tirsdag 14. april 2020

Life on board a working ship, Part I

OK, so by some sort of request I'm about to write a bit more than just a few words about something completely different from the usual stuff. Not a word about film photography or developing this time, and only digital photos I'm afraid. That's because you probably like to see what I'm talking about... in colours and everything else your hearts may like or not. 
It's a long post, and there will be more to come I'm afraid. 
So go grab a large cup of tea or coffee or whatever suits you the better, and find a comfortable chair if you feel like going through this thing. 

I'm going to talk about the ship I work on, and a little bit about what's happening inside this rather closed world, and I'm probably going to talk about some of the things we have to deal with on a more or less daily basis. This can very well turn out to become a way too long and probably boring (at least to some) post, so I might even split it into two or even several parts, just to really rub it all in. 
Let's just start and see wherever this takes me.
Questions may of course be asked in the comments section below about whatever is unclear (I'm sure there is a lot...), and I'll try to shed some further light onto whatever you may wonder about.
Other comments are of course also very much welcome if you wish.
I have removed the name of the ship from all pictures as I'm showing a bit of stuff from inside where it all happens. Not like I'm showing off any secrets or things like that, but still you know. 

The ship. 
I have been working on board this piece of steel for a total of 11 years. Two years as a third engineer from 2003/-05 and then I came back as a chief engineer in 2011 and have been working here ever since. I guess this picture was taken not too long after our 2014 yard stay as she seems to have had a quite recent paint job done to her exterior. I also notice the blue tower thing on deck which has been removed now, containers and stuff placed there instead. Unknown photographer, taken from a different vessel in our company. 

General vessel description:
The ship itself is by todays standard a rather small Multi Purpose Support Vessel, or MPSV. She was built in Norway, finished in 1999 and was the last vessel ever to be built at this particular shipyard. She is about 103 meters long, 22 meters wide, have a Gross Tonnage of 7400 T and a dead weight of 6350 t. It's a DP Class 3 vessel (more on that later) equipped with two tunnel thrusters in the bow, one retractable thruster just aft of the two tunnel thrusters in the front, and two azimuth thrusters aft. All five thrusters are usually in use when the vessel is in DP operation. For conventional steaming forward, to get us from A to B, only the two aft thrusters will be in use.
All five thrusters are individually powered by big electric motors which are fed by 690 Volt, 60 Hz AC current generated by a total of four diesel engines powering one 2400 kW generator each. The electric power is fed from the generators into the main switchboards where the power is distributed to each and every consumer of electric power on board the ship via smaller switchboards and cabinets around the vessel.
There are multiple quite heavy consumers all around the ship, but by far the biggest will be the aft thrusters (3 Mega Watt each), the forward tunnel thrusters (about 1000 kW each) and the retractable azimuth (about 1200 kW). The tunnel thrusters in the bow is designed to only work directly sideways to turn the bow either starboard or port, while the three azimuth thrusters can turn 360 degrees individually (computer controlled) to keep the vessel exactly positioned above a small point at the sea bed as required when the ROV's are working way below the vessel (at around 2000 meters depth on the field we have been working on lately).
There is also a 100 Tonne capacity crane on deck which draws some power when in use, and of course the accommodation with all the lights and heating in addition to all the pumps and equipment down in the engine room which also draws their part of electric power from the generators.

Below is a few examples of some of the heavier consumers on board. Not all of them, but still you'll get the idea. 

The drive motor for the forward Azimuth. Can deliver about 1500 kW of power. The drive shaft is sticking out of the motor on the right side here, but you can't see it in this picture. The two white pipes going into the side of it is the water cooling pipes going in and back out.  It's quite hard to make good overview pictures on board as there's always something obstructing the view in some way. The picture is taken from above, so not very informative of size and such. About 2x2x1 meters is my best guess. 

The drive motor for one of the two side thrusters, or tunnel thrusters. The drive shaft from this one is going straight down through the upper part of the tunnel and into the gear of the thruster making the propeller go around the right way, creating a side force in the bow area. I think each of these motors are about 1000 or 1200 kW. 

I put this one in as well, even though it's not the heaviest of consumers on board. A hydraulic power pack designed with three pumps to be able to adjust the amount of hydraulic oil going through the system depending on the need of power at any moment. It can keep multiple quite heavy machines running all at once if needed. 

Not a very heavy consumer either, but it does require quite some energy to keep the insides of the accommodation relatively cool when working in hot climate. This is the AC unit taking care of cooling down most of the living areas on board. We got two of these, as they tend to have some troubles from time to time. We just changed out this units twin machine with a brand new one... it was not very old either. You would expect a bit more than 20 running hours from a unit with a price tag of a very good used car...

This is an overview from one of the two main switchboard rooms. All the power from the generators are going through the breakers and switches inside this area before being fed out to individual and smaller breaker cabinets for the different consumers around the vessel. The power distribution didn't come as an afterthought on board a vessel like this one, even though it's over 20 years old this year. Most of the big breakers in this room is usually remotely controlled from the Engine Control Room, but everything can also be switched and phased in manually the old school way if needed. 

You are looking at the hydraulic pumps powering one of the steering gear plants. There are two of these machines, one in each of the aft thruster rooms. They each consists of two completely independent pumps, meaning if one is going bad the other one will start and take over the job. One pump to the right, the other one in the center of the picture. The stuff to the left and in the background is the fresh water coolers for the circulating oil in this system. 

