Re: US Navy Floating Dry Docks
Havana Dock – Construction, Launch and Tow to Cuba
This was originally a Spanish dock which became entangled in an historical conflict which resulted in it ending up belonging to the United States.
In 1762 Cuba became a Spanish Colony ruled by a Spanish Governor in Cuba. In 1895, the Cuban insurrection made it necessary for the Spanish to be able to maintain a fleet in the Gulf of Mexico, and therefore to be able to dock ships, particularly warships, for maintenance, cleaning and painting. Hull maintenance had to be frequent in the warm Cuban climate, thought at the time, because of the glare of the sun upon the wood, and condensation on the steel parts due to the humidity.
In 1896 the Spanish Government therefore, under a Royal Decree, invited British and continental shipbuilders to tender for the construction of a suitable dock for their Naval Base at Havana, and after a close competition on the part of some of the largest constructors in the world, the tender of C. S. Swan and Hunter Limited, based upon the designs specifically prepared by Clark and Standfield was accepted. The contract was signed in Madrid on the 4th of December 1896, with as cost of over $900,000.
The dock was to be the largest dock of the Clark Standfield design to be built at the time. Made of steel, it was 450 feet long, 82 feet wide within the side walls, and capable of lifting 12,000 tons. The depth over the keel blocks was 27 feet, giving a draught of 42 feet 6 inches and freeboard of 4 feet 2 inches. There were five pontoons, three rectangular central sections, each 75 feet long and the two pointed end sections at 180 feet 4 inches long. There was a 2 feet space between each pontoon. The pontoons could be detached and self docked for cleaning and painting
Each pontoon was divided into four water-tight compartments, and each wall divided below the engine deck into five watertight compartments, so that the entire structure was divided into thirty water-tight compartments, each of which could be emptied of water by electrically driven pumps. There were two electicity generating plants, one in each wall that supplied power to the whole dock. Each plant was complete with boiler, engine, and direct-coupled dynamo. There were ten electric motors, five in each wall, mounted vertically, and directly coupled to the shafts of the horizontal centrifugal pumps placed on the bottoms of the walls. The pumps were capable of lifting an ironclad of 10,000 tons weight in two and a half hours, which equated to 15,000 tons of water being pumped to complete the lifting process. All of the electrical machinery was supplied by Scott and Mountain, of Newcastle, including a complete system of electric lighting throughout the dock. In order to render the dock efficient and suitable for lifting short heavy vessels such as ironclads, a caisson was fitted at each end of the dock, which could be adjusted to various lengths of vessels, the greatest distance apart being 850 feet, and the smallest 388 feet, these lengths representing the longest and shortest armoured vessels of the Spanish Navy.
Because of the size of the dock, Swan Hunter had to increase the size of their Wallsend yard, and to do this they bought the adjoing yard that belonged to Schlesinger, Davies & Company. The enlarged yard became ready to start building the Havana dock on the 1st of January 1897. Thereafter it was used exclusively for the construction of floating docks, and the Havana dock was the first steel self-docking dock built there (Yard No.231). The Stettin Dock for the German Vulkan Shipbuilding & Engineering Company was 510 feet long and built at the yard the following year (Yard No.235).
The dock was built under the supervision of Mr. Lyonel Clark, the designer of the dock, and of Mr. Enrique Gadea of Paris, who was an engineer specially appointed by the Spanish Colonial Office.
The steel for the dock was ordered immediately upon the contract being signed, and the first plate was laid on the blocks on February the 27th. It was completed 181 days later, and launched on Satrurday the 28th of August 1897. Among the guests at the launching were the consuls and representatves of several foreign Governments, including Sir William White - Director of Naval Construction and Commander Colville USN, along with Captain Grigrovitch, Senor Santamarina and Senor Enrique Gadea, all representing the Spanish Government. At the time of launch a Newcastle newspaper, in describing the event, said that:
“it seemed before the launching, as if the immense mass of the dock would occupy the entire width of the river, and that, in anticipation of the wave which its immersion would produce, the spectators were forbidden to approach the too near the shore”.
One of the directors of the company said at the banquet which celebrated the launching that:
“the time of its building, exactly six months, established a record for that kind of work. The construction of a floating dock of similar dimensions would ordinarily be said to have occupied two years, and would have cost four times as much money as did this”.
The dock was viewed as being so big and heavy that it was doubtful whether any ship could safely tow it across the Atlantic. The shipbuilders added a false bow and stem to the dock, to make it cut its way through the water a little, and it was rigged with “jury masts representing those of a brig, having three yards on each mast, and a bluff bow”. A powerful steam windlass and steam steering gear were also fitted, and several hundred tons of coal were carried on the dock to provide fuel for them.
It was originally intended that ocean going tugs be used to tow the dock on its 4,475 mile journey to Havana, but in the event, the tow was undertaken by the New Zealand steamship Ruapehu, along with the ocean-going tug Oceana. Prior to embarking on the voyage, Ruapehu had to undergo some alterations; Her mizzen mast was unshipped, and four strong tow rails were fitted aft to provide a rest for the huge white manila tow rope, which was 22 inches in circumference, 120 fathoms long, and weighed over 5 tons. The rope, manufactured by R. Haggie & Son, was apparently the largest rope ever made in England, consisting 2,400 strands that had to be woven using specially made winding equipment. The rope was delivered on a large cart, drawn by seven horses. Two 6 inch steel ropes, each 130 fathoms long, were also used for towing.
Four tugs towed the dock down the river Tyne and out to sea around the 7th of September 1897. Ruapehu followed, under the command of Captain Thomspon (from North Shields), and with a crew of fifty. Before the massive hawsers were attached, Ruapehu swung to in order to adjust her compasses. It was found that the best use of Oceana, was for her to tow ahead of Ruapehu, and assist with steering in order to keep on course.
The dock itself was manned by a Captain, officers and crew, who were accommodated in one of the dock walls, above the engine deck.
The crossing of the Atlantic appears to have passed without problems as I cannot find any reports to the contrary.
HavanaDock_1: Fairly poor quality photograph, and no published details, but worth submitting because I think this may be the dock being prepared for towing to Havana, and showing Ruapehu, and possibly Oceana to the left of the picture. I say this because the dock appears to be rigged with its jury mast, and I have compared the steamer with photographs of Ruapehu, and they seem to match as best as can be ascertained. Original source of photograph not determined. No copyright restrictions evident.
HavanaDock_8: Another poor photogrph, but rare enough to warrant posting. The dock being towed out to meet Ruapehu and Oceana. Again, the jury mast can be clearly seen. Original source of photograph not determined. Taken from The Sketch, October 13th 1897. No copyright restrictions evident.
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