Well in fact it wasn’t – moving the first wooden blocks from between HMS Victory’s hull and cradle was hard enough… but then came another historic moment, cutting the first of the giant black steel cradles supporting her. That had to be done under carefully controlled conditions, behind shielding and fire blankets, because of the threat of accidentally starting a fire – the nightmare of all mariners over the centuries, and never more so than with wooden ships… which despite being creatures of the oceans, yet had enough dry wood in them to burn down to the waterline in short and terrifying order. So… hard for us camera guys, our stills and video man David Botwinik and me, Rob White, to get the pictures we wanted… as you can see we couldn’t see! Sparking (bottom centre, just visible!)always looks good though…
Getting the great wooden blocks out from between the cradles that have supported HMS ‘Victory’ since 1922 was definitely a game of two halves. The first, on the starboard side of her hull, came out sweetly. But the second, beneath the hull, was very different. All the weight of the ship at that point – Cradle 5 – was sitting on it, and the ML engineering team could hardly hoik the flagship up momentarily to pull it out. So there was only one way forward – drill a series of holes, then cut between them with a powered saw. Hour after hour passed ; it looked to our inexpert eyes like it wasn’t shifting. Then quite suddenly it did. But wait – what had been done was just one-third of one block. There are 22 of these cradles with their wooden block buffers…
Doesn’t look like much, does it? But this is an historic hardwood, a pertinent plank, a great grain. Because this is the first block- from a total of 44 – to be released from its 100-year old (near enough) home between cradle Number 5, on the starboard side of HMS ‘Victory’s hull, and the ship herself; placed there in the 1920’s as a buffer between ship and cradle, to protect the mighty ship’s hull from the steely embrace of its huge black supports. And it’s historic because it means this is Day 1 of fully re-supporting Nelson’s flagship on an array of hydraulic, adjustable props, running in two lines along both sides of the ship. For the first time, after months and months of exhaustive testing, those wonderful pieces of engineering are taking the weight and -‘Victory’ into her future.
It’s an old actors’ rule – never act with children and animals. Even if your performance could have made the Motion Picture Academy give you the full razzamatazz, kids and dogs (it’s usually dogs) will always somehow upstage you. Well, Maritime Films UK can offer thespians a new rule – DO act with former master mariners and seagoing officers, especially those who work for Tindall Riley marine insurers, on behalf of the Britannia shipowners P & I insurance ‘club’. We had a ship’s captain embodying his increasing agony at the inexorable loss of his ship, a hard-ass company official refusing to let him act in his ship’s best interests (and then blaming him), and a brave second officer to whom your heart went out as she kept her distress and fear under control as her ship foundered beneath her. Brilliant. Encore! Encore!
Our new film for ship insurance specialists Britannia P & I was shot at Transas, an extraordinarily sophisticated ship simulator in Hampshire – which can conjure up just about anything you want to portray calamities that can befall even the most modern of ships, on the safest of routes. And the ships themselves (picture.) In this case, a combination of essential repairs, refusal of funds for harbour charges and then tugs, to save a huge ship dragging her anchors out at sea and going aground. A ship powerless to save herself, because her engines were disabled for maintenance. The only redeeming feature of this sorry story being that no lives were lost – though the ship was. Drama by stages: first a Fawlty Towers-style non-meeting of minds, then a mounting crisis of bafflement and error, and finally – complete disaster. And disorder.
Maritime Films UK has been back in a bridge simulator for another training and instructional film for Britannia P & I, to be made with our good friends at Tindall Riley in the City. To recap: a ‘P & I’ Club is a co-operative system whereby ship owners come together to create a kitty (a big one!) to cover losses not easily or normally covered by major insurers – such as personal injury or dockside damage. So it’s in the interest of all in the Club to alert seafarers about how things can go wrong in a ship at sea – and very quickly. The training film we’re making together – based on real events – is a classic case of confusion and confounded purpose created between a ship in danger and pressures from the company office. So, the dreaded “Order… counter-order… “
Rob is a TV producer, reporter and camera operator with 30 years’ experience at the BBC, Channel 4 and ITN, in news, factual and documentary production. He is a four times award winner, whose awards include a coveted Royal Television Society award for his work on Channel 4 News. His association with The Maritime Foundation goes back to 1995, when he won the first Desmond Wettern Maritime Media Award for a series of reports that led to a major documentary on the loss of the bulk carrier Derbyshire.
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