Major restoration work to Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory is about to get under way with the first task being to dismantle the ship’s three masts.
The Royal Navy announced earlier this year that it was committed to maintaining the 18th century ship, which is the oldest commissioned warship in the world.
The work to dismantle the masts will be the first time Victory, famous for its role at the Battle of Trafalgar, has been without its top masts since 1944.
Much of the highly-skilled operation will be 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.
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 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 new interactive exhibition is to be opened at the National Museum of the Royal Navy, which is adjacent to Victory in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, Hampshire, to coincide with the works.
Professor Dominic Tweddle, director general of the museum, said: ‘We are delighted that the MoD has given the go-ahead for the work on Victory.
‘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.
‘Both Victory and the museum will remain open to the public throughout the restoration work.’
Recent survey work on Victory revealed that it was leaking, suffering from rot and being pulled apart by its own weight.
The MoD is setting up a new 10-year contract for repairs and maintenance of the ship.