Monday, April 11, 2011

Tour of Africa Mercy Drydock for Grandchildren

Dear Friends,
I wrote the following letter for our grandchildren while I was on the ship in October 2010.  Helen thinks it will be of interest to you – or your grandchildren. 

Dear Grandchildren,

Yesterday I walked under the ship.  Yes, I said walked—not swam.  I’m sure you think of a ship floating on water, and it usually does, of course.  But once in awhile when special things need doing on a ship it is necessary to take it out of the water.

But, you ask, can you pick up a huge ship and take it out of the water?  No, you can’t—it is much too heavy.  So this is what you do—you sail the ship into a long box-like enclosure called a drydock, and close a water-tight door across one end.  Then you pump the water out.  The ship settles down lower and lower as the water is removed and finally settles on some large metal and wooden blocks placed on the bottom.

As the last of the water is pumped out you can see fish swimming and jumping in the shallow water.  When the drydock is finally empty, fish flop around on the cement bottom!  The dockyard workers collect the fish and take them home to their families.  I heard there was one fish about four feet long and people were arguing over it.

While in drydock we cut a hole about eight feet high and twelve feet wide in the side of the ship to take out several old generators and put in some new ones.  We saved the large piece of steel we cut out because we needed to weld it back in, and make sure it didn’t leak.  Nobody likes a leaky ship.  I suggested that if we had any leaks we could patch them with bubble gum, but no one appreciated my idea.  : (

I went on a tour with eight other people to the bottom of the drydock.  We climbed down some very steep stairs attached to the wall.  We walked from the back of the ship (stern) to the front (bow.)  We walked down the right side (starboard) and came back up the left side (port.)  We looked at the two large propellers, which are fourteen feet in diameter.  We saw barnacles on the propellers, rudder, and on the hull (bottom and sides of the ship.)  The barnacles are scraped off during drydock so they don’t slow the ship down while sailing.

I noticed a pipe coming out of the side of the ship.  Usually it was under water, but now some birds were building a nest in the pipe.  They thought it was a good place to raise a family but will need to change their plans when the water is let back in the drydock.

Our guide told us the ship weighs 15,000 tons!  It’s over 500 feet long, which would be like one and a half football fields.  I can’t think of anything else interesting about the bottom of the ship.  It is painted a reddish-brown color.  We wore hard hats in case we hit our head on the bottom of the ship, but nobody did.  It was kinda muddy down there but when we got back to the dock we washed our feet with a hose before climbing the long, sloping gangway leading to Deck Seven.  Then we went back to our cabins or to work.

I was tired when I left the drydock.  It must have been because I was showing off and lifted up one end of the ship.  My end only weighed 7,000 tons, so it wasn’t too bad.

Love, Granddad


  1. Yes, Helen was right. It was an interesting letter. I have always been confused about bow, stern, starboard and port! Now I'm not! :-) Wonder why those terms are used? Why not just front, back, right and left?

  2. I don't know the answers to your questions--but I'll try to find out.
    I forgot to add a photo.
    Blessings to you, H.