Friday, 31 March 2017

HMCS CHARLOTTETOWN on the Syncrolift

Earlier this month, HMCS CHARLOTTETOWN went on the Syncrolift at HMC Dockyard for some cleaning and maintenance. CHARLOTTETOWN returned from an extended deployment earlier this year, so she was probably in need of some TLC. Her hull below the waterline definitely needed a cleaning.

March 14 - newly on the lift, and looking kind of dirty. © Sandy McClearn.
I managed to take these two photos from almost exactly the same angle, and cropped them down almost identically. It is somewhat entertaining if you go to the Smugmug site where they are hosted, and use the arrow keys on your keyboard to go back and forth between the two images to see the difference (if you click on the image above or below, it will take you there). 

March 24 - the bright blue anti-fouling paint is nice and clean. © Sandy McClearn.
The Syncrolift platform has seen many changes over the years. The original Syncrolift concept was developed by a firm in Florida, and the company was eventually purchased by Rolls Royce. The original Halifax Syncrolift was powered by a total of 34 180-ton winches, with 17 on each side (these are the blue boxes on either side of the lift platform). It was originally constructed in 1967 to allow annual maintenance of the then-new Oberon-class submarines (ONONDAGA, OKANAGAN, and OJIBWA). The platform is nested between two narrow jetties on piles, upon which the winches are installed. The platform can be lowered down into the water to float ships on, and then raised again to lift them out of the water.

In 1970, the original submarine maintenance shed was constructed on the shore side of the platform, and the O-boats could be rolled in and out of the shed to allow maintenance inside a heated shelter. The rails upon which the doors slid open and closed weren't actually long enough to allow the submarine to enter or depart, and the doors had to be removed altogether as shown in the image below to allow the submarine in.

HMCS/M OKANAGAN backing out of the Syncrolift shed in 1985 at the mid-point of her SOUP (Submarine Operational UPgrade) refit. The O-boat's hull design was heavily influenced by Second World War German U-boats, and this is reflected in the continued use of twin propellers and the tail arrangement. At the stern can be seen the indentations from the stern torpedo tubes, which were originally fitted to fire short unguided torpedoes, but by the time the photo was taken were re-purposed to accommodate a towed array sonar (and reportedly cold beer storage).  DND photo, courtesy Corvus Publishing Group.
The Syncrolift worked a treat for the RCN's submarines, but it didn't provide the Navy with the ability to perform basic maintenance on their larger vessels. After the near-bankruptcy of Halifax Dartmouth Industries Limited (HDIL) in the 1970s, the RCN got nervous, and looked for a way to achieve some redundancy for HDIL's facilities. A local engineering firm, CBCL, suggested lengthening the platform from 307 metres to 413 metres and upgrading the winch capacity to allow larger vessels to be lifted out of the water. The Syncrolift was actually used during the construction work, as it was used to lower the new caissons into the water (the new caissons may even have been formed and poured on the platform prior to being floated out). The complement of winches were now made up of 26 180-ton winches, and 20 280-ton winches under the heavier middle portion of the ships (e.g. the engine room). The winches were split with 13 180-ton and 10 280-ton winches on each side of the platform. I have seen somewhere this rendered the Syncrolift capable of hoisting a 6,000 tonne "NATO" frigate, but can't find the reference at the moment. It can certainly handle the 5,235 ton Canadian Patrol Frigate and 5,100 ton IROQUOIS class destroyer (those are their full load numbers, and I'm not sure how heavy the ships normally are when they are hauled out).

HMCS IROQUOIS was the first destroyer lifted by the newly refurbished Syncrolift, on Nov. 1, 1986. The larger winches (the blue "boxes") are of 280 ton capacity each, while the smaller winches are of 180 ton capacity. The 280 ton winches are placed around the machinery spaces of the ship, which weigh more than other portions of the ship. Also seen here are CORMORANT, a Saint class tug, SKEENA, and ATHABASKAN. DND photo, Courtesy of Corvus Publishing Group. 
This meant that one can occasionally get a glimpse of things like the housing for the SQS 510 sonar found under the hull of these ships.

A view of HMCS VILLE DE QUEBEC in the early 2000s from close up. The SQS 510 housing can be seen under the ship, not far back from the ship's forefoot (the bottom of the bow). Canadian Patrol Frigates have bilge keels mounted midships to reduce rolling at sea, also visible here. In the background, the old maintenance shed is still standing. The bright blue anti-fouling paint colour is a relatively new feature. © Sandy McClearn.

