Author Topic: Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary Penthouse Fabrication  (Read 3357 times)

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Offline Kevin O' Donnell

Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary Penthouse Fabrication
« on: Jan 10, 2021, 03:26 PM »
   In late August 1977 I was given the assignment involving the fabrication of new penthouse structures for cruise liner “QE 2”.  I worked for Bethlehem Steel Corporation’s Hoboken Shipyard which lays across the Hudson River in New Jersey and is near the New York city cruise terminal.  The dry dock where “QE 2” dry docked was in Bayonne, N.J. and this is where the fabrication, erection and installation work occurred.  This was my second year after graduation from college as a degreed naval architect and I was quickly gathering experience as a junior ship superintendent in ship design and repair.  I had been involved in numerous ship dry dockings, pier side repairs and small modifications but this was my largest project to date.  The penthouse construction drawings were developed by the engineering department at Hoboken Shipyard headed by Naval Architect Joe LaRocca.  Mr. LaRocca was notable as the supervising engineer in the high-pressure steam turbine replacement aboard the “QE 2” during it’s shipyard period in December, 1976.

   The penthouse unit was unique in that it was designed out of aluminum plate and shapes.  No one at Bethlehem Hoboken had experience working with aluminum, we were strictly a steel yard and techniques concerning cutting, fitting and welding had to be developed from scratch.  Yard management decided to use personnel from the carpenter shop for this purpose that normally would have been performed by the hull shop.  We used circular saws with carbide tip saw blades to cut the plate and shapes.  The aluminum was measured and cut the same way you would build a wood house.
     The aluminum material arrived by truck and had to be separated and arranged by size and type for ease of access.  A plan was developed listing the order in which sub panels were fabricated.  We took delivery of the first aluminum welding machine, a MIG welder complete with spooled aluminum welding wire and bottled argon gas.  There was one welder assigned and we laid out a test panel to develop the welding technique and the skill level needed to build the deckhouse.  At first glance, welding aluminum appeared to be simple but as we got into part assembly, numerous problems arose.  Aluminum welds very quickly and heat builds up so fast that the plate and structure distort.  The stiffeners, when laid out on bulkhead panels, bent out of shape very quickly.  The usual steel technique is to use “dogs” and “wedges” to keep the shape in line with the plate, but with aluminum this did not work.  We decided to “tack” weld the stiffeners to the aluminum plate.  Because of the construction site proximity to the Bayonne Dry Dock, a WW II era graving dock built by the US Navy, there were numerous dock floor keel blocks made of concrete with wood caps available.  When “QE 2” was drydocked in 1976, there were a few unused keel blocks buried at the head of the dock.  I was warned by the company dock master not to use any of the blocks that were currently exposed for my project.  With the assistance of a laborer, we dug out the remaining keel blocks and rigged them, after examining and cleaning, into the fabrication shop.  We then used these blocks to apply a vertical force on the aluminum shapes which held them in place while production welding took place.  The welder had to practice careful heat management which required skipping around to avoid heat accumulation and distortion.  Getting the surface clean enough, the gas flux regulated, and acquiring proper weld penetration took a lot longer than I had expected, but once that was worked out, production moved quickly, and additional welders were brought in and taught the techniques.

