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A NAVAL CAREER IN THE EYES OF COLIN ROSS – Pt. 32

Once we had fuelled and departed from our tanker escort we had a long drag down to Pago Pago to ensure we continued carrying out the required pre-refit trials.  The weather as I recall although calm and flat was mostly overcast with high cloud obscuring the tropical sun.

One of the things that remains focused about this part of the trip was the obvious sudden realisation in NZ that we may get this additional ship home to join the fleet as all of a sudden we started getting increasing signal traffic about our arrival home.

The outstanding event that occurred was the saga of the helicopter.  The original intention was that on arrival alongside the Wasp would be lifted off onto a truck and transported to Hobsonville.

Some bright spark had a sudden idea of flying the chopper off as we came up the channel.  Two issues arose out of this, the first was we didn’t have a pilot, no problem said NZ we will send one to meet you at A buoy.

The second issue we only had two Air Force sergeants and they couldn’t sign off the required paperwork to allow the chopper to fly, it also still had all its RN markings which had to be removed before it could fly for the RNZN.

Again no issue they would send the rest of the flight to A Buoy and they could prep the chopper.  As we pointed out the timeframe required for this would mean we were alongside.  We were going directly up to Kauri Point to off load what ammunition we had and obviously it couldn’t be flown off there.

By the time it would be ready the available time to fly off would be in transit from Kauri Point to Devonport, obviously the Harbour Bridge got in the way of this idea.

As we were berthing at the Boiler Wharf the darn thing couldn’t be flown off there so again we went back to the original plan of lifting it straight onto the back of the truck and off to Hobsonville.

NZ wasn’t going to be beaten and the final plan hatched was to lift it off onto the Boiler Wharf and tow it to PHILOMEL parade ground and fly it from there.  We were heartily sick of hearing about these plans by now and am sure the Skipper just nodded and said okay so this was eventually what happened.

After fuelling in Pago Pago we set out on the final leg home.  The one outstanding pre-refit trial we had purposely left till just prior to arrival in NZ was the two hour full power trial.  We knew we were going to struggle with this because of the air leaks around the boiler casings.

Of most concern was the air leaks from the inner casings into the furnace area as this critically affected the air fuel ratio and combustion characteristics.  The worst case scenario is you end up with an exothermic fire in the boiler.  Effectively the unburnt fuel ends up burning in the area under the economiser and if not corrected quickly there is a rapid temperature rise and the metal itself starts burning.  The only way out of that situation is quick cooling with copious quantities of water, not a situation you wish to get into. However we had to try and complete the trial.

The trial was set up with all the required recorders in position and everyone well briefed with the over riding instruction that if at anytime anyone was unhappy then the MCR was to be advised immediately, this of course especially applied to the boiler operation.

We slowly increased power and got to within a whisker of achieving the required parameters to indicate we were achieving the designated full power when the boiler watch keeper notified the MCR that he had a rapidly rising uptake temperature and an orange glow in the smoke mirrors.  That effectively curtailed the full power trial immediately.  We rapidly came down in power and kept a good eye on the boiler for a while afterwards.  That was the one trial we failed to complete and I think the evidence vindicated our decision.

The last night at sea was filled with a bit of revelry in the messes as we all realised that because of the length of the proposed refit (12 months) the crew would quickly be dispersed to other units of the fleet.

The next morning we were off A Buoy at around 0530 if my memory serves me correctly.  A liberty boat met us with a welcoming party including the extra flight and FMEO.

FMEO arrived in the MCR as we transited up the channel.  He prattled on about the rest of the fleet, where they were and what was happening but not once did he either congratulate us for getting the ship home or even enquire as to how we found the ship, its operation or the health etc. of the crew.

By the time we arrived at Kauri Point and FMEO and his cronies left the ship I was pretty livid and expressed my displeasure to the MEO.  He of course was not in a position to agree with my sentiments, however I felt a little better to get it off my chest.  I know most of the Engineering Dept. felt much the same way.

The other issue that we had grappled with on the way home was the instruction from NZ that we were to shut down at Kauri Point and cold move to Devonport.  We tried to fight this instruction as we felt that after steaming halfway around the world we wanted to come alongside under our own power.  Professionally we felt that this was a desired completion to the delivery voyage, however this was vetoed by NZ so there was a fair bit of resentment at that decision as well.

One outcome of the decision however was it did enable us all to get into our best uniforms and grace the upper deck for our arrival into the Naval Base.  Again there was a feeling that the RNZN was trying to hide their new acquisition.  We had basically travelled to Kauri Point in the dark so no one saw us and our arrival alongside the boiler wharf was timed at 1630 after everyone had left work.

So by the time we got alongside the crew felt a little bit ignored and left out.  It was good to arrive home but we all felt the circumstances of our arrival could have perhaps been celebrated as opposed to ignored.

The helicopter was duly lifted off and towed to PHILOMEL where it was powered up and flown to Hobsonville.  If I was the pilot I think I would have refused, I have heard two stroke lawn mowers sound a darn sight better than the engine noises coming out of that Wasp, however it duly took off and arrived at Hobsonville safely.

On our trip home amongst the correspondence I received was an offer of extension to service.  I was coming up to the last two years of my contract so read it and put it aside for further discussion with my Better Half when I got home.  I should have realised the navy bush telegraph was so good and mentioned the offer in a letter home but in my ignorance had failed to do so.

Finally getting off the ship I was met by Kerry and almost the first thing she said to me was she understood I had signed an extension of service.  Man, talk about welcome home Jack.

However after assuring her I hadn’t and it was something we needed to discuss before I accepted or otherwise all was forgiven.  It astounded me that what I thought was sent in confidence was obviously a topic for discussion around the base and hence the gossip was relayed to my wife. Never mind, we were home.

Our arrival was in early December 1982; the weeks leading up to Xmas were very busy.  We had to totally de-store ship as some of the storerooms would become fuel tanks.  There were meetings over the maintenance requirements.  Meetings over the conversion to steam atomisation and of course the structural changes to increase the fuel carrying capacity.

Allied to all the meetings of course there were disruptions with a large percentage of the Ships Co posting and we still had a requirement to let the experts carry out inspections.  We were required to water pressure test both boilers, de-fuel and also get all our ready use stores together to shift them to the old LACHLAN, which was being used for the first time as a refit facility for Ships Staff.

Basically we had to strip out anything that was movable.

It was a really busy time and I think the staff that were left were really ready to go on Xmas leave but also looking forward to the challenge of the upcoming refit and what would be a new mode of operating the vessel especially the boilers.

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