Last week, I received a message from Martin LeDuc, Chief Engineer on the McKeil Marine owned tug Beverly M I. The Beverly was in St. John’s for some maintenance and was moored at NewDock – Martin wanted to know if I was interested in a tour of the tug. I jumped at the opportunity, so Saturday afternoon, myself and Scott Humber of Scott Humber Photography headed down to the dock and met up with Martin for a tour of the ship.
Weight: 450 tonnes
Owner: McKeil Marine
Towing strength: 100 tonnes
Speed: 10 knots
Year: 1993 (refit 2013)
Built in Japan in 1993, the Beverly spent most of her life in Dubai with her sister ship, the (now) Sharon M I. She is one of a series of 6 (four of which are now owned by McKeil), constructed for strength, maneuverability, and firefighting capacity. Martin was responsible for bringing the Sharon M I across from Dubai (she came a couple of years before the Beverly). During their career in Dubai, they serviced small operation rigs in the Gulf, providing firefighting support and towing services. Understandably, when they were moved to the North Atlantic, some changes had to be made. Some of their water tanks were changed into fuel tanks, giving the tugs some extra strength in their new environment, and the ability to be at sea longer.
It’s not like they were weak to start though – even before the refit these were study tugs, made of iron and horsepower. Martin said as far as he could remember, they only fuelled twice between Dubai and St. John’s on the crossing with the Sharon. He estimated that the range for this class of tug would be about twenty days – just shy of being able to be at sea for a full month with a light load. Fuel use, like most things, depends on the type of job, and the size of the tow, so a larger tow could cut that range down considerably. They’re strong and sturdy ships and now they can withstand the worst that the North Atlantic can throw at them.
We started our tour on the main deck, where the cabins for the Chief and Second Engineer were, as well as the Captains cabin. Then it was up to the bridge to check out the gear, and the view. The controls for the ship are mirrored on both sides (fore and aft) of the bridge, making it easy to control the tug and see the action from either end. The Beverly also has 360 degree propulsion – the joystick that controls the props on the bridge can shift them to any direction or pitch needed to keep the tug in position, and get her where she needs to go. This is especially important on firefighting assignments. The jets of water that shoot from the gear mounted on top of the ship are so powerful that without a steady hand and a strong engine, the ship would be pushed backwards – away from the fire.
From the bridge we went below deck, past the galley and crew cabins and into the heart of the vessel. Martin remarked that “this is where the action is”, contrary to what other crew members may tell you. The two engines each harness 2000hp, making the Beverly a 4000hp piece of iron and muscle. The firefighting supply pipes snaked up the sides to our left and right, giving an idea of exactly how much water it would take to be able to shift this ship around (the answer? A lot.). From where we were standing, Martin said, there were fuel tanks on either side of the walls. The wall that we could see was actually about 5ft away from the side of the ship – that empty space was all fuel.
Moving towards the back of the engine room, Martin showed us the piston head they had pulled off earlier that day. There had been complaints that the engine wasn’t behaving properly, and this was one of the suspect parts. When the Beverly came over from Dubai, she hit some rough weather on the North Atlantic. Water got into the fuel tanks, and subsequently into the engine. They were still tracking down small places where the water could have caused damage, and this piston head was acting a bit suspect. So, off with the old one (it would be sent to a shop to be repaired) and in with a new. Martin hoped that would fix the problem and that they could get back out to sea. “If you see us around the harbour, that means we aren’t making money!”
We headed across to the starboard side, where the old piston head lay on the floor. Martin pointed to some heavy winches and chains hanging from the ceiling. These were used for moving the heavy engine parts from one side of the engine room to the other, using swinging, chains, and a lot of skill on the part of the engineers so no one gets hurt. They’re absolutely necessary – the piston head itself weighs about 700lbs!
From there we went right into the stern of the ship, where we stood almost directly over the azimuth props. The ceiling was so low I had to kneel down to fit into the space, and I joked that I was too tall for this line of work. Martin laughed and informed me there are much taller.
He pointed out that the area around us and above our heads was actually two large circles that were bolted tightly to the ship. If there was ever an issue with this portion of the engine, these hatches could be removed and the whole unit hoisted directly out of the ship. While I was absorbing that tidbit, he pointed to the extra propellor blades that were sitting up against the side of the room. Across from us, through a small door, was an identical room with another set of blades. These were in case they ever threw or damaged one, they have spares on hand.
Now, I honestly don’t know what I was expecting – the number of ships propellors I have seen in my lifetime I can count maybe on two hands, so it’s not like I had pre-existing expectations. That being said, I was still really surprised at how large the props were. They were tucked into the corner of the space occupied a fair chunk of that back wall. It was really quite impressive.
After that, we headed back up to the galley, where Martin offered us both some pop and we sat and chatted. He has been in the field for almost 18 years, and had a lot to say about how the shipping industry has changed during his time. He once worked for large companies like Royal Caribbean and Disney, and had made the switch to McKeil and the smaller shipping industry in the last few years. After awhile of working for the big companies, he said, he found it difficult to keep up the work. It wasn’t because he didn’t love the job, but because of the wages. By the end of it, with a family back home in British Columbia that he had to provide for, it wasn’t worth it and he left, getting work with McKeil Marine. It’s a different scene, but keeps him busy – which is a good thing. For two weeks before he joined the Beverly, he was flown to different ports to work on some of McKeil’s other vessels. He was even working on Lake Ontario on Christmas Eve, when a huge wind storm came up. He said that some of the crew were ridiculously sick, but you could barely tell because there was so much water on the deck it was washing everything away.
Eric, the second engineer on the vessel, joined us after awhile. From Penetanguishene, Ontario, Eric had grown up on the waters of Georgian Bay. He had always loved working with boats and machinery, but it wasn’t until he learned about the marine engineering program at Georgian College in Owen Sound that he realized he could make a career out of it. He had completed the program and received his 4th Class ticket in April of last year. He then called up his old work term employers, McKeil, and was hired immediately. He and Martin both agree that this is the sort of job you either love, or you hate. “We lost a lot of people on our first work term” said Eric. “People get out on the water and say ‘Nope, this is not my thing’. It happens that fast.”
As our visit wound down, Martin was making supper plans – he was talking about going into the galley to make up a batch of homemade pasta sauce. “This is how this job works,” he said, laughing, “change a piston head during the day, work on pasta sauce at night.”
He led us out, showing us the crew’s pantry (which used to be the laundry room) and the laundry room (which was now out on deck behind a small door, next to the massive rear winch). He showed us the fire controls for the ship which consisted of tanks of pressurized CO2 hooked up to hoses. If there is ever a fire in the engine room, these tanks flood the room with CO2 to extinguish the fire.
We walked around to the bow, where Martin pointed out the second winch and then pointed up towards the bridge. On either side of the rail, between the corners, were two pieces of wood. “When we came through from Dubai, down to the Suez Canal,” he said, “We had to have armed guards on board because of pirates. You can see up there were where they would sit.”
I had an absolute blast during our visit to the Beverly M I. Martin had said that he loves being able to show people around the ship because he knows it’s not something people usually get the chance to do. Now that the St. John’s harbour is fenced off, he understands that it’s even harder for people to get down and see the ships. This is another factor that he said contributes to people not pursuing ship life as a full-time job – if you don’t have the exposure to the environment, you can’t learn, and you can’t figure out if it’s something you want to do.
Eric and Martin, you were both wonderful hosts! It was great to be able to spend an evening hanging out with two people who obviously love what they do. Best of luck to you both, and I hope to see you around St. John’s again.
That’s all for this week everyone! Have a great weekend!
Photos this week provided by the ever-talented Scott Humber.