HMCS ATHABASKAN. The SQS-510 Hull Outfit C3 sonar dome is removed for maintenance. The fairing itself is seen at bottom left, and is facing backwards. The covers are removed from the winches in this photo.

SACKVILLE was a Syncrolift customer both before and after her restoration to her original appearance as a corvette. Seen here in 2008, she is showing a considerable amount of marine growth. © Sandy McClearn.

A slightly different angle on SACKVILLE. © Sandy McClearn.

The blocking under SACKVILLE is better visible in this image from directly aft. In this photo the old submarine maintenance shed has been torn down, and in its place is a temporary tent structure shielding one of the new VICTORIA class submarines from view and the weather during a refit. © Sandy McClearn.
Although the upgraded Syncrolift could handle the newer and heavier VICTORIA class submarines, there was still a problem. Not only are the VICTORIA class heavier than the older OBERON class submarines, but that heavier load is spread out over a shorter length, and that greater load density meant that the inshore winches and platform support beams were not rated to support the new submarines when they were being transferred inshore for extended refit periods. In the photo above, the submarine in the temporary shelter had to be stripped down to reduce the weight and avoid overloading the inshore 180-ton winches and support beams. The old submarine maintenance shed was also too small for the new submarines, which were beamier than their predecessors.

VICTORIA on the Syncrolift in 2002. Submarine propellers are carefully guarded secrets, and although it would have been tarped at the time I took the photo, I decided to play it safe and not capture it at all. Either that, or my lens simply wasn't wide enough. The old shed seems to be standing in this photo. © Sandy McClearn.
CORNER BROOK in 2008. You can see the difference in size between the 180-ton (left) and 280-ton (right) winches.
© Sandy McClearn.
During the mid-2000s, the old submarine maintenance shed was torn down, and at least one submarine underwent an extended maintenance and refit period under a temporary tent structure on the site of the old shed. After the submarine finished her refit, and was returned to the Syncrolift, construction began on a new submarine maintenance building that could accommodate the newer VICTORIA class. The Syncrolift platform and winches were again upgraded to allow the heavier submarines to be transferred into the new building without stripping them of excess weight. The same bollard and tow motor that were used to haul submarines into the old shed are still used in the new building.

WINDSOR in 2012. To the left of the photo is the control cabin, from where the winches of the Syncrolift are controlled and monitored during operation. © Sandy McClearn.

HMCS ST. JOHN'S has also recently been a Syncrolift customer - she is shown here in September, 2016. This photo catches a lift in progress, with the ropes that held the ship in position over the blocking now falling slack towards the jetty on either side.I'm guessing these ropes would have been taut until the ship started to bear weight on the blocking. © Sandy McClearn.

Clean once again, HMCS ST. JOHN'S is pictured being lowered once again into Halifax Harbour. The new maintenance shed isn't big enough to take a frigate, but could accommodate a smaller vessel like SACKVILLE. © Sandy McClearn.
The utility of the Syncrolift is especially important in recent years, as both floating drydocks at the Halifax Shipyard (the older Scotiadock and the newer Novadock) have both been allowed to decay and have been removed from service and/or scrapped. The only remaining drydock at Halifax Shipyard, the original graving dock that survived the Halifax Explosion, has been almost continuously filled with HALIFAX class frigates during their recent FELEX refits (in fact, the current resident (HMCS HALIFAX) is in her first refit post-FELEX).

In order to write this post, I relied partly on articles in old issues of "Canada's Navy Annual" published by Corvus Publishing Group Ltd. In all, they published 6 issues, plus the original special commemorative issue for the Navy's 75th anniversary in 1985. They have since gone out of business, but were still active in the mid-1990s when I wrote them (while in university) to ask them for permission to reproduce the photos contained therein (which they kindly gave me). I managed to purchase all 7 issues used, probably at J.W. Doull.  

Friday, 24 March 2017

Shubenacadie Wildlife Park

We try to drag the kids out to the Shubenacadie Wildlife Park once each year, and winter is usually the best time to do it. The weather isn't too warm, so the animals tend to be out and about, rather than hiding in the shade somewhere. 

The various cages and fences at the wildlife park present challenges to the photographer. In the case of the exotic birds, you can at least approach right up to the side of the cage, and I was able to shoot through the openings in the wire mesh of each cage to get the next two images.

Blue-eared Pheasant. It was fairly close to the cage, and far from the wall at the back, so this close-up of its head nicely blurs the background to make it less obvious the bird is in a cage.

Red Golden Pheasant. Someone on my Twitter feed remarked on the resemblance to Donald Trump, and now I can't avoid seeing it every time I look at the photo.
Fortunately, the Peacocks are allowed to roam freely throughout the park, so I didn't have to shoot through any fences. This is the first time I think I have seen one just sitting there, rather than wandering around.

