Issued on behalf of the National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, the MoD and BAE Systems
Visitors to HMS Victory, the oldest commissioned warship in the world, are to have the opportunity to see how the great sailing warships of the 18th century were built and maintained at battle readiness.
As Nelson’s flagship undergoes her most extensive restoration since she was repaired after the damage she sustained at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, visitors will be able to see at close quarters craftsmen deploying the ancient skills that made England the ruler of the seas.
The first major task is to dismantle the ship’s three masts, bowsprit and rigging which will begin in July. The last time HMS Victory was seen without her top masts was back in 1944, so this really is a once in a life time opportunity to see HMS Victory under-going such extreme maintenance.
Most of the highly skilled operation will be carried out by master shipwrights and other specialist staff employed by BAE Systems who, while operating on the cutting edge of technology on modern warships, maintain the age-old wooden shipbuilding skills.
John O Sullivan[i], BAE Systems Project Manager for HMS Victory, is in charge of the maintenance: “We will remove the upper sections of all three masts and bowsprit, booms, yards and spars, including 26 miles of associated rigging and 768 wooden blocks, some of which are 100 years old. We will then catalogue and document everything for future surveying, design and replacement.
When the rigging is replaced a decision will be made as to whether the wooden rope blocks can be re-used, recycled or replaced. Our team will carefully manage this major restoration project, keeping disruption to a minimum.”
Alongside the ship - still the flagship of the Second Sea Lord – in dry dock in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, the National Museum of the Royal Navy will soon open an innovative interactive exhibition exploring how HMS Victory was originally built in 1759, how she was preserved and cared for in war and peace and the restoration process that will cover the next ten years.
The Museum’s Director General, Professor Dominic Tweddle said: “We are delighted that the MoD has given the go ahead for the work on Victory. Preserving a wooden warship is a battle, a battle against nature and just as epic in its way as the Battle of Trafalgar. To be able to witness how that battle is fought will be a big draw to visitors.
Both Victory and the museum will remain open to the public throughout the restoration work.”
Of the project, the Commanding Officer of HMS Victory Lt Cdr DJ ‘Oscar’ Whild RN said: “The removal of the masts during the summer months is an exciting time in the ship’s maintenance programme, this will give the visitors a great opportunity to see the ship in a very different light.”
Jacquie Shaw, Head of Communications and Operations at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard adds: “Our visitors are always fascinated by the conservation of HMS Victory and we are keen to demonstrate that the work involved in looking after the most famous ship in the world is on-going and vital.
Visitors are intrigued to realise that ships like Victory were regularly refitted and this is just another phase in her life. The maintenance work becomes part of the visitor experience and we will do our very best to ensure that disruption is kept to an absolute minimum and to interpret the work being done so visitors appreciate the considerable skill and effort which is required to keep her ship-shape!"
*John O’Sullivan will oversee the work on the masts of the oldest ship in the fleet and ironically he was Project Manager on a prototype mast for the latest addition to the fleet, QE Class aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth