Leaks Galore

By Charles L. Umpstead

When I went aboard the Rockaway my assignment was B-1 engine room. I soon learned that #2 main had a leak in the lube oil sump so bad that should you add oil to the full capacity of 300 gallons, it would leak down to 120 within a 24-hour period.

Because of this we seldom added oil but kept a close watch. The leaked oil ended up on the tank tops and eventually had to be pumped overboard. Strange to me, this was an accepted practice—no one made and issue of this problem. Not the CO or XO, not several Engineering Officers—no one. It was part of the routine. I went back over the logs for the past three or four years and discovered there was a small fortune spent for leaked oil; even though it was only 55 cents a gallon and not $1 a quart in today’s prices. It would leak 180 gallons or $99 a clip. The men of B-1 were always looking for the leak, and I offered extra liberty incentives to the person who could find it.

The location was suspected as being somewhere in the front of the engine under the pumps, a place not too visible. Somewhere on the mighty ocean, in the middle of the night, on watch with little to do, I decided to clean the tank tops with the fire hose and pump bilges. We kept washing and looking and when things got clean enough we were able to trace a floating oil slick back to a weld in the forward end of the sump under the pumps. During the next lay-up period we removed the pumps and the leak was welded close. The whole gang was proud that the situation was corrected and we now had clean tank tops. But egos were shattered when the XO’s inspection report included a notation that “B-1: light oil film on tank tops.” The thick mess normally there was soon forgotten. No one got the extra liberty because I saw it first.

Another problem we had was trouble-transferring fuel with the equipment in B-1. The purifiers had a hard time getting suction, and there were a few other problems. After closely studying the book of the piping systems, I determined there was a way I could pressurize the piping and find the suspected leak in the suction line.

On another night watch with little to do, I jury-rigged hose and piping and started the transfer pump; after a while I was mystified that the pressure was not rising, not even a little. It appeared to be pumping, and when I realized where it could be going, I shut down the operation and directed a fireman to go on deck and see how much fuel oil was there. As he went up the engine room ladder he passed Mr. Holland, the engineering officer, on the way down. The engineer informed me a shaky voice the Captain wanted an explanation for the oil on deck. His voice indicated to me the mood of the skipper. The EO knew where to come to because the oil was coming out the B-1 oil transfer vent.

Mr. Holland had come into the Coast Guard from the merchant marines and was a fine person, but it took me a while to explain to him the problem and the process. The next day he informed me the skipper understood what I tried to do and I was back in his good graces. Investigation of the vent valve revealed someone had put the valve disc in the valve upside down, which did not allow it to close completely. This was corrected and the test redone. No oil on deck this time, but we had oil in the bilge because of holes rusted through the metal piping between B-1 and B-2. This too was corrected when repairs were made during a shipyard period.

No more dirty oily bilges, no more firemen complaining, “Chief, I can’t get suction to fill the forward oil tank,” no more watch projects—just shine the brass.


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