Cruise Ship Tough Fix

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by Jason Nicholls, Associate Producer

The World’s Toughest Fixes crew arrived in San Francisco to tape the Sea Princess, a massive luxury passenger cruise liner. This wasn’t going to be a vacation though, at least until we could fix the ship. And if it didn’t get fixed in time, there were going to be thousands of passengers who wouldn’t get a vacation either.

We were working with BAE Systems at their dry dock. It was pretty amazing to see the ship come in and all that water leave, so the ship sat high and dry. It is a weird feeling walking underneath a giant ship; you can almost feel it above you. BAE needed to fix the tail-shaft of the ship, or more specifically, something was wrong inside the shaft. To get to the shaft, the crews had to remove the rudder, then the propeller, or prop, and then pull out the shaft, which was about 40 feet long.

The team knew this was going to be a considerable task to accomplish, and we were not wrong. BAE had three rigging crews, working eight-hour shifts, for the next 11 days to make this happen on time. The toughest part of our job was how to cover it all so we didn’t miss anything. So part of the team worked all night and into the day, while the remaining crew slept, and then we switched off. The whole time, the riggers from BAE were sweating away, moving massive parts of the ship. At the same time, they were working on the thrusters of the ship (they turn the ship left and right) and the stabilizers, which keep the ship from rocking. It was so much to do in so little time. I was really impressed how professional and hardworking the crews were, especially under such trying circumstances. All the while, pressure washers were stripping the paint off the ship; it was like working in a cold rain at all times. Then later the painters came and started painting, so everything got little paint dots on it. Unfortunately, this included one of our cameras.

It took Riley a day to get in good with those BAE guys. You can see how respect comes from knowing your stuff and working hard; and boy did Riley work hard. He helped them put up the pad-eyes and move the propeller. When the shaft came out, Riley was in there like a rabbit down a hole. Climbing into that claustrophobic hole, filled with grease, is not something I would want to do anytime soon. But Riley and the engineers found the problem. It was one of the small pipes that carries oil to the tail-shaft; it was crushed a bit. Seemed unbelievable to me that a ship of that size needed to be dry docked because a one-inch-round pipe was a little bit crushed; but that was the issue. A massive amount of work was required for such a small part. Of course once the pipe was fixed, everything needed to be put back in reverse, and time was running out. Everyone banded together and did their part, and the ship was put back together with only hours to spare.

Not all of the work was going on under the Sea Princess; the interiors were getting a makeover too. They were painting, recovering chairs, fixing flooring, and buffing and polishing everything. They were installing the new adult lounge on the top of the ship; it was to be an oasis for those looking to get away from the louder crowds. The pool was also getting new improvements, so crews were replacing the wood and sanding everything. Everywhere you looked there were workers, like ants on an anthill. Riley wanted to help, so he put his sewing skills to work making some new pillows; he wasn’t all rigging. And of course what would be a World’s Toughest Fixes shoot without a little rigging high in the sky? Riley helped the window riggers replace the caulking of the ship’s windows; 15 stories above the concrete dry-dock.

Everyone did their part to make sure this fix went in correctly, safely, and on time, so no passengers would miss their vacation. And for our part — the crew was rewarded with a vacation to Mexico on the cruise! So it was time for a little R&R, and boy everyone deserved it.

Don’t miss this week’s all-new episode of World’s Toughest Fixes, Cruise Ship Overhaul, this Thursday June 3 at 9P et/pt.