For those of you who have been through Bideford this week, it's just possible that you may have noticed something missing from the river. That's right, we have taken the masts off the old girl. But don't feel sorry for her. She's getting a good spruce up. They were taken down with help from Kas Crane Hire. We must have been doing something right because on Wednesday morning, as a soft mist rolled off the river, somewhere up above the sun was warming up for a glorious day.
Shortly after 8 in the morning, the working gang rolled into the yard, one-by-one, all geared up for a busy day. The last last few days had seen Rob and Bill making ready for the lifting of the masts, clearing away the standing rigging, slacking off the mast wedges, and generally making sure that there was as little delay as possible to the crane.
By 9 o'clock we were ready for our first lift. With careful positioning of the strops, to allow for the angle of the bowsprit, it eased its way out, not unlike a cork leaving the neck of a fine vintage wine.
Once down on the quayside, and with the sun cutting through the January chill, our attention turned to the foremast. We were all interested to see the state of the Queen Victoria Silver Sovereign (incidentally it is dated 1900 - the same age as the Ship), which Steve had placed under the foot of the mast some 7 years previously.
As the mast rose up through the deckhead, there, under the foot, lay the Sovereign shining as if it had only been placed there yesterday.
By now, John Crosby had pulled in with the North Devon College minibus and a group of young carpenter students. They were here to see how things were going, and whether they could become involved.
Once Sacha had given them a potted history of the ship they were soon put to work under Richard's direction, lifting of the shrouds and laying them out ready for inspection
The remaining mast followed quickly and by early afternoon all the spars were laid out for scraping, once a round of teas had been brewed. A revitalised crew set about stripping the ironwork off the mast. Meticulous effort was put into marking them up so as to ease their replacement later this Spring.
As the day drew to an end the gang looked at their day's toil from the deck of the topless old girl, and it didn't need stating that the task ahead is a huge one. But today has seen a large step taken forwards, and tomorrow will bring new problems to overcome.
Photos taken by the owner and local businessman, Cllr Stephen Clarke OBE, of S.E.L. Clarke Plant Hire, Bideford.