Some 1,600 curious visitors have poured across the gangplank of Titanic’s ‘little sister’ since last week to see the vessel before wholesale restoration gets under way.
Although plans for SS Nomadic’s restoration had been delayed due to uncertainty about funding, it’s now full steam ahead after the project won more than £2 million in EU funding, organisers have promised.
They believe workers will be on board the vessel early next year to start major renovation work and are confident Nomadic’s superstructure will have been rebuilt by her centenary in 2011, along with further refurbishment.
Work was delayed on drawing up a Conservation Management Plan (CMP) for the ship, which once carried first class passengers onto the Titanic on its ill-fated maiden voyage, but Nomadic Charitable Trust says the second phase has now begun.
Chairman Denis Rooney said: “We’re very keen to give as much access to the public as possible before we will have to close her for the more complex construction phase which we are planning.
“We are hoping to create as much access as possible to let people see the progress of work on the Nomadic — that is subject to all the normal health and safety requirements we have to meet.
“The next stage is the final stage of planning — the completion of the CMP — and we’re simultaneously preparing tender documents for the major work that will be carried out in a phased programme.
“We’re still targeting for a deadline of 2011, subject to funding of the tendered costs.”
The Nomadic was saved from the scrapyard in 2006 and ferried back to Belfast where it was planned she would form the centrepiece of the Titanic Quarter.
But the project landed in the doldrums as auditors expressed concern that the trust was struggling to meet its £5m fundraising target for 2009, with less than £1.4m received when the Northern Ireland Audit Office examined the accounts in January.
However, the £2.27m EU grant announced ahead of Nomadic’s move to a permanent berth in Hamilton Dock has now given the trust the financial backing to meet the 2011 deadline, Mr Rooney said.
“That was a great boost to us and it has given us considerable impetus and enabled us to get on with things. The commissioning of the second part of the CMS was something we had to hold back until we recovered our funding, but it’s full steam ahead now.”
Over the next two weeks visitors can take tours of the ship, attend talks by former UTV reporter Suzie Millar, whose great grandfather was a Titanic crew member, and enjoy lectures on themes such as the links between Titanic and Nomadic.
Children will take part in an art competition themed Lough Life and students from Dominican College in Belfast will stage a performance of their play Titanic.
TOOLS 100 YEARS OLD STILL BEST
Shipyard tools from Harland & Wolff in Belfast that may have been used to build Titanic have gone on display on SS Nomadic.
Some of the tools are believed to be over100 years old — yet are still used by shipyard workers at Harland & Wolff today.
The tools were handed over to volunteers on Nomadic by shipyard worker Robert Mahood earlier this week.
Among the cache are large pointed wooden fids, used to hold open knots in rope and canvas and serving boards used to make rope ladders.
“They are regular tools that we use in the shipyard — we still use some of them. I was using some of the fids last week,” Robert said.
“The modern ones aren’t as good as the old wooden ones. Some of them have been used that many times the rope has worn into them.
“Some of these are over 100 years old — they were used on the Titanic and Nomadic and all, I would say.”
When Robert started at the yard there were over 60 riggers but only two remain, so many of the tools are now unused.
“These are old ones I have in work - I keep them about for showing people,” he said.
He is hoping to donate some of them to the Nomadic Charitable Trust, which is restoring the vessel that once carried first class passengers onto Titanic on her maiden voyage.
Among the other artefacts on display on Nomadic are an old White Star Line fan, a souvenir bought from the on-board barber shop; a third class soup bowl recovered from the wreck of RMS Arabic which was sunk by a U-boat; a pair of grape scissors from First Class on Titanic’s sister ship Olympic; and a White Star Line butter dish and chocolate pot.
A White Star Line barometer can also be viewed, along with a cache of letters from the Ismay family.