HMS Victory's masts removed as restoration starts

The ship's three masts, bowsprit and rigging will all be dismantled

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A large crane has begun removing the masts of HMS Victory in Portsmouth as major restoration of Admiral Lord Nelson's flagship gets under way.

The project was described as the ship's "most extensive restoration" since the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar, during which Lord Nelson was killed onboard Victory.

The ship's three masts, bowsprit and rigging will all be dismantled.

It will be the first time since World War II that Victory has been seen without its top masts.

Recent survey work revealed the ship was leaking, suffering from rot and was being pulled apart by its own weight.

Earlier, engineers began by removing the fore topgallant yard and fore topsail yards - the spars on the mast.

In the coming weeks, 26 miles of rigging will be removed so a team of master shipwrights and other specialists can work on them.

The project will take 10 years and is being funded by the Royal Navy, which said it was the biggest rebuild carried out on the ship since it was repaired after the Battle of Trafalgar and the subsequent storm in 1805.

WWII bomb damage

HMS Victory is still a serving Royal Navy vessel and is the oldest ship still in commission with any navy in the world.

The last time Victory was minus its masts was in 1944 when they were removed after having been damaged during a Luftwaffe bombing raid on the dockyard in 1941.

Only a fifth of the original ship remains and is on display in a dry dock at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

Lt Cdr DJ "Oscar" Whild, Victory's commanding officer, said: "For HMS Victory, there is a requirement for constant maintenance to keep her in good condition."

Professor Dominic Tweddle, the National Museum of the Royal Navy's director general, said: "HMS Victory is a national icon.

"It is both a relief to see the next stage in her restoration begin, but also a real challenge.

"Preserving a wooden warship is a battle - a battle against nature, and, just as epic, in its way, as the Battle of Trafalgar.

"To be able to witness how that battle is fought will be a big draw for visitors.

"We are determined that Victory will be open to the public throughout so that they can share in the excitement and even thrills of the restoration story."

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