Back in 1985, the divers departed leaving me with occasional volunteers to record the timbers. Some had been planned in position on the seabed, which was fortunate in the case of one keel timber – the largest on the ship- which vanished overnight and was never seen again. We think it was dragged out into the Russell by prop-wash.
After basic cleaning, the recording could begin. The storage tanks were drained overnight once a week, then refilled the following day, which took about 3 hours. After spraying them to keep wet, I’d step into the tank and start work. At lunchtime I’d set the fill hosepipe going, which would still allow an hour or two’s work before the water reached welly-top height and forced me to stop.
A polythene sheet was laid over the timber and I traced it with marker pens, producing drawings up to 5 metres long, with the nail holes, tool marks and damage marked in different colours. The sheets were hung up to dry, giving the place the look of a laundry. Once dry, I laid the sheets out on a table marked with two-centimeter grids. I then copied the drawing onto scaled ‘permatrace’ sheets at a scale of 1:10. As a cross-check, I next surveyed the timbers conventionally using tape measures and plumb lines and used this to correct the tracing. Margaret and I then started juggling the pieces together by matching up the nail holes, planking to floor timbers.
Zoom to 2015 and we have a new jigsaw puzzle to solve. My colleague Kit is retracing my steps, checking each timber against the original drawings. Some were cut for transportation, others broke, most had to have their tags removed during the conservation process. The Old Post Office looks rather like one of those hangars used after an air crash, with parts of ship spread on sheets. We’re painstakingly working out which timber is which, and where the many small fragments fit.
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