The wolves and foxes add to the challenge in that not only are they behind chain link, but there is an additional railing some meters away from the fence so that you can't put your fingers through the fence (and potentially lose them if the animal is feeling peckish or peavish), which prevents one from getting the camera right up to the fence and shooting through the openings in the chain link. If you are skilled, careful, or at least lucky, you can sometimes shoot through chain link without it showing up in the image. I set my 70-200mm lens to its widest aperture (f/4), providing its narrowest possible depth of field, and as long as the animal was far enough away from the fence I managed to get a few images without the image being noticeably degraded by the fence. 

Arctic Wolf.

Although we were there in January, the snow on the ground itself had mostly melted, or perhaps just hadn't fallen under the trees. I liked the way the snow on the pond contrasted with the remaining colour in the trees and undergrowth in the photo below.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

HMCS ATHABASKAN: Final Week in Commission and Paying Off

HMCS ATHABASKAN's final week was an active one, with two family and/or previous crewmember cruises on Tuesday and Wednesday, and then her final sailpast and paying off ceremony on Friday.

I was otherwise occupied on Wednesday, and would have become very wet indeed had I attempted to document her cruise that day in the rain, but I did manage to time my trip to work on Tuesday with ATHABASKAN's departure for her family cruise. Thankfully, the sun was out on Tuesday and there was a bit of blue sky in the background.

ATHABASKAN backing out on Tuesday before heading out on a family cruise.
Passing the lighthouse on George's Island.
ATHABASKAN heads out under a clear(ish) blue sky.
On her final day in service, ATHABASKAN left the jetty just before noon, and headed down the Halifax shore with her battle ensign flying and her paying off pennant rigged, but not deployed. 

Heading out on her final trip.

Battle ensign flying, and the paying off pennant, not yet deployed, barely visible and hanging down over the port hangar door.
She took the western passage around George's Island before turning to port and heading back up the eastern side of the harbour and proceeding up into Bedford Basin with a gaggle of Sea Kings in tow.

She was pursued by a total of three Sea Kings, a two-ship formation, and this one which I believe was the camera platform.

The other two Sea Kings were the actual "ceremonial" helicopters that appear in most of the official photos.

All three Sea Kings flying together in formation.
The paying off ceremony itself was open to the public, so a bunch of us headed up and entered the Dockyard via the gate at HMCS SCOTIAN. I was therefore able to stake out a spot at the end of the jetty to capture ATHABASKAN's final sailpast from the narrows, taking a salute from Vice-Admiral Ron Lloyd, Rear-Admiral John Newton, and Commodore Craig Baines in the process. Followed by Navy tugs with fire fighting monitors spraying, ATHABASKAN emerged from the narrows flying her paying off pennant, although even the attached balloons were not enough to keep the pennant completely aloft while the ship was travelling with the wind.

The wind wasn't cooperating, and the paying off pennant was only visible for short periods during the final sailpast. You can see it here, along with multiple balloons, hanging down to the water on the ship's port side.

By the time she cleared the bridge, her paying off pennant was hidden behind the mast, funnel, and hangar.

Here is the end of ATHABASKAN's 386 foot long pennant hanging down past the stern and into the water. 
According to comments left on one of my photos on Facebook, ATHABASKAN was able to open up the throttles slightly to achieve 10 knots after clearing the review platform at the end of our jetty in the Dockyard, and the paying off pennant once again took flight for its entire length.

ATHABASKAN starts her turn to port with her pennant streaming out behind her.

This is probably the best image I captured of ATHABASKAN's paying off pennant, flying for its complete length and not hanging into the water. She is turning to port in this photo, and I believe the pennant was stowed right after this photo.
The pennant was stowed as she turned to port, to avoid fouling the propellers while she approached the jetty. I was concentrating on taking photos so I can't be certain, but it seemed to me that despite the wind pushing her onto the jetty, ATHABASKAN managed to come alongside with no assistance from the three tugs present. That same wind made for a windchill of -8, and felt colder - layered as I was, I wondered how others on the jetty in seemingly lighter clothing managed to stick it out.

ATHABASKAN approaches the jetty.

The last frame I captured where the entire ship fit into a single frame. A sailor stands ready at the jackstaff to raise the ship's jack (Canada's national flag, the Maple Leaf). Her battle ensign and paying off pennant are now stowed, but she still flies what I assume is her call sign from the mast along with a few other flags. On her starboard side, she flies her commissioning pennant Cmdre Baines' (the fleet commander) Broad Pennant from the mast (white flag with red cross and a maple leaf in the upper left corner). Thanks to Brian Wentzell, for catching my mistake.

