Why couldn't Harland and Wolff build Titanic in the graving dock?


Tim Gerard

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I was reading about how some of the larger ocean liners, such as Titanic and Mauretania, were constructed and launched. They slid the finished hull down a slipway into the water, and they were concerned about it tipping over before the entire hull was in water. Harland and Wolff did have the graving drydock for fitting out, so they could fill and drain the dock, so why couldn't they build a second graving dock and construct the ships entirely in there? When ready to launch they'd calculate the afloat drafts and fill the dock with water until it floats. That's a large part of what I do for a living for ships coming in for maintenance, and it's a much slow and more controlled (and probably much safer) process than sliding it down soap and animal fat.
 

Dave Gittins

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A basic reason for not building in the graving dock was that H & W didn't own it. It belonged to the city of Belfast. Also, it was barely large enough to hold Titanic, let alone have room for workers and machines.

To this day, most ships are built on slipways and slid into the water. Some smaller ships are launched sideways, which is good fun to watch, as they almost capsize with a mighty splash.

Some ships, often cruise ships, are built in dry docks and floated out. They are built in large sections called blocks, which are built in places convenient to the dock and hoisted in by mighty cranes. A block may weigh a few hundred tons.

Years ago, I saw a ship launched Titanic style. The thing that surprised me was the noise. The ropes supporting the drag chains break as they complete their work. It sounds like a gun battle. Add the rumbling of the chains and it's quite a racket.

And for a real flop, see
 
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TimTurner

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I'd also expect it was much cheaper. A slipways is basically just a large inclined plane, correct? A drydock has to have all the watertight doors, and pumps, and is dug out of the earth, in addition to everything that a slip has. None of that is cheap.

When you're building a ship, nobody cares where it's at - so long as you can get it into the water. Building the ship above ground and sliding it into the water is entirely effective. But once you have a ship and need to do work under the water line, it's much more difficult to lift it up out of the water onto the land - so you don't. You float it into a dry dock and drain the water out. The ship is in drydock likely for a few months, maybe a year, and then that expensive drydock space can be used for another ship. A ship under construction, on the other hand, could be under construction for multiple years.

While your drydock is being occupied, it can't be used for other things. So if your Olympic comes in with bow damage, you can't bring it into the drydock that's full of a Titanic-under-construction. And you certainly aren't dragging it up onto a slip. And it's silly to spend money on two drydocks, when you don't really need two.
 
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Tim Gerard

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That all makes sense. I work with ships undergoing maintenance in drydock, doing much of the calcs for the ship entering and leaving the multiple graving drydocks we have, and then being present for the evolution to provide technical support. Maybe I don't have a good grasp on what's involved in constructing a new build since we only do maintenance and repairs on ships already in service, and I just see several times each year how slow and controlled the process is getting the ship in and out of the graving dock. I bet witnessing the launch of a new build, sliding into the water, is exciting.
 

Jim Currie

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Hello Tim.
A Graving dock is a money-earner to its owner. As you know, it is designed to accommodate all sizes of ship. Many ships
In the old days had an annual dry-docking for a "haircut and a Shave".. i.e., removal of all accumulated marine growth because anti-fouling compounds were not as efficient as they are to day. Some ships had external copper sheathing that needed repair from time to time. As well as checking marks and maintaining them. Damage to rudders and propellers sometimes required urgent attention. There was also (hen) the four year special classification Society survey for registered ships.

Among other things, I was New Building Inspector and down river tow-master from 1974 to 1995 on behalf of Lloyds and American New Construction underwriters at the old John Brown's shipyard at Clydebank. By that time they were exclusively working on the production of giant self-elevating drilling barges. These were launched in the conventional way. Now that was a sight to behold. Prior to that, and for a short time I had some work on the newbuild...QE2.
Are you a Naval Architect?
 
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Rob Lawes

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One of the most famous "launch flops" in marine construction history was the sad tale of Brunnel's SS Great Eastern, built on the banks of the river Thames. The stress of resolving so many issues with that mechanical monster almost certainly led to Brunnel's stroke and subsequent death just days after the Great Eastern finally sailed.
 
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Jim Currie

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That must have been quite a moment in your life, Tim...I can imagine the face of a little grandchild when his grandpa tells him he ran into a mountain while in a submarine. You are one of a very few- not too many can have survived such an event to tell the tale. Thanks for sharing.
 
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Bo Bowman

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Dave Gittins, thanks for sharing the photos of the 1907 Italian launching/sinking. Someone had his desk cleared out for him the next morning, I expect. Looking at the photos, I am amazed at how narrow and tall that ship was. Well, it was an era of great innovation, which returns us to Titanic. I recently read a 1912 magazine article written by the author Joseph Conrad, expressing his angst and annoyance at the Olympic Class ships - too big, too extravagant, etc. Much like my own annoyance a century later, at today's giant cruise ships.

