*Attention To Detail*
WHY The Smallest Things Matter
By: Jaden
11 May 2006

You will see the word detail mentioned several times, detail detail detail.

Many of the articles in the AlphaRubicon require attention to detail both on the part of the author & the reader. Inattention to detail could easily mean life or death OR other bad things like fire or explosion. For example- when building a FIAC, there are critical details. Overlook a small detail and you could be pumping contaminated air into your safe room. When hooking up a propane device it is a critical detail to check all connections for leaks. If you don’t, propane can build up and then, KERBOOM! Our articles outline the details.

Many of the "how-to" articles are finely detailed. Pay attention.

In basic training the company commanders pounded "attention to detail" into our heads for hours upon hours and days upon days, weeks upon weeks. The smallest thread string on a uniform bought some pushups, the smallest blemish was all it took. The smallest blemish meant that the recruit had not paid attention to detail. It seemed dumb at the time. We were told of instances where somebody failed to pay attention to detail and a catastrophe occurred as a result of the oversight. One was a helicopter crash. The stories were enough to make the brain think, however the real deal is totally different.

We trained extensively for SAR (search & rescue) missions and we trained extensively for our own distresses (capsizing, coxswain casualty, man overboard etc). We had what are called BECCE (basic engineering casualty control evolution) drills. BECCE drills were for trauma suffered to OUR boat. Hey, it happens. I saw quite a lot of damage and repairing it is always fun. I won’t get into the war stories. BECCE’s consisted of main engine space fire, striking a submerged object & taking on water, then plugging the leak & dewatering, loss of engine control etc etc. Pretty much anything that could possibly go wrong. BECCE’s were geared to train the crew how to deal with problems to ensure a safe return. During a BECCE the boat’s engineer is the primary guy.

In order for our boat to get underway it was required to have a crew of 3 persons.

All 3 positions are basic cross-trained in the event of the loss of one or two members while underway. If the cox’n and engineer become incapacitated, the crewman needs to be able to make the right decisions and have enough skills to return the boat safely or keep it safe until help arrives.

Ok, on to the story-

At this particular point in time we were running a skeleton crew at the station. There were only 2 of us in the duty section & the supervisor was standing the cox’n duty. One particular day we got underway, it was a nice afternoon. The crewman was breaking in as cox’n so we took him out to run some drills. We ran several man overboard drills, BECCE’s etc. After 1.5 hours or so we started back toward the station.

The crew that day was:

BM1- Cox’n

BM3- Crew

Me- Engineer

As engineer I made engine room rounds every 30 minutes to check for leaks or potential problems. A typical round would take near 10 minutes. I was particular. I checked everything (I thought). Checked the stuffing tubes to ensure the were cool & dripping 6-10 drops per minute (yes I timed the drips), checked fuel, hydraulic oil lines & fittings, checked around the turbo chargers for leaks, checked the fuel tree, checked battery connections, checked raw water lines for leaks, checked gaskets for leaks, I mean I looked at everything. I could navigate it and find whatever I wanted in the dark. Practiced that too.

As we neared the station we did a few more man overboard drills. We were in about 250’ of water. No big deal.

Well, I was standing in the well deck (lowest deck) at the stern of the boat securing the gear used during the MOB. The crewman was in the helmsman’s seat and the supervisor was standing next to him, facing him and talking to him. We were drifting and not making way.

All of a sudden the bilge alarm sounds. Yea, it’s LOUD! I looked into the cabin at BM1 & the BM3 who was also looking at BM1 and we both looked at him with dumbfounded looks wondering "How the he(( did he set that alarm off?" since he had his hands in his jacket pocket. He was from North Carolina and had the southern accent. He calmly said "Jaden, ya betta check da bilgiz" To translate "You better check the bilges."