It's not a good picture at all, but the grey thing to the left is the 3000 kW electric motor for one of the main thrusters aft. The green thing in the center is the visible part of the thruster itself. Basically there's a horizontal drive shaft coming out of the electric motor which transfer the power via a coupling over to the pinion shaft at the power intake of the thruster, goes inside the green thing via a huge bevel gear and the power is distributed down the main shaft inside the thruster to a bevel gear down in the hub under water and out to the propeller itself. Most of the thruster room you see here is taken up by the power converter for the electric motor (not visible in the picture though). It's a quite fancy thing actually, even though the only part we usually will see are the dull grey cabinets. 

A closer view of the top of the aft thruster as were described in the previous picture. The coupling between the electric motor and the thruster is found underneath the aluminium cover on the left side of the picture. The two red things in the lower part are the steering motors for the thruster. There are three of them as one is hidden on the other side of the thruster. They are actually just slow turning (low RPM) hydraulic motors driven by the steering gear pumps I showed you a couple of pictures above this one.

The ID plate for one of the main propulsion electric motors.

And finally a few snaps of the things always at work to keep everything moving as it should. The diesel generator sets which is the heart of the power station. Two of them in each engine room making sure we got light in the bulbs and hot water for our showers at all times.

The Non-Drive end of the engine is where you'll find all the pumps and all the other things which is internally powered by the engine itself. All pumps in this end will also have an electrically driven twin, just in case one of the internal pumps should fail. They are fuel pumps, lub oil pumps, a couple of fresh water pumps (High temp and low temp as these engines got two separate cooling circuits), water heaters, lub oil filters and so on.

A better view of the engine. 9 cylinders in-line, the pump end is furthest away from the camera, with the drive end to the left in the picture. The dark green unit to the left is the actuator, which is controlled by an electronic governor to maintain a speed of 720 rpm on the engine at all times. This is to make sure we always get 690 Volts at 60 Hz out of the engine. If some consumer suddenly needs more power, the rpm will suddenly drop. The governor will then immediately discover the engine slowing down (we are talking fine tuning here, so a drop of only a couple of rpm will be enough for the governor to react) and send a signal down to the green actuator which in turn will adjust all nine fuel pumps to pump more fuel into the engine cylinders to keep it steady at 720 rpm. Clever, huh...? 

It's not the best of pictures, but as I mentioned earlier it's not the easiest of tasks to get a good overview of the engine room areas. You are still looking at one of the main engines with it's nine top covers there in the background, the grey exhaust channel to the left, and the generator closest to the camera. The generators are capable of an output of a maximum of 2400 kW each. The main engines around 2600 kW each. The system is designed in such a way that only the numbers of generators really needed will run at any moment of time, but that is also dependent on which DP class we are working in at the moment. Diesel engines are working at their most effective (lowest fuel consumption versus kW of output) when running at around 90% load. 

A modern ship hull is of course built with a double bottom and double sides. Between the sea and the inner parts of the vessel there are tanks. A lot of them. Mainly there are ballast tanks used to keep the vessel more or less even, or to keep us a bit lower in the water if we are sitting too high in the water and so on. This is stuff the guys on the bridge are trained to deal with. Down in the engine room we are doing our best to keep them busy by moving diesel and other stuff around in awkward ways. This vessel has a total capacity of XXXX tonnes of ballast more or less evenly spread all over the place. 

We also need diesel to keep this thing running. If bunkering all fuel tanks to the 90% mark we can carry about 2500 cubic meters of fuel. There are a few quite interesting mathematic problems I could make up for you to solve involving this amount of fuel and a normal family car... but I'll leave it all to you.
About the diesel itself there's nothing much to say other than the fact that the world finally have put restrictions on the amount of Sulphur we are allowed to have in the diesel we bunker. During the last twenty years the percentage of sulphur has been reduced heavily, and I always try to get the one with the absolutely lowest amount if possible. Some places it's a bit hard to get, but in most cases it can be done. 

We don't use heavy fuel in any of our ships, luckily. I will not start to discuss that sort of thing, but just want to say that I think it's about time the shipping industry start to pollute a bit less even though we all are a million times better at that now than we used to be some years back. And we will get a lot better in the years to come. I will try to remember to write a few words about that in a later post. We are still not good enough of course, but everything we hear about alternative power sources might not be the best way forward either. I will share a few thoughts about it a bit later, probably. 

Finally we got the fresh water tanks. We don't have a huge capacity for that sort of thing, but you can wash quite a lot of clothes and get a few showers out of half a million liters of clean fresh water. We are producing our own water on board, and on a normal day we produce quite a bit more than we use. We like to run the water production anyway to make sure we got a good buffer of water on board in case we run into issues with one or two of our three independent water makers.  

There are also a few lub. oil tanks built into the hull, but these are small compared to the others mentioned above. Maybe something like a total of 40 000 liters of lub oil, but probably a bit less. I'm not the type of guy walking around picking numbers like that from the top of my head. I know where I can find the numbers, which is what counts anyway. 

In between some of the tanks and around moon pools etc. there are cofferdams. They are there to make sure we discover if any leaks from tanks should occur, and also to make sure there are extra barriers between two tanks containing fluids important not to mix. 

