Low Fuel

Chief Engineers have a moral aversion to ever getting below 50% fuel onboard.  Above 80% good, 70% starting to get nervous, 60% – “Ops, where is the freaking oiler?, 50% catatonia, etc…”

We were always schedule challenged after commissioning.  For Post Shakedown Availability, we had a single day to defuel to make the next day dry dock schedule.

BIW had prevailed on us to arrive with “mimimum” fuel, to minimize offload time.  See para 1 above – even 50% would have been too much to offload in a single day, one 8000 gallon truck at a time.

So we worked with the Navigator to figure out the exact distance and speeds to get from Norfolk to Portland, factored in some margin, and drew fuel down to that level prior to departure.

After getting underway from Norfolk and sea & anchor detail secured, some excitement ensued.  Somehow the time-distance calculation had gone wrong.  Not only was the distance greater than previously reported, but now we had to travel faster to get there to make schedule.  (Back then, cannot blame it on using Google Maps straight-line distance. Not sure I ever heard that part of the story.)

Updated calculation showed we “might” be able to make it on our fuel.

With compensated fuel storage tanks, knowing how much fuel is actually onboard is more of an art than a science.  So you might be off several percent, and we were at the empty range of the TLIs, which did not get much use.

I spent the night in the oil lab, watching the fuel gauges (one of the imponderable DDG51 design decisions was moving the fuel storage level gauges from Central Control).  We ran the fuel purifiers until every storage bank was producing only seawater.  Sometime into the night, the purifiers finally gave up – everything we had was in the service tanks.  No way to sleep after that.

By this point, I had been the chief engineer for multiple hot and dark situations, including going through the Coleman Bridge and drifting into Cuban waters, been called on the carpet for a completely uncontrollable throttle system (see separate sea story), supervised the loss of our towed array (story coming soon), some unintended wash-down activations*, prolly a bunch of other mishaps that have faded in memory, and now I could be the first Chief Engineer since the days of coal to run out of fuel at sea.

* best wash down story is from Command of PHM, during a VIP reception in Perth, but that is for another forum.

We made it, just barely.  There was a line of tankers waiting at the pier.  We filled three.  BIW was very appreciative that we supported their request.  A bunch of oil truckers wasted a day, but we were on schedule to go into dry dock the next day.

The next morning, it started snowing like crazy.  Of course, the docking officers calculations did not include any snow weight impacts.  So everyone was topside shoveling like mad.  Maybe someone else will tell that story.