Work begins ahead of ‘battle’ to save HMS Victory from disrepair

DON'T LOOK DOWN! Rope access technician Rob Tucker climbs the foremast of HMS Victory at the start of an extensive restoration project
DON'T LOOK DOWN! Rope access technician Rob Tucker climbs the foremast of HMS Victory at the start of an extensive restoration project
The Russian destroyer Vice Admiral Kulakov as seen from HMS Somerset in the Moray Firth

Royal Navy ship shadows a Russian destroyer

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WORK has begun on a major restoration of HMS Victory, which will start with the dismantling of the historic warship’s masts.

Rope specialist Bell Rigging is preparing the 18th century warship at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard ahead of a £20m project to save the ship from years of decay.

1944 HMS Victory with her top mast removed

1944 HMS Victory with her top mast removed

It comes after a Ministry of Defence report found Admiral Nelson’s flagship is riddled with rot, leaking and being pulled apart under her own weight.

A contract is still out to tender for Victory’s 10-year restoration but BAE Systems will begin urgent maintenance work to her masts before the end of the month.

This will involve taking Victory’s top masts down for the first time since they were removed during the Second World War to prevent further air raid bomb damage.

John O’Sullivan, BAE Systems project manager, said: ‘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 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.’

The work on the masts is due to be completed in September and Portsmouth Historic Dockyard said the ship will remain open to visitors while the work continues.

The restoration will become an attraction in its own right at the National Museum of the Royal Navy, which will open an interactive exhibition exploring how Victory was originally built in 1759, how she was preserved and cared for in war and peace and the extensive restoration process that will cover the next 10 years.

The museum’s director general, Professor Dominic Tweddle, said: ‘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.’

Victory went into dry dock in Portsmouth in 1922. As the oldest commissioned warship in the world, she is the flagship of the Second Sea Lord and attracts more than 350,000 visitors every year.

The MoD has committed itself to looking after Victory following public outcry over plans to sell her in 2008. The ship’s upkeep costs around £1.5m each year but an extra £20m will be spent to fully restore her during the next 10 years.