A drawing of all the tanks on board. I'm really sorry about the daft picture due to reflections and stuff, but it was of course impossible to make it better unless taking everything out of the frame and such. I just couldn't bother starting that sort of job. Hopefully you will be able to zoom in and have a look at it, and if not I might be able to send you a better copy if you are that interested... 

With every tank drawing on any vessel there will be a corresponding table like this where the most important overview and numbers for each tank is printed. The weight the tank is designed for, the total amount of fluids you can put into it, it's center of gravity and how far above the keel and out to the side that point is (LCG, TCG and VCG), all important stuff to know about when filling or emptying the tanks of a vessel. There's a lot more to know of course, which is why there are huge books full of numbers for each tank on board and how they infect the stability of the ship for every centimeter it's filled. Very boring readings, of course... I might show you some other day.

Well... I just go on and show you the full list of tanks and their capacities. Just dig yourselves into it, or leave them be, whatever you please.

Here we are... the small tanks now. Lub oil, hydraulic oil and stuff like that. 

And at last on the list there's the tiny ones... the ones we never think is noted anywhere, but they actually are when starting looking into it.

Power distribution: 
A large part of operating engines on a level like this involves different ways to control power and have it sent to wherever it's needed. It also involves always keeping your mind alert to the fact that things are not always going according to plan, and therefore we always have to plan for the worse and have a "safe way out" readily at hand. But that's a long story to be honest, and nothing to start messing around with on a blog.
To be able to control the power distribution and the load sharing between the engines and generators, turn pumps and other equipment on and off, opening and closing of a myriad of valves and a lot of other more or less interesting functions, we got the SVC or Simrad Vessel Control system. This is a computer system which is constantly monitoring all functions, all valve positions, the levels in all of the tanks, the levels in all of the bilge wells around the vessel, hundreds of different temperatures, pressures, which pumps are running and which ones are not, and so on. There are five stand alone computers in this system, and they are set-up in such a way that all five computers are doing the same job checking the same things every second around the clock, every day of the year. This is to ensure that if one or more computers shuts down there will (hopefully) always be at least one working to make us able to run all functions in a safe way. The computers are also physically placed in two completely different locations on board (two on the bridge and three in the engine control room) in case of a major event meaning we have lost a huge part of the ship (fire, flooding etc.).

I'll show you a few of the graphics from the SVC system below. Keep in mind that these are the simple outlines of any of the systems, and not anywhere near the full picture of how things are put together. To see all valves (manually operated) you got to look into the drawings of each system and follow the pipelines to get the full view of how everything is put together. 

All pictures and pages inside the SVC system are quite important, but some are a bit more important than a few of the others. This is the main Power distribution picture, and shows us what's running at any moment, how the main switchboard breakers are configured and a lot of other useful information. I will not use time to explain this right now, but will come back to it in another post. It's not that difficult either, so you can probably figure out most of it by yourselves. Green means running, white means stopped. Only one generator is running at the moment at an output of lousy 419 kW and with no thrusters or propellers running. That's because the ship is at anchor as I write this...

Port Azimuth aft. This is the schematics of the azimuth showed a bit earlier in this post. You will see one pump running which is a lub oil pump to maintain lubrication to the big bevel gears. The steering gear is showed in the upper left part of the picture and the cluster of four small oil pumps lubricating the fine bearings of the electric motor is showed just below the motor itself. Inside the motor we can read the temperature in each of the three windings of the motor, and also the Drive End and Non Drive End bearing temperatures. We also have control of the different oil pressures and also the cooling water temperatures among other things. This is the same for all thrusters. To the left in the picture there are two "clocks" showing the direction of steering (upper) and the output power of the thruster in question. All the small squares scattered around the picture is an alarm point which will turn red if there is an alarm state in any of the sensors.

Ballast tanks and ballast pumps which is also acting as fire pumps if you press the right buttons. To open any of the valves you simply select a valve, do a "right click" and select "Open" on the next menu. The valve will turn green in the picture when the feedback sensor on the valve has registered the valve to actually be open. When all the right valves shows the right position you may start the right pump to either fill more ballast, move it from one tank to the other, or simply get rid of it. All the ballast tanks contains sea water. There are strict rules these days about how often the ballast water needs to be changed, and where you can actually pump it out and where you absolutely not are allowed to get rid of it. The filling level of the tanks are marked in green. 

These are the diesel tanks. The same thing applies here as it did in the ballast picture about opening and closing valves. The colour code for diesel is yellow as opposed to the green colour for the sea water. You are looking at the cargo tanks here. The engines can not take their diesel directly from these tanks, so we need to use the pumps indicated in the middle of this picture to pump diesel from one of these tanks over to the "settling tank". It will then be sent through a diesel separator to get particles and water out of the fuel before it enters the day tank. The engines are taking their fuel from the day tanks. One settling tank and one day tank on each side of the vessel.

Here they are, the day tanks and settling tanks (upper and lower in the center of the picture) and the two diesel separators (lower left corner and the other one middle and a bit left). Main engines are drawn in to the right, and there's also the smaller emergency diesel generator drawn into this picture.  All the white lines are some of the pipes and valves in the fuel system, but there are a lot of minor connections not visible here.

