Friday, November 20, 2009

Water, Water, Every Where
Nor Any Drop to Drink

Ships do not carry enough water to sustain all of the ship's requirements until they reach port. Ships distill their fresh water from seawater.

The process is called flash distilling. Seawater is heated to nearly boiling temperatures and pumped into a distillation chamber. The chamber is at a lower pressure than atmospheric pressure. Water boils at a lower temperature when atmospheric pressure is reduced; some of the heated seawater flashes to steam, that steam is collected and condensed into fresh water. The remaining water is pumped to a second distillation chamber, which is of a lower pressure, and more of the water flashes to steam. The water is then pumped to a third and final chamber and the process is repeated. The remaining water, or brine, is now far more salty than seawater; it is pumped back into the sea. The heat of the brine is not wasted. It flows through a heat exchanger to help heat the incoming water.

Once an evaporator was operating, it would not be shut down until the plant was shut down. A typical small steam-powered combatant would make 12,000 gallons of fresh water per evaporator (two evaps per plant). The rule of thumb was that 12,000 gallons per day went to the engineering plant as feed water to make up for steam leaks and for use in steam atomization of the boiler fuel. The other 12,000 gallons per day was supposed to be potable water which was used for "hotel use": Cooking, cleaning, dishwashing, showers, drinking water, bug juice and, of course, coffee.

As each potable water tank was ready to be used, the ship's corpsman had to test the water in the tank. Seawater in a port or near land was considered to be contaminated by sewage and fecal matter. It could be used, in theory, but heavy doses of bad-tasting chemicals were required to ensure the water was healthy. In practice, to avoid having to heavily treat potable water made from contaminated seawater, fresh water from the evaporators was not "cut into" the potable water tanks until the ship was well out to sea. If a ship was anchored out, a freshwater barge would resupply the ship each day.

Each day, as part of the Twelve O' Clock Reports to the Captain, the Engineering Report listed the amount of fresh waster and feed water on hand, both in gallonage and percentage (and also gave the statistics on fuel used, received and on hand). If the percentage of fresh water was too low, then "water hours" would be initiated. The newer and smaller steam ships made more water than they could use; the potable water and feed water tanks were generally topped off by 0200 each day and the evaporators' output would be piped back into the sea until the work day started.

Older ships were perennially on the edge of having to ration water. Engineering plants developed leaks as they aged and even the most energetic maintenance program could not keep a large steam plant in "as new" condition. Over time, sensors and weapons were added to every ship, which resulted in ever-larger crews.[1] A ship unlucky enough to carry a destroyer squadron staff or a flag staff had even more people using fresh water.

I knew of one cruiser captain who decided to make Sunday a working day at sea. When the XO told the department heads, the Chief Engineer quickly collected a few weeks' worth of water reports, which showed that the ship began each Monday with 100% fresh water and began each Sunday with 60% fresh water; the fact that nobody was using water to do heavy cleaning or maintenance on any given Sunday allowed the ship to refill the potable water tanks. As the Cheng explained to the Captain, if Sunday was a working day, by the following Friday, the ship would be on water hours and it would take several days to recover.

The Captain canceled his plans to work the crew that Sunday.

[1]The LAMPS equipped ships were hardest hit, as the LAMPS detachments had thirty people in them. Those ships were designed to operate drones with a much smaller maintenance team. The helicopter itself required frequent showers of fresh water for corrosion control. Chief Engineers were known to regard the LAMPS detachments as water-sucking vermin.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Mental Health Fail

The mental health of officers and sailors in the Navy was, obviously, a concern of the Navy. But from the way that the system was set up, you would think quite the opposite was true.

The shining example was the Personnel Reliability Program, or PRP. People in the PRP included anyone whose job had to do with nuclear stuff and, for all I know, intel and crypto folks (but don't quote me on the latter two). If someone was in the PRP,on the left side of the inside of the folders holding their service record and medical records was a large pink sheet with a triangle that proclaimed that particular service member was in the PRP and that any issues pertaining to reliability, etc. were to be reported to that person's commanding officer.

