Repairs, dive plans and a new tank

Heavy EngineeringArmed ForcesDefenseHampton RoadsWars and InterventionsMariners' MuseumUSS Monitor

Mechanical problems dogged the start of the 2002 Monitor Expedition last week, forcing the mission's 300-foot-long diving and lifting platform - the derrick barge Wotan - to put into Hampton Roads for repairs.

The Wotan's ailing 500-ton-capacity crane was expected to be fixed in time for the expedition to return to Cape Hatteras, N.C., sometime over the weekend, Navy spokesman Chief Mike Viola said.

And Navy divers, guided by an archaeological team from the Newport News-based Monitor National Marine Sanctuary, plan to begin working on the wreck of the famous Civil War ironclad USS Monitor as soon as today or Monday.

No such delays hindered construction of the huge conservation tank designed to house the Monitor's historic gun turret once it's recovered.

Welders from Northrop Grumman Newport News Apprentice School began work Friday on the 14-foot-tall, 70,000-gallon steel tank, the newest addition to the rapidly growing Monitor conservation center behind The Mariners' Museum.

The builders will leave three sides of the octagonal tank incomplete, providing enough room for the turret to be backed in and lifted off the bed of a huge heavy-load trailer. Then the three bulkhead panels will be welded into place, enabling the turret, its two 15,750-pound cannons and the accompanying lifting rig to be covered with a protective pool of water.

"There's no single crane that can make that lift," said John Cannup, the museum's vice president for facilities management, describing a load that could weigh as much as 230 tons once it leaves the ocean bottom.

"It's going to be a huge thing - much, much bigger than the steam engine we got last year. So we had to figure out a different way to get it in."

Apprentice School welders also began work Friday on the 96,000-gallon tank for the engine, dividing the giant container into three smaller spaces.

One will house the partially dismantled engine, which was recently detached from the enormous iron floor frames with which it was recovered last summer. The others will hold the Monitor's steam condenser and a water-storage reservoir.

The turret and steam-engine tanks will be outfitted with newly cut 11-inch-wide portholes, enabling visitors to survey the artifacts while they're being treated. A newly installed automatic filtering, treatment and transfer system should make the water clearer and easier to shift among various storage and conservation areas.

"Back in 1998, when the big expeditions began, we started this facility from nothing," Cannup said.

"Now we know a lot more about what we're doing."

Mark St. John Erickson can be reached at 247-4783 or by e-mail at merickson@dailypress.com

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