Large diesel engines needs a bit of cooling down at times. This is the main system for the diesel engines. There is a high temp cooling circuit for the top covers cooling, and a low temperature cooling circuit for more or less the rest of the engine. The heat taken away from the main engines are used to heat up other components in need of heat, and is also used to make fresh drinking water out of sea water through a couple of evaporators. 

And here's the rest of the fresh water cooling system, all the auxiliary units in need of cooling. There's a few of them, as you will notice. 

Main lubrication picture. You would not get very far if this system started to fail.

What exactly does DP mean?
DP, or Dynamic Positioning operations are what we're doing during our daily work. This simply means that the vessel can be set to one specific position with the bow heading in any preferred direction and stay at that exact point for as long as it takes to get a specific job done. Sometimes it means a few minutes, other times it will mean several weeks or even months. The ship can also be moved in any direction and at any speed (inside limits of course), with the bow heading wherever, only by pressing the right buttons on the DP operation station up on the bridge. This is of course another big computer, or in fact three computers doing the same job. There are two DP computers on the main bridge, and one on the emergency bridge meaning we can still be in full operation even if the main bridge has been totally damaged for some reason.

The DP system is given information from multiple sources to know exactly where the vessel is located, and there has to be at least three different navigation sources active where none of them are allowed to be connected to each other in any way either electrically or in other ways. If they are based on satellites they are not to be working towards the same satellites due to redundancy issues if one particular satellite drops dead for some reason. As you might understand there's a lot of international rules and regulations that comes into play for a DP Class 3 system. I am obviously only scratching the surface here, and in addition I am not at all to be counted as any expert on the matters.
We even got a separate underwater positioning system where a retractable transmitter located underneath the vessel sends out signals which is reflected from beacons we sometimes have placed on the sea bed in known positions. This is a quite accurate system based on something that looks like a mirrorball sending out rays of signals in a lot of directions across it's sphere, and picking them up when their echoes return. This will give the computer system information about the ships movement (heave and rolling from waves by the aid of other instruments (MRU's) on board) which is used by the ROV winches to pay in or slack out wire to keep the TMS (ROV docking station which is located deep in the water) completely at ease relative to the seabed. The same goes for the crane which has the same type of heave compensation to be able to keep the hook completely still at a certain level above the seabed. This is of course to ensure no damage to any very expensive equipment down there. This means that no matter how much the vessel is being thrown up and down, hither and dither, the ROV's and the crane hook is not very much affected of that sort of thing. At least not when looking at these items position relative to the earth herself.

DP Class 3, where the real fun begins: The DP Class 3 notation of this vessel means, among a lot of other things, that we got a bunch of extras. I have already mentioned the precautions taken on the bridge with the separate emergency station which is located in a room of it's own. Most of the extras, special requirements, precautions and of course lots of money spent, are to be found deeper down in the engine room area.

First of all we got two physically separated main engine rooms, pump rooms and thruster rooms. On this vessel this means a longitudinal bulkhead stretching almost from bow to stern dividing the vessel below deck into a starboard and a port side. However the front part of the vessel is divided into another two fully separated zones, one in front of the other, where the bow thrusters and the swing-up azimuth are to be found among some other equipment. Both bow thrusters are in separate zones to make sure any fault on one of them can not affect the operation of the other unit. 

The two sides of the main engine room areas are divided by water- and fireproof bulkheads with fire- and waterproof doors installed. If one of the sides for some reason becomes totally useless, there is a requirement that the vessel should still have adequate station keeping abilities. In plain words this would mean that if one side of the engine areas burns out (knocking heavily on wood...), the idea is we should still be able to keep our position and continuing working doing whatever we did before the event. 
This is of course not a very likely scenario for the work we are doing these days which is just simply placing of seismic nodes at the seabed, which would of course easily be aborted if something happened. However, in a situation when working on equipment fixed to the seabed close to an oil rig or being attached with crane and ROV's to a well head or something extremely important down there, it could actually be a matter of life or death to a lot of people, or the difference between avoiding an environmental disaster or not.
In short this means we got two more or less exactly mirrored engine rooms all the way from bow to stern, meaning we got two of every single piece of kit and equipment. Or, that's not exactly the truth either, because some bright brains also figured out 20 years ago that if the shit really hits the fan at some point leaving us with only one engine room, what then if a simple cooling pump or whichever component on the still working side started to fail? Oh yes... so not only do we have double up of everything due to having two similar engine rooms, but in addition we are also set-up with a double up of all the important stuff on each side of the vessel as well. So whatever you'll find in any other conventional vessel, we got four of the same thing. And we are not exactly badly equipped from the beginning. It's called redundancy... or overkill as some would probably silently think for themselves. I call it peace of mind, and a hell of a lot of extra work when it comes to maintenance, obviously. 
Because that's my teams main job, to keep all of these bits and bobs maintained and in a good working condition at all times.

It's nothing special, just a tiny little but quite good example of a double setup of the fresh water cooling pumps for the aft azimuths on port side of the vessel. One of the pumps will be defined as the "Duty" pump, and the other will then be the "Stand-by" pump. We can change the sequence for any pair of pumps on board by a press of a button in the engine control room.
The lower pipe is the suction pipe going into the pumps, being split to feed both pumps from one main pipe. There will always be water on the suction side of both pumps as a non return valve is mounted just in front of the intake of each pump. Same thing on the pressure side (upper pipe). Separate outlets from the pumps going into the same pipe feeding the cooler further down the line. Both pumps got a pressure transmitter on the pressure side which is constantly sending a signal to the computers. If the pressure on the main line is getting too low, the stand-by pump will start and the pressure will normally rise (at least as long as there's not a block in the suction pipe or something like that...). There are a lot of similar constructions around this vessel, working the same way.

