Conservation 'milestone' as rudder of Captain Scott's historic RRS Discovery removed

Public urged to visit famous vessel to witness repair efforts

It is an integral part of Scotland’s rich maritime heritage that has traversed the world’s seas. Now, for the first time in 120 years, the vast rudder of Dundee’s famous Royal Research Ship Discovery can be viewed by the public.

The near eight metre tall rudder, used to steer the historic vessel on its voyages as far afield as the treacherous Antarctic ice field, has been removed as part of vital efforts to preserve the ship for future generations.

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The complex and carefully planned operation to remove the rudder through the ship’s hull, a moment described as a “milestone” in the ongoing conservation work, attracted crowds on the Dockside at the city’s Discovery Point, with more spectators expected in the coming days to appreciate its scale and craftsmanship.

The ship, one of Dundee’s best known landmarks, was purpose built to take explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott to the Antarctic in the early 1900s. Its rudder, which weighs nearly six tonnes, was lifted using a specially designed rudder well integrated into the ship’s core during RRS Discovery’s build in the dockyards of Dundee back in 1901. It has been placed next to the ship’s two ‘cuddies’, or cabins, which were removed in early spring.

The temporary removal of the ship’s rudder will not only allow for the piece to be repaired, but will further relieve RRS Discovery’s overhanging stern, with a cradle-like scaffold expected to be installed in the dry dock in the coming weeks.

Ali Gellatly, director of ship and facilities at Dundee Heritage Trust, the charity that acts as the scientific research exploration ship’s custodians, said the sight of the rudder being placed on dry land was special, not least because the same engineering procedure was undertaken after the rudder was damaged while freeing RRS Discovery from the grips of the Antarctic ice over a century ago.

Back then, weeks of attempts to loosen the vessel from its entrenched position in the Antarctic by use of explosives and manual labour had taken their toll on the wooden rudder, with its replacement being installed on the return journey in 1904.

The rudder hasn’t been fully removed from the ship in this way for what is thought to be 100 yearsThe rudder hasn’t been fully removed from the ship in this way for what is thought to be 100 years
The rudder hasn’t been fully removed from the ship in this way for what is thought to be 100 years

“It has been a remarkable sight to see the historic rudder lifted through the well of the ship,” Mr Gellatly explained. “This marks a massive milestone in the works being funded by the National Heritage Memorial Fund.

“I don’t think any one of us present today will forget seeing the rudder lifted skywards in the same method that Robert Falcon Scott and his crew witnessed in Dundee, during Discovery’s trials in 1901 before their famous Antarctic Expedition.”

Since the announcement of the major conservation project aboard RRS Discovery earlier this year, various elements of the ship’s ageing structure have been addressed; including repairing aft skids, removing modern paint from the ship’s sail locker to expose historic wood for repair and replacement, and beginning to de-caulk targeted areas of the deck.

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This work, funded by the National Heritage Memorial Fund, is being undertaken by a range of heritage engineers, led by JPS Restoration, a Scottish firm with extensive experience in the sector. The RRS Discovery remains open as usual throughout the year-long conservation works.

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