The Pros & Cons of Permanently Dry-Docking Historic VesselsCaptain S.T. Waite, M.N.I.
Master, Cutty Sark
In recent years more and more historic vessels are being considered for preservation, and one of the factors to be considered when planning a proiect is whether or not the vessel is to remain afloat as, in the case of H.M.S. Warrior (Click here for Illustration 1), or to be permanently dry-docked, as with H. M.S. Victory and Cutty Sark. These are not, however, the only options. Two other options have been used:
1) to sit the vessel in a hole in the ground and infill around her.
Two examples of this method can be seen in Japan, the Meiji Maru (Click here for Illustration 2) built in 1874 as a Royal Yacht and the pre-Dreadnought battleship Mikasa, (Click here for Illustration 3) built in 1900. While another example is the Caishot Spit Light Vessel in England (Click here for Illustration 4).
Ships are designed to withstand the crushing force of water outside, and are not very well suited to remaining out of the water for prolonged periods unless very well supported. This illustration (Click here for Illustration 7) shows what can happen to a vessel that is not is not adequately shored.
When Cutty Sark (Click here for Illustration 8) was permanently dry-docked in 1954 there was only one other example of a major historic vessel already preserved in the United Kingdom, HMS Victory ((Click here for Illustration 9), to which the Cutty Sark Preservation Society could look for inspiration. Unfortunately, the minutes of the Technical Committee of the Society are no longer in existence, but one has to assume that having decided to preserve the ship at Greenwich and to open her to the public as a visitor attraction, the following points were considered when deciding whether to leave her afloat or to permanently dry-dock her:
With H.M.S. Victory it was known that the hull was fragile when she was docked in 1922, and massive bilge stools were built to support the hull (Click here for Illustration 12), but thought had been given to the possibility for the need of keel repairs in the future, and although she is docked down on a continuous concrete plinth, wooden keel blocks were provided.
The S.S. Great Britain (Click here for Illustration 13) has the advantage of being dry-docked in the dock in which she was built in 1843, using traditional methods with wooden shores (Click here for Illustration 14). A more sympathetic arrangement than the tubular steel shores used on Cutty Sark.
In the case of H.M.S. Warrior it was decided to keep the vessel afloat in Portsmouth Harbour. This is obviously the most sympathetic way of displaying a ship, provided that she has the strength to remain afloat, which obviously the Great Britain had not, having broken her back while abandoned in the Falklands.
When deciding on what course of action to take, I believe that a ship should be kept afloat as long as is possible, but she must be placed in a safe berth, and the future costs of dry-docking, towage, insurance etc. should be taken into account. However, with the decline of shipbuilding and shiprepair in the Western World one has to consider the possibility that there might be no suitable dry-docks nearby in the future, and a long and expensive tow may be required.
Permanently dry-docking a ship removes the problem of future availability of dry-docks, but this only works well if the dry-dock looks like and is fitted out like a dock that is contemporary with the ship, and it is imperative that the ship is provided with suitable workshop accommodation nearby. Unfortunately, Cutty Sark was provided with nothing and restoration is being carried out from a temporary pound alongside the ship, with 40 ft containers being used as rigging lofts and metal working shops. The wood working shop is a quarter of a mile away!
To build the ship into the surrounding land is, I believe, the worst possible option. Not only is the surrounding totally out of keeping, but how does one determine what is happening to the "under water body". In the case of Mikasa I believe that the Japanese authorities had no option but to treat the vessel in this way, because part of the surrender agreement after WWII stated that Japan could not operate battleships, and the alternative would have been to scrap her. I am not aware of the reasons for preserving Meiji Maru in this way. The Caishot Spit Light Vessel is not open to the public, and appears to be preserved just as a piece of street decoration.
The best choice of berthing arrangement is the wet/dry dock such as that used for Discovery in Dundee and HM.S. Gannet in Chatham (Click here for Illustration 15). The dock in Dundee was specially constructed, was expensive, and unfortunately does not look like a traditional dock, but serves its purpose well, allowing the vessel to remain open to the public while docked down for underwater restoration. Here again, for various reasons, adequate workshop facilities were not provided.
Gannet has the advantage of being in one of the historic dry-docks
of the decommissioned Royal Naval Dockyard, but even so there were costs
involved in converting the dock to its present use. The caisson had to
be modified to take the water pressure of the dock being full, when the
tide in the river was out, because it was not designed to operate like
this. other factors to be considered if keeping a vessel afloat are:
To conclude, I believe that ships should be kept afloat when ever possible,
depending on the following factors:
Illustrations of: Mikasa & Meiji Maru by kind permission
of The World Ship Trust
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