Strange sight as HMS Victory is stripped back

HMS Victory as she will now look to visitors whilst restoration work is carried out on the masts (estimated as an 18 month process)
HMS Victory as she will now look to visitors whilst restoration work is carried out on the masts (estimated as an 18 month process)

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THIS is how HMS Victory will look for the next 18 months.

Her three top masts and 26 miles of rigging have been removed as work gets under way on a £20m, 10-year project to fully restore the 250-year-old warship.

It is the first time Lord Nelson’s flagship has been without all three top masts since the Second World War, when they were removed to avoid bomb damage from the Luftwaffe.

Rigging engineers have been working on Victory since July. They removed the final mast yesterday morning.

Professor Dominic Tweddle, who is director general of the National Museum of the Royal Navy, said: ‘Watching the team painstakingly disassemble the rigging and masts of HMS Victory has been heartstopping at times.

‘To do this intricate work, while still keeping Victory open to the public, has been a logistical masterpiece.

‘Interestingly, with her topmasts down, Victory will look much as she did after the Battle of Trafalgar when she had to be towed to Gibraltar for repairs.’

The highly-skilled operation to remove the masts was 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, also maintain the age-old wooden shipbuilding skills.

John O’Sullivan, who is BAE Systems’ project manager for HMS Victory, said: ‘We have removed 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.’

A survey performed last year found Victory is in disrepair and falling apart under her own weight.

The MoD is still in the process of deciding which firm will take on the 10-year project to fully restore the warship.