“The Captains of Thor — What Really Caused the Loss of the SS El Faro” by Robert Frump

Wow. Hurricane Michael is now upon us. Hope lessons learned…are really learned…

Well worth it. As soon as I find where I set down the Kindle I’ll do the next chapter.

Loc 249 – “…looked over at the bow section [as the] half-ship… Then [they] swiveled…”

Loc 255 – “acknowledged [what] everyone knew…crackups [–] that the…”

Loc 255 – “steel [became brittle when cold] and could not be fixed. [And the use of welded rather than riveted construction meant that cracks could propagate clear around the vessel in a few milliseconds.]”

Loc 299 – “stay at sea[;] as they approached…”

Loc 329 – “merchant marine fleet [–] and the fleet…”

Loc 329 – “fracturing from [unsuitable steel] in the hull, but from the dangers of [corrosion and wear] on…”

Loc 329 – “stopped during a storm [–] age made…”

Loc 341 – "assessed the situation [thus:]

Locs 349 - chapter end – fourteen false characters displayed as raised dots (some of them probably soft hyphens in the source document): “ship, there ^were”, “ship ^going”, “con^gressmen”, “we^made”; “when^ a ship,”, “ship^would keep on”, “economically^viable”, “we ^hoped”, “eco^nomics”; “saw^value”. “found the^ same”, “steel^ships”, “used ^in the tramp”; “take a ^chance”.

Loc 349 – “powered by steam, [wooden sailing ships] continued…”

Loc 359 – missing line break after “tramp trades.”, extra line break after “February storm.”.

End Chapter 2

Loc 376 – “cold [s]pring nights…”

Loc 384 – “powered by [liquefied?] natural gas…”

Loc 400 – “The El Faro…” – strike the “The”? The the lighthouse…

Loc 420 – As a non-expert, seems to me you can make a vessel fast using any form of prime mover – recip. steam, steam turbine, diesel, CODAG, diesel-electric…it’s vivid writing, but is it accurate?

Loc 429 – high-density ballast strikes me as a technique rather than an accessory to be “tricked out” with.

Loc 437 – “undeniable[,] and repeatable”

Loc 652 – “predicted then that the system [might/would] again turn bad”

Loc 667 – “the water tension pulsed one tenth…” – no clue what you’re trying to say here. The ship settled a tenth of an inch? That would give about ten feet difference between empty and loaded draft, seems possible.

Loc 709 – “so it affords us [an opportunity?] to meet”

Loc 751 – “where that [led] at Crowley”

Loc 777 – “Or at least [discreet]”

Loc 818 et seq – “the cap” – seems to me this ought to be capitalized where it occurs? I dunno…

Loc 818 – “in the Bahama[s]”

Loc 835 – I thought she’d be going faster than 13 knots. But “tons”? About fifteen thousand of them! Worth spelling it out IMO. These vessels are huge beyond the conception of most shore people, I think.

End Chapter Five.

You’ve got it right. TPI, Tons per Inch Submersion. (or TPC).- There would be a table in the Stability and trim book and posted somewhere in the house. Depends on draft but C/M and capt likely can estimate without the table.

Maybe it was economics, capital costs vs operation cost but in practice it did seem like the steam ships were faster then the diesel ships that replaced them, at least for a while. The older Tote ships running to Alaska were faster then the newer D7s using low-speed diesels on that same run. Of course the steam ships were using a lot more fuel.

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9 posts were split to a new topic: History of Diesel Displacing Steam in U.S. Merchant Marine

Loc 884 – “some [tenets] of the hard sciences”

Loc 926 – “What this meant was unclear except that it would cost money. And perhaps affect stability.” I’m sure it was very clear to Tote’s favorite firm of naval architects. And the change in stability that would be – no perhaps-- required would be to increase it.

Loc 926 – “same ones the [Travelers] hammered on”

Loc 926 – This is the first mention of ducts in the book, so the reader will be puzzled. I think you’re referring to El Yunque’s failed inspection which had not yet happened either in real life or in the book.

Loc 926 – “and the [request] was [also] to permit the ship to [be loaded] two feet [deeper] in[/into?] the water”

Loc 926 – “waterproof when the ship”, “how waterproof were they” – suggest watertight instead of waterproof. Also, of course, changing the draft doesn’t affect the watertightness or otherwise of the ducts, but only how much heel will put them under water.

Loc 938 – “Lusitanian devices” – suggest “open boats”.

Loc 954 – “was “yachtish,” “not squatish.”” – Squa[r]ish? Also misplaced quotes before “not”.

