Restoration and Conservation Continues.
It is an exciting occupation restoring wooden historical ships, you never know what will turn up next when working on one. The Discovery continued to amaze even the experienced Main Contractor who had worked on a number of such ships over the years. What is satisfying to the extreme is when a space that had been in decay and ignored for years is transformed into something that provides a new and better visitor educational experience. The Engine-room of the Discovery is an outstanding example of this and the following pictures show what was achieved during the Project.
Over the past number of years many new products have been brought on to the market that claim to preserve timber. They, generally, are produced as a result of research, either at
universities or in a manufacturer’s research department. Such products are welcome but, and this is very much a personal opinion, lack long term credibility. In order to continue to preserve the timber these products have been applied to, they generally, have to be re-applied at fairly frequent intervals to remain effective. A very good example of this is wooden garden furniture and garden decking. Most are supplied already treated, many do not say with what, those that do advise that you should refer to manufacturer’s instructions for that product. So the timber these garden items are made of may look pristine for the first year, weathered and vulnerable the second, then fresh water soaks in to the wood and it starts to rot during the third year. If these items last beyond five years without further treatment then you will be one of the lucky ones.
In the good old days – hey! Those who built wooden ships built them to last. The timbers they were constructed of were well chosen. Pitch Pine, nearly decay resistant and contains a large amount of resin. English Elm, strong and durable and resistant to water. Teak, presence of Silica in the wood, contains natural oils and resists parasites. Oak, strong, weather resistant and the backbone and ribs of all early sailing ships. What about preservation then? Well, Pitch Pine with its natural preservative, resin, when given a proper protective coating such a bitumen or tar, didn’t need any. English Elm, naturally resists water and given a similar protective coating the was no further need for preservatives. Teak. Ah Teak!! A great mistake made by many is the failure to recognise the properties of Teak and apply modern preservatives. In doing so the life of Teak is reduced rather than increased. Why should this be so? Well, Teak is blessed with its own natural oils that provide more than adequate protection from decay and parasites and should a modern preservative be applied, the balance of the content of those oils would be compromised and lead to an earlier breakdown of the structure of the timber. Oak, provided it is given an adequate protective, not preservative, coating and that coating is maintained, this strong, weather resistant and beautiful timber will remain in service for a long, long time. In recent times Boron in stick or powder form has been successfully used in restoration projects to treat Oak and other like timbers where fresh water had been allowed to soak into the timbers for many years. Rain, fresh water penetration spells the death-knell of all timber and must be prevented at whatever cost. Where softer woods that have suffered surface decay are concerned, such as pine, if the decay is removed and the timber dried, a liberal coating or near saturation of the age old Raw Linseed Oil is the best answer. This ancient oil has been used as a preservative for centuries and produces a fantastic effect on new timber. Try this. Find a new small piece of wood of whatever kind and sand it smooth. Wipe the dust off and then put two or three drops of Raw Linseed Oil on a small, clean cloth then wipe the cloth along the wood with the grain and see what happens. Do not put too much oil on the cloth and be astounded when you see your piece of wood revealing its grain as it soaks up the oil. Mahogany is best but any wood will do.
Back to the Discovery. The coal bunker was immediately next to the Boiler-room and forward of this space everything had been enclosed along the starboard (right) side. Coal had been moulded from fibre glass and set up to make as if the bunker was near full (see picture). An electrical control room came next before ends of packing cases with the contents stencilled on them were ranged from floor to ceiling (deck-head in nautical terms) to form a solid wall forward of the bunker The port side bunker had been successfully converted into a classroom. A store-room then a pump room followed by another enclosed space used as an office made up the port side.
We set about opening the compartments on the starboard side and the immediate result was obvious. Fresh air could once again circulate and the visitor could form a real impression of the size of the ship’s hold spaces.
In an earlier issue I told of the magnetic free surroundings where delicate observations were done, charting the magnetic variation of the ships compass in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean and adding to the accuracy of the general survey works undertaken. In the next part I’ll explain further the extraordinary lengths the designer went to achieve this.
Until then try the little experiment I suggested using Raw Linseed Oil – its great!!
© Captain John J Watson OBE January 2012 Fethiye