Valve Fix


Note: The Waterpomptang family is fictitious and occasionally a Waterpomptang story appears on the M&O website. Some say their adventures resemble real events, but that is just a coincidence.

It was the early 1960’s and Bolle and Truus had just moved into their new apartment in the South of Rotterdam. Because Bolle was now a Holland America Line superintendent, they had gotten PTT phone company preference in getting their telephone installed without the customary 6 month delay that was common in the early sixties in the Netherlands.

Bolle’s father, Wim, and Bolle’s mother, Grietje, happened to be over for a glass of jenever and some bitterballen. There was as striking difference between father and son; while Wim resembled John Wayne, and even had the same body language, Bolle more closely resembled a chubbier version of the Dutch Boy Paint logo (obviously without the wooden shoes and the costume).

The installer had barely left when the phone rang for the first time.

Bolle got up to answer it with a loud “Waterpomptang hier!”

Then he said nothing for a while.

After a minute or so he said: “I’ll be right over”

He put the phone down and turned to Truus, “There is a problem with the Nieuwe Amsterdam, I need to go to the berth to see if we can fix it.” (That is not a typo, everybody in Holland pronounced the name of the SS Nieuw Amsterdam with the additional “e”)

“What’s the problem?” Wim asked.

“Well, I got a rather panicked call from the Chief Engineer. Apparently, they found a crack in the main steam distribution valve block, and the ship is supposed to sail tomorrow morning.”

Wim, the chief engineer frowned, “That will not be easy to fix. I am curious how you are going to deal with that my superintendent son. Mind if I join you for chuckles?”

Bolle shrugged. He would rather not bring his father in tow, but Wim was ex Holland America Line himself and a near legend in the Rotterdam ship’s engineering crowd, nobody would mind if he happened to show up.

“Sure, why not?” as Bolle grabbed the keys to the Duex Chevaux.

When they arrived aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam there was a substantial crowd, not just engineers; anybody who had anything to do with moving 1200 passengers on a 36,000 gross ton passenger ship was present and asking questions. Bolle and Wim almost had to fight their way to the Chief Engineer’s office.

When they got to the office, most of the engineering staff was present. The chief engineer, Hans Block, was Wim’s age and Bolle had met him a few times before. He was a friendly man who was not perturbed by Holland America Line’s general policy of promoting junior engineers to superintendents.

At the same time Bolle was going to make sure he paid sufficient deference to the exalted status of the Chief Engineer of Holland’s most famous ship. Fortunately, he did not have to worry about that for long because it turned out that Hans Block and Wim were old friends.

When Block saw Wim, he greeted him with a big smile: “Coming to enjoy my misery Wim?”

“Shared misery is half the misery Hans”, Wim smiled back.

Hans got up from behind his desk motioned to Bolle and headed for the door, “Let me show you the problem.”

As was expected on the Nieuw Amsterdam, the engine room was impeccable, but when they got to the turbines, there was insulation stacked along the platforms near the maneuvering stand and the main steam distribution section was exposed to the piping, flanges and valve block. The valves that were normally mounted on the block had been removed and the top face of the valve block was exposed.

Hans motioned Bolle and Wim closer to an area on the face between two openings that mounted adjacent valves.

“This is the problem” Hans said while he pointed and when Bolle and Wim looked closely their trained eyes noted a crack that ran from one valve opening to the next valve opening.

Bolle realized they had a serious problem on their hands.

This was a high pressure casting and the central steam distribution point for the entire ship’s plant. With a crack like this they could not sail. Moreover, there was no spare for this piece and he seemed to remember that it was a Stellite casting too, which could be cast relatively quickly but would require weeks of grinding 24 hours per day to make a copy.

The Nieuw Amsterdam could be out of service for weeks and that would upset the entire liner service starting with the cancelation of tomorrow’s voyage.

Bolle turned to the Chief Engineer “Well Meneer Block, what do you think? I think the first thing we should do is cancel this voyage.”

“I am afraid so” Hans replied as he started to head back to his office.

Wim stopped him, “Hans, can you please place the two valves on top of the block on either side of crack?”

“They are heavy, but I can have the boys do that, but why?”

“I want to see how much space we have between the two flanges.”

“We can do that more quickly in my office because the drawings are already out.”

“Well let’s get a cup of coffee and take a look”, and now Wim was the first to head for the ladder.

Back in the office Wim took a quick look at the drawing and said, “I think we can jury rig this thing”.

Hans dropped his jaw, “Jury rig! This is a superheated 450 psi piece of equipment, not one of those Nuremberg valves you have on your Veder boats!”

“Rotzooi Hans, bear with me”, and Wim reached for a pencil and a piece of paper on the chief’s desk.

“So basically we have this block and it has a crack here.”

