Planning for the long-term major refit of REAPER, the iconic flagship of the Scottish Fisheries Museum, began in early 2015 with the aim of keeping her safe and seaworthy for another 30 years, but a series of events has meant that it was only in autumn 2017 that the refit could begin. The main challenge facing the Museum and its Boats Club was that the scale of the restoration needed – almost certainly the largest since she was launched in Sandhaven in 1903 – meant that the refit cost would be significant and thus well beyond the Museum’s normal funding. The search for and negotiation of project funding began in mid-2016, led by Simon Hayhow and Ken Fraser, and continued through to the summer of 2017 when the Scottish Government, recognising the national importance of Reaper in our past, current and future maritime heritage, confirmed through a visit to the boat by Secretary of State Fiona Hyslop, that it would generously provide £500,000 of grant funding to cover the costs of the refit.
In parallel with the search for refit funding, the Museum’s Refit Progress Group, led by Tony Davis and Leo Bortolami, began assessing the actual refit tasks that would be required; prepared an invitation to tender document to go to appropriate boatyards and shipbuilders; and started discussions with the maritime heritage organisations and advisors to ensure the post refit Reaper avoided “heritage drift” where the boat’s core authenticity would be endangered. Following tender discussions, the decision was made in summer 2017 to award the contract to Babcock International Ltd for the refit to be undertaken in their large shed in Rosyth Royal Dockyard, beginning in November 2017 for completion by May 2018. Reaper’s skipper, Mike Barton and crew began removing interior fittings in the hull in Autumn, and in mid-October the masts were craned out but instead of being laid on the pier, were secured aboard the boat as the condition of both fore and mizzen masts are to be sonically scanned in Rosyth to determine the urgency of their replacement by newly felled Douglas Fir. In November, Mike Barton and a small experienced crew took Reaper under her own power up to Rosyth, where on entering the Dockyard she was handed over to Babcock who will have full responsibility for the boat whilst she is in the yard and on end-refit sea trials.
The need to give priority to work on RN vessels has led to a slight delay in Reaper coming out of the water on the syncrolift and being wheeled into Bay 6 to begin the refit, but December saw the masts and capstan lifted off and ballast adjustments made prior to lift out. The main refit tasks began in early January, undertaken by Babcock and a team from Adam Way, the Lochgilphead wooden boat builders.
The Museum’s management input to the refit programme is being jointly undertaken by Leonardo Bortolami, our Boatyard Manager, and Mike Barton. Regular meetings have also been scheduled between Babcock and the RPG to review progress and confirm any necessary contract changes. Leonardo is planning to post regular refit updates here on the web, and Babcock have undertaken to provide a photographic record of the work undertaken. The Boats Club will visit Rosyth early in the New Year, once the hull work has got underway, with subsequent visits for Museum Trustees.
One of the challenges in such a major refit is that it is not always possible to identify essential work in advance, and thus there is a contingency element attached to both the refit budget and the refit work schedule. The present forecast is that the refit will be completed and Reaper handed back to the Museum by mid-June 2018, with the boat safe for sea-going on her Museum Outreach and Education duties well into this century. We’ll keep you posted!