Michael Smith, who commenced his seagoing career on the M.V. TEAKBANK continues his account of serving on other vessels…


Triple Expansion Steam Engine with Exhaust Turbine

The S.S. Triadic was built in 1945 as a service vessel and originally named the HMS Dungeness. I am led to believe that the ‘Dungeness’ was used to patrol the waters around Darwin. She was later converted to a Phosphate bulk carrier and named S.S. Triadic. To the best of my knowledge the ‘Triadic’ was owned and run by The British Phosphate Commissioners (BPC) who managed extraction of phosphate from Christmas Island, Nauru and Banaba (Ocean Island) from 1979 until 1981. British Phosphate owned and ran 2 other vessels, the ‘Triellis’ and ‘Triaster’. During my time with BPC I served on the ‘Triellis’ and the ‘Triadic’.

I joined the Triadic in Fremantle, Western Australia after a 4 hour plane ride from Melbourne, Australia in the early 70’s. This was to be my second (and last) steam powered vessel. At that stage the Triadic was on a semi-permanent run carting Phosphate from Christmas Island to Albany and Geraldton in Western Australia. As some of you might remember, Albany operated as a whaling station in the days of yore. If memory serves me right it took around 9 days to get to Christmas Island and around 12 days on the return trip to Albany. I cannot remember whether we carried passengers on the Triadic, but we certainly took up to 12 passengers back and forth on the same run on the M.V. Triellis.

Taking a look around the engine room for the first time, I discovered that there were two oil fired 500lb per square inch boilers, which made steam for the two 300kw generators and the triple expansion Main Engine. The Steering Gear aft consisted of three steam driven pumps, these operated a somewhat large screw mechanism, which in turn meshed with a large quadrant which when moved, turned the rudder in the required direction. When testing the steering gear prior to leaving port, clouds of steam with the mandatory hissing sound filled the steering gear flat, the three pistons whizzed up and down at a great rate of knots when the wheel on the bridge was turned, and then stopped abruptly when the desired position was reached. I often wondered whether this sudden starting and stopping had any effect on the sleeping habits of the crew.

The main engine itself, was an ‘open crankcase’ design, in other words, there was no outer casing on the engine, and everything that went up and down and round and round were in full view. When under way all three connecting rods and big end bearings spun around at 90rpm for all to see. The 2 nd Engineer suggested that I should look at learning to check the big end bearing temperature by touching the 4 ton big end as it spun around! Needless to say I was never really open to acquiring this legendary skill!

The trip to Christmas Island was relatively uneventful. I do not believe that ‘blowing the tubes’ was an operation that was carried out on the Triadic. This just might have been because the boilers were fire , rather than water tube boilers? Cannot remember.

We anchored off Christmas Island some days later as another vessel was being loaded with Phosphate. We were told that we needed to be at anchor for about 3 days. In the early 70’s the whole area around the island was teeming with fish, and fishing with hand held lines when not on watch, was a favorite pastime for most of us. A line dropped into the water almost always resulted in a tug on the line within a minute or two. Most of the fish were Snapper with the occasional Barracuda from time to time. The R/O on board at that time was a very keen fisherman, and would have up to 4 lines ‘going’ at the same time. He would drop the lines in, tie his lines to the handrail and ask the others to give him a call if any of the lines caught a fish. He would then disappear to his cabin. This of course attracted some of the guys with not much to do, to play tricks on the Sparky. They often would haul his lines up and tie a couple of cans of Tuna on to the hook and then give him a call. On one occasion someone managed to ‘obtain’ a frozen fish from the freezer and tied it to the end of his line and then gave him a call. It was all done in fun and no one was ever terribly upset at all this carry on.

At some stage 3 of the lads got a tad more adventurous, and decided to make a large hook in the engine room with the view to snagging a shark. A lump of meat was stuck on the hook and with the help of a rather stout rope line lowered into the water. Its end was tied securely to the handrail. Due to the abundance of fish in the area quiet a few sharks could sometimes be seen cruising around. Some time later the rope went as taut as a bow string, and with a cry of joy three of them rushed to pull whatever had taken a bite of the hook up to the surface. As luck would have it, a large 4 or 5 meter Bronze Whaler had taken the bait. It took a great deal of cursing, swearing and grunting to haul this shark, who had possibly decided that it would not go quietly! to the surface. Due to the fact that we were ‘light ship’, meant that there was quite a way to go before we got the shark on the deck. So, there was a big shark + gravity pulling one way and 3 aspiring ‘shark hunters’ pulling the other. Gravity played a huge part in this endeavor, and no sooner had the shark been lifted a few feet out of the water when it’s weight overcame the muscles and sinews of the 3 lads, and it flopped back into the water. Some of the others, who were witnessing this unequal duel of wills shouted many expletives, encouragements and many and varied instructions as to how they should go about landing/pulling this large shark up on to the deck. Some even lent a hand with the pulling all to no avail. At one stage there would have been at least half dozen brawny lads tugging on the rope. By this time the rope was starting to chaff the palms of the gallant three. Meanwhile it was up 2 or 3 meters…the shark would give an enormous wiggle and it was down into the water again. Finally, after some time, it dawned on the 3 guys and the others assisting in this capture, that it was a lost cause and that basically they had a ‘tiger by the tail’. With some reluctance they cut the rope and allowed the shark to swim free. A lot of discussion took place as many availed themselves of a couple of cleansing ales after all the huffing and puffing, seeking a way to improve their technique and do better next time.

Thanks to Alan Rawlinson for giving me this opportunity to share my stories with you good people.

May you be well.

Michael Smith


Some details….

SS Triadic 7461 tons Built 10/1945 by West Coast Ship builders, Vancouver, BC. 426.8 x 57.2 x 34.9. 3 cylinder up & downer built by Canadian Allis Chalmers. 2 WT boilers. DF, ESD,GyC, radar, 2 decks, cruiser stern, O/No;181713.
Owned by British Phosphate Commisionaires. A H Gaze MBE as managers.
Registered London British flag.

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