All aboard as Nomadic prepares for trip home
SS Nomadic was due to set off from a French port at noon today on her final voyage home to the city where she was built.
The Titanic's ‘little sister' will be ferried by submersible barge out of the docks at Le Havre in Normandy, through the English Channel, rounding Land's End for the long trip north through the Irish Sea and into Belfast Lough.
The historic vessel, which carried first-class passengers onto the Titanic from Cherbourg on her ill-fated maiden voyage, was saved from the scrap yard in January when she was bought by the Department of Social Development at auction in Paris for €250,000.
Since then, the campaigners who fought to save her have been waiting impatiently for the day she arrives at Belfast Harbour.
Once there, she will be moored near the Odyssey Arena for 48 hours to allow people to view her, before moving to a berth provided by Belfast Harbour Commissioners.
Nomadic has already been floated onto a submersible barge owned by English firm Anchor Marine Transportation Ltd (AMT) and last night workers were securing the last of the sea fastenings to make sure she will withstand the long journey to the docks where she was built 95 years ago by Harland & Wolff.
Jonathan Bawden, of AMT, said the 10,000-tonne barge arrived in Le Havre late on Friday night and brought to a floating dock where it was submersed. Nomadic was brought round on Sunday morning and floated onto the larger vessel.
"Since then, they've been making her fast and making final preparations for the journey," he said.
"We submerged down to the bottom of the floating dock and, using the rising tide, Nomadic was floated on top of the barge. She was secured and the barge was ballasted back up."
A diver explored the underside of Nomadic a few weeks ago and found that the keel remained in good condition, he said.
"For a boat that is 95 years old, she is in incredibly good condition," he said.
"On top of the barge there is cribbing and grilling and the vessel has been fastened in by guy posts to make sure that she is fixed fast onto the barge."
Nomadic served the Titanic and sister ship Olympic before playing a valuable role in two world wars and serving the great Cunard transatlantic liners Queen Mary and Queen Eliza-beth.
The past week has seen a flurry of activity as she was prepared for her final voyage.
Two engineers have been in charge of the ballasting, while a team of three or four were responsible for the sea fastenings.
Mr Bawden estimated that if all goes to plan Nomadic will reach Belfast Lough on Sunday and will be kept at a holding point until Monday when she will travel to Queen's Quay.
"It's all subject to weather delays. We are expecting fair weather, which are the normal conditions for this time of the year," he said.