Rotation 1 – english
A short excursion into the mysterious world of ship stability, or why the first rotation of „Sea Punk I“ was cancelled
1968, Martin Luther King was shot, DJ Bobo was born, the war in Vietnam was not over yet. But it wasn’t all bad. Elvis was still alive, Iggy Pop teamed up with the Stooges and the Sea Punk I was built.
At that time still as Y300 of the Danish Navy.
Over the years, the small Sea Punk I became a fishing vessel, research vessel and now a sea rescue ship. A career that is quite impressive. However, this life has a few peculiarities.
As a naval vessel, different rules apply than those that apply to cargo ships, for example.
Which is not so bad, because in the wild 60s the rules were much looser than nowadays anyway.
Which is dumb, because in the 60s the rules were just much looser than they are nowadays, and adjustments had to be made to meet those „modern“ requirements.
And now it’s starting to get a little squishy.
Presumably that was done when the Sea Punk I was still a fishing vessel. They put solid ballast in the hull. Not an uncommon practice on older vessels and it was done well and carefully, but we would not find that out until later.
After we bought it, we wondered why the draft was too large. That’s what Archimedes invented – weight displaces water, there was something about a crown of gold (or not)… Maybe someone remembers physics class. If not – no problem, I try to explain it here now.
And I try to explain it in a way that everybody can understand it. Thus, in advance to the shipbuilders reading this: it is a very simplified way to make a complicated subject understandable for everyone, even if you are not a professional.
So what I have written so far in a slightly whimsical way begins in 1968, for a reason, because this solid ballast is responsible for many things that have happened to us in the last year.
But first, let me explain why the solid ballast came into the ship in the first place:
Basically, it’s like a metronome. If the small weight on the pendulum goes down, the movements are short and fast. If it goes up, the metronome swings out wide but slow.
Over time, technology and engineering have improved, and ships are built differently today than they were in the 1960s. The safety requirements are also higher nowadays.
So they welded steel plates and large chain links into the keel of the ship to have more weight at the bottom (so the small weight on the metronome is pushed further down, symbolically). This changes the motion of the ship in rough seas. It reacts less frantically, which is good for crew and cargo.
We now know what a ship has to do with a metronome, I apologize to DJ Bobo for equating him with the Vietnam War (I’m at the age that I had to fully experience all the Eurodance and can still sing along to „Somebody dance with me“ for some inexplicable reason, so please forgive me Peter Rene), we know about Archimedes and why the solid ballast is in the ship.
So the solid ballast was sensibly placed and neatly installed, but unfortunately not mentioned anywhere except in the class reports. The classification society, which is a kind of TÜV for ships, has been in charge of the ship since 2015 and knew that this solid ballast was in the ship. At least they should know, because every 2½-year survey mentioned this ballast.
By the way, ships are inspected annually, there is also a 5-yearly inspection where the ship has to be out of the water and then another 2½-yearly more intensive inspection. That’s good, because it makes sure that ships are in good condition, all safety equipment is working and maintained, environmental standards are met, and so forth.
And we just passed the 5-year inspection.
It took a little longer than planned, just because of our friend, the solid ballast.
Now there is a regulation that when there is a certain change in the total weight of a vessel, an inclining test has to be done.
In this test, you move weights on the ship and see how far it lists, that is, leans to one side.
It reads simple, but it is time-consuming. A shipbuilder visits, weights are calibrated, everything is measured from here to everywhere. All the time, someone from the classification society is standing next to it, then weights are pushed back and forth and it better be accurate to the millimeter. The whole thing is done eight times, with digital and pendulum measurements of how far the ship is leaning.
This is then sent to another shipbuilder, who uses it to calculate a stability book. A book that contains all the data needed in ship operation, for example, to take on cargo (in our case, the hospital container): How do I distribute cargo? For which amount of cargo at which location do I need to fill which ballast tanks with which amount of water?
The book is then sent to the classification society and there a shipbuilder looks again to see if it is all correct.
Apart from the fact that the whole thing is incredibly expensive, it has also been very annoying because we have had to work off the previous owner’s legacy, which no one has ever been interested in.
And the whole thing is doubly annoying because the stability book, and with it the confirmation that the Sea Punk I is behaving as a ship is supposed to behave, is dated 15.05. and was counter-checked and stamped on 17.05.
Whoever follows our actions will notice that we sailed exactly on this day. We were stand-by and prepared. All the effort, all the work, all the support should pay off now.
We got as far as Palma, then we noticed that something was wrong that had better be right.
We had a problem with an oil cooler and therefore had seawater in the engine room bilge. 900 liters, as we measured later when we pumped it out.
These 900 liters had an impact that this comparatively light weight should not have.
We were hanging 4° to starboard. That is not supposed to be like that.
So I contacted various people. Mentors from merchant shipping, teachers from maritime schools, supporters of other organizers. I would like to thank them here once again.
Even if they unanimously said what I already knew and actually just didn’t want to believe, the statement was clear:
Don’t go out until it’s clear what exactly is going on. And that’s what we did.
If we had been in such a situation with 60 rescued people on board, massive environmental pollution would have been the best-case scenario. The worst case is not even imaginable.
Thus the termination of the rotation.
Believe me, it was not an easy decision and I did not take it lightly. But there are some things where you can’t just yell „let’s go“ and run. Some things have to be decided with a clear mind – even if the decision, no matter how justified, doesn’t make you happy.
So what’s next? First we are all very sad, frustrated and curse the shipbuilders who just certified that everything is fine the way it is.
And then I planned how we will find out what is going on.
Little by little we will change several parameters to find out what exactly is going on.
Those who have followed the transit diary from Greifswald know that little Sea Punk I has already proven what it can do. Something was done in the shipyard in Burriana that this is now different.
And that’s what we’re tackling now. It’s a major setback, but we’re going to try to resolve that quickly and well.
And I’m in good spirits that we’ll get it done.