Maintenance, and how to keep track:
To make sure everything is well maintained at all times, we got a computer based maintenance system. Every single routine job has been registered and put into the system with the right periodic notation to make sure it shows up on the work list in due time. When the job has been done a short or longer service report has to be made for the various jobs. Most of the jobs are only small check jobs and light maintenance, but some are bigger jobs which usually is a bit harder to actually get done as long as the vessel is working in DP operations, simply because of the fact that if you isolate some equipment to do work on it you have taken away the safety of the double-up (redundancy) idea. Still, depending on which DP class we are working in at any time, we might be able to get the job done anyway. After all we are not working in DP class 3 all the time. DP class 1 and 2 are lighter versions of DP class 3, requiring less redundancy and better chances for the engine dept. to get their maintenance done in time. In other words we quite like DP1 and 2 a lot better than DP3.
Anyway the list of overdue jobs will sometimes grow to be quite long, which in turn might lead to a needed stop for maintenance. These tends to be a stop over maybe a couple of days or so to get at least most of the overdue jobs done in a good way. Most of the time for normal maintenance we will discuss the best time to get the job done with the client, making it as smooth as practically possible. There will be times when both parties need to get ashore and stay alongside for a couple of days for several reasons. 
Usually this works well enough, but we might be in need of highly specialized on-shore facilities with special tools to get some of the more special and heavy jobs done, which is not the easiest thing to find in every corner of the world.

On a ship like this, which is designed to be sent into operations world wide, we need to be quite well stocked-up on spare parts and tools of more or less any thinkable and sometimes unthinkable sorts.
It is a bit scary sometimes to think about the fact that for instance a small £30,- bearing missing from the stock might stop a million dollars a day operation just like that. In short you have to make sure that exact bearing is on board, and just as important you have to make sure both you and any other engineer can find it the day you need it. Every single spare part on board the vessel is of course also registered into the same computer system which takes care of the job list and a lot of other functions I am not going to talk about here and now. The name and type of spare part will be registered along with the location of where it is to be found, how many items we got of the thing and when it was put there. All spare parts got a sticker attached to it, making it easy to remember to register all spares used for any maintenance job to make sure the spares has been taken out of the system to keep count of them.  

Different types of maintenance: One thing is the planned maintenance and all the jobs falling under that umbrella. Those are typically oil changes, checking vibrations in a pump, check for leaks, change of bearings, send oil samples for laboratory check and so on. Light maintenance, usually weekly checks or at least calendar based. 
Some heavier maintenance is hour based, making it important to keep track of the running hours of all the machines and electric motors on board. This will involve typically 15000 hrs. or 30000 hrs maintenance on main engines, bearing changes on big or small electric motors, check of valves facing directly to sea and a lot of other things. 

Another and completely different thing would be the unplanned but oh so necessary maintenance. You know the sorts for sure as it usually calls for attention with a big bang of some sort. There are different reasons for breakdowns, as any car or bicycle owner among you would know well enough. Sometimes it happens due to badly maintained equipment, other times it might happen to a brand new unit due to poor quality on internal parts, other times it even happens due to wrongly assembled machinery shortly after maintenance has been done, or even on brand new equipment for no obvious reason at all. The more money you payed the more often it breaks down, or so it seems at times anyway. 


That's about how far I'm going to take this for now. I'm coming back with some more specific engine maintenance related stuff, a few words about ROV related operations (the very little I know about it...) and also a few thoughts about how I look at the shipping future and what might be in there of things to think about. 
But for now, this hopefully will keep you busy reading and thinking for a little while. 
And as always, please feel free to comment or ask any question and I'll see if I might be able to give you an answer you can hopefully live with. 

fredag 3. april 2020

E6 development, offshore style

Among all the rolls of film I brought on board for this trip to work there was also a few rolls of Fuji Velvia 50. I'm not exactly known to be the most serious snapper-up of colours as you all know well enough by now, but I used to grow up in a household where quite a few dias were shot and viewed on the big screen during the long and dark northern wintery nights. That's from back in the days way before computers, smart phones and other time thieves went into our lives, if you still can recall that sort of state.
My father never bothered with developing his slides himself, meaning I grew up without knowing this could even be done at home. I don't know if there actually were any E6 kits around for darkroom use back in the 70's, but I'm quite sure someone who knows all about that will throw in a comment about it soon.
I need to alert you right here and now about the appearance of the pixelated snaps of the negatives as they all are very much out of focus. That's only due to the rather lousy and worthless lens on my mobile phone camera which obviously has a fair bit to go until we can call it a macro lens! Sorry about that, but at least I give you colours for once. I promise they are as sharp as they ever will get, whatever that might be worth...

Here you go! More or less the entire roll of Velvia snaps in one go... just to show you an overview of what it's like to walk around the ship with only one goal, to finish off a roll of Velvia in a very small amount of time. 

