The Royal Research Ship Research
A model of R.R.S. Research rigged as a brigantine
Towards the end of 1934 the Admiralty decided that a new vessel was required by the Hydrographic Section for research into magnetic lines of force and similar phenomena. The contract to build the vessel was awarded to Messrs Philip & Son Ltd., at their Noss Shipyard, situated opposite the Naval College at Dartmouth, Devon. This was the most prestigious order that the firm had so far received from the Admiralty. They were well equipped to cope with wooden shipbuilding having constructed many wooden yachts and tugs over the years. The order was for a non-magnetic wooden sailing vessel equipped with engines which were to be as near non-magnetic as possible. The estimated price was to exceed £100,000 with the hull of teak and the fittings of brass and aluminium. The project was allocated yard number 841 and the keel was laid on 8th. October 1937, the first rivet in the keel being driven in by Mrs. Fryer, the wife of Lt-Cmdr. D.H. Fryer, RN her designated captain, and the vessel launched by Mrs. H. Spencer, wife of the Astronomer Royal, on 4th. April 1939, as the Royal Research Ship Research.
On completion it was planned to rig her as a brigantine with a sail area of 12,000-sq. ft. and a displacement of 750 tons and a complement of about 31 including the scientific staff. She was the only large sailing vessel commissioned in the United Kingdom between 1922 and the Winston Churchill in 1966. As she was intended to be used for research into magnetic fields the ship was built with only 120 pounds of magnetic material in her construction.
The keel for the R.R.S. Research under fabrication
The final contract price was £154,845. Her planking was of 4.5" thick teak on 4" x 4" x 0.25" frames of naval brass with an internal sheerstrake 24" wide x 1" thick, of brass, the planking being reduced to 3.5" over this area. The two garboard strakes were cut from solid teak baulks, 24" x 24", the length of the keel, as it was felt that planks could not be twisted from the vertical stempost to the horizontal and then back to the vertical stern post. The baulks were specially prepared in Burma and shipped over to Dartmouth where a team of shipwrights, armed with adzes, cut them to the required shapes. The masts were intended to be cut from one piece of Oregon pine, but with a diameter of 24" problems were experienced in the supply of suitable timber. Incidentally these masts were bored with a number of 1" dia. holes x 12" deep, at the top during the war and the holes were kept filled with linseed oil in an effort to preserve the timbers.
The anchor cable was of studded cast aluminium-bronze links and the experience gained in its manufacture stood the makers in good stead during the war in producing anchor cables for magnetic minesweepers. The water tanks for the Research were made from teak with a small manhole for cleaning. During construction a number of the workmen were dismissed for drunkenness but further investigation found that the fumes from the wood were, in the confined space of the tanks, having this effect on them. They were compensated and work continued.
The launch of R.R.S. Research. Launched at Noss 4th April 1939 after being named by Mrs. Spencer Jones (wife of the Astronomer Royal) Reproduced by courtesy of A. Vincent Bibbings
Propulsion was to be by a Petter Atomic diesel engine, non-magnetic, giving a design speed of 6.5 knots. The main engine is a 4Cy., unit of 160 DHP at 375 rpm., driving a feathering two bladed propeller. For the auxiliaries there are two 9 BHP single cylinder units and one 18 DHP two cylinder unit. These engines drive a line shafting through V-belts and from this line shaft is taken the drive for the sea water and fresh water circulating pumps, an auxiliary air compressor, the drive for the oceanographic winch, the refrigerating plant and two 4kW. generators. The crankcases, flywheel, cylinder heads and various other parts are of bronze with the cylinders of aluminium cast around Sheepbridge-Stokes Ni Resist liners. The connecting rods and crankshaft are of manganese nickel-chrome steel. The smaller auxiliary engines follow the same pattern.
The late King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, inspected the vessel during a visit to Noss on 23rd. July 1939. Due to the outbreak of hostilities in September all work on Research was suspended and due to the amount of government money expended on her, the Treasury were loath to allow the Admiralty to put her to any other use and so she spent the war years idly at her berth.
It was hoped to complete her after the war ended but their lordships, in their wisdom, decreed otherwise. The official announcement stated "There is not now sufficient priority to sustain the expense of continuing with her". She was towed away on her first and last voyage by the tug Atlas on 20th. October 1952 for demolition by Messrs. Hocking Bros. Ltd. of Plymouth. By way of a final protest against the injustices of Authority the Research went aground on a mudbank, only a few yards from the moorings that she had occupied for so many years.
R.R.S. Research. His late Majesty King George VI and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother leaving
It was a far cry from her launch ceremony when she first entered the River Dart with flags flying and a large crowd of spectators. She left in silence with no flags at her masthead or elsewhere as she was sadly towed past the port of Dartmouth which had built her with so much pride.
A sad end for a magnificent vessel and a great opportunity lost for a sail training ship at a low cost.
The main and auxiliary engines for the Research Photo. Shipbuilding Record.
By Derek Blackhurst
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Noting Bobs Comment, Cyril King is the man to contact, he was actively involved in the construction from the drawing office perspective, I believe He has been in contact with David Clements over printing some of his writings
I noted with interest your comments on RRS Research; the author of the article, Derek Blackhurst, regretably passed away a few years ago. He did however complete a full history of Philip and Son Ltd published by Ships in Focus Publications in 2001 which you may find of interest. Derek and I spoke about RRS Research as I undertook a short study into the vessel which I hope to publish in either the Society's journal or possibly the Mariner's Mirror.
I would be interested in any first hand accounts about her build and particularly any illustrations or memorabilia that may still exist. There are photographs showing a superb builder's model of the vessel fully rigged - where the model is now neither Derek or I have been able to determine.
I am an ex-Dartmouth shipwright, and also a member of the "Old Dartmouthians association". I have only recently come across this article on the "Research" Another "Old Dart" was a draughtmans at Philips for many years, and I have been trying to get him to put his memories into print, having read some of his writings. I noted the item on the teak garboards in particular, as he recently discussed this matter with me. His memory recollects that the overseer said the tuck was to tight to steam around, and the garboards should be cut from the solid. This was put to the foreman at the time a Mr Sam Elliot for whom I was priviledged to work at Noss. He said they could be steamed and went right ahead and did it, saving the firm a lot of money and time. Cyril King, (for that is his name) Has many such recollections, which I am hoping he will put into print for SWMHS, though he is now 85 But still very sharp and "with it".
I have a pressed brass ashtray with a vignette of R.R.S Research. Could you tell me if this ashtray was made for the vessels launch. Your website is interesting and informative