A major fundraiser is underway to secure the future of HMS Unicorn, a timber warship launched in 1824, which served as a training vessel in Dundee for the Wrens and Royal Navy reservists for more than 100 years.
The ship, moored in the city’s Victoria Dock, is now ‘logging’ – where the hull bows inwards - with several critical timbers just above the waterline rotting due to rainwater. Now, around £1m is needed to repair the ship to make it strong enough to withstand a move to East Graving Dock, with a plan to restore the dock and build a visitor centre for the ship over the next five or six years at a cost of some £20m.
Becca Logan, who is leading the fundraising for the HMS Unicorn Preservation Trust, said: “She is the most extraordinary ship – one of a kind. In heritage terms it would be the most terrible loss if this work was not carried out and she ended up at the bottom of Victoria Quay.
"What is extraordinary about the Unicorn is how active she has been and what a part of people’s lives she has been. She has not sailed the high seas or been to war but has been part of social history, a hot spot in Dundee for more than 100 years.”
“She is just a wee gem of Dundee who has been a little unloved and a little forgotten. Now we have to keep her alive and keep her relevant.”
HMS Unicorn was built as 46-gun frigate at Chatham Royal Dockyard during the reign of George IV and at the height of the Industrial Revolution , with her design combining two great eras of shipbuilding – the traditional wooden craftsmanship of the 18th century and the emerging iron technology of the 19th century.
Around 60 planks of oak are required to build a new ‘hoop’ around the ship along the length of her hull on both port and starboard sides.
Ms Logan said: “The planks define the look of the boat and they are essential to secure the structural integrity of the ship. It’s a common problem with old timber boats – they sink at the bow and the stern. The shape starts to change and parts can start to move and crack. Replacing the planks should help stabilise the ship. It’s not going to reverse what is happening but it means she will be stronger, which is really important.”
Each plank is around 20 ft long and 14 inches across, with it hoped that some oak will be sourced in Scotland for the job.
“They are hefty plans and you are talking about pretty much a plank per tree,” Ms Logan added.
Ms Logan said there had been very early stage discussions with those who run the RSS Discovery – which took Scott and Shackleton to Antacrtica in 1901 and which is also berthed in Dundee – about planting an oak forest to keep a supply of wood open for repairs to both boats.