I exited the well deck and went into the forward cabin. Nothing wrong there as that was one of two bilge sensors. I looked through the 25 year old nasty observation window looking into the engine room, but couldn’t see anything. I reported to the crew and then went to the scuttle leading down into the engine room. I knelt down and yanked off my pyrotechnics vest (never wear fire works in the engine room). I popped the scuttle open and looked in. BM1 was right next to me. Holy CHIT, look at all that water in there! (I had exited from making a round maybe 10 minutes prior, all was fine at that time) BM1 started hollering to BM3 who was still in the cabin doing his job "We’re takin’ on wadah!" BM3 gets on the horn to the mother ship (our commo center) to make the report. Our nearest unit was 2 hours away.

My first thought was the transducer for the depth finder had popped out of the hull. I had no choice but to go in. So I dropped in to the new swimming pool. With that much water I automatically started looking down. When entering I land right on top of the sea chest which sucks in ocean water to cool the engines. I started there looking for a hole. Nothing. So I start working my way forward still looking down. I was in between the engines which were still idling. Started looking for a blown raw water line…still looking down & sideways. Then I realized I was getting wet from the top! I looked up and at the port engine and saw a geyser of water shooting out of the top of it and deflecting off the overhead and back down over EVERYTHING. Not knowing what was happening I wasn’t going to shut it down from the engine room. I started screaming "Shut down the port engine, shut down the port engine!!!!" BM1 started screaming at BM3, "Shuddown da port engine!!" (He was a funny guy). Seconds later the engine was still and the geyser stopped. BM1 sticks his head down the scuttle to see me "Jaden, what da hail’s the problem?" "I dunno, something with the port engine." I reported the flooding had stopped. Good thing, the water was fast nearing the batteries.

That was one good thing I liked about a small tight crew. Even through I was at the bottom of the totem pole as far as rank was concerned that day, when I started yelling to shut down the port engine, not even the BM1 (E6) questioned it. There was no, why, what’s wrong? It was automatic for him to make sure the engine was shut down. Then start the WTF’s.

I crawled around in the water still unable to find the cause. Eventually I made it around to the outboard side of the port engine and discovered that a zinc anode was missing. Since there is salt water running through parts of the system, there are screw in zinc rods that deteriorate from the electrolysis thus preventing corrosion of the pipes. Once I found the problem I reported I was missing a zinc. Naturally the question is "Where is it?" We opened the port main hatch to allow better access to the engine. Couldn’t find the zinc anywhere. I felt around in the 500 or so gallons of water in the bilges, but couldn’t find it. We started the bilge pump and returned to our station on the starboard engine. Once moored, BM1 went to the station to call mother ship. BM3 and I stayed on the boat to assess the damage. There was salt water over the batteries, alternator, fuel pump…literally everything. The zinc was eventually found under the fuel pump. Apparently it bounced off the overhead, landed in the V of the engine and rolled under the pump.

We couldn’t understand how it came out. It screws in tightly using a socket & ratchet. I grabbed the zinc right next to it and spun it right out with my fingers. AH HA!! They were loose! Looking back in the maintenance record, it was discovered that the higher ranking engineer in the other section had removed them 2 days prior to inspect them. He never tightened them when he reinstalled them. I checked the others, same deal.

When it blew out, we were pumping ourselves full of water at 60+ gallons per minute as the zincs are after the water pump. Not making way & on a calm sea as it was that day, it took about 8" of bilge water before the alarm would sound.

The boat was out of service and we spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning the engine room. Had to remove all the salt water, shop vac the bilges & all crevices, then power wash the engine room & do the vacuuming thing again, then wipe it all down with rags to get everything dry. Had to pull out those honkin’ real marine deep cycle batteries, clean connections & terminals, cleaned everything. What a mess.

Once everything was back together, we took the boat out for a power trial to ensure everything was working ok.

From that day on, when I made my rounds, I checked all 6 zinc anodes to make sure they weren’t gonna pop out on me.

That small inattention to detail caused a HUGE problem. It could have been a lot worse. Fortunately the bilge alarm worked properly. Something as simple as forgetting to tighten something up.

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