INSIDE THE CCGS AMUNDSEN–This venerable icebreaker is just as impressive below deck as it is above. More, if you are the one misfit from a family of engineers.
First, a confession. As an ancient mariner pointed out in an email, I have been guilty of anachronism when writing about the Amundsen “steaming” away.
As a descent into this ship’s bowels demonstrated today, there’s no steam involved in propelling her. In fact, the Amundsen was “green” decades before the current vogue, with the twin 14-tonne propellers driven by two DC electric motors.
Because the two shafts are turned by induction, there’s no gear box and nothing to damage if the 5-metre-wide propellers whack a piece of ice, although substantial nicks have been discovered when the ship was in dry dock.
That electricity is generated from two, four or as many as six V-16 main engines which run on marine diesel fuel. And before that old salt starts typing again, yes the diesel-electrics put out AC power which is then converted to DC.
That’s merely the icing from a fascinating 90 minutes spent with chief engineer Stéphane Dufour, who is responsible for everything mechanical on the ship, from the morning shower water to the power needed to advance at a steady three knots through metre-thick ice.
Growing up, Stéphane thought about becoming a doctor. But a friend mentioned the Coast Guard and by the first “sea phase” experience at the Coast Guard College, the 17-year-old had found his calling.
“It’s what I thought I was going to be doing as a kid but with bolts and not people,” he says.
Doctoring a 98-metre vessel takes four other engineers, six “oilers” and an electrician to together provide 24-hour monitoring of the ship’s vital signs.
Even when the Amundsen is immobile in the ice, like now, it burns between 5,000 and 6,000 litres of diesel a day in a smaller V-8 ship’s service engine for the electricity, heat, fresh water, and sewage system needed for this combined floating hotel and peripatetic research centre.
When the Amundsen is struggling in tough ice – as a week ago – daily fuel consumption can soar above 30,000 litres with all six V-16 main engines throbbing and a second V-8 service engine also running. On one day in early January the ship gulped 40,000 litres, a rate that even tanks holding 2.7 million litres can’t sustain when the next fill-up isn’t until mid-June.
There’s also a third V-8 for redundancy plus a smaller diesel engine above the water line, so if the ship is holed and taking on water below there will still be emergency power.
As the photograph from the engine room shows, the scale of this hidden machinery is Brobdingnagian compared to the miniaturized instruments in the laboratories above deck.
That scale is one reason that it takes a half-hour to get the engines purring if the ship is in open water. When the ship has been chilled in an icy vise, however, the engineers like 90 minutes to bring the lubricating oil temperature gradually up to the optimal 70 C. In practice, the ship will run at Dead Slow for some time while that load helps warm up the engines.
A shame I can’t call it “getting up steam.”
|PETER CALAMAI/TORONTO STAR|
|Amundsen's chief engineer Stéphane Dufor walks between a V-16 main engine and a V-8 service engine below deck in the icebreaker.|