Patrick Osborn

How Do You Patch a Battleship? #Hounews

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The Battleship "Texas" BB-35 Photo Credit: Brent Clanton

The Battleship “Texas” BB-35
Photo Credit: Brent Clanton

The short answer to the problem of patching a battleship is, “the best way you can.”
The Battleship Texas is already undergoing extensive renovations and repairs, and in the past month, has sprung four new leaks–below the waterline.

Ship’s Manager, Andy Smith, takes it all in stride, but he’s got one pump running continuously, and more in reserve, after locating and plugging three of the leaks.
It’s that fourth one that’s keeping him awake at night.

Waterline hull patches on the Battleship "Texas" Photo Credit: Ed Curry

Waterline hull patches on the Battleship “Texas”
Photo Credit: Ed Curry

“We had divers out this week, and they just were unable to find out where the water is coming in at,” Smith tells News92FM.  “The funny thing is, I guess, we always have leaks; a lot of people forget about that. We installed a pretty robust system of pumps, so we can handle most of our leaks without any problems,” says Smith.
The stubborn puncture is actually more of a fracture, which Smith blames on the change of the season, with the first cool front of the Fall causing the ship’s hull to contract. He suspects that’s what’s caused the latest leakage in an area about ten-feet below the waterline, aft on the starboard side. “It’s actually in one of the spaces we are working on, to try to rebuild the structure in,” Smith says.

The 101-year old warship is in the midst of a multi-million dollar renovation to replace corroded steel in the ship’s frame, and to provide more support for her massive steam engines. The leak is in a compartment near an engine room in which work will need to be performed shortly.  “Not right this moment is it a problem with the construction, but eventually, they’re going to have to work in that area, where that leak is coming in, and they can’t while there’s active water coming in,” Smith says.
Once they find it, that is.

And then it’s back to the original question–how DO you patch a battleship?
“You can patch on the outside, you can patch on the inside,” Smith says. “Typically, a patch on the outside is more effective ’cause you have the water pressure adding to its ability to stay, whereas, if you patch on the inside, you’re fighting against that water pressure,” says Smith.

Actually, an outside patch is very similar to patching a hole in a bicycle tire.
Sort of.
“You get some kind of pliable material–usually a rubber or neoprene or something like that–and you put it on the outside of the ship,” Smith says. “What helps is all that water pressure’s pushing against the ship, and where the actual leak is, provides suction, initially, and sucks that up, and helps seal it to the ship.”
Simple enough.
A patch would also include “epoxy, or some kind of glue around it that will harden and keep it in place,” the Ship’s Manager says. Smith is also a maritime historian, who’s dabbled in marine archaeology,  with a certain penchant for ancient ships like the “Texas,” which was built the same year the “Titanic” sank, 1912.

The present leak is not an emergency to the ship, but it is an aggravation.
“It’s probably not too far off from a garden hose,” Smith says. “The interesting aspect of it is, when you get lower, below the waterline, the pressure increases substantially. So this one’s probably about ten-feet down, and because it’s that depth, the pressure’s pretty high, so it’s squirting in pretty good,” says Smith. “The actual volume of water is well-under 50-gallons a minute,” he says.

The Battleship Texas is winding-down its 2013 Hardhat Tour season.
The last two sets of guided tours belowdecks are Saturday, October 12, and Satuday, November 23.
Members of the First Texas Volunteers, an organization which also is doing much of the deck refinishing and repainting, conduct the tours in groups of about 14, taking visitors to spaces normally not accessible to the general public.

(Editor’s Note: I have taken this tour, and highly recommend it. The $30 price goes into a fund to supplies and materials to maintain and repair the Battleship Texas. The tour guides are often the very people who are doing the labor on the vessel.)

Work on the aft deck of the Battleship "Texas" to replace wooden deck planks/Photo Credit: Brent Clanton

Work on the aft deck of the Battleship “Texas” to replace wooden deck planks/Photo Credit: Brent Clanton

Recently The First Volunteers completed replacing and refinishing much of the wooden deck on the aft section, and on the port side gun deck. Battleship Texas Foundation Executive Director, Bruce Bramlett, ever-watchful for an opportunity, took the old deck planks to two local shops to have the wood crafted into mementos: Special hand grips for the commemorative Colt .45 pistols that are being produced, and pen sets.

There are still a few pistols available for sale, but Bramlett says when they’re gone, they’re gone.


The campaign is generating revenue towards the additional $17.5-million needed to complete restoration work.  This is in preparation for placing the vessel in a permanent dry dock, where she now floats in salt water.

Time is of the essence.
“Sooner or later, the salt water will do to the “Texas” on the surface what it is doing to the “Titanic” five-miles beneath the Atlantic,” Bramlett says.
It’s a chilling thought.

Reservations are required for the Hardhat Tours.
Details on the tours and commemorative pistols are on the ship’s website,


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