Dec 082009

It looked like a boathouse on a Canadian lake but...

It’s been an interesting week weatherwise, with MAC doing battle in various fora with the climate sceptic loonytoons, comprised largely of the folks who sat on the deck of the Titanic saying “this ship cannot sink” while the water is up to their nostrils. Coincidentally MAC listened to an intriguing BBC ‘book of the week” about a ship that couldn’t sink but perhaps these days could be the ultimate reefer and it began with Lord Louis Mountbatten dropping a block of ice in Winston Churchill’s bath tub.


From aircreaft carrier to containership?

To cut to the chase, back in World War 2 an inventor called Geoffrey Pyke came upon a mixture of ice and wood shavings called Pykrete that was a potentially strong and cheap way of making aircraft carriers.  Pykrete was not only enormously strong but could be repaired with the most abundant material in the ocean – seawater.

Mountbatten was impressed with the idea and dropped a lump of Pykrete into Churchill’s bath tub, while Churchill was in it. Churchill was intrigued by ice that didn’t seem to melt and the ‘ice ship’ project got underway.

A test was carried out in Canada, on Patricia Lake, Alberta, for a vessel called Habakukk, disguised as a boatshed. Unfortunately Pyke himself was bit unusual so the US froze him out of the project after getting all the necessary information, as it did when it came to the design for supersonic aircraft.


Cross-section of Habakkuk

Costs, however, grew and scheduling over-runs put the project too far behind the wave of history as its functions were overtaken by developments.

Work on Habakkuk stopped yet it still took two summers for the vessel to finally sink.

Technology has advanced much since the war years and many of the challenges faced by the builders of Habakkuk may have been overcome – bowthrusters, steering using propellers, better insulation and more efficient refrigeration technology.

To MAC it sounds like an ideal design for a very large refrigerated container ship of the future.


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