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CRASH! The moment that made a nation jump

What actually happened at THAT moment during the raising of the Mary Rose?

When people talk about the raising of the Mary Rose, they talk about one of three things.

  • Taking the day off work/school to watch it,
  • Watching it at work/school
  • The CRASH moment.

That moment clearly made an impact, breaking up the slow progress of the footage and providing a ‘Thunderbirds’ moment where it looks like things might go wrong, but what actually happened? Was the ship damaged? Did anything break? Did we nearly lose the Mary Rose?

The lifting cradle was made of two parts – The Underwater Lifting Frame (ULF) and the cradle. The plan was to attach the ship to the ULF, lift carefully jack it out of the seabed then lift it off the seabed and place it onto the cradle, with four steel legs on the ULF docking with the cradle with the aid of cone shaped ‘stabbing guides’

Unfortunately, during the movement of the ship from the seabed to the cradle on 9th October 1982, one of the legs, the north east corner one which was just above the bow, was bent during the initial transfer of the ship from the seabed. This meant that the leg wouldn’t dock with the cradle, and replacing it would have delayed the lift by months, so the decision was made to remove it, as the other legs were capable of supporting the weight sufficiently.

On the night of 10th October 1982, the polypropelene slings used for the underwater transfer were exchanged for wire strops to take the added weight of the steel cradle were attached to the ULF to the cradle, but as operations were taking place underwater at night, a mistake was made. The main south-east lifting sling was incorrectly slung, so the entire load was distributed between the south-east and north-west corners of the ULF and cradle.

When the cradle broke the surface at 0903hrs on 11th October, the incorrectly slung corner broke the water first, and looking at images of the early stages of the raising you can see that the ULF is at an angle. Eventually, at 1149hrs, the sling slipped back into its correct place, rather dramatically, bringing the raised corner into line with the rest of the ULF, the lifting leg slotting more deeply into the cradle. fortunately, the supports running across the height of the ship were positioned between the main timbers of the ship, so there was only minor damage to a single timber towards the front of the stern castle.

At the time, though, nobody knew what was happening. An entire nation jumped out of their skins, wondering what was going on, and if disaster had struck. The mood on site was even darker, as Margaret Rule describes in her book “The Mary Rose: The Excavation and Raising of Henry VIII’s flagship (1983):

“An unforgettable crunch was heard … all hearts stopped but no damage had been done to the ship. The lift continued and by teatime the whole package was safely on the barge. No-one felt entirely safe, champagne went un-drunk and celebration cakes were uncut. Until we were safely into harbour no one was happy”

So in conclusion, nothing broke or snapped, the ‘other half’ of the Mary Rose didn’t fall back into the sea, and there was no disaster, just the frame slipping back into place unexpectedly.

Less a case of something suddenly going wrong, more a case of something correcting itself in a rather alarming manner!

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