Portsmouth Historic Dockyard’s skyline has changed this morning (Tuesday 16th August, 2011) as the tallest point of HMS Victory was removed as part of the restoration work taking place on Nelson’s flagship.
Bell Rigging, sub-contractors for BAE Systems oversaw the work as a crane removed the central top mast section, watched by visitors to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.
The ship’s three masts, bowsprit and rigging will all be dismantled in the coming weeks. 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.
The National Museum of the Royal Navy’s Director General, Professor Dominic Tweddle said: “Watching the team painstakingly disassemble the rigging and masts of HMS Victory has been heart stopping at times! To do this intricate work, while still keeping Victory open to the public, has been a logistical masterpiece.
Interestingly, when her topmasts are down, Victory will look much as she did after the Battle of Trafalgar when she had to be towed to Gibraltar for repairs.”
Most of the highly skilled operation is being 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.
Whilst inspecting the masts the BAE team have also found a recent time capsule in each of the mast tops. Production Co-Ordinator Lucy Jones, 24, the youngest member of the BAE team found a newspaper and daily orders sheet in the Fore mast cap, dated from the 21st February 2002 when the masts were last inspected. There was also a book on the history of HMS Victory in the Mizzen mast cap with a signed sheet of all the riggers on the 5th August 2003. Roy Smith is Victory Planner for this restoration project but he was also Mast Headman in 2002/3, and he has indicated there may be another surprise waiting in the Main mast cap…
John O Sullivan, 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.