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.  

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