Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Time and The HMS Victory

A new survey of Nelson's flagship, the HMS Victory, shows that the ship is in poor shape. The problems are that the dry dock is warping the timbers and it has significant rot from rainwater. See here for more details.

None of this surprises me.

We went through the Victory last May. At the time I was surprised at how spartan the dry dock supports were. Ships are built to float. This puts an even pressure against the entire hull. A ship that spends any significant time in dry dock will not be supported evenly and will warp. In this case, the ends of some of the beams are now 10 centimeters (about the length of a cigarette) from touching the hull. During the last restoration the knees were only attached to the inside layer of the hull. (This ship has planking on both the inside and the outside of its timbers.)

I remember a talk during the preservation of the USS Constellation. The hull was hogging (drooping at the ends) and they were combating that by stacking pallets in the center and running cables to straps around the ends. This put more pressure on the center and held up the ends. Someone asked why they didn't just put it in dry dock. The answer was that if it went into dry dock for any significant length of time it would never float again.

I had this problem in miniature with my Whitehall boat. The trailer I had used rollers to support the boat and these were leaving marks in the hull. I replaced it with a bunker trailer.

The problem with rainwater is universal. The Santa Maria has leaked for 20 years. Re-caulking stops the leaks for a few day or week then the seams open up again. I have asked around and most other ships have the same problem. The Mayflower II had to make serious repairs in the 1990s. The metal fasteners that fastened the outside hull to the timbers had rusted away leaving holes. Rainwater got into the holes and rotted the timbers. They had to remove a lot of the hull in order to get to the timbers to replace them. It was a major project that took a couple of years and disrupted their first-person interpretation program.

It is amazing the the Victory has survived as long as it has. It was begun 1759 and launched in 1765. She spent 13 years in storage and was eventually ordered to be converted to a hospital ship. After the loss of the HMS Impregnable in 1799, it was decided to refit the Victory. There were already many problems and the refit took four years. She was finished in 1803 and served as Nelson's flagship in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. She ended active service in 1812 but was used as a signal ship and barracks until 1904. After that she was mainly a tourist attraction.

By 1922 the Victory was in poor condition and needed a major restoration. This is when she was moved to her current location in Dry Dock no. 2 in Portsmouth - the oldest dry dock in the world. The latest restoration was in 2005 for the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. At that time she was made to look as much as possible like she did in Nelson's time.

(most of this history was condensed from Wikipedia)

Note - while the HMS Victory is the world's oldest commissioned warship, the USS Constitution is the oldest commissioned warship still afloat.

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