Sunday, October 23, 2011


Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin -

The ferry Robert Noble sailed to Bay Shipbuilding in Sturgeon Bay early Sunday morning, October 16, and shortly after arrival crew members began dismantling piping, wiring, and exhaust lines from the engines as they cooled.   The following morning a tug assisted the ferry, "cold iron," into the oldest dry dock in the yard.

This box is made from a ship's hull surrounded by fill on all sides except the seaward end, where the gates are located.  Pumps run 24 hours a day to dewater the box due to a slightly leaky gate system.  It's old, but efficiently sized, and our ferries have used this dry dock almost exclusively during the many yard visits over approximately 70 years.

The reasons for dry docking Robert Noble now are several:  the five-year required Coast Guard hull inspection;  removal of propellers and shafts, check of stern bearings, pintles and pintle bearings;  modification of external cooling loops; paint touch-up as needed.   Of course, there can always be other items, sometimes planned maintenance, other times surprises, which are also expected when there are so many pieces to fit.  Even in freshwater, a hull exterior unseen for five years, can require unforeseen attention while it is on the blocks.

The plans to re-power this ferry by replacing original Cummins K-1150 engines with CAT-18 engines, and new gears, actually starts with the underbody where welded, steel channel loops would no longer provide sufficient cooling capacity, or configuration for the new engines.   Requirements for different water jacket ranges for after-cooler and engine cooling, with separate loops for each transmission, the old channel coolers no longer sufficed.  And, as it turned out, they had accumulated scale from the past 32 years.   It would be simpler and cheaper, for these reasons, to cut them off and install in their place new Fernstrum grid coolers, approximately 4' x 3' copper/nickel grids that readily exchange engine heat with cool lake water.   With the possibility of receiving the new coolers within ten days of order placement, the project both without and within the hull, would proceed apace.

Rich Ellefson had trailered the shafts to Green Bay's Badger Roll machine shop, along with two, new 4-blade propellers, for a close taper fit, and also the transmission tail shafts that would mate against propeller couplings.  These items would be ready within a week to install in the dry dock.

Above the dry dock

If you've ever been fascinated by the pouring of cement into foundation forms at a construction site, or the erection of steel on a multi-story building, or the quick and efficient setting of roof trusses on a home, as bystander you can appreciate the progress made before your eyes, even if you're incapable of personally doing any of it.

I felt that similar sensation at the shipyard Friday morning, the fourth day since work had formally begun, while staring down into rectangular openings in the main deck.   Hoses and wires ran this way and that.  Pieces of jagged, cut steel - now scrap - were jumbled in skip boxes on deck.   Fans, lights, ladders, barrels and other equipment were found in a seeming unorganized fashion.

This is a fairly typical shipyard snapshot, where a dozen or so men would cut, grind, weld, pipe, run new wire, insulate, and finally, paint, over the course of the project.   Each day's activities are coordinated for maximum, consistent progress until the day the new engines are restarted, a sea trial is run with Coast Guard observers on board, and the ferry is given approval for running back to the island.

During these first four yard days, the old engines and gears had been removed.  The engine foundations, boxes of half-an-inch thick steel, were undergoing slight modification to receive the new motors.  Deeper oil pans required cutting down transverse stiffeners inside the engine beds to accept them.  Racor fuel filters would be modified, one set of filters for each new engine.  The same for independent, isolated starting battery banks.  New, engine-driven hydraulic pumps with separate oil reservoirs for each system, will be installed.  A brand-new steel waste tank in gleaming white paint, had been lowered through the convenient deck opening and was resting on frames outboard of the starboard engine location, ready to be secured and connected to piping.

The aft, starboard bulkhead had been cut away, and a new bulkhead would be installed further aft, satisfying a Coast Guard design requirement for stability and balance in event of down-flooding.   

Peering through deck opening at
port engine location

What had seemed like a fairly straight-forward and routine engine replacement, old for new, had become a significant project.  Such projects often grow in like manner.   And yet, given the consistent, daily progress by skilled yard personnel, and the timely arrival of key equipment components from suppliers, this project may stay on or slightly ahead of schedule.

Our goal is to have the ferry home by Thanksgiving, more or less, with additional testing, cleaning, painting, and then winter lay-up, to follow.

 -  Dick Purinton


dover calais said...

Redesigning a ferry does take more time, but after doing it would be very helpful and efficient.

renald said...

Excellent project with good goal of taking ferry back to home. Its a big process to re-building and repowering the ferry. Anyhow doing a great job to make it work efficiently.