Monday, September 7, 2020

Appeal for Help Goes Out to Preserve Oldest Fighting Ship for Future Generations

Money Will be Matched by Grant from the Heritage Emergency Fund
Shipping News Feature

UK – Our picture shows both the original construction, and the current condition of one of a truly unique breed, HMS Unicorn, the most original old ship in the world. Constructed almost 200 years ago she launched in 1824, a 48 gun Royal Navy frigate she is one of the six oldest ships still afloat and probably, with her sister vessel HMS Trincomalee, the oldest intact true warship - and she needs a bit of help.

The two siblings were constructed at a busy time, with the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815 the Unicorn was constructed in a unique way as the quality timber used for centuries in British yards was increasingly harder to find, and more expensive when available, so iron was becoming more popular and so the metal was used in her construction to strengthen her.

Because the war at sea had ended after her (ironically) French designed Leda class had begun construction, the circumstances meant the Unicorn and her 46 class sisters were all built differently as techniques evolved, from the original vessels built from 1805 during the bulk of the fighting, to 1832 when the last ship of the class left the slipway.

The reason for her preservation is her comparatively sedentary life as a warship. Whilst her siblings fought in numerous actions (the battle in the war of 1812 between the English frigate Shannon and the American frigate Chesapeake with the latter’s capture springs to mind) the Unicorn never received either masts or rigging. She was towed from Chatham Dockyard after her launch there to Dundee.

It was in the Scottish city she sat as a depot ship for the next 140 years when it was decided to convert her to a museum ship. Now the Unicorn Preservation Society (UPS) has announced the launch of its first Crowdfunding Campaign which aims to raise £30,000 in aid of its Buoyancy Project which will protect the future of HMS Unicorn.

The care of old ships is a lengthy, continuous, increasingly specialised and expensive process. While still in remarkably good condition for a ship nearing 200 years of age, it is now time to consider the long term future of the ship, so that she might continue to be enjoyed for generations to come.

The Preservation Society is now moving ahead with plans for an ambitious project to move the Unicorn into dry dock near her current berth at Dundee's Waterfront. This move will better support ongoing conservation work and significantly slow down the environmental impact on the ship's deterioration. The success of the society's ambition is very much dependent on careful planning and early intervention that hopes to prevent further deterioration of the Unicorn's hull.

Over a very long period of time, the ‘hogging’ of HMS Unicorn's hull, a condition caused by the bow and the stern of the ship being heavier and therefore less buoyant than the middle of the ship, has become increasingly evident. A dive survey in July 2020 provided more detail related to the ‘hog’ and wider areas of disrepair, including the ship's keel. This poses a significant early threat to the immediate future of the Unicorn as this means there has been sufficient change in the structure of her hull which poses a threat to the vessel's wider integrity.

The purpose of the restoration project is to halt the tendency for HMS Unicorn's hull to ‘hog’ by placing two five tonne buoyancy bags at the fore end of the ship and four at the aft end. Eric Wright, Chair of Project Board commented:

"At nearly 200 years old, HMS Unicorn is the oldest British-built historic ship still afloat and one of the six oldest large ships in the world. Urgent action is essential to prevent further deterioration of its wooden structure, in order to preserve this unique ship for the benefit of current and future generations and we urge the public to get behind our campaign to help save the Unicorn."

This fundraising campaign, to preserve HMS Unicorn's buoyancy, is one of the first stages in a complex and challenging wider project. An exciting and long-term campaign plans to dry-dock HMS Unicorn, creating a significant and meaningful maritime heritage experience in Dundee.

The Unicorn Preservation Society is appealing to the people of Dundee and to maritime enthusiasts around the globe to consider giving to this first essential stage in the preservation of the HMS Unicorn, so that the project can be completed before the end of 2020. Every pound raised will help secure the future of HMS Unicorn, and every pound donated up to a total of £15,000 will be matched, thanks to a grant secured from the Heritage Emergency Fund.

To donate and support the preservation of HMS Unicorn, please click HERE.