Belly of the Beast

Going on an extended research cruise, let alone touring the engine room the vessel, is not something that most people get to do. I myself have been on the Langseth before and never got the chance to go into the loud room next to the main lab marked “Restricted.”

When you first walk behind this door, it is a seemingly simple control room, where you have multiple monitors showing the state of the various engine components. The majority of the time the engine is mainly controlled by those who are steering the ship in the bridge, but the controllers in the engine room can take over with a simple press of a button if anything catastrophic were to happen.

The Chief Engineer, Jay Butler, gave us the run down on the engine, with more facts than I can even begin to remember. In the simplest terms, the Langseth is powered by two engines with controllable pitch propellers system with 3600 horsepower per engine, which is especially helpful considering the long streamer or large streamer arrays it often tows. The ship uses around 5,000 gallons of fuel a day when under slower science acquisition operations and slightly less (~3,000 gallons) during transit. The ship also converts seawater to drinking water while underway using an evaporation system, one that optimally performs when the ship is going at least 5knots and is not in especially sediment/bio rich waters (they have to clean the filters for this process by hand, which can sometimes include various small fish, jellies, and lots of debris). What I found interesting is that they now are required to log what they remove from the filters as well as any sea water that is stored aboard (i.e. for the ballast system) to adhere to policies regulating invasive species when entering various ports, and are ideally supposed to dump any held seawater in the same location that it was acquired!

After our bright orange earplugs were properly inserted, we got to venture down into the engine room itself, with loud whirring, lots of emergency buttons, and pipes weaving around us. One of the ship’s engine room technicians (aka Oilers), Malcolm Donohue, led us around from aft to stern, either yelling or writing explanations on a clipboard for us, answering our silly questions and letting us stop for numerous photos. We got to see one of the engines and its exhaust, compressors, the surprisingly small hot water converter, and the machine shop, where we even got a first-hand look at the relatively small engine part that had caused us such a terrible delay in port at the start of our trip. As someone who barely ever looks under the hood of her own car, I certainly have a new appreciation of the power and complexity of the mechanics keep our cruise moving.

Pictures – Chief Engineer (right) Jay giving the introduction in the engine control room, walking down the stairs into the main engine room, one of the engines, the students with one of the Langset Oilers Malcolm in the shop, Anne demonstrating the utility (and fun) that can be had with all the Langseth tools.

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