HISTORY OF THE SAVANNAH...BY BARRIE FREEMAN
On April 25 1955 in a speech before the press President Eisenhower announced plans for a nuclear powered merchant ship. It would be based on specifications developed by the atomic energy commission and their maritime Administration. Authorisation to build the ship was given byCongress on 30 July 1956.
The purpose of the Savannah was to serve as the trail blazer for future generations of nuclearpoweredmerchant vessels. She was never intended to be commercially competitive.
The ship was designed by George G Sharp. He was born in Birkenhead on 10 August 1874 and following his shipbuilding training (which include four years at the Fairfield Yard at Goven Scotland) moved to America in 1902. After serving as chief draftsman for several noteworthy firms including the Bethlehem shipbuilding Corporation in Delaware, he was appointed chief surveyor of the American Bureau of shipping during World War I. In 1921 he formed his own consulting firm where he presided as chairman until his death on 26th October 1960. He also produced the blueprints of the World War II Victory ships.
The Babcock and Wilcox Company as the prime contractor for the power plant designed and built the 74 maximum power thermal megawatt pressurized water reactor feeding steam to two De Lavel geared steam turbines generating 20,000 maximum shaft horsepower. A single five-bladed propeller was used under a modified counter style stern, the sustained speed would be 20.25 knots.
Work commenced on 22 May 1958 at the Camden New jersey Shipyard of the New York Ship
building Corporation. As a cargo-passenger ship the new vessel was to have fully air conditioned accommodation for 60 passengers and a complement of 25 officers and a crew of 84, some of these were nuclear engineers also she had 10 trainees. Seven cargo holds served by self slewing derricks, were to provide 630,000 cubic feet of capacity. The total cost construction cost was slightly over 47 million dollars, including 28.3 million for the nuclear reactor and fuel core.
In a ceremony on 21 July 1959 Mrs Eisenhower christened her the N.S. Savannah. It was a fitting way to usher her in the Atomic Age of merchant ships. The name Savannah was chosen because in May 1819 a 320 ton ship named SS Savannah sailed from Savannah Georgia to Liverpool, the first vessel to use the steam on a transatlantic voyage. Her 29 day 11 hour voyage had ushered in the steam age of ocean travel.
The construction took longer than planned, but was essentially completed in the spring of 1961.
When she was launched the ship was so far behind schedule that none of the decks or
superstructure was permanently seamed, the joins were covered with masking tape and the front of the bridge had windows painted on the steel because the holes had not been cut. During the building a mock-up of her nuclear-powered propulsion unit was installed in her no 3 hold. This was so repairs could be rehearsed before entering the nuclear zone.
At the end of 1961 the reactor was loaded with uranium fuel, it took less than thirty hours to insert the bundles which would supply 3.5 years of power. During her sea trials the captain showed that the SAVANNAH'S reactor could actually surpass its original objectives. Instead of delivering 20,000 shaft horsepower the plant easily produced more than 22,300. Instead of being limited to about 20 knots she surged along at 24. Considered by some marine engineers the most beautiful ship ever built the sleek white vessel was shown off to the crowds at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair. Then suddenly the cruises were interrupted by an argument over salaries. The engineering officers had been granted extra pay
because they needed nuclear training as well as their other qualifications. However, the deck officers insisted that they should be paid more because their duties were traditionally more demanding. An arbitrator agreed with them but engineers refused to accept this and in May 1963 they shut down the ships reactor in protest. No one could persuade the engineers to return to work, so the Maritime administration cancelled its contract with States Marine Lines and gave it to American Export Lines. This meant that an entirely new crew (from a different union) would have to be trained. For almost a year the first nuclear powered merchant ship sat at the dock in perfect condition but going nowhere.
When the crew was ready the Savannah steamed back into the spotlight, more than 150,000 visitors boarded her at the first four European ports she visited. However by this time global resentment against nuclear power had increased in many countries including Japan, New Zealand and Australia and the ship was banned from their ports.
In mid 1965 the luxurious cabins were stripped out and passenger spaces sealed off and 1800 tons of solid ballast were removed in preparation for the ship to carry nothing but cargo. In September 1965 the Savannah left New York for the first time with a capacity load of 10,000 tons of general cargo.
At the end of 1968 she spent two months at a Galveston shipyard for refuelling and maintenance.
The actual refuelling took only two weeks. After nearly 350,000 miles only four of the original thirtytwo fuel bundles had to be replaced.