Loc 971 – “Saltchuk’s Sea Star” – this is the first mention of Sea Star Lines, so it’s rather confusing, at least until you get to the next paragraph. Suggest something like “Saltchuk’s Sea Star Lines (later renamed Tote as a result of the scandal)”

Loc 992 – “wind would [press on] the containers”

Loc 992 – "command, the ship would [heel farther than expected].

Loc 1009 – “Base[d] on later inspections”

Loc 1017 – “natural lifetime [and?] stitched together”

Loc 1025 – “ever-[hairier], ever-wilder”

End Chapter Six.

REALLY appreciate it.

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Loc 1123 – “Cr[o]wley said officially”

Loc 1140 – “in the same storm. Same type of [ship].”

Loc 1165 – “source of weather information was 21 hours [old].”

Loc 1165 – “500 miles off[,] placing the [predicted] path”

Loc 1165 – second mention of wind shear. Might be nice to define it? First mention ~1045.

Loc 1173 – "track errors from the NHC [were more than twice the size of the largest errors in the previous five years forecasts].

Loc 1216 – “sail below Samana [Cays].”

Loc 1216 and others – inconsistent treatment of quotes – some with quotation marks, some without.

Loc 1216 – “a seaman ask[ed] the captain…Davidson [said]…”

Loc 1224 – you’re changing to present tense right after “Joaquin was…” so it should be “It’s about five after 11…”

Loc 1224, more inconsistent quoting.

Loc 1275 – “could go south[,] through the Old Bahama”

Loc 1275 – “A few moments later, [they feel the deck tilting beneath them. “Wind heel,” the helmsman says].”

End Chapter Seven

Loc 1315 – "the same trunks and ducts that were [later] shown to be [heavily rusted and unsound on El Faro’s] sister ship[, El Yunque].

Loc 1315 – "on the original ship – but [the conversion to add container stowage abovedeck brought them two feet closer to the water].

Loc 1315 – "hold three. [Each vehicle should be lashed to four hard points on the deck; but contrary to El Faro’s loading manual, the lashings from multiple vehicles were carried to long chains stretched across the deck, so that if a chain should break many vehicles would no longer be secured].

Loc 1315 – “[The same deck carries an emergency fire pump] – suspect”

Loc 1324 – "normal seas. [But at eighteen degrees of heel to port, the system loses suction and the engine shuts down. And with no engine to keep it moving ahead, the ship rapidly loses the ability to steer as water no longer flows past the rudder].

Loc 1340 – “The [ship] heels”

Loc 1340 – "vehicles are not [individually lashed to the deck,] they strain against the [large chains linking them together].

Loc 1349 – "engine shuts down, [and as the ship loses way, it soon cannot be steered.]

Loc 1349 – “maneuver, pump, dump and shift” – “Pump and dump” is a term of art in the manipulation of stock prices. Suggest alternate wording.

End Chapter Eight.

Re the lashing chains – it wasn’t a single chain. There were chains stretched athwartships between the rows of vehicles, to act as hard points to attach the vehicle lashings to. But compared to real hard points on the deck, there are two disadvantages: first, the geometry is such that very large stress is placed on the chain compared to the amount of tension on the lashings. And second, if the chain carries away it’s not one corner of one vehicle that’s unsecured – it’s the back ends of a whole row and the front ends of a second row.

Bull chains, or so I’ve heard them called.

We don’t use them but AFAIK if the calculations are done to ensure the chain makes a strong enough lashing point they should be OK. Indivudal car lashing can be as low as 1 ton and the chains are typically 20 tons (working) It’s a vector problem. I have seen them used from time to time. The bull chain would have to be tight as hell to prevent movement.

The forces fore and aft are lower than athwartships forces. If the parking brakes were set…

Of course likely nobody calculated and their use was not in the ABS approved Lashing and Securing Book, if that’s the case technically they can’t be used.

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Loc 1357 – “Chapter Nine: Fighting the Ship” – just a note that in the Navy, “fighting the ship” means using the ship to fight other ships. No suggestion.

Loc 1357 – “Hello [there,] Captain.”

Loc 1369 – “[”]You’ve got a point there," Shultz says…he says. “I said “this is every day in Alaska[.””]"

Loc 1377 – “[Wind pressure] on the containers”

Loc 1386 – “loading area [to] starboard [or “on the starboard side”]”

Loc 1468 – “A moment later they have reason to be optimistic…”

From the transcript:

alright @AB-1 you got some turns right now.

