Murphy Makes a Patrol

by Jack Eckert

Nobody recognized Murphy when he skulked aboard the old "weather wagon" that day in January of 1967.

The "Cookie Cutter" (CGC COOK INLET) was on Bravo patrol during December 1967. I was the Chief Engineer and the ship was having problems with shaft vibrations, particularly heavy at the navigational standard speed of 15 knots. The District was apprised of the problem and upon arrival in Portland just before New Year’s, it was decided to go into dry-dock at the Yard in Curtis Bay, MD.

The shafting was replaced after an extensive 2½ weeks of rework and realignment, we sailed to Portland to perform our routine import work and get in some liberty at home.

That is when Murphy reported aboard.

Everyone remembers Murphy and his Law: "If something can go wrong, it will!"

As we began our boiler and engine work, we were ordered to put everything together and sail to relieve the CASCO, who was having evaporator troubles on Ocean Station Charlie. In 48-hours we were underway with minimal shaft vibration. Passing Portland Lightship we began to ship blue water over the bow, which told us the kind of patrol we were going to have.

Murphy was already snickering up his sleeve.

Twenty-four hours or so after we got underway, number two boiler blew a tube and had to be shut down for repairs. It was originally intended to sail directly to station to relieve the CASCO, but we diverted to Argentia for emergency repairs. The CASCO was in such dire straits that the BIBB was diverted from her track home to relieve CASCO and wait for us to arrive.

Murphy was coming into his own; as a matter of fact, he took up station in the Log Office to make sure his law wasn’t broken.

We pulled into Argentia, routinely fueled and then opened number two boiler, deciding to plug both ends of the blown tube, which is standard practice. The tube in the steam drum was easily plugged, but there was considerable difficulty plugging it from the mud drum. I crawled under it and found the tubes were so rotten the belling could be broken off with your fingers.

So far Murphy is batting 1.000.

We tried to weld a plug in, but the welders were Damage Controlmen, not skilled enough to seal weld a plug into a tube while laying on their back and working upwards. It was tried.

When the boiler was filled with water, the tube leak was noted in the firebox. We had a shipyard job on our hands but no shipyard to go to other than St. Johns, Newfoundland and nobody there had any tubes. So we got underway to relieve the BIBB.

Unfortunately, in that class of AVP’s, one boiler could not steam the evaporator and provide ship service steam. We decided to make water for six hours, shut down the evaporators and shift to supplying ship service steam so the ship wouldn’t get too cold. It was miserable—water hours on a cold ship in sloppy seas is no fun.

There is only enough tankage on the 311’s for three days of water at normal underway consumption, not counting that contained in the forepeak tank.

Murphy didn’t fall asleep.

Two days out of Argentia the evaporator air ejector condenser shell cracked. It was copper nickel and difficult to repair. Evaporator capacity was reduced to 50 gallons an hour as opposed to about 500 gallons. The miseries were only beginning.

Murphy was having a Field Day.

The night before we sighted the BIBB, the Evaporator Watch managed to salt up C-421-W, the largest water tank. We had to dump it all, leaving us with only enough water to keep the boiler and machinery going.

We radioed the BIBB and requested they transfer enough water to us to top off our tanks before they went home. The weren’t too happy about it, and they were less happy when I made a veiled threat to their Chief Engineer over the radio to the effect that without water, we had to head home and they could stay on station. We got the water.

Murphy was unhappy.

The BIBB went home and we went about trying to tough it out for three weeks on station. What fun! All engineering efforts went into analyzing where the water was going. Consumption had to be cut drastically. Showers were out. Paper plates, cups, and plastic utensils were used instead of dishes to keep the scullery machine shut down. The laundry was secured. Potatoes, washed in sea water, were baked instead of boiled. With our tanks topped off by BIBB and with strict water rationing in effect, we could barely make it through the patrol. Meanwhile, the guys kept working on the air ejector condenser shell.

Cracks are difficult to fix, particularly when it is impossible to get inside the condenser to work on it. We were lucky to have a really top Chief Engineman, Jim Diverty, who worked day and night on the problem. After many stabs at the job, the repair finally held and the evaporator started making more water when we could afford to keep the boiler steaming on it. That still wasn’t enough for showers and laundry, but the dishes could be washed and steam was available to the galley for two meals a day.

The crew took everything in stride—everyone smelled, our clothes were grungy, the diet was monotonous, but they were able to joke about our plight. One good joke went around about the ship’s exchange stocking Raid instead of Right Guard for an underarm deodorant. 

Hump day came and went. The Plan of the Day showed the daily water consumption, the amount of water made, and the amount remaining in the tanks. We watched the level drop every day. All we had to do was slow down the drop.

Murphy was back on the job.

One day we had a serious loss of water. A couple of the mess cooks used the potato peeler for noon chow and forgot to turn the water off when they were done. The "oil king" caught the loss at midnight and traced it down. Had he not, C-421-W would have been dry by morning.

The felony now compounded, everyone was allowed one glass of water a day until the levels could be built up again. It is amazing how far that single glassful could be stretched.

By the end of the second week on station, it was fast approaching the point that what water remained in the tanks had to be reserved for machinery only. The crew was beginning to get a bit testy. The weather remained rough and many of them spent most of their off-watch time in the rack.

Murphy decided to go on watch.

By the last week we had begun to make a bit of headway when the evaporator watchstander salted up the main boiler feed tank. He did a dumb act: Normal routine calls for collecting 50 gallons at a time in a distillate product tank, testing it for salt, and when it is OK, transferring it to a storage tank. Murphy’s minion kept the valves open and ran the water straight through without testing. He was the same fool who salted up C-421-W previously—now we knew how he did it.

Needless to say, you can’t put salt water into a boiler. It could have happened, but Murphy missed this one. The Ensign student engineer on EWO watch got a piece of my mind for not checking his watchstanders. 

Our relief finally arrived on station but didn’t have any water to share, so we didn’t hang around for joint exercises and headed home for Portland. With Murphy consigned to the brig, we used up some of the saved fuel to put on extra turns. The biggest boost in morale was when we did a full power trial a day or so out. Who cared whether the ship pounded too much.

The last night out the remaining water not needed for machinery was released to the crew for showers and to the laundry for limited clothes washing.

A day after we got back we transferred Murphy and forgot all about our ordeal.

One of "those trips" in a career is enough.

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