Len Burnett's account of a voyage in Andrew Weir’s SS Kelvinbank as it appeared in the January 2019 edition of Sea Breezes was thoroughly enjoyable.
During my earlier days at sea, I served in two war-time built ships but, unfortunately, never in a Liberty Ship, or as we used to call this type of vessel, a Sam Boat. As readers will be aware, the Sam designation had nothing to do with Uncle Sam, but referred to the ship’s accommodation block being located aft of amidships. Or as a British seaman would say ‘abaft’ amidships. I see from the main picture of the Kelvinbank that she has two sets of derricks at her No 2 hatch. This is unusual since the Libertys usually only possessed a single set of gear per hatch. It could well be that the additional set was fitted for her commercial service after the war.
The other picture included in the story to provoke comment, is on its third page and shows the ship encountering a head-sea whilst on passage from Nauru with a phosphate cargo. From near the bottom right hand corner of the photograph, to the mast-house at the forward end of No 3 hatch, is a substantial steel structure which, at first glance, I thought was a cargo derrick. The upper surface of the component has a number of cleat like fittings on its flat upper surface. Consequently, it is not a derrick. I wonder, therefore, whether someone could please enlighten me regarding the purpose of ‘whatever’ it is?
Staying with the January edition. Preceding the article entitled “Wearside: Towing for the Shipbuilders”, mention is made of the highly manoeuvrable steam paddle tugs that once operated on the river. To achieve this feature, it would be reasonable to assume that it was possible to come ahead on one paddle and go astern on the other paddle simultaneously. How, I wonder, was this achieved with a single engine, or as is most unlikely, did each paddle have a separate engine? My very first ship was the paddle steamer Ravenswood of 1891 vintage and, as with the other paddlers on the Bristol Channel, both paddles only revolved in either an ahead or an astern direction and so these vessels were not as manoeuvrable as all that. At Cardiff, the ship was berthed in a rather tight corner and I remember that before departing on our day’s schedule, we had to run a rope ashore so as to heave her bow around until it pointed in a direction which would allow her to clear her berth when coming ahead on the engine after letting go.
In writing the above, I am, of course, making an unfavourable comparison with the Wearside paddle tugs. I hope that an engineer can satisfy my curiosity on this matter. It could, however, be that I am missing.
Tauranga, New Zealand