MAJOR work to preserve HMS Victory for the future is under way – and it could cost as much as £40m, The News can reveal.
A new coat of paint is today drying on the hull of the famous warship as naval historians look to return her to the way she would have looked in Nelson’s time.
But beneath the paint lies rotting timbers and a structure which is in places suffering from the effects of wind, rain and time.
After years of undertaking work to get a handle on her current state, the National Museum of the Royal Navy is now putting together a conservation programme to lay down exactly what it will take to keep the ship around for future generations.
It comes with a hefty price tag and the possibility that Victory may not see her masts returned until 2030, but Andrew Baines, the head of historic ships at the museum, says he is confident in its success.
‘We are looking at a programme that is going to be around £35m to £40m in costs,’ he said. ‘That is going to be a huge amount for us to carry.
‘But I am confident we are going to be able to do it.
‘Nobody has ever done a project of this scale before and it is a truly unique situation, so the order of the day is slow and steady. You don’t take any risks with something like HMS Victory.’
Mr Baines said the NMRN would announce this year its plan for the conservation, along with the expected cost.
But two of the most pressing items of work have already begun. One is the fire suppression system, brought about as a result of the devastating blaze on board the Cutty Sark, an 1869 clipper ship which occurred during its own restoration.
The second is the installation of a new support structure for the ship. Victory is held in place in her dry dock by 22 steel cradles – which were put in when she was first docked there in the 1920s.
But the weight of the ship around such a small number of supporting structures is causing damaging levels of stress on the timbers.
Now another 136 individual supports will be installed, at a cost of around £1.2m to £2.5m, by this time next year.
Work to stop water from soaking through her timbers and causing rot is also well under way.
‘The important thing is so far we have stopped the rain getting in and we will have supported her better so she is in a much more stable position for the rest of the conservation work to begin,’ added Mr Baines.
‘Visually there are also going to be some very big changes. She is going to look very different.
‘The colour is much paler than what we have at the moment.
‘A lot of very thorough work has gone into this. You don’t just change the colour of HMS Victory without being absolutely certain, which we are.
‘This is how she would have looked in Nelson’s day.’
Some of the decorative elements of the outside of the ship will soon be returned and the lettering on the stern will be replaced in a more accurate font and style.
Mr Baines said the museum hoped to make an announcement in October this year about how the project will unfold.