2008 Week 28 in review

I’m still working on the air compressor for the fireboat, mostly searching for parts and slowly making new parts. I did find a company that still supplies parts for Worthington air compressors, who may have the parts we need.

The Sea Lion as an example of a really comfortable boat

The Sea Lion IV, (recently sold at auction) is a great old tug with an Enterprise diesel that was converted to a nice cruising yacht a few years ago:

The other pictures in the set show beautiful cabins, decks, and living spaces, with great attention to the fine details. I think that with its medium-sized DMG-8 engine, it must be a very comfortable boat.

Those looking for a great cruising yacht should seriously consider an old tug like this. I think a lot of people labor under the misconception that new fiberglass yachts are much more comfortable than the old wooden or steel workboats converted to private cruisers. Comfort, however, is measured in many different ways.

I believe that it is the engineer’s job to look at comfort as an evolving formula and constantly tweak the boat to optimize it. Many people think that comfort stops at appearance and how squishy your throw pillows are, but there are a lot of other properties. Here are just a few of the things that the engineer thinks about when engineering the comfort of a vessel:

  • vibration from the engines
  • noise from the engines
  • smells from the fuel tanks, black water tanks, and diesel exhaust
  • brightness and tone of the lighting
  • feel of the deck beneath your feet (there’s a big difference between a springy steel deck and a thick planked wooden deck)
  • smoothness of the door latches and other hardware
  • echoes in the head
  • a loud cook in the galley
  • perceived safety (which ranges from the integrity of the systems to the training of the crew)
  • taste of the water
  • appearance of the vessel – up close and from afar
  • power surges, outages, and brown outs

All these factors are very connected, which makes engineering the comfort of a vessel challenging. Here’s an example:

  • A motor with no frequency drive starts and causes:
  • a brown-out (the lights dim)
  • higher vibrations and noise while the generator is overloaded
  • unsightly black smoke from the stack for a minute
  • more exhaust smell
  • a decrease in the level of perceived safety (“they can’t keep the generator running well”)

Here’s an example of monitoring and adjusting the comfort level:
Energy-efficiency adds to the vessel’s comfort by reducing generator noise, exhaust, and the need to start a second generator (even more noise and exhaust). To reduce the lighting load on a charter boat, I changed out many incandescent light bulbs to compact florescent ones, including the lights in the crew mess. The light bulbs I used were a “cooler” color (towards the blue spectrum) than the old incandescents, and they were the curly bulbs. I patted myself on the back for making the boat more energy-efficient, which reduced the load on the generators and decreased the exhaust and vibrations.

Well. The crew hated how the lights looked and revolted against me. The captain demanded the “regular” bulbs be re-installed. I quickly replaced the new bulbs with different florescent lights, which were a “warmer” orange color. The bulbs were also completely enclosed to look more like a “regular” bulb. Everyone thanked me and never knew the “regular” lights were also florescent lights with just a different color and a more normal look.

When it comes to comfort, both diagnosing the complaints and engineering the solution can be difficult, but it’s worth the work. There is nothing more worth striving for than “normality,” since it makes people feel at home, and that’s what comfort is all about. I don’t think it’s possible to get the mix right before commissioning a vessel, which is part of my preference for older boats. I think that my subscription to Showboats International may be canceled for saying this, but the new yachts just can’t compare with the comfort of an old boat that’s had all that time to engineer the issues out of it. I think that 50 years with many long-term crew members maintaining the boat and tweaking it is worth way more than “all that’s new, all that’s best in the world of mega yachts” – and, of course, they just don’t build them like they used to.

An update from the Catalyst

Speaking of comfort, we got a call from one of the most comfortable boats out there, the Catalyst. They report that everything is fine up in Southeast Alaska. Bill said that he just saw the John N Cobb being towed through Wrangell Narrows, and he flew the flag at half mast.

Wanted: Engineers for heavy-duties

This is a call for applicants for engineer positions on yachts, charter-, fish-, or research boats powered by heavy-duty diesel engines. Please send résumés to Old Tacoma Marine Inc.

We get a lot of calls for crew and we would like to provide a heavy-duty crew pool as a service to vessel owners. All applicants must have experience working with Atlas-Imperial, Washington, Fairbanks-Morse, Enterprise, or other heavy-duty engines.

The next generation

There was a great article in the July 2008 issue of WorkBoat magazine about the next generation of mariners. The article raves about all the maritime high school programs around the country and mentions the Youth Maritime Training Association, a customer of OTM Inc. We coordinate the Engineer for a Day class held at South Lake Union for High schoolers. We’ve described it previously in this blog, but to recap for new readers, this program introduces students to the engine room by allowing them to run machinery and monitor its performance. The course takes place in three very different engine rooms: direct-reversing diesel (on the tugboat Arthur Foss), diesel-electric (on the fireboat Duwamish, and reciprocating steam (on the excursion steamer Virginia V).

Among other things, we demonstrate how the engineers’ duties are very similar on each different system. Our teaching platforms – the vessels – are some of the best I can imagine and many of the participants in the classes we offer go on to fill a much-needed position in the maritime field.


We at Old Tacoma Marine Inc. will soon be embarking on a new online endeavor. To provide even more services for owners and enthusiasts of heavy-duty diesel engines, OTM Inc will be adding a “Members’ Only” section to its website. Benefits of membership will include a framed photo of the fascinating and unique V-8 Washington Iron Works diesel (last seen in an Alaska logging camp), quarterly newsletters, an events calendar, a directory of other HD diesel owners and services, quarterly gifts and other benefits.

What else would persuade you to pay a membership and fill out an online survey? Help us develop this new feature!

OTM Inc Weekly eBay Auction

This week’s prize from the OTM Inc shop is this Manufacturer’s Plate from our local Washington Iron Works foundry:

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Filed under enterprise, tugboats, week in review

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