later the elevator was wound up manually. The young man was found inside, still asleep. Next day he was reprimanded, but not fired.

It was common company practice to punish any serious errors committed by engineers with what was known as "pegging". This meant that the culprit was unable to progress higher than his current rank.

On the lighter side...............

Transatlantic voyages officially began or finished at Bishop's Rock Lighthouse and Nantucket Lighthouse. The bridge logged the time when passing these points and relayed it to the engine room via a `loudaphone'. These phones were never loud enough, but familiarity made them easier to use. On one watch the engine room bridge phone rang and it was answered by a `First Tripper' engineer. He asked again and again for the message to be repeated, but being unable to understand what was being said, he gave up and replaced the phone. A more senior engineer asked what the message had been. When the reply was "I couldn't hear it" the senior engineer (guessing what it might have been) rang the bridge and asked "was that Bishops Rock abeam?". The now frustrated mate sarcastically replied, "Oh, don't bother your ass, we've passed it now!"
Aug 25, 2010, 01:10 PM
Registered User
zoltansgarage's Avatar
Nice stories
Aug 07, 2015, 05:03 AM
Registered User
I wonder if you could help me:

We are acting for a gentleman named Mr Allan Browne who worked on the Queen Mary between 1957 and 1958.

Sadly, Mr Browne has developed the asbestos related illness of mesothelioma. In that regard we are trying to ascertain where it might have been that he was exposed to asbestos, and whether it was during the course of his work.

In that regard we are anxious to speak to anyone who worked aboard the ship during that time, particularly whilst the stabilisers were fitted in the March of 1958.

Are you able to post the question on your website? Or to put me in touch with anyone who might be able to help?

Thank you for your anticipated assistance in this matter.
Aug 07, 2015, 09:08 AM
Registered User
We sailed out of Bremer Haven, Germany to New York City on the United States, sister to the Queen Mary. That was in 1965. I think maybe the Captain thought a Viet Cong sub was going to shoot a torpedo at him because he kept the ship running at high speed the entire way. 3 1/2 days from Bremer Haven to New York City.

Regarding rolling: We traveled by German registered ship from Tampa, Florida into Rotterdam, Holland in 1972. I had my German Shepherd dog with me but he was imprisoned in a cage for the trip...until he escaped before the tugs even cast off in the Tampa Harbor. Then he found where our stuff was stored and guarded it.....keeping the crew trapped at the other end of the hallway. The Captain asked me if he was a REAL German Shepherd and I told him: Yup and with Red Papers. (Sven Von Lutherwald)
He told me to just keep him with me 24 hours a day, no cage and take care of him.
So he went everywhere with me, walking by my side and even to chow call where he laid politely by my feet until I got up to leave. One day, it was storming pretty bad and the ship was rolling pretty heavily from side to side. He had trouble walking until he discovered that he could lean against the side and slide along the wall. That worked really well...until he was walking/sliding past a doorway and it opened. The Officer who opened the door was pretty shocked when 100 pounds of dog fell in and knocked him down. My dog was very intelligent though and understood that it was his fault. He gave the Officer a huge wet tongue kiss across the face as an apology.
Ya know...Between that incident, him trapping the crew when we first departed and him mistaking a black crew mans leg as a convenient tree trunk, the crew stayed far away from me and my dog!! heh heh!

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