In 1971 the historic ship was retired, during her eight years of service she demonstrated her new potential on the worlds sea lanes. A total of 77 ports in 20 countries were called at during which more than 1,389,700 visitors trooped aboard to view the white-hulled ship. During her commercial lifetime she steamed 454,675 miles and burned approximately 163 pounds of fuel. In January 1972 the deactivated ship was presented to the city of Savannah as a proposed peace memorial located there. The city was unable to raise the 1 million dollars required to develop the centre after four years she was again retired.
On 28 August 1980 she was sent to the Patriots Point Naval and maritime Museum in South Carolina and at Christmas time in 1981 became a permanent exhibit there. However she never drew the visitors that the museums other ships did, one being the aircraft carrier Yorktown. After finding a leak in one of her cargo holds in 1993 it was decided to remove her from the museum and in 1994 she went into dry-dock for repairs. She was then moved to the James River merchant Maritime Reserve Fleet near Newport New Virginia.
On 15 August 2006 work started at the Colonials Shipyard in Norfold Virginia, at 995,000 dollar job included exterior structural and lighting repairs, removing shipboard cranes, refurbishing waterdamaged interior spaces and repainting .
On 8th May 2008 the Savannah arrived in Baltimore for the removal of the vessels remaining
radioactive material under a 588,000 dollar contract with Vane Brothers Shipyard, this work took about three years to complete.
She has been designated a National Historic landmark, it was hoped she would eventually be
converted into a museum, but no investors have yet offered to undertake the project.
BUILDER...........................NEW YORK BUILDING CORPORATION.
DISPLACEMENT (FULL LOAD).....21,840 TONS
DISPLACEMENT (LIGHT LOAD)...11,850 TONS
LENGHT OVERALL....595.5 FEET
ENGINES GEARED TURBINES...22,000 H.P.
REACTOR TYPE....PRESSURISED WATER
REACTOR RATING..74 MW (MILLION WATTS )
CRUISING RADIUS NAUTICAL MILES......300,000
N.S. SAVANNAH....BY BARRIE FREEMAN.
I first took an interest in the Savannah 20 years ago. I had just finished building the R.F.A. Argus and was thinking of what to build next. I was looking through a Marine Engineering magazine and came across an advert for MacGregor hatch covers it was an aerial view of the Savannah. I thought she would be a good subject for a model. She was visually impressive considering the year of her design and she looked more like a luxury yacht than a cargo vessel. Even her cargo handling equipment was designed to look good.
My port of call for information was my local libraries and ship magazines. A few articles were found but did not give anything like enough information to start a model. I then requested assistance in the September 1991 issue of Model Boats. I also wrote to the Mariners Museum in Newport News Virginia - they sent me some articles about the vessel together with some photocopies of aerial views, also two profiles - one a side view and one of the top deck. I then received a letter from Michigan USA (they obviously read Model Boats over there) which in turn put me in contact with a gentleman named Doug Smay who lives in San Diego. He had finished a model of the Savannah about twelve months earlier, this proved to be an enormous help to me, giving advice and supplying me with memorabilia which came from one of the nuclear engineers who helped in the design of her nuclear plant. Doug paid two visits to Savannah while she was at Patriots Point Museum and shot 9 rolls of 35mm film, of these I purchased 60 photos off him. This was all I needed to start the model.
Having no hull plans and to save time I decided to buy a fibreglass hull and modify it. I chose an Afric Star hull. The bow and stern sections were removed and new ones were formed to the required shape using fibreglass matting over wooden blocks. These were then attached to the hull using several layers of matting. I now had a hull which had the dramatically flared bow required. Housings for the stabilisers were cut into the hull and sealed. Savannah was a pioneer in the use of computer controlled fin stabilisers - a feature found today on most modern cruise ships. I did give some thought to making the stabilisers operational but decided against the idea as problems would no doubt occur and future access once completed would have been impossible. At this stage I also fitted the propeller shaft and the rudder post tube. I then fitted the frames using 1/4" plywood positioned between each hatch opening. I now had a hull that was 64" long with a beam of 9 1/4".
