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Last Updated:  Thursday, 20 March, 2003, 13:02 GMT
Remembering 'Great White Whale'
The cruise liner was known as the Great White Whale
The cruise liner was known as the Great White Whale
Bill Harrison followed the course of the Canberra throughout its long history with a sense of pride.

From his hard bench in the drawing offices of Harland and Wolff, he helped give birth to the vessel which would become one of the world's most famous luxury liners.

Yet the ship saw several transformations - from carrying migrants to Australia, changing to a cruiser and then into a troop carrier and hospital ship during the Falklands War.

The BBC is marking the departure of the last ship - The Anvil Point - to be built at Harland and Wolff with a special Day To Remember on Friday 21 March.

Bill started working in the drawing office of Harland and Wolff as an apprentice and spent all his working life in the shipyard.

Some of the drawings must have been 6 or 8ft long, not the easiest things to use on a ship on a wet winter's morning
Bill Harrison

In the early days there were large benches stretching the full width of the office, with up to four draftsmen working at each, he said.

"They were level and broad, because in those days the drawings were very big.

"Some of the drawings must have been 6 or 8ft long, not the easiest things to use on a ship on a wet winter's morning - the drawings were spread out and pinned down."

Bill was intimately connected with ship No.1621 - the Canberra - and recalls his days in the drawing office designing the ship.

"I was involved in that in the early design stages and right through to the delivery, something which took a fair bit out of my life at that time.

"It was a ship in which I personally had a lot of interest and when it was finished a lot of pride."

Ship came back from the Falklands War a heroine
Ship came back from the Falklands War a heroine

Launched from Queen's Island in Belfast in 1960, she was the biggest passenger ship built since the Second World War.

While she came back from the Falklands War a heroine, the cruise liner - known as the Great White Whale - was broken up in 1998.

It had been languishing in a graveyard of ships in Asia for months.

Having been sold for scrap in 1997, the once majestic liner sailed to its final resting place, 30 miles from the Pakistani port city of Karachi.

But the vessel was so big that as she came in to dock, she beached on a sandbank and became stuck there.

Her breakers cut her up before bringing the pieces back to shore.

'Awarded MBE'

Where most ships take three months to break, the Canberra brought a bonanza for the local labour market and eight months after she arrived, was still only half dismantled.

Bill Harrison remembers the day of the Canberra's maiden voyage four decades ago.

Breakers cut her up before bringing the pieces back to shore
Breakers cut her up before bringing the pieces back to shore

"I was on board the ship when it was being launched. We had some technical measurements to make with the deflections of the ship as it went down to sea.

"It's a free agent then. The ship bends and moves and one of the things we had to do was measure that movement."

It was a procedure Bill carried out many times until he ended his career as Technical Manager of Harland and Wolff.

He was later awarded an MBE for his work.




SEE ALSO:
HMS Belfast sails into history
19 Mar 03 |  Northern Ireland
Belfast warship sails into retirement
18 Mar 02 |  Northern Ireland


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