HMS Victory is “afloat” on her smart props

The HMS Victory conservation project has reached a major milestone with the completion of her new support system.

As I wrote 18 months ago (Review: HMS Victory. Take a look, there’s a good explanatory video), the National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN) and BAE Systems have been working on a revolutionary new support structure for Nelson’s flagship, which is designed to stabilize her sagging hull.

BAE Systems have designed and installed 134 adjustable ‘smart props’ to support HMS Victory, replacing the 22 steel cradles which were installed when Victory came to rest in the dry dock in 1922. Over the 98 years she has been there, she has begun to sag between the cradles.

View of the props in the dry dock
The new smart props

The new props spread the load more evenly, allowing the 3,600 tonne ship to ‘float’ almost as if she were in the water. They continuously monitor the weight distribution, enabling adjustments to be made, mimicking the variable pressures of the sea. The real-time data provided by the sensors can give early warning of faults or weaknesses in the ship that can be caught and fixed before even being visible to the human eye.

Andrew Baines, Project Director from the NMRN says “Reaching this halfway stage, in a two decade long conservation project, is an extraordinary achievement. Each prop has a load cell so we can know, on a minute-by-minute basis, how much of HMS Victory’s weight is being carried, providing the Museum with invaluable insight into her stability and helping us to prevent damage to her structure.”

Visitors will have access to the base of the dry dock for the first time.
Despite COVID-19, NMRN and BAE have managed to complete the work before Portsmouth Historic Dockyard reopens to the public on 24th August, and there’s more. Visitors will have access to the base of the dry dock for the first time. A new ‘Under Hull Walkway’ will enable visitors to admire HMS Victory from below.

Most encouragingly, the new smart props provide a major step towards restoring HMS Victory to her former glory. The upper sections of her masts were removed in 2011 to reduce the load on her sagging hull. With the deterioration halted, the hope is that in due course the masts and rigging can be restored.

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