The outboard profile and top deck plan I had received was then increased in size using a photocopier until they matched the dimension of the hull. The actual scale turned out to be 1-110. The main deck was then made using Perspex and fitted in one piece running from the bow back to under the reactor hatch. With the main deck in place the cargo hatches were cut and hatch coamings installed. Number one hatch in the bow is smaller than the three main hatches on the foredeck and on the model it is fake. The three main hatch covers were made removable to allow me to position ballast. With all the cargo booms and rigging in place, this becomes a very delicate operation. The other two cargo hatches are also fakes. The one located on the promenade deck is a flush hatch and on the model its outline was simply etched into Perspex using a steel scribe. The braces were then fitted to the bow bulwark and along its fashion plate. This turned out to be a much greater challenge than it first appeared. Because of the unique shape of the bulwark, each brace was slightly different from the one next to it. The only identical braces were the two directly across from each other on each side of the ship, after all these were in place a facing piece was added to the leading edge of each giving a "T" cross section. I now had to decide how to build the superstructure and also have access into the hull. When you look at the ship from the side it can be seen that the sides of the hull continue all the way up to the bridge deck making the bridge and hull one continuous structure. There is no obvious point at which the plane can be broken to allow the superstructure to be lifted off the model without the break being painfully noticeable. Adding to the problem is the fact that the promenade deck has large windows over most of its length. Also has a number of compound curves on the bridge front. The exterior surfaces of the bridge and the ships side were made from plasticard. As the interior was to be illuminated by a florescent tube all the deck and diorama on each side of the promenade deck were made of Perspex. By using this material on the interior decks and supports the light from the tubes can reach all areas of the hull and superstructure and illuminate every porthole very realistically. I decided to give access by making two removable sections. One section is the after part of the promenade deck, including the after cargo derrick and swimming pool. The other piece is the lifeboat deck including the pilothouse. The forward position of the promenade deck containing the main rector hatch is not removable. All the portholes in the ships side some 116 in all were made from brass tube and glazed with Kristal Klear Solution. The one drawback to this material was that it was not waterproof. To overcome this once it had cured I painted each porthole with clear varnish. The passenger embarkation hatches in the side of the ship were also added at this time these also being etched with a scribe. The very top of the superstructure referred to as the "Resisitor House" (for reasons that I have not been able to discover) was one of the more difficult parts of the ship to model because of its teardrop shape. The way this was finally done was to cut out the top, bottom and the single intermediate deck from Perspex. The frames were made from the same material, this again was to allow light to the whole of this structure. These parts were then assembled to form the skeletal shape. A paper skin was then stretched over the skeleton and when this had been trimmed to fit, the pattern was transferred to this plasticard, which was in turn glued in place to form the actual skin of the house. The most difficult part to the building the resistor house was getting the bridge
windows correctly spaced and shaped. Because the front the of bridge is curved and sloped each window is slightly wider at the bottom than the top, with the strip that separates one window from the next being uniform from top to bottom. With the bridge being curved and sloped it was also difficult to get the top and bottom edges of these windows perfectly parallel to the deck. The three cargo handling derrick arrangements are the same but two are mounted on deck houses. I made a jig to produce these using brass tube and brass sheet all soldered. All the winches and deck fittings were scratch built. The blocks on the cargo handling tackle are among the very few items that were not scratch built.
The nuclear symbol on the ships side was made from copper wire sanded flat on one side and soldered together where then intersect. They were then painted the different colours and glued on. Another early objective was to have a realistic sounding ships steam whistle. I was unable to find any kind of solid state device, here again Doug Smay came to my rescue. He sent me a recording on a circular tape cassette as they used to use in telephone answering machines. I used a tape player with a speaker in the pilothouse and turned on and off with a servo operated switch. The recording gives not only the deep bass on an actual stream whistle, but even produces the echo for a realistic effect.
The model is operated using a two channel Hitec radio and Electronize speed controller. It is driven with a wiper motor using 12 volts. Her total weight is 35lbs and was built over a period of about 18 months.
My interest in building model boats started some 60 years ago. It began with
MECCANO and AIRFEX and then onto boats. In those days most of my models were
made from balsa wood. On Sunday's I used to watch some of the older modellers
racing tethered hydroplanes in Central Park in Wallasey.
This got me interested in building some for myself. I sailed them both in the park and
also on the lake at New Brighton using E.D and frog engines to power them. Looking
back I probably spent as much time repairing them as I did building them as balsa
wood does not take kindly to hitting concrete walls.
A couple of years later I moved onto bigger things, spending 5 years at Cammell
Lairds helping build the real ones working on the ARK ROYAL HMS TENBY
(FRIGATE) HMS GRANPUS (SUBMARINE) the MANXMAN and some other
merchant vessels. I then spent some years at sea as an engineer. After coming ashore
my interest was again raised when I was given a partly built Sea Commander. Once I
had completed it I was hooked again.
