Critical HMCS Sackville repair work gets underway
By Ryan Melanson,
For the first time since 2008, Canada’s oldest warship has been hoisted on the Syncrolift at HMC Dockyard and moved inside the submarine shed, where it will spend the next several months undergoing maintenance and repair work.
HMCS Sackville was tugged from its winter Dockyard berth and brought up from the water on February 11, and moved into the shed four days later after an initial cleaning of the 77-year-old hull. She’s now in the hands of FMF Cape Scott personnel, who have begun the process of sandblasting, sonic testing and other steps to determine the exact extent of the work needed on the ship.
With almost 10 years having passed since its last docking, trustees with the Canadian Naval Memorial Trust (CNMT), the non-profit organization that owns Sackville, have become less certain about the condition of the ship, particularly the status of the underwater hull. The worries have yet to impact the ship’s regular summer program at the Halifax waterfront, but its annual committal of ashes service on Battle of the Atlantic Sunday hasn’t happened since 2014, and without the repair work, the future of Canada’s Naval Memorial would likely be in jeopardy.
“It’s critical to get it done now, and we actually determined when we left downtown in October that we wouldn’t bring the ship back until we got the work done, because of the uncertainty of the condition,” said CNMT Chair Cdr (Ret’d) Wendall Brown.
“This work is very significant for us and for the ship.”
The funding to carry out the repairs, a contribution from the federal government of as much as $3.5 million, was announced in January, putting an end to questions about Sackville’s immediate future that were still in play just a few months ago.
“Navy headquarters has really gone to bat for us to achieve what’s been achieved so far, and we’re very appreciative,” said Cdr (Ret’d) Jim Reddy, the ship’s current Commanding Officer. Reddy, along with other trustees and members of the ship’s volunteer crew, will continue with their regular duties and provide assistance to FMF staff through the process.
A previous arrangement in place since the late 80s saw the ship brought to HMC Dockyard every six years for a quick refit that involved sandblasting and checking the integrity of the steel. This latest docking period will be more extensive, and a significant portion of the steel hull may be replaced entirely. The main problem isn’t corrosion from saltwater on the outside of the hull, but rather humidity, which has caused problems in some of the less protected interior areas on the port side of the ship, specifically the engine and boiler rooms.
“With all the machinery, it’s very difficult to get in and around that to properly sandblast and paint. That’s an area where we think there will be a fair amount of steel being replaced,” Brown said.
Sackville’s popularity over the summer months – the ship welcomed more than 25,000 visitors at the waterfront in 2017 – is a testament to the importance of keeping the ship maintained and accessible to the public. The last of the 123 Flower-class Corvettes delivered to Canada during the Second World War, it serves as a link to the past for visitors whose relatives served in Flower-class ships or during the Battle of the Atlantic in other capacities. Brown even recalled a visit last summer from a 91-year-old veteran who served as a stoker in Sackville when he was only 17, and who was still spry moving down the narrow ladder to the engine room. Cruise ships with American or British passengers also tend to bring along Second World War enthusiasts who either seek out the ship directly or find it as a welcome surprise.
“The interest is still very much there, and that’s why we want to get it preserved, so we can carry on indefinitely down on the waterfront,” Brown said.
While the full extent of repairs is yet to be determined, those involved estimate the project will take about three months, allowing Sackville to be ready for its 2018 tourist season.
“We expect she’ll be in better shape than ever and ready to go,” Reddy said.