An ad for this job could read:
“Wanted: Chief Engineer who can work in sweltering heat in the bowels of a ship with constant noise. Responsible for every major system on board 105-meter ice class passenger ship from November through September. Destination: the ends of the earth.”
Obviously I’m not a copywriter for classified ads, because no one would respond to that one. But Chief Engineer Piotr on the Gap Adventures M/S Expedition did respond to an ad to work on this ship for one simple reason: the destinations.
You see, Piotr likes whales, seals, penguins, polar bears and the beauty of the polar regions, and he gets out every chance he can to take in the landscape and see the wildlife. His eyes light up when he talks about what he’s seen, so he obviously thinks the work is worth it. This is made even more clear after he reveals that his last job on a cargo ship had computerized controls where just about every system could be handled from a single console. Kinda cushy, actually, but there were no leopard seals to see on his coffee breaks.
the domain of the chief engineer
Enter the M/S Expedition, which is smaller than most cargo ships and still has the same operating systems from its days as a ferry boat back in the 70s. Add to that an engine room with 40-degree Celsius heat (104 degrees Fahrenheit) and the loud noise that requires the wearing of protective earphones, and you can see this is far different from life a few decks above in the cozy cabins. Don’t get me wrong, the engine room is spotless and everything works properly. But it is a little bit like stepping back in time with all the old-style gauges, giant buttons and switches.
This impression is deceiving, though.
Piotr and his engineers take 4-hour shifts in the control room, watching the dials and monitoring the two engines and three generators. They seem to have a fallback for every scenario and alarms that sound for any variances outside the norm. They can even control the speed and pitch of the ship from down in the control room should the bridge need help.
Piotr pointed out some of the upgrades, such as the engines that were modified to double fuel efficiency while only losing 2 knots in speed ability.
We were surprised to find out that the ship also has a desalinization system. Sea water is sucked in at the bottom of the ship and is filtered in a tank with gravel and sand and goes through various pumps and other filters to come out as clean water to supply the ship.
This is all done in the Osmosis Room, which we joked was where you go when you need to read your spouse’s mind.
The other thing that surprised us was the sewage treatment room, where waste is flushed into a series of 3 overflow tanks and treated with “friendly” bacteria to dissolve it. It works just like a sewage treatment plant on land, and the resulting “gray water” is safe to dump even in port, though Piotr and his team always wait until they are at least 12 miles offshore.
We just never imagined that the ship was capable of making its own water and processing waste. It makes sense, though, when you consider that some of the polar cruises are up to 18 days long and in places with no ports for restocking.
working behind the scenes
As we finished the tour I kept thinking of Scotty from Star Trek – “I’m giving her all she’s got, Captain!” Part of it was because of the old-style dials and gauges and the super intelligence of Chief Piotr. He’s one of those guys you think can probably fix or create anything, just like the original Scotty.
But the other thing was the idea that there is always a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes in any smooth operation. On the ship you’ll find luxury cabins, delicious food, and even internet access at the ends of the earth. You don’t ever think about where the water comes from, how waste is handled, or whether they have the right spare parts should something break. And that’s how you know Piotr has done his job well.
The Chief Engineer only seems to get screen time when the warp drive crashes or the ship is headed for a black hole. You’d think with that kind of responsibility he could at least get some better air conditioning.