Sheep-shape in 1964

‘Centaur’ – luxury accommodation for passengers who did not mind sharing a passage with 4,500 sheep ‘Centaur’ – luxury accommodation for passengers who did not mind sharing a passage with 4,500 sheep

The pages of The Motor Ship, February 1964, provided a breath of fresh air. Rather than the emphasis on large-bore engines, the reader was presented with a somewhat broader range of topics.

Our predecessors were still strong supporters of the British marine industry, and rightly so, because it led the rest of the world in many respects. Though the signs were there, and were being recognised as such, that this situation was not likely to last forever without some serious encouragement, incentives and funding. Indeed, the lead article focused on the award of a government grant to the British Ship Research Association. It was stated that this could amount to as much as £700,000. Nowadays, that is a trifling sum but was considered generous in the values of 50 years ago. And it could be enhanced by the government matching contributions to research by ship owners and operators, up to a maximum of £200,000. But throwing money at a problem is all very well, and The Motor Ship speculated as to how, and where, the money would be spent. Shipbuilding research – presumably to increase efficiency and find ways of gaining new orders – was seen as a certain beneficiary. On the other hand, too much money had already been spent on turbine machinery, and naturally, given their promotion of diesel engines, our predecessors felt that more spending on turbines would be wasted, with dwindling demand and inefficient sales arrangements for existing producers. However, with Doxford as the single UK large diesel engine designer, opportunities for assisting in diesel development were, at best, limited.

Despite the obvious need for more efficient shipbuilding, British yards had in fact staged a recovery, gaining a higher percentage of the world order book despite a slight reduction in tonnage terms over the previous year. British shipbuilders were being urged to follow the example of rising countries, such as Japan, and sell more ships to the export market, which represented only 14% of output. Even the equally nationalistic West Germans and French had export levels of 69% and 51% respectively.

Although a certain number of elite ocean liners operated in 1964, passenger shipping then was of rather a different nature from today’s super-luxury cruise ships and cruise ferries. A newbuild described in our pages, the 8,261gt Centaur, had been delivered from the Clyde for service between Western Australia and Malaysia, carrying, as well as its 200 passengers, a variety of refrigerated, liquid and general cargo plus about 5,000 head of livestock. The passenger accommodation, for the ‘holiday cruise trade’ was described as ‘high standard’, but that is a somewhat optimistic view of the conditions sharing a small area in high temperatures with live sheep. The ship had been designed to sit aground while loading livestock in Australia, which combined with the cargo arrangements presented some challenges for the designers. A twin-screw propulsion plant was chosen, with two B&W 11-cylinder two-strokes, each of 9,100bhp MCR. And in a move to achieve high speeds, it was equipped with the now-ubiquitous bulbous bow.

We noted above that not much was being said about large-bore diesels, but a fair number of column inches were given over to the other hot topic of the time, automation. Centaur may not have had remote control for the engines, but many of the ship’s valves could be controlled from the bridge. Even with the advent of several machinery control and automation systems, including a comprehensive data logging system developed by UK company Solartron that apart from its size shared many features with today’s electronic instrumentation, the general opinion was that the days of the large engine room crew were far from over. Even so, to quote: “it is not unreasonable to expect, in the near future, ships in which the bridge will be the control centre of the vessel.”


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