19 July 2012
By: Rob Bell
It was back in late autumn last year when we first took the trip up to Swan Hunter Ship Yard on Tyneside. It was filming day one of ‘Engineering Giants’ and I was really excited to get up close and personal with our first machine – The Indefatigable Lima Platform. It stood in the yard in two separate pieces- the legs (which I have since learnt are called the ‘jacket’) and the topside. It was the responsibility of Veolia Environmental Services to completely dismantle both and recycle as much of the steel as possible.
We were there that particular day because the jacket had been scheduled to meet its maker with the help of a little tug and a lot of gravity. I had no idea what to expect but my appetite for a spectacle and excitement was happily satisfied as the two diggers, attached to the jacket via long cables, moved back in a perfectly synchronised manoeuvre. As the cables tightened, the jacket started to lean until its centre of gravity could hold on no longer and the whole thing came crashing down with an almighty thump. That and a dirty cloud of sea-stinking dust. Fair enough I guess. Those legs had been stuck out in the North Sea for over 40 years. It was a very memorable moment for me.
Although spectacular to watch, the felling of the jacket was only a tiny part of the overall process. The guys at Veolia had been all over the structure for hours before with their gas cutters (awesome tools used to melt through steel several inches thick) leading up to that moment; making accurately prescribed cuts to ensure that when it was time to collapse, it toppled in the right manner and most importantly, in the right direction. It was also crucial to the operation that the cuts were made in the right places in the right order such that it wouldn’t fall before its time.
It was amazing watching the final cut being made with the cutter who did it moving a little more swiftly away than he usually might. Everything had been planned so that it wouldn’t topple before its time. As it was, the structure stayed put until it was time to tug it with the diggers, but I don’t blame the chap for getting away quickly.
Despite all the activity and machines on site, I always felt very safe up at Swan Hunter. We were really well looked after and the guys had some very interesting engineering tales to talk us through from previous projects.
I’m very lucky that I get to see things and go places that are sometimes off limits when filming these kinds of programmes. It was fascinating to see the jacket and topside slowly decrease in size as they were dismantled for recycling. The highlight for me will always be that “THUMP” though. Definitely one of my highlights of the series.
Tune in to Engineering Giants this Sunday on BBC 2, at 8.00pm to witness the whole thing for yourself.