Visitors get to see underneath Victory for first time

You can see the world’s most famous warship as not even Nelson saw her when HMS Victory re-opens to the public this month.

Three years of groundbreaking work by engineers, scientists and historians means visitors can see the flagship at Britain’s greatest naval triumph from below for the first time, after replacing the original cradles the man o’war has rested on for nearly 100 years.

In their place, 134 stainless steel props not only support the 260-year-old warship securely, but provide experts with constant data on the state of the ship – and allow tourists to inspect the 69-metre-long Trafalgar veteran from bow to rudder from below… a privilege not even Admiral Nelson himself is thought to have enjoyed.

Victory has been preserved in No.2 dry dock (itself 218 years old) since the 1920s; engineers used a series of steel cradles to support the 3,500 tonne vessel.

A century later and as part of an unprecedented 20-year £40m overhaul of the ship, the steel cradles (and tonnes of supporting concrete) have been gradually replaced by the hi-tech props, which can be adjusted to mimic the pressure of the ocean around Victory’s hull just as when she once roamed the seas.

It’s an amazing, breath-taking space to be in. I’ve been here 26 years and I’ve never seen Victory like this before. The views of her bow and rudder are fabulous. You can get up close to the ship like never before.

Matthew Sheldon

Andrew Baines, project director for the National Museum of the Royal Navy, said replacing the original supports was crucial to the long-term future and preservation of the iconic ship.

“Victory was slowly collapsing on herself. We had to fix the foundations and now we have, we can carry out the rest of the ‘keyhole surgery’ which she needs to keep her going for the next 250 years,” he said.

The bonus of saving the ship using the special props has flooded the dock bottom with light and allowed access like never before; a walkway has been created for visitors to get underneath Victory.

“It’s an amazing, breath-taking space to be in,” said Matthew Sheldon, the museum’s head curator. “I’ve been here 26 years and I’ve never seen Victory like this before. The views of her bow and rudder are fabulous. You can get up close to the ship like never before.”

The cutting-edge technology will feed minute-by-minute data on the strains, stresses and loads the ship is bearing, then the props – mostly 6in in diameter – can be adjusted accordingly.

“It’s been a unique endeavour for a unique ship,” said Rob Hanway, Victory Programme Manager from BAE Systems which led the complex project.

“There’s never been anything quite like this before – a combination of the old and the new. Props have been used on cranes, but never on such a scale.

“Over the past 18 months as we’ve taken out the old cradle, the sheer daylight flooding into the dock meant you noticed the difference and she looks pretty impressive. It’s been an absolute pleasure to work on her.”

The public can view Victory – and the rest of the sights in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard – when it re-opens on August 24. Numbers to the site will be limited to 250 per hour initially, and all visitors must book online in advance via: www.historicdockyard.co.uk/tickets-and-offers