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 Post subject: Maritime: Mystic Seaport Sabino is dieselized
PostPosted: Thu Jun 06, 2024 3:48 pm 

Joined: Thu Apr 14, 2005 9:34 pm
Posts: 2780
Location: Copenhagen, Denmark
I am visiting Connecticut and am shocked to report that coastal ferry Sabino has been converted to diesel electric power. The work was done over the 2022-2023 winter. A Google search brings up articles and news items. The argument from the administration is that they could not find qualified engineers to work the engines.

I rode the short excursion today. The boat has been fitted with two electric generators. The propellor shaft has been disconnected/cut behind the thrust bearing on the engine. An electric motor has been fitted to a welded frame over the shaft with a chain (or belt?) drive to the shaft. All control is from the pilot house, and there is no one on duty in the engine spaces. On my ride, only one generator was running (I could see the control panels in the pilothouse) and it appears that the second generator is for backup.

According to the press releases, the steam plant is still present and usable for "special occassions". I saw a new coupling spacer that potentially could be used to couple the engine to the propellor shaft again. However, I see no evidence that the steam plant was being conserved. Rust was apparent on the engine, and there was no evidence of protective grease.

This is a sad example of how we can lose something that we thought was preserved "forever". Even something that was a key storytelling experience at a wealthy and well funded institution like Mystic Seaport, can be lost if there is no support group or clear mission statement binding the object to the institution.

I think the "special occassions" argument is fallacious. How can you keep the support resources available to operate a steam plant 1-2 times a year? How can you justify the inspection and maintenance expenses? If you can't find skilled labor for a daily operation, how are you going to find and train labor for 1-2 operations a year?

Even more shocking - Sabino received a new boiler in 2017.


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Steven Harrod
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 Post subject: Re: Maritime: Mystic Seaport Sabino is dieselized
PostPosted: Thu Jun 06, 2024 8:40 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 9:54 am
Posts: 1023
Location: NJ
That 'skilled labor' issue had been around the marine side of preservation for some time, especially with regard to a steam plant. My son and I visited the Liberty ship John W. Brown nearly twenty years ago. The gent giving us the engine room tour mentioned that it was getting hard to find steam licensed marine engineers. The engineer on duty that day- they were under steam at the pier- was in his eighties! Again, twenty years ago, and with the world's shipping going to diesel increasingly, it's only going to get worse.

It does sound like the diesel-electric conversion is not irreversible. Putting protective grease on the engine, barring it over from time to time, and keeping the boiler and feedwater system dry should help with bringing the steam plant 'out of hibernation' if qualified engineering personnel are ever found.


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 Post subject: Re: Maritime: Mystic Seaport Sabino is dieselized
PostPosted: Thu Jun 06, 2024 10:27 pm 

Joined: Tue Sep 14, 2004 7:52 am
Posts: 2595
Location: Strasburg, PA
softwerkslex wrote:
The argument from the administration is that they could not find qualified engineers to work the engines.
I was told that part of that excuse belongs to the U.S. Coast Guard (the marine equivalent to the FRA). Previously the posted licenses mentioned being limited to the Sabino, i.e. the Coast Guard recognized that primarily steam people were needed over modern professional marine engineers. The rumor was that this move was precipitated by the Coast Guard changing the requirement to a true marine engineer, qualified on all oceans, i.e., someone who'd never laid eyes on a coal burning reciprocating steam plant before. Add to that, would be the salary that such a person could demand.


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 Post subject: Re: Maritime: Mystic Seaport Sabino is dieselized
PostPosted: Fri Jun 07, 2024 1:24 am 

Joined: Fri Nov 07, 2008 11:21 am
Posts: 482
I'm keeping my day job, but now moonlighting as an "Assistant Engineer" on a steam vessel. I responded to a help wanted ad on Facebook, and know the crew, so an easy task. They need relief engineers for the full time crew to take vacation or sick days. Currently there are three "Chief Engineer" qualified crew, and another 4-5 of us. It takes three in engineering to operate the boat. USCG jurisdiction.

Belle of Louisville, Louisville, KY!


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 Post subject: Re: Maritime: Mystic Seaport Sabino is dieselized
PostPosted: Fri Jun 07, 2024 11:35 am 

Joined: Thu Apr 14, 2005 9:34 pm
Posts: 2780
Location: Copenhagen, Denmark
I'm disappointed that Mystic Seaport did not invest in the labor to keep Sabino operating. As a living museum, it is not just the physical objects that matter, but the presentation and preservation of the skills. Training new steam engineers and holding them in service is in itself part of the preservation mission.

The apparent problem with Sabino is that it is a small boat with a single person engine crew and no normal economic reason to have an apprentice accumulating service hours onboard. The larger boats such as the Belle of Louisville require multiple crew of different skill levels and this provides a pipeline of new labor.

I think the failure of Mystic is just posting a help wanted advert and giving up when no one applied (I am guessing here - not knowledgeable). The necessary staff will not be found in the commercial labor market. They have to be created at Mystic. You can't wait until the last one retires and then post a job opening on Facebook. It has to be part of the long term plan just as one must plan for engine and hull repairs.

I Googled some of the Coast Guart license documents, and I can see a definite challenge in meeting the minimum number of service days for licensure. The sabino only operated maybe 120 days a year. How do you accumulate the necessary 360 or 1,000 days? But the license rules do state some options. Some service days could be covered by classroom education. Naval service could be counted towards service days.

Mystic is right next door to the US Coast Guard academy. There must be many retired US navy there. It is just a shame that they could not organize and operate a training program to recruit experienced ship engineers, perhaps in their retirement, and to certify them for Sabino.

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