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Dispatch 22: Engines and Lemon Ice

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Joey Wenig

October 12, 2014

Now that the ice stations are wrapped up and the moorings are all deployed, science-related activities on the Louis are slowing down and everything is a little more relaxed. Sarah Zimmermann, Caroline Wylie, Cory Beatty, Brice Loose and I even had a chance to sneak down to the engine room today with Chief Engineer Danny Parmiter for a look around.

The Louis is a big boat and her inner workings are overwhelmingly complicated, or at least that’s how it seemed to me. When Danny, or ‘Chief’ as he’s known onboard, was explaining some of her specifications, I kept trying to relate what he was telling us to other watercraft that I’m familiar with in an attempt to grasp the scale of engineering that goes into such a behemoth. So I can tell you that the Louis is significantly bigger than a canoe, and it would take a lot of paddlers to get her going.

As far as I know, humans with paddles were never seriously considered as a propulsion mechanism back in the late sixties when the Louis was being designed. However, the Louis was nearly built with nuclear generators. I wasn’t able to get the details of why that plan was ultimately vetoed. Everyone mentioned nebulous ‘political pressure’ in a time when anything nuclear was viewed with suspicion (not much has changed in that respect). Instead, the Louis ran on steam until she was overhauled between 1990 and 1994 and five Krup Mak V-16 Diesel-electric generators, known as the ‘main engines’, were installed. The main engines feed power into three electric motors (at a maximum rate of 5.2 megawatts per generator) that each turn a massive fixed-pitch propeller shaft, one centered, one starboard, and one port. These electric motors provide a combined 27000 hP to the props. Normally, not all of the power available from the diesel generators is needed to move the ship, and some of it can be siphoned off to run the ‘hotel’ operations, like lights, fans, and heating, really anything not propulsion-related that requires electricity. Three auxiliary generators are available to provide additional hotel power if needed. There’s storage capacity onboard for 3600 cubic meters of fuel, for a cruising range of 23000 nautical miles (of open water).

The Louis is also an old ship, and Captain Marc Rothwell estimates that she’ll only be in service for another ten years or so before going on the auction block. Apparently it’s difficult to find replacement parts when things go wrong because so many of her mechanisms are outdated. Danny Parmiter joked that newly graduated engineers have never even seen some of the systems onboard before because they’re too antiquated for marine engineering programs to teach.  

Tonight was my last chance to attend a Captain’s dinner in the Officer’s dining room, and luckily the CTD/rosette cast this evening didn’t conflict with the five-course meal. The main was duck in fig sauce, and I particularly liked the palette-cleansing lemon ice that came after the baked Camembert with apple compote. My compliments to Chief Cook Blair Walsh.

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