Anyway, I brought a few rolls of Velvia on board the ship for some reason, and in addition I actually got a third engineer who's also acting as some sort of self-appointed walking chemical guru... or something like that.
He's quite good at it as well you see, but don't your dare tell him I just said that. He has also been honing his skills in E6 developing lately, so I was a bit curious about this little project.
Basically he had a plan to get my roll of Velvia 50 developed if I did the job myself, and I also would have to shoot the pictures. So the film went inside the Leica M6, and I went for a walk around the vessel with only one goal, to end it off as soon as possible. The pictures are nothing to really look at, but they were shot only to test if the E6 division of our new on-board lab was working as intended.
I have owned this camera for a lot of years now, and this was only the second roll of colour film ever to find it's way inside this camera since I became the owner. One roll of Ektar 100 in the summer of 2014, and this roll of Velvia 50 I just shot. 
It should be added that this roll went out of date some time in 2013, but no measures were done to adjust for this in the camera. It seems like all of the frames are a bit under exposed, but I'm not sure if it's the film itself or our very sloppy development to blame for that. 

Just a couple of examples you know... not exactly great photographic art, I know!

What's used to get the fantastic results, you may ask?! Well, to tell you the truth I missed a few (most likely quite essential) points on the way, but what I know is that we started off with a simple Fomadon Excel B&W developer (X-tol equal), as that's what we had readily available on the shelf at that moment. We ran a pretty much standard development with that one, but added a bit of time for film age and ended up developing it for about 15-16 minutes or so. Then it was the light (or UV actually) treatment as we were lacking the right chemicals or substitutes of it to the right things with the film (and yes, at this point I was starting to fall out of the loop. The film was picked out of the tank and physically treated with the light from a few standard fluorescent light tubes in the engine control room. 

Proper UV treatment under fluorescent light. A couple of minutes of this thing, then hang to dry in light conditions before spooling it back on to the spool and into the tank it goes again.

This is how the film should look after B&W development and getting "treated" with light. Basically it looks and feels like very thick and un-fixed B&W negs, which they actually are as well.

Then the film went back into the Paterson tank and other chemicals was added together with some Alkalinity Control fluid (taken from the bilge water separator on board to adjust the pH to the right level...). Some sort of powder was also added to one of the baths, I think some sort of replenisher stuff but I'm not sure. I think it goes without saying that I was no longer in charge of this developing process. In fact I think it goes without saying that I never ever was...!
Anyway, the film was fixed and flushed with water before the lid was opened and the film was checked. 
Heck...!! It really looks good to be honest. I'll probably send all my undeveloped E6 films south to this guy if I ever get home from this place. On the other hand it might as well just have been some good old plain luck. I really don't know. 

What I do know is that it's the best looking dias film developed on board any sea going vessel I have ever seen so far. 

OK, so Velvia is Velvia with all it's good and bads... I never was a real fan of this film due to it's quite extreme colours and also it's ability to turn blueish things into violet or something close to it, which seems to have happened with the ship deck which was light grey the last time I checked. I have to say that my mobile phone camera made it quite a bit worse than it is in real life, but I see the tendency on the original positive as well.

onsdag 25. mars 2020

It's fixed!

Looking a bit better now, huh? At least they do in real life, which is what counts of course!

The issue from last post, as you might recall. The lack of contrast and all that sorts of things I was dealing with in my on-board made darkroom contact prints. It was the light alright, as I actually suspected. I was using a LED flashlight (way too expensive engine room thing...) but it turned out to only give me the low contrast tones when adding it above the negative. So what I did was two things. 
First I tested a small battery powered UV light we got inside the water sample test kit thing... but it was no good. I was not able to get any results out of it at all. It stained the paper alright... but all over as opposed to only around the thinner parts of the neg. 
So that could be thrown into the box where it belongs pretty quick. 

This is Fredrik. He's one of the guys who knows how to take this big lump of steel from one place to the other in the quickest and economically best possible way, taking into account weather, current, draft, available power and probably a million other minor things as well. 

The Cadet Engineer. You may wonder if he ever do anything else but looking into his phone? Well he is, I can assure you. It's just the best way to capture him due to the speed he's walking around with. You know, shutter times versus available aperture and film speed and all that sorts. 

I was looking high and low for some sort of light I could use, but they all seemed to be of the same boring LED type I had already tested. 
Frustration finally led me to try the most obvious thing really, to turn on the light in the ceiling of the room adjacent to the bathroom and leave the door open. 
And well, that did the trick. I had blacks coming onto the paper, and now it was only a question of balancing the amount of ceiling light and LED flashlight onto the paper. 
About three and a half seconds of hard contrast and two rather half-quick flashes with the flashlight, and you are as fine as you'll ever get on board a vessel of this size and type. 

The first engineer again. You have seen it before, so I'm sorry for that. It's a nice enough snap to have a second look at though :)

The day? Well, it's been a busy one believe it or not. Busy and a strange one. 
We seemed to have plenty of time up to a point when heading ashore, but due to the world being turned upside down we suddenly learned that the harbor would close this midnight, so there was a million things to do today to get everything we need on board to be able to leave before they close down. Seems like we just made it, so I'm quite happy with that to be honest. We will get the pilot on board in one and a half hours from now, at 2300 so that's close enough to call it a real success. 
We had all the project crew leaving the ship yesterday evening when we came in and alongside, which was weird to tell the truth. 
People are usually happy when leaving the ship to get home of course, but it was different this time. Very different. 
When sailing in to Galveston, the town itself was different. Very different! 
Well, we said our goodbyes knowing that many of us will most likely never see each other again due to the next project being put on hold now. Only the future will tell if this project is ever going to happen at all. Or if anything related to this business will happen again at all in the shape and form we know of up until now for that sake. 
Nobody can really tell. 
Not today, anyway.

