Saving what is left
The remains of the Rhoda Mary lie diagonally to the foreshore at Hoo in Kent, about 40 metres out from the high water mark on a very gently shelving beach. At high tide, there are 2-3 metres of water over the site. The vessel sits on a hard gravel bottom that is covered in 1 metre of soft mud. The bottom of the hull is buried in the mud and filled with some 40 tonnes of pebble ballast.
Some time in the 1960s, what remained of the Rhoda Mary burnt down to the waterline, which has been a blessing in disguise. Otherwise, as she degraded, the weight of her upper hull would have caused her to collapse in on herself, leaving a tangled mess more difficult to decipher.
This is important for several reasons. Firstly, there are no builder’s plans of this vessel in existence today. The secret to her renowned speed lies in the shape of her hull below the waterline. This can only be fully understood through retrieving and examining the wreck. Secondly, we can gain detailed information about her construction, as well as dimensions and positioning of the timbers in her structure.
From the lower hull, we can extrapolate and build her back up exactly as she was. Also, thanks to the foresight of Basil Greenhill and David MacGregor, we have detailed drawings and measurements of all aspects of her structure as well as contemporary photographs. This represents a unique opportunity to rebuild the Rhoda Mary in a faithful manner.
What remains of the vessel is fragile and too weak to refloat in a conventional manner, as there is a danger that the sides of the hull will collapse. The first task will be to remove the ballast that fills the hull, wash away the mud that covers the site and then strengthen the hull by bolting the framing and planking together, replacing the timbers that have fallen away before building in diagonal bracing across the hull to help support the wreck during the salvage.
The next stage will be to lift the wreck using air bags to give buoyancy and float her off. Once afloat, she will be towed across to Chatham Docks where the whole structure will be lifted onto a sea-going barge. She will then be towed back to Cornwall for reconstruction.
… there lies treasure in the mud …