Boat idea that was put on ice


ICE is a strange, almost surreal substance, which can be in turn useful and dangerous in unexpected ways. We are told, for example, that in 1776 the son of the parish clerk of the local church at Bampton in Devon was" killed instantly when speared by an icicle. It had detached itself from, the church tower and shot straight down on his unfortunate head. The boy's sad fate is marked by a quaint memorial verse at the church entrance.

Bless my eyes,

Here he lies,

In a sad pickle,

Kill'd by an icicle.

But ice has its altruistic side as well. It can, after all, do wonders for a glass of whisky, and some 50 years ago, there was even talk that might be used for building boats.

HMS Habbakuk was the drawing board name given to the brainchild of Geoffrey Pike, a cousin apparently of the one time TV eccentric Magnus Pike.

It was destined to be an aircraft carrier constructed entirely of ice and to sit in the middle of the Atlantic as a floating icedrome on which transatlantic aeroplanes could re-fuel.

The idea emerged during the war in 1944 and was based on the notion that it was possible to make heat resilient ice by freezing water mixed with wood pulp a technique borrowed, it seems, from the North American Eskimos who used to mix snow with lichens to make their igloo ice more durable.

Tests showed that the, material was remarkably strong and unexpectedly resistant to moderate heat and stress.

The vessel, had it been built, was to have weighed three million tonnes, a truly remarkable size at a time when the Queen Mary at a mere 86,000 tonnes, was the largest ship afloat. Habbakuk was to be 2,000 feet in length with walls of ice some 30 feet in thickness. Since its function was to lie in situ as a floating airfield, self propulsion would be minimal it would include only a dozen out board electric motors, powered by the same diesel engines that would provide the required on board refrigeration.

The Habbakuk project was abandoned unfulfilled with the ending of the war in Europe. It was reckoned, however, that had the vessel actually been built it could have withstood with ease the worst torpedo onslaught.

In any event, should any cracks have appeared, it would have been an easy matter to fill the gap with seawater, turn up the refrigeration and thus invisibly repair the damage.