One thing that really helps when you’re filming is having the enthusiastic co-operation and support of those you’re filming. In the case of HMS ’Victory’, Maritime Films UK been really lucky – starting with the project’s engineering whizzkids, ML (UK) of Portsmouth, and going through the painters and shipwrights working on her, all the way up to the management in the National Museum of the RN – Andrew Baines, Matthew Sheldon and Arabella Roberts. They’ve been steadfast in their support, though under great pressure every day managing numerous just-can’t-fail projects, as well as the running of the Museum itself. This (picture) is our latest Good Guy – Tom Bates, who’s relatively new to the project, but a great help on location. Here he’s explaining the monitoring bay, high up on the edge of ‘Victory’s dock. Just… don’t step back Tom..!
Someone had to do it. As the cutting of the first of HMS ‘Victory’s giant steel cradles proceeded, with infinite care, it was very important to check whether any heat was building up on the inward side of the action – down deep in the hold. Dark and close in there for the young guy looking after it hour after hour into the night (much of the work on ‘Victory’ is being done late and early – she’s staying open to the public throughout the two decades-plus of the work on her – as England Expects..!) Here Leon is operating an infra-red monitor, which will warn him if anything is getting too warm. Vital work, because the whole ship is highly flammable – old, dry timbers, paint, cordage, caulking –all of it ever ready to burn. No-one can forget what happened to ‘Cutty Sark’…
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!
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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