Stay safe, friends!!

mandag 23. mars 2020

In need of good ideas for the on-board makeshift darkroom

As you have of course noticed by now it seems I'm probably going to be stuck at sea for quite a while. That would mean we need stuff to play around with in the weeks to come when not working with all the boring things that needs to be done in the engine department. You need some time off as well, we all know that. 

One of the navigation guys working on the bridge with pinpointing where to find the tiny little nodes we dropped off at the seabed 2000 meters below about a month ago. He's a bit worried about the future of course, just like all the rest of us stuck on board are as well at the moment. I caught him in a moment deep in his thoughts yesterday afternoon on the bridge wing using the old Rolleiflex TLR. Contact printed this evening on old Ilford RC paper and otherwise very simple equipment.

That's partly why I decided to check the availability of darkroom equipment on board the vessel. There is not much to tell you the sad truth, but I actually got a box of 7"x9,5" Ilford RC paper, some D-76 type of Foma developer, and also a couple of boxes of Fomafix. I brought the chemicals over from Norway for this trip to do some film development as you know by now, but the paper was a lucky thing coming over inside the bag of the first engineer. You see there was a huge load of old paper given away close to where he lives, so I asked him to pick it up for me so I can hopefully drive down south to get them from him later. Thankfully he dropped a pack in his bag before leaving for work, which might come in handy these days. 

We got no paper developer though, but might be able to find some when we get alongside. Still I'm a bit in doubt of what you can actually get hold of these days. Nothing much seems to be like it used to be, you know. 
Anyway, this evening I felt I had to do some experimental work, so I rebuilt the bathroom in my cabin. Made it into a proper darkroom, you know. Red light and everything as I suddenly came to think of the fact that there are red tubes in the ceiling up on the bridge. Used in night time for quite obvious reasons. They turned out to be paper safe believe it or not, so now we know that much for whatever it may be worth. 
The other question would of course be if D-76, or the Foma version of it to be precise, could work as a paper developer? Well, it can. Sort of anyway. 
It's slow, and I did not get the results I hoped for but that might just as well be due to the colour temperature of the light I was using to shine over the negs to make a few contact sheets. 
To actually call them sheets is also a bit of an exaggeration, as the plastic storage boxes for spare parts for the main engines wasn't of a size that can hold a full sheet. Or we do actually have bigger ones which will, but this was just a test, and it seems I need some good ideas coming my way before there's any point making full sheets of anything at all. 

Here you go! This type of fluorescent light tube should be available for anyone who's in the lack of a darkroom safelight. It works quite well, shines with a good light, and my bad contact sheets didn't go bad due to the red light. It might come in handy to some, as it's a standard 18W tube and will fit directly into many a bathroom or other light fixings.

You see the results are not very good to tell the truth. There's just not enough contrast. Not enough Ooomph, punch or whatever. 
The "blacks" are getting brownish, and the "whites" are not exactly pure white either. The worst part is the dark parts though. 
I don't have any grade 5 filters on board, or at least none that I know of. We might have something that could work as one, but I need good ideas for where to start looking. 
Another option I thought would be UV light, and we do actually have a small hand held thing of the sorts, but that didn't give me any better results either for some reason. Personally I would think the UV lamp should do the trick, because I know from experience with all the work I did on the enlarger LED's back home a while ago that the deep blue light did a lot of impact on the contrasty bits on the Ilford paper I got there. 
So, could it be the paper being gone and done for? Could it be the D-76 not being the right stuff? 
Maybe, and maybe not... I need to check that tomorrow as I can't bother to do any more tests this evening. 

Now that one is actually a rather nice portrait should I say so myself, that middle one there. Looking at the neg it's got just the right amount of light at the right places and so forth. It went all dull here though, but we might be able to fix that. Or what do you think?

Anyway, you are looking at darkroom prints even though they are just contact copies, all shot on film way out at sea. The film was developed out here, and now also the contact prints have been done here. Nope, they are not even close to great but still they are as good as they get for now anyway.

It's the sort of things you might find around this place if you just position yourself in a spot where you think something might happen within a half an hour or so. A ladder tied to something sturdy is a better giveaway than anything else. The clue will often be to snap the scene just before the "victim" discover you are there at all. This was close enough to a failure, but I sort of made it.

Tomorrow I might do a pinhole test or something, as I should be able to find what's needed for that as well. 
We need to stay busy you know, to keep our minds a bit away from the fact that we were due to go home tomorrow but still have to stay here for weeks yet. 

