The operation of coaling is of course a matter of vital importance on board ship in these days of steam propulsion, but it is at the same time, to all concerned, one of the most trying and unpleasant of duties. That it is done cheerfully ad taken as "all in a days work"-being carried out where several ships are together in a spirit of the keenest rivalry, ship against ship as to which shall be done first and make a record--is another question. Briefly, this is what happens during coaling. The collier comes alongside, and the coal in its hold is placed in sacks by a party of bluejackets from the ship to be coaled, the sacks being then swung on board the battle-ship, where they are placed on barrows, wheeled to the coaling shoots, and emptied into the bunkers, to be finally trimmed and stowed away there in the smallest possible space. That is an outline of the process. In its details, coaling a battle-ship or cruiser involves a great many other things.
|Coaling a battle-ship in harbour.|
The first outward sign which shows that coaling a war-ship is, to say the least of it, a big business, is the covering up of all the breeches of the guns on board, large and small, the quick-firing guns and machine guns, with tarpaulins. After that comes the closing of all skylights and cabin ventilators, and all open spaces--except those required for the actual operation in hand--leading below from the upper deck. Practically the whole ship's company of all ranks and ratings, from quarter-deck officers to boys, take some part in coaling a ship, for which the officers turn out in their oldest and worst clothes. For the men a white coaling dress is provided out of a special allowance, known as the "C.D.B." The work begun, in a very short time the spotless upper deck and upper works of the beautiful man-of-war, whether battle-ship or cruiser, are completely transformed into a scene of grime and discomfort. The upper deck speedily becomes buried, from bow to stern, beneath a layer of coal dust, which insinuates itself everywhere and lodges itself in every nook and cranny. The bright barrels of the guns become smudged, and white paint everywhere looks grey. At the same time, down below particles of coal dust manage to find lodgment, floating in between decks and depositing themselves here, there and everywhere in thinner layers. To remain in the cabins or in the ward-room, should anyone be disposed to do so, is practically to court asphyxia, at the same time that, on the other hand, to be on deck means for everybody, from captain to cabin boy, the prompt undergoing of a transformation into the appearance of a coal heaver or of a Moore and Burgess Minstrel. It is difficult to recognize the smartest of officers in the dingy persons who are superintending the coaling parties. All in garb and face look like mourners in sack-cloth and ashes. So the work progresses, the coal coming on board in marvelous rapidity, sack after sack being whipped up over the side in endless succession, as it seems, until the last ton required has been safely received, trundled to the shoot, and stowed away and trimmed in the bunkers.
Bluejackets moving coal from the collier.
Cleaning the ship after coaling.
After that comes the cleaning up both of the men themselves and of the ship, during which latter process, fore and aft, the whole vessel becomes filled with a sound of rushing waters, the upper decks being flooded, while the scuppers run like brooks as the dust and dirt of an hour ago is swept into the sea in rushing torrents of water. The ship is washed and scrubbed throughout from end to end, the barefooted bluejackets working with such will that in a wonderfully short space of time, thanks also to the yards of hose and unlimited water at their disposal, the ship's toilet is speedily completed and the vessel herself restored to her former spotless condition. Then the cabins and skylights and ventilators are all thrown open, and fresh air and sweetness and light are let in once more.
Such is the scene at the coaling of a war-ship in the daytime. At night electric lamps fore and aft cast a brilliant light over all the scene as the work progressed being one that might well have inspired Dante, could he have seen it, to write another canto to his "Inferno." The black night, the louds of steam and coal dust, the clattering din of the winches, the crowd of dusky figures swarming everywhere as they work at top speed--the scene would make the fortune of an artist to depict.
The operation of coaling, thanks to modern ingenuity, can nowadays be carried on as easily at sea as in harbour, by means of the Temperley transporter, and ingenious mechanical contrivance that is now fitted on board all our modern battle-ships and large cruisers. The Temperley transporter consists of a light beam attached to a derrick, along which a carriage travels, with a pulley attached, for the rope carrying the sacks of coal to pass over. By one continuous pull on board the battle ship the coal sacks are lifted clear up from the hold of the collier, conveyed directly up the side, and run on board oil to the deck of the ship taking in coal, where the men receive it and bestow it as already related.
It is to a great extent by means of the Temperley transporter that our ships are able to coal as expeditiously as is done in the Channel and Mediterranean Fleets, where an average of over 120 tons an hour has been passed in the case of several of the larger battle-ships. The differences recorded among ships in commission in their rates of taking in coal are, in fact, the result of differences in the position of the bunkers, making it easy for some ships to coal quickly, while others cannot possibly do so.
The text of this article originally appeared in the November 26, 1897, issue of Navy and Army Illustrated (with a "hat tip" to Steven Gray's Blog for the reference).