HMS Caroline now shipshape to greet tourists again after refurb and safety upgrades to mooring
A modern day Belfast tourist attraction with an historic wartime past has had its future secured thanks to a massive programme of innovative repairs, safety upgrades and improvements.
HMS Caroline, the only survivor of the First World War Battle of Jutland, is now nearly ship-shape and Bristol fashion again and ready to reopen to the public, who visited it in their thousands last year.
The ship underwent extensive repairs over the winter and engineers came up with an ingenious solution to the problem of how to make it even safer for visitors.
The National Museum of the Royal Navy said it was one of the most innovative engineering projects seen in Ireland, and it is nearing completion at Alexandra Dock in Belfast.
The ship was fully restored and opened to the public in May 2016 with £15,086,100 backing from the Heritage Lottery Fund and £4,518,000 support from Tourism NI.
But repairs were needed to the hull and they have been carried out by Harland and Wolff Heavy Industries.
At the same time a hugely-complex permanent mooring system to make the ship safe for the public and also to protect it from lateral movements as it floats on the rising and falling tides is now close to completion.
Captain John Rees, chief of staff at The National Museum of the Royal Navy, who is in charge of the restoration and project work, says the ship will reopen on July 1 in time for the summer season.
"We are very much looking forward to the reopening of HMS Caroline, as it will now boast one of the most advanced mooring systems ever seen on the island of Ireland and possibly in the world," he said.
"Because of the historic fabric of Alexandra Dock, which is a scheduled ancient monument, and the complications of attaching an equally important and iconic vessel which weighs more than 4,000 tonnes to it, we have had to progress the project very carefully and sensitively."
The ship has been secured in the dock using two articulated steel A frames. They allow the ship to rise and fall with the tides while preventing excessive lateral movement which could restrict public access to the ship.
The 122 metre-long light cruiser, which was built in 1914 and has been in Belfast since 1924, was lovingly restored to its full glory with new decking, guns and a total refurbishment from bridge to engine room. HMS Caroline saw action in the Battle of Jutland in the North Sea on May 31, 1916 in which more than 8,000 lives were lost.
The ship was the focus of international commemorations of the battle on May 31 last year.
Captain Rees said HMS Caroline stands shoulder to shoulder with the world's most historically significant ships, including Lord Nelson's Victory and Queen Victoria's Warrior, both of which are part of the National Museum's fleet and on display in the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.
He added: "HMS Caroline is a living legend.
"This is a world class heritage asset and the only ship remaining from the Grand and High Seas Fleet of some 250 vessels."