Thursday, 3 November 2011

Love of steam - S Y Gondola

I've always loved steam engines, ever since Thomas the Tank Engine first came into my life.  Usually these are in the form of railway locomotives or traction engines, but a recent appreciation for steam yachts was unexpectedly satisfied last week.

I thought it might have happened earlier in the week, when booking a ticket on a 'steamer' on Windermere, to travel half the length of the lake from Ambleside to Bowness.  Looking forward to a ride on a classic vessel, I was terribly disappointed to find that there was no steam in this 'steamer'.  Had I been on my own I would have gone back to the ticket office and made a strong case for a refund of my fare.  It is simply outrageous to sell tickets at that price on 'steamers' and justify it simply by the use of 'single quotes'.  The Trade Descriptions Act surely has something to say on the matter.

However, the week was rescued by an 'encounter' with the Steam Yacht Gondola on Coniston Water.  (My use of single quotes here is intentional and not at all disingenuous!)  The hull of this classic craft is indeed reminiscent of the shape of a Venetian gondola, and I was in two minds about whether to spend another £10 each to ride on her . . . at least until she arrived at the quayside.  Then it became inevitable!

If you have never seen a steam yacht in action you have missed one of life's little pleasures.  The quiet power is something quite different from what you would normally associate with a steam locomotive.  There is just a gentle chuffing sound from the chimney.  And you don't have to tolerate the sound of a throbbing diesel engine making the decks vibrate in complaint either.

This is a steam engine with a silencer in the exhaust system to enhance passenger comfort by eliminating the roar of the exhaust. 

How do I know that?  Well of course any engineer has to examine a steam engine when he sees one, even if he does have sympathy for the poor fellow who had obviously answered answered the same ones many times before.  (See the small note at the end if you want the technical details!)  But after that a lively technical conversation ensued about steam in general, steam launches in particular, and later branching out to some chat about similarities with nuclear fusion engineering!

The whole encounter with the Gondola and her crew was one that I will not forget.  I hardly noticed the beautiful scenery around the lake.

Living near the River Thames which is quite famous for its steam launches my mind wanders to the possibility of buying one.  (But sssshhhhh . . . don't tell anyone!)

Small notes:
My technical questions, the answers and some comments from me!
Q.  What is that wood-lagged box in the exhaust between the cylinders and the chimney?  
A.  Its a silencer.
Comment:  Neat!  Passenger comfort really is being taken seriously!
Q.  Is it unusual to use injectors instead of crosshead driven mechanical pumps to put water into the boiler?
A.  [Something along the lines of] Why would you use a crosshead pump?
Comment: I took that to mean that its not unusual.  The SY Gondola had two injectors by the way, and the boiler was manufactured by the Furness Railway Company and looked exactly like  locomotive boiler.
Q.  Isn't it unusual on a boat not to have a condenser in the exhaust?
A.  [Something along the lines of] why would you need a condenser when there is so much clean water all around us?
Comment: The purpose of the question was not really to investigate saving of water, but more along the lines of the two possible philosophies for steam engines.  One is to use a low pressure boiler and to get an extra pressure drop across the engine by condensing the steam - much as in the cooling towers of a power station.  The other - adopted on Gondola - is to use a high pressure boiler and to use the flow of exhaust steam to create a flow of air to draw the fire better.  Both approaches improve efficiency but in different ways.  

I didn't need to ask more about the components as I recognised them all, but familiarity does not always prevent appreciation of the finer points of the art of steam.


Anonymous said...

Pleased you enjoyed Gondola so much.
It is now winter 2012 and Gondola is up the slipway with the biggest maintenance programme since the re-build in 1978/9.
Boiler is out for re-tubing. Engine is out. Shaft is out.
Aft deck (wooden) is lifted to replace.
Hull outside and engine room being shot blasted and re-painted. Alongside the usual annual paint and varnish.
Crew Gondola

One of the Gondola Crew said...

If you go on Facebook "Stean Yacht Gondola2 you will see some good photos of the winter work.

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