Cdr Couillard (third from right) keeps close watch from the port bridge wing as ATHABASKAN makes her final jetty approach under her own power.
After coming alongside, tying up, and once the brows were fixed, the ship's jack and ensign were raised and the crew manned the port rail from stem to stern.

Naval Jack flying once again, the crew mans the port rail on the foc'st'le.

Crew manning the port main-deck rail between the bridge and hangar.
Everyone at the end of the jetty were hustled back to the side of the VIP tent, and the ceremony began: the Stadacona Band played the national anthem, and ATHABASKAN's captain, Commander Jean Couillard addressed the crowd from the port bridge wing.

Stadacona Band.
Stadacona Band.

Cdr Couillard addressed the crowd.
The ceremony was not completely sombre. In addition to suggesting that any lack of finesse on ATHABASKAN's final jetty approach were the result of a power struggle with a Commodore (and former commander) on board, Cdr Couillard was careful to point out that he had taken photos of the ship when he took possession of ATHABASKAN, and he was pretty sure all the dents were there when he got her...and that some of the actual culprits were probably present in the crowd. Cdr Couillard also took time to praise his family for dealing with his frequent and lengthy absences over the last two years, as well as his crew, the latter statement I will paraphrase as "A ship without a crew is merely a grey steel box." and that he was fortunate to have led such a great team.

Her call sign has already been hauled down from the mast.
The ship's cox'n led a cheer of the ship's motto, "We Fight as One".

Caps were removed for reciting the ship's motto.
Cdr Couillard then called down to the engine room to state that he was finished with main engines, to shut down the engines (video link here) for the final time (interestingly, it was stated that she was being put into "extended readiness to sail"), and the ship's crew departed the ship and assembled on the jetty between the ship and the gathered crowd.

The crew departs the ship's foc'st'le.

The ship's crew gathered on the jetty.
As the ship's colours were lowered from the bow and stern and presented to Cdr Couillard, the ship's commissioning pennant Commodore's Broad Pennant was also lowered and the red-and-white striped "port" or "out of routine" flag was hoisted up the mast. Colin Darlington, of RUSI(NS), informs me that "At the end of the paying off (the ceremony), a red and white striped 'port' flag is hoisted. The port flag (which is actually used to indicate the port direction for most signals - there is a starboard flag too) in this case means 'out of routine,' that is, there is no one on board to respond to signals (flag, light) to the ship or otherwise carry out ceremonial actions. The port flag is flown by any ship out of routine; you will see it on Kingston-class ships which have no ship's company (not all of the 12 Kingstons are manned at any time). What indicates that a ship has been paid off and is no longer in active service (that is, she is out of commission) is the absence of the commissioning pennant."

ATHABASKAN's Naval Jack is lowered for the final time.

The red-and-white striped "port" or "out of routine" flag now flies from the mast. This is not to be confused with the red and white striped "barbepole brigade" marking on the radar platform to the left, a vestige of markings worn by the Second World War's Escort Group C-3 (and later Escort Group C-5, plus the Fifth Canadian Escort Squadron, and later still all commissioned RCN surface vessels on the East Coast). The barberpole markings are better displayed in photos above, particularly that of Cdr Couillard giving his address.
VAdm Lloyd and RAdm Newton both said a few words, and then it was time for the padres to complete the ceremony.

VAdm Lloyd.

RAdm Newton.
The ceremony wraps up.

VAdm Lloyd departs the jetty after the ceremony.
Cdr Couillard then led his crew off the jetty, and I retreated to the ferry terminal to head home and out of the cold.

ATHABASKAN's crew leaves the jetty after the ceremony.
Athabaskan is no longer in commission, and can no longer be referred to as "HMCS ATHABASKAN" in the present tense, although she may be referred to as "Ex-HMCS ATHABASKAN". I'm not sure what the official etiquette is, but as readers may have noticed in previous posts, I typically refer to naval vessels in the commission of any nation by writing their names all in capital letters (e.g. HMCS ATHABASKAN), while other non-commissioned vessels I refer to by instead italicizing the name (in the particular case of this post, "Athabaskan").

The now paid off Athabaskan, her port flag flying.
All of these photos shown here, plus some additional images, are displayed in a gallery on my Smugmug website.

For those interested in the finer details of paying off ships from Royal Canadian Navy commission, I recommend Colin Darlington's article on the subject on the RUSI(NS) website. Colin was also kind enough to give me some background on the "out of routine" flag, as mentioned above.