It took no great skill of imagination to realize that the initial result of such a call would be that you'd lose your security clearances and, depending on what you did, your job. You'd be sent to some bullshit medical holding billet while the Navy figured out how best to get rid of you. If you weren't shitcanned outright, you'd have a black mark on your record showing a hint of unreliability, which would be fatal for the career of any officer. Even without being a member of the PRP, most everyone knew that admitting to any mental health problem was a career-killer. Since everyone knew this, there was terrific real-world pressure to keep quiet about any shipmate who was having problems, regardless of what the official policy happened to be about "looking out for your shipmates".

None of that changed the fact that people had a lot of problems. Families broke up under the stress of near constant absences. Relationships broke up, often when a shore-duty puke stepped out with the girlfriend or boyfriend of a deployed sailor.

What happened was a lot of self-medication, 99% of the time with alcohol, sometimes with other drugs, though urinalysis made using anything other than alcohol tricky to do. If someone sought professional help, they went to a shrink on the outside, they used an assumed name and paid cash.[1] But it was rare, indeed, for someone to cough up the cash to get help, so help usually came from a can of Bud or a bottle of Jack Black.

All this came to mind when I read the coverage about the shooting at Ft. Hood a few days ago. It is pretty obvious to me, at least, why, if anyone noticed that the shooter was becoming unstable, nobody said anything about it.

[1]There was a story of someone who was so pissed off at their commanding officer that they went to a civilian shrink, used the CO's name, and confessed to all sort of unsavory and illegal things, culminating with a discussion of who he was going to kill. As the story goes, the shrink called the cops, the cops called the base cops and the CO had a very unpleasant time until they showed the shrink the CO's photo and the shrink said it wasn't him. But that's probably not really true.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Stupid Engineering Tricks

Engineers had a series of checklists and diagrams that made up the two parts of the book on running a steam plant. The procedures for normal operation made up the Engineering Operational Sequencing System, or EOSS. The emergency procedures made up the Engineering Casualty Control System, or ECCS, and they were practiced by a set of exercises known as the Basic Engineering Casualty Control Exercises, or BECCEs.

BECCEs often involved wrapping up the engineering plant, which was no big deal in a twin-screw ship, as you practiced on one plant and steamed the other. On single-screw ships, it was a big deal, as doing boiler drills meant the ship went "hot, dark and quiet" at different times during the drills. For that reason, the XOs wanted BECCEs to be done on the midwatch, so that the flickering of power "wouldn't upset the ship's routine."

Engineers hated midwatch BECCEs. The engineering training team, which ran the BECCEs, had to be off-watch in order to run them. Both the officers and the sailors on the training team could count on maybe getting three hours of sleep on a BECCE night. Worse, to my mind, was the message that midwatch BECCEs sent to the engineers, which was "your drills are not as important as anyone else's". Operations and Weapons drills were run during the day; the only routinely run engineering drill that was run during the day was a main-space fire drill, as that drill took the ship to GQ.

I did see one time when a ship I was on ran BECCEs after lunch. The engineers were awed, even flattered, that their drills were being run during the working day. It was a simple thing, but it made a huge impact on their morale. The XO, though, was ripshit about the disruption to the work day of having the power go on and off as generators were taken offline and brought online.

The dumbest thing that the surface navy did to the engineers, though, was the "outchop OPPE", the "Operational Power Plant Examination" that was held as the ships steamed back from the Mediterranean for home. OPPE (the West Coast pukes called them OPRES, with the R for "readiness") were the major engineering inspection. Everything was examined, from training records and administrative records to normal steaming and casualty control drills. That meant that the engineers had to be be at their best as everyone else was mentally gearing up for coming home. Worse, the frigates who had towed array sonars almost always had their arrays out underway; they were reluctant to do full BECCEs because of the risk of damage from stopping while having an array out and the captains did not want to take the time to recover the array before the BECCEs and then deploy it afterwards.

To cut to the chase: On that series of outchop OPPEs, every twin-screw ship passed their OPPE. Every single-screw ship failed. From what I heard, life on those ships that failed was not much fun for the next few months.

No other major inspection was done in the Navy that way. Only the engineers had to spend their deployed time training and preparing for a major inspection. This sent a message to the engineers that their time, their work, was not as valued as the other departments, that their training and readiness was less important to the Navy, so let's just work the engineers harder on deployment so as to not take any time when the ships were home.

The message was received loud and clear.