Inverclyde Now Logo ICONIC Comet Replica Is “Beyond Repair”, Expert Finds

17 October, 2020 | Clyde Shipping, Local

A CONDITION survey on paddle steamer replica Comet has found that it cannot be repaired and that a new hull would need to be built and stored in a climate-controlled building.

The vessel — a landmark attraction at Port Glasgow — is twisted and 90 per cent of its hull planking is rotten, the survey by a naval architect concluded.

The replica underwent a £180,000, 12-month restoration at Ferguson shipyard that was completed in June 2011. | Photos of Comet after restoration in 2011

A report by Inverclyde Council officials states: “The replica has been continuously exposed through its history to all elements of the weather and steadily deteriorated.

“A survey and condition report was commissioned to assess the current condition of the replica Comet and to consider feasible options of repair.

“The outcome of the study confirms that the extent of timber decay in the hull is severe to the extent that economic refurbishment of this aspect of the ship is not feasible.

“A restoration would potentially involve significant ‘new build’ utilising components from the current vessel such as the replica engine.

“There are alternatives open to the council in respect of restoration and future display. There is an opportunity to develop a strategy for the long-term to ensure that any actions are future-proofed. This potentially could be through the method of construction of a replica or the  manner of display.”

“It is proposed that officers work with the Port Glasgow Regeneration Forum, potentially through a working group, to explore and cost options for the vessel. This is with a view to reporting back in early 2021.”

The survey report was submitted to the council in December 2019 but is only now being made public.

It states: “This Comet is of immense importance as it represents the first sea-going mechanically propelled vessel. The original vessel sank; this replica built in the early 1960’s is now beyond repair.

“The machinery can probably be removed, stripped down, cleaned, preserved and put back together for display purposes, possibly driven by an electric motor to show how it works.

“The condition of the vessel is very poor, the vessel is twisted, upwards of 90 per cent of the hull planking is rotten, as is the deck, machinery foundation, lower transverse bulkheads, beam shelf, bilge stringer, beam shelf stringer and up to 40 per cent of the frames.”

It continues: “Machinery has not been run since the 1960s. Looking forward, it would be best to remove the machinery from the vessel (overhaul the machinery), build a new hull and fit the machinery to it. Any such new replica should be stored in a purpose-built, climate-controlled building.

“It is unfortunately too late for a maintenance plan for the existing vessel, the existing vessel is beyond repair, the best that can be hoped for is that the machinery can be removed and used on a new replica vessel.”

“As the existing vessel is beyond repair, two shipyards have been approached for guideline prices for building a new replica hull out of larch planking on sawn oak framing.”

The council report does not reveal the prices given by the shipyards.

The original paddle steamer was built by Henry Bell, Port Glasgow and began a passenger service in 1812 on the Clyde between Glasgow and Greenock, the first commercially successful steamboat service in Europe. The vessel was shipwrecked in strong currents near Oban on 13 December 1820.

The replica was built for the 150th anniversary of the ship and was sailed to Helensburgh from Port Glasgow in 1962 accompanied by a large flotilla of canoes, sailing dinghies, yachts, and motor boats achieving the design speed of five knots.

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