Engineroom Bells IN RESERVE

Charles L. Umpstead

The ZINNIA was a small but hard-working 122-foot buoy tender working out of Gloucester City, N J. We had been working the lower Delaware Bay area and had been out of port for what we considered a long time. This wasn’t a weather patrol situation but still, who isn’t ready to get back in port? This night it was a little longer than usual to get to the point where we could "shut ‘em off".

The tide was running down river and to get to the dock we needed that little extra power. There was a throttle man on each engine and I took down the bell signals we received on the engine order telegraph from the bridge. It all began with a bump against the dock, then the fun began. Back, Forward, Back, Forward one-third, and on and on, whatever the skipper thought he needed.

At one point I went to the engine room hatch to estimate how much longer we would be, and to my amazement all lines were out. The bell guessing game continued for a while, then at long last we finally got the “All Off” signal to secure the engines. I immediately grabbed the bell sheets and scurried to the bridge with the question to the skipper, "Are you finished?"

His reply was, “Aye, aye, mate, all through."

I let him know this was impossible because we still owed him 13 unanswered bells.


Ed Note: Some people when conning a ship are not familiar with the built in delays in answering engine orders on some ships. The Zinnia was probably one of those ships. With the electric drive and pilot house control on the 180 class, engine orders are very rapid. On older ships such as the Zinnia with reversible engines, the engine has to be stopped, shifted and restarted to get a change in direction. Speed increases in the same propeller direction are easy. What the author was telling his "boss" was the bells were coming faster then they could be answered as they have to be answered in order. The ship was tied up and the engineroom still had bells to answer. It makes sense to me. -- Jack

Return To Coast Guard Stories