Since the inception of seagoing vessels, empires have sought means to dominate the seas. The goal has always been the same—to build a ship that is faster, more reliable and more capable. The British Royal Navy was the first to build a class of ships that changed the way seas were navigated forever. Their first of a kind frigate was to be faster than any sailing vessel at that time—powered by steam rather than wind and sail. Years later, the trend would soar across the world and bring forth a new era of transportation on the seven seas.
Today the U.S. Navy has six ships with boilers, including the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4).
The heart that powers the vital systems across the ship is the boiler system located in both main machinery rooms. They are maintained by a crew of 22 Sailors at all times.
“Think of it like a car that has a bunch of little people inside of it running the engine,” said Machinist’s Mate 1st Class Trenton Isabel, a main machinery room space supervisor, and a native of Bastrop, Texas. “We live inside the engine taking care of all of its needs.”
These watch standers are assembled into teams of 11 personnel that collaborate as one to ensure the system is running smoothly at all times. They also rotate daily to have as many trained eyes on the system; watching for any abnormalities to correct.
“We work around the clock 24/7,” said Isabel. “We’re always on top of things down here.”
It is essential to keep the system in top working condition at all times, and in order for that to happen, maintenance must be conducted routinely. One of the essential maintenance checks that must be performed on the boiler is called a “bottom blow,” which requires the watch team to work as one.
“Everything has to be orchestrated, and any delay throws the entire evolution off,” said Isabel. “Each watch stander is an instrument in an orchestra. If one is out of tune, your melody is all wrong.”
This maintenance comes in two parts—the bottom blow and the light off. The bottom blow starts by shutting off the boiler, building up pressure and then opening the valves to push out any sludge buildup within the system. The goal is to clear the system, reducing any possible damage due to buildup. The entire process takes about four hours to complete.
“The reason why this process is important is because we are ensuring that we get the natural sludge build-up removed,” said Senior Chief Machinist’s Mate Ernesto Guerrolongoria, one of the ship’s steam generating plant inspectors and a native of Brownsville, Texas. “That way, we can get the ship to steam longer.”
Once cleaned, the team has to bring the system back to life. A Sailor, wrapped in fire-resistant gear, will take a rod with wool wrapped around one end and light it on fire. Once the wool wrap is hot enough it is inserted it into the boiler, setting off a chain reaction inside. The fuel ignites and the boiler is active again, moving steam throughout the system.
The maintenance ends once the light off is complete, and the watch standers return to their stations—ready for the next task. No matter how long the process takes, if anything were to go wrong, the team will stop the maintenance and start over from the beginning. As the watch standers rotate in and out of the station, the personnel with the most experience teach the newer ones the process.
“Our goal of completing the light off is to ensure that we light off safely and split out both plants to be ready to answer all bells,” said Guerrolongoria, referencing a report that main propulsion is ready for engine orders.
The Engineering Department continuously answers the bell as the Boxer Amphibious Ready Group, comprised of Boxer, USS Somerset (LPD 25), and USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49), and the embarked 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit are underway conducting integrated training and routine operations in U.S. 3rd Fleet.
“Boxer ‘snipes’ have come a long way, ensuring we keep the plant steaming so the ship can get on station and execute the mission,” said Lt. Cmdr. Vince Junor, Boxer’s chief engineer. “I am beyond proud of the men and women in the Engineering Department, and have the utmost confidence in their execution of every day evolutions no matter how simple or complex. Procedural compliance coupled with our culture of find-report-fix, have been the driving force to ensure we continuously answer the ordered bell. I couldn’t imagine possibly steaming into harm’s way with any other group of snipes!”
|SAN DIEGO, CA, US
|BASTROP, TX, US
|BROWNSVILLE, TX, US