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29 Sep - Dry-dock in Portsmouth

RRS Ernest Shackleton is in C Dock, Portsmouth Naval Base.

On Sunday 22nd September the Ernest Shackleton sailed from Aberdeen for the last time this year, heading south towards Portsmouth. On Monday morning, at 0700, with the vessel passing the River Humber the Supply Time Charter came to an end and the vessel returned into the hands of the British Antarctic Survey.

With a departure date set for 28th October to sail for the South Atlantic, the coming weeks are going to be very busy for all onboard the vessel as it undergoes a dry-dock period and then has to load all the cargo for the coming season in Antarctica.

The passage from Aberdeen to Portsmouth proved uneventful and late in the morning of Tuesday 24th the Admiralty Pilot boarded to guide us through the Naval Port to our initial berth in No 3 Basin. No sooner were we safely tied-up alongside than work started, getting as much as possible prepared for the weeks to follow in the dry-dock itself.

One of the larger jobs being undertaken this year is the modification of our main crane (which has a lifting capability of 50 tonnes) and the contractors set to work immediately. The work involves lifting the crane off its pedestal, the installation of new pumps and tanks into the pedestal and then lifting the crane back into place, when the work of reconnecting and reconfiguring the crane can then take place.

Main crane being lifted off the vessel - Click to enlarge
The main crane being lifted off the vessel.
Click to enlarge

Thursday morning saw the crane lifted, using a shore-side mobile crane, and placed onto the quayside, nicely blocking the road to all traffic! With all the pedestal work completed for Friday afternoon, the crane was lifted back into place on Saturday morning, and is now bolted back into place, allowing the engineers to complete the job of reconnecting it which will take about a week.

Other preparation work has also been completed as we wait to enter the dry-dock. All the internal accommodation decks have now be covered with protective temporary flooring, thus allowing workers and ships staff alike to move through the accommodation without the worry and hassle of removing workboots, and not damage our flooring.

Some work has started on the cleaning of the ships side, in preparation for the forthcoming painting work to be completed. Whilst all this has been going on, the dry-dock has had to be prepared for the ship. The dry-dock that we will be using is 'C' Dock, which looks as though it could easily take an aircraft carrier, and into which the Ernest shackleton will most likely look lost.

Long before the Ernest Shackleton arrived in Portsmouth detailed drawings of the ship were submitted to FSL Ltd (the shipyard responsible for the dry-dock and refit work) and from these a detailed plan is drawn up for the placing of large blocks onto the bottom of the dry-dock. The vessel will enter the dry-dock and be very carefully positioned, normally using large steel wires and turfers (to tension the wires) until it is in the exact position over the blocks. The the lock gates will be put back in place and the water will be pumped out, with the vessel settling slowly onto the blocks.

On the hull of the vessel are numerous access holes and covers, which need to be clear so that maintenance work can be carried out, and this is another reason for the careful placing of the blocks.

View into the dry-dock - Click to enlarge Inspecting the blocks - Click to enlarge Looking down at the blocks - Click to enlarge

Above: (L-R) A view into the dry-dock as the blocks are being placed; Officers from onboard the vessel with members of the FSL Ltd in the dry-dock inspecting the blocks. Notice the height of the blocks; Looking down at the blocks. Click the images to enlarge them.

The intention is that the Ernest Shackleton will remain afloat overnight Sunday and that the water will be pumped out on Monday morning.

Portsmouth Naval Dockyard is also a place that is steeped in history, and amongst its many claims is that it is the site of the first ever dry-dock. With visitor attractions like HMS Victory, the oldest commissioned warship in the world, HMS Warrior, the first ironclad warship, and the Mary Rose (alas famous for sinking!), not to mention the numerous exhibitions and museums, there is much to see and do should spare time be found.

HMS Victory - Click to enlarge HMS Victory at night - Click to enlarge

Views of HMS Victory
Click images to enlarge

Just outside the base, via the Victory Gate, is the new Gunwharf Quays Shopping Centre, which has a good selection of shops, a multi-screen cinema and a number of restaurants and bars.

The Ernest Shackleton will be in dry-dock from the 30th September until the 15th October, when the dock will be flooded again and the vessel floated. Then we will remain in the dock until the 20th, when we will move to a berth to load fuel on the 21st October (Trafalgar Day!) and then sail for Immingham to load the cargo for the 2002/03 Antarctic season.

29th September 2002