Tales of TMM

Whilst for the majority of RSL/CSMS staff their connection with TMM would have been as staff on board a managed vessel, there were a number of, less fortunate?, people who became more directly involved with TMM’s Technical Department, Mexican flag vessels etc.
The following come to mind ; Goff Griffiths, Eric Poingdestre, Denis Amey, Bill Gill, Graham Griffiths, Malcolm Rayner, Joe Fitzsimmons, Bob Pyves, Gerry Hughes,
My apologies for any omissions .
Initially this involvement was fairly basic, e.g. a RSL Super attending a Mexican Flag vessel to sort out a specific urgent problem. Believe Goff Griffiths was amongst the first, if not the first, to be involved with a boiler problem on the El Mexicano. Over time this involvement increased, pre-purchase inspections, setting up the RSL Planned Maintenance system on Mexican Flag vessels, Radio Station inspections/training, resident Supers in Mexico and Japan, etc.

So here is a story, may make you laugh or cry, and perhaps to encourage others to post their TMM Tales. And perhaps of some interest to those who later sailed on the Tula and Cordoba

In 1977 RSL was asked to supply a Super to oversee the dry-docking of m.v. Monterrey, later Tula, in Hamburg in 24 hours time. So off I went to Rotterdam to see the ship armed with the D/D specification; 8 inches of telex paper with such classic one liners as paint the hull, repair bow thruster, pass ship through surveys etc etc. and keep the costs down. Which in the event was a bit of non-starter.
Quick visit in Rotterdam just as cargo operations were completing. Brief inspection and a chat with the Master, Capt.Acosta, the only one on board who spoke English. Then onto Hamburg wondering how I was going to survive the 10 days. On the way to Hamburg I met up with Jan Recourt who at that time was the European Representative for TMM. Some of you may remember him when later he was the boss of the Insurance Dept in Mexico City.

Bearing in mind that the ship was only 6 years old at this point to say she was a disaster would be the understatement of the century. The Engine Room was a black hole, the rest was not much better and what was working could be counted on your fingers of one hand, slight exaggeration.
So into a floating dry-dock at the Reiherstieg yard of HDW, long gone, and get started.
First surprise, a whole bunch of sub-contractors appeared. All ordered directly by TMM but not mentioned on the spec. or any other communication to RSL or the ship.
Siemens to repair the bow thruster motor, had been flooded with sea water, another part of Siemens to fix the hatch cover operating system. The original design as far as I can remember was such that one man on the main deck at one hold could by pushing a few buttons could open or close all the main, upper and lower tween deck covers in some sort of automatic failsafe mode with hundreds of micro switches and relays etc. Needless to say this was not working according to plan. Cannot recall the details but think the automatic failsafe mode was no longer an option by the time the Siemens guy had finished pulling his hair out and had a nervous breakdown!
Then there was the engineer from Denmark to overhaul the remote controlled ballast system valves in the duct keel. He survived, just, after the ship’s staff gave him the wrong info about which tanks still contained water and the duct keel started to flood with him in it. Plus Macgregor for the hatch covers, KeMeWa for the bow thruster, Sabroe for the reefer plant, Demag for??? Etc.
Then there was the guy to fix the radar, another for the gyro compass, another for the radio station, and so on till I lost count. Plus of course the normal ship chandlers, bunker men, lub oil suppliers etc etc.

Next surprise, the propeller would not come off the tailshaft, after a couple of failed attempts using the normal jacking gear HDW decided to heat the hub as well. A somewhat dangerous practice as it might result in the hub fracturing. Shortly after retreating to the other end of the dock an almighty bang from aft end told me the prop had come free. So sling the prop out the way and pull the tailshaft in and dismount the outer seal assembly as normal, except this time most of the whitemetal of the sterntube bearing came falling out in chunks and dust.
So out with sterntube bearing for remetalling. Luckily this was a HDW design so expertise was to hand. An alignment check of the sterntube indicated that the outer end was high and to one side. So the bearing was remetalled and machined internally to provide correct alignment before being refitted. Perfect result.
Much later learnt that probable cause originated at the builders’s yard, Split, after excessive vibration during sea trials and additional plating was installed over the original structure, port and starboard, to close in the propeller aperture. This plating was slot welded and the theory was that this was done in such a fashion as to pull the sterntube structure out of alignment. Possible I suppose.

So wrapped up the dry-dock work and afloat again to a wet berth for a relative quiet couple of days to finish off. Or so I thought.
Final surprise. Two days to go and a German Navel Architect appears on board, Now Herr Litson we will carry out an Inclining Experiment Ja!! (try it with a German accent) The ensuing shouting match between this guy and the shipyard manager was something I will never forget. Needless to say nobody in Mexico had bothered to tell me or the yard or the operations people about this. Urgent phone calls to Mexico to find out if this was genuine. Some story about the original stability calculations/books being incorrect. So the next day everything on stop whilst the experiment was carried out. Never did find out if it proved anything.

And that was about it, 24 hours later she sailed into the sunset with me preying that I would never see her again. Obviously did not prey hard enough as got involved again with her years later at least once if not twice. But that’s another tale or two.

Other memories, rarely saw the C/E and never between 13.00 and 17.00.

Two of the E.R. gang overhauling the valves etc in a reciprocating pump on the bottom plates by taking the whole thing up to workshop at the top platform and back again. Must have weighed a ton at least. What they did could have been done in situ. Beautifully polished and painted but still did not work. David Litson. Sent by email 7 May 2012.



Disclaimer: The statements on this page are the views of the person who posted them on the forum. The events took place many years ago and in most cases rely on those people's memories, and so we cannot guarantee the accuracy although every effort is made to check it.