So, any ideas you may have (or make up here and now for that sake...) to getting more Ooomph! into the prints are very welcome. Just throw them into the comments and I'll check if I can find anything that might help us a bit further on our way to success. 

fredag 20. mars 2020

The inner innards of the Voigtländer Vito

I was walking through a charity shop a while back, and among a few point and shoots from the 90’s I found this Voigtländer Vito and a couple of other cameras. Nothing of much interest actually, but when asked for the price the oldish lady behind the counter gave me an offer I could not resist. I think I payed 40,- or 50,- NOK for both cameras, which I thought would be worth the price if they worked OK. In fact I actually thought it would be worth it if only one of them worked.
I tested both the shutters and they seemed to work sort of well enough, so off I went with the cameras back home just to put them both on a shelf for some time. 

It's a quite handy little thing after all it is, the Voigtländer Vito. The viewfinder is a real, tiny little one though, but it's quite bright compared to it's extremely small size. 

There you go. It's got a nice little lens and stuff as well, hidden behind the rather large "barn door" in the front. It comes out with a pop and everything in the same time you push the right button. 

Before I went to work five weeks ago I slipped the Vito into my bag. It’s a very handy camera with a barn door type pop-out lens attached to a tiny, cute little bellow, and it has a very nice form factor when folded. There’s the quite common, pancakey 5cm f/3.5 Skopar lens attached to it, on my example it holds a Prontor II shutter, but I know it was delivered with a couple different types through the few years of production. It’s all quite common stuff from back in the days, in other words. From what I have been able to find out from a few sources around the web, it seems like this camera was made just after WWII, some time around 1946/-49.
The film transport seems to be a weak spot on these cameras. They were originally designed for 828 film which was made without sprockets, hence there's no gears inside the thing to transport your film forward the way we're used to. As a result, the rod and gear wheel used to measure frame length is a bit unstable, to say the least. 

See that? The upper rod there acting like a measuring tool to try keep the frames separated and things like that. Well, it fails quite a lot, but I guess that's part of what I payed for. And before you start shouting about the fact I lack the aft lens element; oh yes, I know. It was on the bench for cleaning at the moment, but is re-attached by now. 

Anyway, I loaded a film into it just a couple of days before I went to sea, shot a few holes in the wet, dark and gloomy air back home and then forgot about it for a week or three until I suddenly came to think about it again and then hauled it out to give it a good old test on board the ship. 
It actually worked quite well for about something like three minutes and tree snaps, then suddenly started to act quite weird. Some shots went all good, and some really not. The film transport thing didn’t seem to know when the shutter had been fired at times, which was quite annoying as you probably understand, which in turn resulted in the film winder didn't move a tiny bit after the shutter had been fired and it was about time to wind on to the next frame. 
I didn’t give up though, and after somehting that seemed to be a thousand or so exposures, I finally came to the end of the film and had it developed. Most of the many quadrupple exposures was of course just a mess, but there were about three or four quite nice ones in there among them as well, probably snapped when the camera actually worked, so I thought I would just open the thing up and have a go with some cleaner and grease and see if I could find out where the moose was hidden. 
When I say there was nice exposures you have to take that with a rather large pinch of salt, but I recon you already had figured that out. At least there was something that looked like pictures on the film. 

Isn't it lovely? Huh...? Soft and nothing in focus and all other sorts of great stuff. 

Due to the hickup on the Leica M6 the other day I already had a few tools laying around on top of the table inside my cabin, so I decided this was a fine day to whack open the Voigtländer to see what was going on inside it. 
Well, nothing much to tell the truth. 
A few gear wheels, mostly attached to the frame counter, and a couple of force-transfer plates or rods which seem to have been punched out of post-war tin cans to deal with the shutter and film transport mechanism, and that’s about it. 
Very different to the Leica M6, to put it that way. 

Underneath the gears and the few wheels I found this stuff. Nothing much to jump in joy over, but heck... it seems to be working well enough inside here.

Gears and wheels mounted back in place, ready for new action!

Having a quick look at the mechanism and do a couple of shutter tests with the top cover off, it didn’t take long to determine what the issue might be, and after some further cleaning and a tiny bit of extra polishing at the surface of parts of the release button itself, and of course some lubrication here and there, it seemed we were good to go. The release mechanism is quite open to the elements on this camera, so dirt, rust and old bash had built up in the joints and all over the place. 
They are simple cameras these things, which make them easy to fix as long as important parts are not broken. They are also great fun to use, but not rangefinder-fun mind you! There's the old guesswork to be done for distance you know, which is fine as long as you can se the darn numbers printed on the lens. Tiny little bits they are, the numbers. 
Now I’m looking forward to throw another film inside it one of the next days to see if I can get anything to stick to that one. 
Oh, and I also had the back element of the lens taken off for cleaning when I had it all open anyway, so hopefully I’ll get rid of some of the haze you’ll obviously see on the «on board the ship scans» done with the phone. It was a really dirty lens, I kid you not!
There will of course still be lots of unsharp pictures, luckily!

Here's what I'm talking about... only that I'm probably going to adjust the shutter times even more over to the slow side I guess. Looks like it might be a good camera for those kind of snaps.

I didn’t open the shutter this time though. The shutter times sounds good enough to still go for some time, so no urgent need to spread a hundred small parts and springs around my cabin in a one second timeframe as for yet. 

I'll keep you posted when the next roll has been developed. It might happen one of these days for all we know. 

Looks like I spent the first frame of the film on good old Scot before I left home a while ago. As we all know he don't like cameras too much, but it seems he might not fully understand the basics of the Voigtländer as for yet. That might change though...