The giants of Gdansk

The giants of Gdansk

Since February, two huge structures have been taking shape on the quaysides of two shipyards in Gdansk. At first glance, you'd think that they'll become office buildings or apartment blocks. They're built on solid ground. They're swathed in scaffolding and protective sheeting. And they're huge. Each is five storeys high, 31 metres wide and 48 metres long. If they were apartment blocks, they'd hold 100 average two-bedroom flats each.

But when they're finished, they won't throw their doors open to their new occupants. Instead, these vast, 2,400-tonne constructions will go on a journey. They rest on greased steel rails laid onto the concrete quayside. Once complete, huge hydraulic rams will push them off the quayside at a rate of just a few metres a day, and onto a barge. They'll take around three days to slide just over 30 metres. The barge will then take around five days to make the 500-mile trip to Flensburg in Germany; longer in heavy seas.

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Once there, they'll meet the hull of Honfleur, and gigantic floating cranes will pick them up and drop them onto her deck in what's known as the 'Lego build'. They'll be welded together to become almost her entire superstructure, containing all of her public areas, cabins, and her huge full-width wheelhouse.

"It might seem crazy to build these deckhouses so far away, but actually it makes perfect sense," says Benjamin Toussaint, the Brittany Ferries engineer tasked with supervising their construction. "Honfleur is so big that they couldn't be built with the rest of the ship on the slipway in Flensburg. We can save time by building these huge superstructures here, then putting them together when they're ready."

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The blocks will be about 80 per cent complete when they're sent to Germany. All of the piping, ventilation systems and the electrical and safety systems will have been installed. The cabin furniture and the other high-quality finishes Honfleur's passengers will see will be fitted in Germany.

The first steel was cut for these sections on Valentines' Day, and by the time we visit in October the blocks are around six weeks from completion. The steel structures are complete, and it's already possible to get a sense of the scale and openness of Honfleur's public areas, and the light that will pour through her vast portholes.

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But some of the deckhouses' features won't stay. Each has four giant lifting lugs welded to its upper deck, each as tall as an adult and with four holes for the cables the cranes will hoist the sections with. Inside, thick temporary steel walls brace the structures so they don't flex when being moved. All will be cut out and recycled once Honfleur has come together.

Benjamin and his team of four know these sections of Honfleur better than anyone, having carefully inspected every weld. "We've been so impressed with the quality," he says. "It's amazing. We inspect all the work as it's done, and we're very satisfied. These Polish shipyards also work on the deckhouses for luxury cruise liners. That's exactly the experience our decks will deliver to Honfleur's passengers."

Profile: Benjamin Toussaint

"I really grew up with Brittany Ferries," says the young Breton engineer overseeing the construction of the deckhouses. "My mother worked as an English teacher and we'd travel on the ferries to the UK when I was a kid. I fell in love with them, and knew I'd work on them one day."

"I started working on board in hospitality, but I knew I wanted to be an engineer. So when I was 24 I started a four-year course at the Superior National Marine School (ENSM), and I re-joined Brittany Ferries when I obtained my chief engineer degree three years ago."

Once Honfleur is complete, Benjamin will join her crew, swapping his flat in Poland for a cabin in the officers' quarters on one of the decks he's currently building.

"It's really a dream to be helping to build Honfleur," he says. "At the moment there are only around 12 engineers supervising her build here and in Germany. I'm starting to feel very attached. It will be wonderful to see her launched."

 

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