Wim went on to draw, “What I am thinking is we take some high quality steel bar and make two L shaped pieces. We weld them to the side of the block, one on each side, and pack some asbestos underneath the bar sections that lay across the face. We heat the hell out of them and then weld them together. When the whole thing cools down it will pull the crack together and maybe seal it. We can ask Lloyds to do a quick check to see if this arrangement provides enough strength to keep the crack sealed.”

There was a moment’s silence and then one of the junior engineers piped up, “But the crack will open up when the steam heats the block!”

Hans and Wim both gave him the stink eye at the same time and then Hans grumbled: “Go back to school kid, the valve block and the rods will expand equally, but the pre-tension in the rods will not change.”

The junior engineer looked down, and the other junior engineers looked straight ahead, or looked at the ceiling while working their way through this mechanical reality.

Block turned to Bolle: “The Lloyds surveyor is supposed to be here any minute, let’s propose this fix and see what he thinks. The valve block is shot as it is. We can do this whole thing in less than 24 hours, testing and all, and see if it works. If it works, we are go, and if it doesn’t, we will cancel the trip. No loss in trying.”

The Lloyds surveyor did not object to the experiment and while the rods were being fitted, Lloyds performed a technical check to make sure the numbers worked out.

The calculations and welding were completed at the same time and the test was successful.

The Nieuw Amsterdam sailed with only a few hours’ delay.

Wim had decided to stay aboard with Bolle to witness the results of his plan and they left the vessel just before the gangway was pulled in.

Once Bolle started the Deux Chevaux to take Wim home, he chuckled, “Damn, I am glad I kept my trap shut. I thought the same thing the junior engineer thought and was getting ready to pipe up myself just when he made a fool of himself. That would have been a nice embarrassment as a superintendent.”

Wim was lighting his pipe and without taking it out of his mouth he said, “Let that be a lesson Bolle, engage brain before you question old engineers.”


RVH Note: This is a true story and the temporary fix on the Nieuw Amsterdam’s valve block was eventually accepted as a permanent repair and stayed in place until she was scrapped about 10 years later. However, in real life, the repair idea originated with the attending Lloyds surveyor whose name is lost in the mists of time. Another case of anonymous engineering skills saving thousands of dollars.



Wim (Willem Fokko) Waterpomptang, originally a blacksmith, but became a Chief Engineer in the Dutch Merchant Marine (this would be Hoofdscheepswerktuigkundige Waterpomptang) and mostly sailed to the Great Lakes and the Mediterranean. No fan of the English, but loved the Scots. Referred to as Oudopa by his descendants. Passed away in 1992.

Wim Waterpomptang, President Emeritus, Watt & Fulton, Ship Surveyors and Engineers. Started as a sailing engineer at Holland America Line and then started to work for an American Ship surveying company in Rotterdam. Transferred to the United States with his family just before the Bicentennial.

Joined Watt & Fulton in 1980 and bought the company with his son, Willem, in 1993.

Owns a 28 foot Olson Sea Skiff named “Froetjers” and drives a 1993 Dodge K car. Hates cars. Keeps his boat at the Molly Pitcher.

Nicknamed “Bolle” by his old friends (Means “round one”). Called Pa by his kids and Opa by his grandchildren.

Any stranger he meets he calls “My Friend”. Anytime somebody says something that makes no sense he says: Rotzooi! (A not too rude word for mess, mix-up or confusion)

Loves his wife Truus and bacon, hates to travel. Drinks Lairds and cold beer. Is distrustful of people that eat porridge and oatmeal for breakfast. Hates melted cheese.

Willem (Willem Fokko) Waterpomptang President Watt & Fulton, Wim’s son

Sails and iceboats. Aerospace and Ocean engineer and Professional Engineer. Is somewhat autistic and sometimes has trouble figuring out what people mean. Helped by his partners and office staff in maintaining human contact.  Nicknamed “Dutch Uncle” due to his inability to behave tactfully. Married to Anne Gardiner, fortunately of Scottish descent.

Marina (Marina Gretchen) Waterpomptang. Economist and Environmental Scientist with a Masters degree in System Engineering from Columbia.

Daughter of Willem. Works for the company as an independent consultant. Travels the world and does weird things, sometimes for W&F.

Will (Willem James) Waterpomptang

Son of Willem. Mysterious Character. Also an engineer but now works as a lawyer in mysterious acquisitions and deals. Married to Shruti a big data engineer from India.

Polara (Polara Ruth) Waterpomptang

Daughter of Willem, marine biologist, artist and environmental activist.

Watt & Fulton, an ancient ship surveying and engineering company, founded by descendants of James Watt and Robert Fulton and world renown for dealing with the thornier maritime issues.

The company used to be based in New York City, but moved to Red Bank, NJ after the Whitehall Club closed.

­­Today W&F is located across the railroad station above a packy store in the Mexican section of town.