I was looking for a new build project. It was just after the Falklands Conflict. I
found a hull made by ABCO it was of the Atlantic Conveyor - a container ship owned
by Cunard Line and was built by Swan Hunter. At the beginning of the war she was
requisitioned by the M.O.D along with the sister ship Atlantic Causeway they were
used to carry supplies for the Task Force. She sailed on 25th
April 1982 with a cargo
of 6 Wessex and 5 Cheenook helicopters also on board she had 8 Sea Harriers and 6
RAF Harriers arriving off the Falklands in mid May, the harriers were offloaded to
the carriers. On the 25th
May she was hit by 2 Escocet missiles the resulting fire was
uncontrollable. When the fire had burnt out she was boarded but nothing was
recoverable so the decision was made to sink her. All the much needed helicopters
were lost except one Chemook. Twelve men died on her, she was the first British
merchant vessel lost at sea to enemy fire since World War II.
The model was built over a period of about 9 months mainly from photos. At the time
of building the Atlantic Causeway had returned from the Falklands and was laid up in
Liverpool. I managed to get permission to go aboard and was able to take photos of
her deck layout and fittings.
My next model was another partly built one. It was a Saint class tug which had ended
up as a salvage vessel for a Danish company in the mid 1930's, but I built her as she
was when in naval service.
After looking for my next project I came across an article about a recently completed
conversion in Belfast. She was another ship that had seen service supplying the
forces in the Falklands War. I could see that I would be able to build quite a few
working features into a model like this, little did I realise it would take me just over 3
years to complete. It was the RFA ARGUS.
She entered service in 1988 after a four year conversion in Belfast. She was
originally a merchant ship named CONTENDER BEZANT a container type vessel
built in Venice, she was launched on 28 November 1980 and went into service in July
1981 operated by Sea Containers Ltd and registered in Hamilton, Bermuda.
In May 1982 she was requisitioned for service in the Falklands Conflict in November
1982 she returned to her owners for a refit then resumed her original role.
In March 1984 she was purchased for £18M by Harland and Wolff Belfast for
conversion into a aviation training ship. She arrived in Belfast on 27 March. Being a
container ship when she was unloaded her stability would make her motion at sea
uncomfortable or even dangerous, to make her more stable the new structure was
deliberately heavily built weighing some 800 tons. She also had 1800 tons of
concrete ballast installed in the former hatch covers which were inverted to form traylike
The 3 March 1988 the conversion was completed at a cost of £45M. On the 18 March
she was accepted by the MOD and extensive trials began. On 1 June 1988 she
entered service in her roll replacing R.F. A ENGADINE. She continued her training
in this role until 20 October 1990 when another conversion took place, this time to the
role of a casualty evacuation ship.
Following the invasion of Kuwait she sailed for the Gulf on the 31 October after
taking on 4 sand coloured Sea King helicopters.
She operated in the Gulf until the cease fire came into effect on the 11 April 1991,
from April until 15 July 1991 she was on Humanitarian relief to Kurdish refugees in
the Turkey/Iraq frontier area along with R.F. A RESORCE.
In 1992 she supported operation Grapple in the Adriatic. She also saw service in the
Adriatic in 1993 and in 1999 supporting British operations in Bosnia and Kosovo. In
June 1997 she was off the coast of West Africa for the possible evacuation of British
nationals from the Congo. Argus was unsuitable in some operations and for this
reason HMS OCEAN was built. In times of war she has been used as a floating
hospital with two wards and a mortuary, she was used in this way off Freetown in
2000 as part of a 5 ship Amphibious Ready Force to support British operations against
the rebel West Side Boys. A program to replace Argus was put on hold in 2001 after
passing initial approval.
During 2002 she underwent a major refit of her permanent hospital facilities which
were then based over 3 decks, this was carried out at Cammell Lairds.
On 15 January 2003 she was deployed to the Gulf for the second Gulf War as part of a
33 ship fleet to support a British amphibious assault, this lasted until 28 May when
she returned to Plymouth on completion of her duties.
The 7 October 2004 she arrived on the scene off Ireland in supporting helicopters
assisting the Canadian submarine HMCS CFflCOUTAIMI which had suffered a fire.