This is fifteen minutes after the Captain talks about having everyone awake, not a moment later. During that fifteen minutes 2/M has been setting up the emergency messages, and engineering has been getting the plant back on line. Captain has just been on the phone to engineering and gotten the news that the main engine is running, hence “you’ve got some turns right now.” This is important because contrary to what you’re saying, without the engine (i.e. without forward movement of the vessel) there is no steering aside from whatever small input the bow thrusters might be able to contribute. @Kennebec_Captain can say for sure, but I think it’s unlikely that those thrusters would have any useful steering effect in these conditions.

what’d you wanna do captain– I got it right thirty.
keep your rudder– rudder right twenty right now.

And here – I don’t think Captain is exclaiming “right now!” I think he’s more almost musing, more in the sense of “for the moment”. So he’s saying ease the helm to twenty degrees of rudder, but not barking it out.

Loc 1468 – “Level it up,” Davidson says. “And get over to starboard!” – There are three words undecipherable in the transcript. I don’t think this is an order, but rather a response to 2/M whose remark is also garbled. Suggest striking it as it doesn’t really contribute anything to understanding.

Loc 1476 – "“Yeah, but we know how to fix that one!” Randolph says. “Suck out the water.” – Yeah but etc is a response to Captain’s previous garbled statement, not to the one about water in the hold. Strike the first sentence.

[sound of multiple low frequency thuds in rapid succession.]
that’s why I don’t go out there.
that’s a piece of handrail right?
yup. you’re right.
(well) there ya go.

Here we have Captain and 2/M remarking on part of the bridge wing handrail apparently being carried away, and Captain observing that that’s why he doesn’t go outside(to get hit with stuff like that). Would be a good addition at this point I think.

Loc 1476 – “And she tries to lighten it up a bit more, offers coffee. She is the queen of coffee on the bridge, grinds her own beans.” – Tone observation – I hate this. It seems disrespectful of 2/M and of the situation. The coffee itself is a boon, no need to ham it up about her motives. And all that being said, it’s clear from transcript that her coffee routine is beyond the ordinary. YMMV of course.

they don’t have any R-P-M on it right now so you can just stand by you
don’t have to be (there).

Somewhere in the previous few minutes they’ve lost the engine again. He’s telling helmsman he doesn’t have to be holding on to the wheel right now, just stand by in the neighborhood to be available when/if the plant comes back. This is while 2/M is still asking how people want their coffee.

Oh man – transcript is pretty hard to read from this point. I’ll have to finish this later.


Thanks. Yeah. That transcript is tough

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I read this as the 2/M having high self-awareness. Without steering the task that was taking full attention has ended, time to shift gears. Need to take a deep breath and think about the new situation.

What to you do when you’ve been rattled, have no immediate tasks but want to calm yourself a bit to refocus? Have a cigarette, make cup of tea etc, some ritual to restore a bit of normalcy. Then back at it.

I didn’t read it as someone totally out of touch, the opposite, sees the tension, inserts a little routine into to ease, refocus on the new situation.

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Out of touch? Hardly.

“New situation is We’re Screwed, Blued and Tattooed. We’ve lost the plant again, it’s not likely we’re getting it back – although you can never count the engineers out in a pinch; but unless they can get suction on the sump we’re not getting turns. We’ve got an 18-degree port list, so just moving around is taxing in this universe of no handholds and even staying put is no picnic; we can’t launch, and the boats wouldn’t swim if we did. And the Old Man is losing the bubble, blithering about courtesy to The Office and how the crew is safe when we’re so obviously not. If I can’t find something to do I. Will. Scream. Sure could use a cuppa – we all could. Why not? Could be our last.”

That’s what I get from the transcript – but I’m projecting into it just as we all are. We haven’t got the audio and I’m grateful that we don’t – the flat words on the page are bad enough. I just think a plainer writing style would suit the moment better.

Yes, “out of touch” is not right.

I’ve seen the coffee thing (sugar or sweet n low?") described as just a random, somewhat inexplicable act .

I saw it as a deliberate act appropriate to the circumstances

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Coffee’s always appropriate to the circumstances when it’s howling outside – but yeah. And part of me is resisting casting 2/M as Mom, whether or not that was the case.

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Yes,I see what you mean, that would be incorrect in my view.,

I saw it as trying to control some aspect of the situation in the wheelhouse, hey, let’s just take a little step back for a few seconds.

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Didn’t the NTSB report say that it was unlikely propulsion was restored? No change in SOG or heading?

Very unlikely thrusters would have been any help.

I think this is the captain losing track of his last command. If you give open-ended commands (hard right for example) rather than rudder commands and courses it’s best not to have any other distractions. Otherwise each time there is an interruption the conning officer has to recall the situation.

The captain might have been better off turning the conn over to one of the other deck officers and giving most of his attention to the unfolding emergency.