Sea stories: Below decks

The first thing you notice in the engine room of Coast Guard Barque Eagle is the sound, registering in excess of 84 decibels. Located eight feet below the waterline, an unmistakable odor permeates the air. It’s a mixture of machine-grade lube oil and jacket water, essential components for cooling the engine.

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Petty Officer 2nd Class Carlos Camacho and Officer Candidate Jessica Hull discuss how to set the shaft while the engine is secured. The propeller at the end of the shaft will create drag if the shaft were locked while sailing. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd class LaNola Stone.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Carlos Camacho and Officer Candidate Jessica Hull discuss how to set the shaft while the engine is secured. The propeller at the end of the shaft will create drag if the shaft were locked while sailing. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd class LaNola Stone.

Written by Chief Petty Officer Judy L. Silverstein.

The first thing you notice in the engine room of Coast Guard Barque Eagle is the sound, registering in excess of 84 decibels. Located eight feet below the waterline, an unmistakable odor permeates the air. It’s a mixture of machine-grade lube oil and jacket water, essential components for cooling the engine.

Getting to the auxiliary shop and engine room aboard Eagle requires deft maneuvering around a scuttle to reach a long ladder taking you deep into the bowels of the ship. For the auxiliary shop and main propulsion crews, it’s essentially an office. While hearing protection helps deaden the sound, a sense of dedication permeates the discussion of work lists, technical specifications and training programs. According to Petty Officer 1st Class Daniel Standley, the work is always interesting and intense.

“It involves forethought, planning, collaboration and adaptability,” he said.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Carlos Camacho, a machinery technician, at the end of another successful watch. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd class LaNola Stone.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Carlos Camacho, a machinery technician, at the end of another successful watch. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd class LaNola Stone.

Standley explains that the ship can hold 26,000 gallons of fuel as he points out the bright yellow
1,000-horsepower main diesel engine. The main reduction gear, a transmission for a ship, sits directly aft of the main diesel engine. There’s also a domestic hot water tank, three boilers, an oily water separator, air compressors and two generators located in the next compartment.

While Eagle’s main propulsion system involves 21,350-square-feet of sail, the engine also plays an important role. The engineering department refers to the engine as “iron wind.”

However, nearly all crewmembers are required to man sail stations aboard Eagle. Engineers take part in daily sail stations and assist with setting and dousing the sailing rig; just like their shipmates in the operations department. Changing sails can also affect how the engine runs. For example, when Eagle tacks to bring the bow through the wind, the engine may be brought online to assist- just in case the ship is caught ‘in irons’ and unable to bring the bow all the way through the wind. It is clear that coordinated and precise movements are vital to smooth sailing.

“Everything we do on the ship is interrelated,” Standley said.

That’s why the engineer of the watch stays in constant contact with the officer of the deck.

“Communications and accuracy are essential ingredients to ensure safety, coordination and the daily operation of the ship,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Carlos Camacho.

Officer Candidate Jessica L. Hull, a former Coast Guard boatswain’s mate, enjoyed training with Camacho aboard Eagle. As part of her training, she spent a four-hour watch taking part in engineering rounds and inspecting the ship’s machinery and spaces below decks, while also learning about various interconnected systems throughout the vessel.

“Seeing the different moving parts, machine propulsion system, and how it all works together with the sails was really interesting,” she said.

Both Camacho and Standley take great pride in their shop. Armed with impressive resumes, they are quick to give credit to their shipmates, whom they say have both underway experience and skills garnered outside of their Coast Guard work. Standley is a self-described “technical tinkerer” with braising skills, a form of welding, and auto repair experience that comes in handy aboard an “experienced” vessel like the Eagle.

“We like our work and the camaraderie below decks is also rewarding,” said Camacho.

Born in Bogotá, Colombia, Camacho arrived in the United States on Feb. 1, 2001, and soon after, sought political asylum. A stint served in the Colombian Army as an interpreter with a multi-national force and observers led to an appreciation for military life and service to others. He says the experience aboard Eagle, a ship in a class of her own, has honed his problem-solving capabilities.

“The biggest challenge aboard a ship that is almost eight decades old, is that when something breaks, like an anchor windlass, the replacement part might be different,” said Camacho. “My motto is; I’ll make it work,” he said.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Carlos Camacho and Officer Candidate Jessica Hull perform rounds on the generator which provides power throughout Coast Guard Barque Eagle. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd class LaNola Stone.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Carlos Camacho and Officer Candidate Jessica Hull perform rounds on the generator which provides power throughout Coast Guard Barque Eagle. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd class LaNola Stone.

Camacho isn’t one to sit still. He is deeply involved in many aspects of life aboard ship and the broader Coast Guard. He served on a Machinery Technician Review Board in Yorktown, Va. He relishes teaching officer candidates and cadets. Camacho, like many other engineers, routinely climbs the rigging and also enjoys furling the billowing sails.

“The biggest thing you learn from power and wind is perseverance and that you have to keep moving forward,” Camacho said.

Standley offers that although the work is hard, it is gratifying to understand the way things work.

One thing is obvious; the work below decks, though often unseen, plays an essential role in navigating America’s Tall Ship.

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