RML 497 – A Closer Look at the Exterior

RML 497 Conservation

In this follow up blog post about RML 497, Curator Clare Hunts tells us more about the fascinating restoration that has been ongoing to restore this unique Second World War survivor.

RML 497 is one of several hundred Fairmile B motor launches built for the Second World War. The first job to do when RML arrived in Hartlepool was to clean her hull before the various marine growths such as barnacles dried up and set hard like concrete. She also had a lot of mussels attached which, by the time we got to them, were not smelling pleasant at all! We recruited a band of volunteers to help with this rather unpleasant job but they seemed to enjoy themselves and after a few months, the hull was cleared of sea creatures and slimy mud.

A key reason why RML 497 was taken out of the water was due to the state of her keel. It was broken and had been attacked by gribble, a type of sea creature which burrows into the wood. From now on, the boat will remain on dry land – as it we were to put her back in the water much of her historical material would have to be removed.

The propellers and rudders of RML 497 are original and made of bronze so need a different type of cleaning – scraping alone will not remove the barnacles and other marine encrustations which have formed so we plan to use hydrochloric acid to gradually dissolve them. Acids can be dangerous, so they have to be applied very carefully for the sake of the user and the boat. Safety equipment like goggles, gloves and masks will be needed and test areas will be done to see how long the acid needs to stay on in order to clean the surfaces without damaging them.

On the top deck of the boat also has some issues that need to be addressed. The wheelhouse, which contains one of the steering wheels, is largely original but at some point, cladding was installed using poor quality plywood which has deteriorated badly and this will eventually need replacing.

Another rather unusual problem that we have dealt with is the growth of grass and even small shrubs on the top deck! These have had to be removed because their roots would grow through the gaps and force the timbers apart. One of these shrubs is on the roof of the sick berth – this was a unique feature of the RML vessels as they were for air sea rescue and could treat casualties on board. We are not too worried about this though, because this sick berth was added only a few years ago and is a different size, and in a slightly different place, to the original one so we will be unlikely to keep it when it comes to the boat’s restoration.

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