In 2007 she was re-fitted again with upgraded hospital facilities replacing the
foreward aircraft lift with a ramp for emergency exit for hospital trolleys and patients
also the two 50 man passenger lifts that lead to a new structure erected on the flight
In 2008 she was deployed to the Middle East as a platform for Sea King helicopters,
she operated as a primary casualty reception ship. On the 21 January 2009 she arrived
in Falmouth for a refit with a view to extend her working life, her landing aid
equipment was upgraded for the new helicopters coming into service.
March 20011 saw her deployed off the coast of LIBYA for 10 days ready to assist
with the rescue of British nationals from the civil war, during March and April 2011
she was on counter piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden.
In June 2011 she returned to the UK birthing at Gibraltar on her way.
7 November The Royal Navy's new Wildcat helicopter touched down on the flight
deck off the English south coast at the start of 4 weeks of tough trials for the air and
ground crew. The Wildcat is the 21
st century variant of the LYNX helicopter which
has served the Navy since the 1970s. She will be upgraded with night-vision
capabilities enabling the use of APACHE helicopters to give heran operational life until 2020.
25,581 TON FULL LOAD REPLACEMENT
30.4 M BEAM
ENGINES PffiLSTICK DIESEL
SPEED 18 KNOTS
OPERATED WITH AN UNMANNED ENGINE ROOM
The following short article was published in the June 2006 issue of Model Boats.
In 19891 started to build what is possibly the only working model of the Argus. The
reason I chose her as a subject was that she was a Merchant Navy vessel named
Contender Bezant which was later converted into an R.F.A ship. During the 1982
Falklands war the Contender Bezant was used to transport aircraft and stores for
which she was awarded the South Atlantic battle honours. She was built in Italy in
1981 and in March 1984 she was purchased for the M.O.D. The conversion contract
was awarded to Harland and Wolff at a cost of £63 million. In 1987 she was renamed
Argus and was completed early in 1988.
Having tried for some time without success to obtain some form of plans for her I
contacted Harland and Wolff in Belfast and was sent five aerial photographs of her on
sea trials together with her principal dimensions. The first step was to decide on a
scale and 1-96 was chosen since kit aircraft could be purchased at near to that scale,
these being 1-100. This gave me a model six feet O.A.L. with a one foot beam. I
then set about producing a set of plans and this was done from the photographs with
the aid of a set of dividers and a magnifying glass.
Once the plans were completed the hull and superstructure were constructed using
1/16" and 1/8" plywood on %" plywood frames. The hull was then coated inside and
outside with fibreglass resin. During construction consideration had to be given to
the installation of the various working features - these being three radars, both aircraft
lifts, forward helicopter rotor, rear helicopter rotor and lift off, harrier lift off and
taped sound effects. The accommodation block and the flight deck are removable and
have contacts fitted to operate the various functions.
The model is operated using a four channel radio. The power is supplied by six two
volt computer batteries weighing 4 Ibs each. These act as 24 Ibs of ballast, but a
further 10 Ibs of lead is needed to bring her down to her marks. Having six two volt
batteries aids the operation as some functions work on different voltages. Two
windscreen wiper motors using twelve volts drive the model.
The model was built over a period of three years.
MEMBER'S WHO WISH TO INCLUDE THEIR STORY PLEASE SEND DETAIL'S TO DAVE.
Hi all, I would just like to introduce myself and welcome you all. My name is Michael Ellis and i started building model boats when i was a child from Air Fix Kits,I was one of the founder members of the New Brighton Model Boat club. At first i started building cargo boats and then i progressed to the Sun Tug. I started off tug towing on the lake at New Brighton towing polystyrene blocks ( icebergs ) ha ha .A Friend of mine, Mr John McConnell told me to go to Ashton Park West Kirby were there was a tug towing competition going on. He gave me a go of his tug to enable me to join in the competition, towing a large boat in and out of a docking system. After that i was hooked on tug towing. To this day I am proud to say, that i have severn tugs all in fully working order. With my fellow Tug Towers we have been to Southend, Glasgow, Sheffield and many more places around the u.k. for tug towing competitions.To date i have been tug towing for well over 25 years, and i still get a buzz out of it. In those past 25 years, I and my fellow tug towers have towed a canal barge and raised £1400 for charity. But the best of all was towing the H.M.S Invincible aircraft carrier that was 35 feet long,brilliant!!! I am at present a member of the Ellesmere Port Model Boat Club and i have now been sailing as a member with the Wallasey Model Boat Society enjoying the sailing and the company, And would recommend it to anybody. Well that's all from me for now, take care.