Day 18: The Oily Bits

There were big sighs of relief all round this afternoon as the weather improved and the ROV got back in the water. But now for something different. In the morning, the night shift were treated to a tour of the engine room by the Chief Engineer. Nigel from CEFAS tells us more......

The RRS James Cook is a truly wonderful piece of modern engineering. At one end of the spectrum you have a ship which floats and man has been making these for thousands of years. At the other end of the spectrum you have a massively complicated piece of engineering that not only floats but also provides water, electricity and all the services required to support life and the complex needs of a modern research vessel.

Today we were given the superb opportunity to have a look around some of the areas below deck where the lesser known species of Marine Engineers live. To maintain the creature comforts for 54 people you need lots of water, fuel (to make electricity) and food. Our guide was Bob, the Chief Engineer with years of experience. After a brief safety talk, we started in the main control room, home to the controls for most of the machinery and generating plant. A lot of the controls on the Bridge are duplicated here, so that at any time it is possible for the engineers to take control, if needed!

Test toilet!
We proceeded through the various spaces that make up the ‘heart’ of the vessel. For a lot of the scientific work that the RRS James Cook undertakes it is necessary for it to hold station, i.e. the boat needs to be geographically stationary. This is possible because of a system called Dynamic Positioning (DP), basically this is a computer that is able to control not only the main propulsion but a variety of other propulsion systems. In total, the James Cook has two main propellers, two stern (tunnel) thrusters, one bow (tunnel) thruster and one retractable azimuth bow thruster. These are all controlled by the DP to maintain the vessel in an exact stationary position. This ensures both safety and efficiency of deck operations. As mentioned above, we needed a lot of fresh water for everything from people to take a shower to making the essential cup of tea. The boat can hold up to 200 tonnes of water but still needs to make up to 9 tonnes a day to save costly port calls. This is made by a low pressure evaporation plant, which is then chlorinated before entering the storage tanks.

To keep all the various machinery running we need fuel and quite a lot of it. We have the ability to carry over 730 tonnes, this fuel is warmed slightly and cleaned before being used to power the engines. After passing through the main engine room, switchboard room, aft and fwd thruster rooms, compressor room, boiler room, engineers workshop and various other nooks and crannies we were returned to daylight like Hobbits coming out of caves.

Now the techy and number bits:
Date of build: August 2006
Displacement: 5800 tonnes
Dimensions: 89.5m x 18.6m, 5.5m draught.
Main Engines: 4 x Wartsila 9L20 engines coupled to 1800KW generators, these produce 3 phase 690VAC which is mainly used for the prop motors but also converted to 415V 3 phase, 230V and 110V for distribution throughout the vessel.
Propulsion Motors: 2 x 2500kW electric motors
Bow Thruster: 900kW
Azimuth thruster: 1400kW
2 x Stern thruster: 650kW and 800kW.
Clean Power: 2 x 415V
Motor Generator sets, 2 x 230 MG sets.