Nova Scotia

Refit of WW II vessel brings 'tremendous sense of satisfaction,' says official

HMCS Sackville is undergoing its most significant refit in 40 years. The 80-year-old Corvette, a relic of the Second World War, is sitting on blocks in the submarine shed of the navy dockyard in Halifax

Goal is to have HMCS Sackville floating in time for the anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic

The refit of HMCS Sackville is the most significant one the Second World War relic has had in 40 years. (CBC)

HMCS Sackville is undergoing its most significant refit in 40 years.

The 80-year-old Corvette, a relic of the Second World War, is sitting on blocks in the submarine shed of the navy dockyard in Halifax. Contractors are covering the rusted, saltwater-beaten hull with brand new steel.

"We're putting modern steel over that to protect the steel that's inside," said Art Forward. "It'll give us another five to 10 years of sitting in the North Atlantic while we come up with — hopefully — a plan for the future."

The federal government transferred ownership of HMCS Sackville to the non-profit Canadian Naval Memorial Trust in 1983. Forward serves as chief of the boat for the trust.

In 1988, the vessel was designated a National Historic Site of Canada to honour Canadian sailors who have died at sea.

Art Forward with the Canadian Naval Memorial Trust says there's a lot of damage to the boat. (CBC)

After a survey spotted weaknesses in the ship's hull, the federal government committed $3.5 million to the trust for the refit project in January 2018.

Tourists and locals who are used to seeing HMCS Sackville moored on the Halifax waterfront may not notice much of a change when it returns to the water early next spring. But Forward said those who know the ship well will know.

"The work you'll see here is not necessarily visible to the average visitor ... old sailors and stuff will be able to tell right away," said Forward.

"Right now, to the average person, this ship is probably a disaster. But I think it's beautiful right now because I understand what's actually happening here."

Like any big refit, Forward said once they started cutting and grinding into the 80-year-old steel hull, they realized it was worse than it looked.

"As we started sandblasting, lots of pinholes appeared and things of that nature that have somewhat slowed down the overall progress," he said.

The goal is to have the ship floating in time for the anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic. (CBC)

It's on target to be in the water by April 2021. The goal is to have it floating in time for the anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic, which takes place on the first Sunday of every May.

Forward said its been rewarding watching the old Corvette get the care it deserves.

"My job as chief of the ship is to share the Sackville story with Canadians," he said. "So to bring the ship in here, get this work done, is a tremendous sense of satisfaction."

Forward said it's a marvel HMCS Sackville is even around. He said it was never expected to remain intact, and in the water, beyond the 1950s. When it was commissioned in 1941, Forward said Winston Churchill referred to its class of Corvettes as "cheap and nasty."

Forward said the ship was "ridden very hard during the war." It's credited with sinking two German submarines on Aug. 2, 1942.

The ship's propeller is on display outside the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. (CBC)

Before the ship was purchased by the trust in 1983, it had spent the previous 30 years as a hydrographic survey ship in the Far North. Following the purchase, the surveying equipment was removed and it was restored to look the way it did in 1944.

Even with the refit underway now, HMCS Sackville will never sail under its own steam again. The ship's "screw" — navy slang for propeller — is on display in front the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.

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