The discussion of drydocks reminded me of one experience during my brief naval career. Stationed aboard the old Essex Carrier USS Oriskany in the early 1970s, when she had a quick visit to Yokosuka, Japan to replace a lost propeller. I stole the opportunity to walk beneath the full length of the ship from stem to stern, just to be able to tell my grandkids about it someday. Three city blocks, and I can't recall a single thing about that stroll - except that I did it.
 
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Nov 14, 2005
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Lol, no. I was a reactor chemist on a nuclear submarine. I took that boat into drydock three times, and into a mountain once (15 Years Ago, a U.S. Navy Submarine Ran Into a Mountain). So we can say that I have a technical mind, a reasonable background in physics, and a personal interest in maritime accidents.
Wow. I remember hearing about that. 15 years already since then. Damn. Thanks for the article. Very interesting.
 
Nov 14, 2005
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Dave Gittins, thanks for sharing the photos of the 1907 Italian launching/sinking. Someone had his desk cleared out for him the next morning, I expect. Looking at the photos, I am amazed at how narrow and tall that ship was. Well, it was an era of great innovation, which returns us to Titanic. I recently read a 1912 magazine article written by the author Joseph Conrad, expressing his angst and annoyance at the Olympic Class ships - too big, too extravagant, etc. Much like my own annoyance a century later, at today's giant cruise ships.

The discussion of drydocks reminded me of one experience during my brief naval career. Stationed aboard the old Essex Carrier USS Oriskany in the early 1970s, when she had a quick visit to Yokosuka, Japan to replace a lost propeller. I stole the opportunity to walk beneath the full length of the ship from stem to stern, just to be able to tell my grandkids about it someday. Three city blocks, and I can't recall a single thing about that stroll - except that I did it.
Still must have been something to see. Never seen a ship in dry dock. They taught us about the USS Oriskany in A-school and in the fire fighting schools I went to.. The flare locker fire. Pretty tragic.
 

TimTurner

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Thanks for the article. Very interesting.
well I didn't write the article, I was only the subject of it!

It's interesting how different news articles always were from actually being there.

Jim, I suppose my claim to fame is that I'm the only person in history who rode an excercise treadmill into a mountain while 500 feet underwater.

Bo Bowman, I've got a picture of the Oriskany at work. That's a mighty big ship.
 

Tim Gerard

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Feb 26, 2019
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Hello Tim.
A Graving dock is a money-earner to its owner. As you know, it is designed to accommodate all sizes of ship. Many ships
In the old days had an annual dry-docking for a "haircut and a Shave".. i.e., removal of all accumulated marine growth because anti-fouling compounds were not as efficient as they are to day. Some ships had external copper sheathing that needed repair from time to time. As well as checking marks and maintaining them. Damage to rudders and propellers sometimes required urgent attention. There was also (hen) the four year special classification Society survey for registered ships.

Among other things, I was New Building Inspector and down river tow-master from 1974 to 1995 on behalf of Lloyds and American New Construction underwriters at the old John Brown's shipyard at Clydebank. By that time they were exclusively working on the production of giant self-elevating drilling barges. These were launched in the conventional way. Now that was a sight to behold. Prior to that, and for a short time I had some work on the newbuild...QE2.
Are you a Naval Architect?
Hi Jim, sorry for the delay in replying. I am a Naval Architect, yes, originally hoping to get involved with new builds and new designs, but when I finished college there were more job opportunities in maintenance, and thus working with dock masters in ensuring ships are adequately supported by docking blocks in graving docks, and are loaded properly to safely dock and undock.
 
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Bo Bowman

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Tim Turner, thanks for the link to that article. That was an absolutely amazing event. And it begs the question that's been asked here many times before: "What if Titanic had hit the ice mountain head on?"
 
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Bo Bowman

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Steven Christian said:

Still must have been something to see. Never seen a ship in dry dock. They taught us about the USS Oriskany in A-school and in the fire fighting schools I went to.. The flare locker fire. Pretty tragic.

Steven, were you a USN Damage Controlman? Where did you go to A-school? I went through Treasure Island (San Francisco Bay) in '71. Yes, I remember the films they showed of the various carrier fires. You could've heard a pin drop in that room. They were interesting times, eh?
 
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No I was an AO. Aviation Ordnance. They called us BB stackers. A-school was in Millington TN. After the 3 big fires on the carriers the navy changed to all sailors will be fire fighters. At least in basic fire fighting. The aviation rates had to go to other fire fighting schools as well. I also had to go to magazine fire fighting school when I became a AO2 mag rat. My favorite was aircraft fire fighting school. We got to light off magnesium wheels and try to put them out among other things. I had great respect for the damage controlmen. They earned their pay on my ship. She was old and averaged 4 fire/flooding calls a day. 95% were old frayed wiring smoldering in a junction box. We had a few dicey incidents but nothing like what Tim went thru. For lack of a better term that was pretty remarkable what Mr. Turner experienced.
 
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