     As the completed sub panels accumulated, we moved on to the next step, sub assembly.  The sub-assembles were built in such a manner that a port and starboard half of the deck house was erected and welded within the confines of the fabrication building.  We were limited by the width of the building door, so the sub-assembly was confined to that dimension.  This also brought into consideration, where do we set up and outfit the completed port and starboard house sections.  Again, the dry dock keel blocks came into play.  I arranged them alongside the dry dock and placed the sub-assemblies atop allowing under deck access.  The remaining structural stiffening, welding, door and window installation was then completed.  This is where the plumbing, electrical wiring, bulkhead joiner work, insulation, interior and exterior painting and the rough outfitting took place.  Bethlehem Steels work was limited to the rough outfitting and installation. Vosper Thornycroft from the UK was contracted by Cunard to accomplish the finish outfitting.  Material for the final outfitting arrived daily and all had to be received and segregated into a fenced in compound until cleared by US Customs.  The personnel from the UK started arranging in late October or early November and started their work.  We supported them in any way we could, and I remember the quality workmanship of the cabinetry and custom furniture they provided.
     One last item was the creation of a lifting plan for each house section.  I personally developed the lifting plan and designed a lifting beam.  The pad eyes that the lifting beam connected to had to be integrated in the penthouse structure in such a manner that after the lift was accomplished the pads could be removed without a visual trace when looking at the penthouse exterior.  The lifting beam had to be designed to distribute the house weight evenly to avoid flexing and the possibility of fractured windows or bulkhead plating.  The same lifting beam then had to be used for the other penthouse section.  This was all accomplished by having identical but opposite lifting points installed on each house section.  The lifting beam was oriented over the port section, the house lifted and placed aboard the vessel, then attached before the lifting beam and rigging was released.  The lifting beam was then flipped over, attached to the other house section, and when ready, lifted aboard.  The attached photo shows the port section in the process of being lifted.  Both penthouse sections were lifted and installed aboard the vessel without any distortion or fracturing.

     Once the penthouses were aboard ship, the rush to complete the rooms accelerated.  The water closets, which are referred to ashore as a bathroom or aboard ship as the head were absolutely stunning.  Each had both a toilet and bidet and all bathroom fixtures were gold plated.  I only way I know how to describe the interior bulkheads facing outboard is they were upholstered because the marine grade wall board was covered first with a thin layer of polyurethane foam sheets, then overlayed with a fine fiberglass like matting and finally covered with white linen cloth.  A male “clothier” hand sewed the sheet ends together and covered the seam with silk ribbon.  To this day I marvel at the beauty of the workmanship.  You have to remember; this was the mid 1970’s and Naugahyde and other man-made materials were everywhere.  QI 2's couches and settees were covered in plush leather, the carpets wool and the cabinets made from cherry wood.  Once the carpets were laid out and installed, I wasn’t allowed into the rooms any longer, but I did get to peak in from time to time to check progress.  Cunard had a butler station set up at the end of the interior hallway between penthouses and they had someone stationed there to check room access.  This was partly a result of a fire that occurred in either the 9th or 10th day of the dry dock period in one of the queens’ water closets.  The damage was quickly repaired by the Vosper Thornycroft personnel, but it did cause quite a disruption.

     One last memory was when the yard dock master came to the Bayonne dry dock to lay out the blocking plan, he saw I had used some dry dock blocks to erect the penthouse structure.  Even though the blocks I used were in excess of the ones used the previous year, I got into hot water that required a personal visit to the shipyard manager to explain myself. 

Online Michael Gallagher

Re: Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary Penthouse Fabrication
« Reply #1 on: Jan 10, 2021, 04:33 PM »
Thank you for this valuable information. I hope you enjoy these images!

Online Michael Gallagher

Re: Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary Penthouse Fabrication
« Reply #2 on: Jan 10, 2021, 04:33 PM »
And these...

Online Michael Gallagher

Re: Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary Penthouse Fabrication
« Reply #3 on: Jan 10, 2021, 04:36 PM »
Top image: Queen Mary Suite as built

Bottom image: Queen Elizabeth Suite as built

Online Lynda Bradford

Re: Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary Penthouse Fabrication
« Reply #4 on: Jan 10, 2021, 05:15 PM »
This topic gets even better with Michael's photos adding to the information!
I was proud to be involved with planning QE2's 50 year conference in September 2017 in Clydebank

Offline Thomas Hypher

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Re: Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary Penthouse Fabrication
« Reply #5 on: Jan 10, 2021, 06:21 PM »
Interesting to see the old SS America (in her unsuccessful and very short lived Venture Cruise Lines period) through the window of one of the photos in Michael's most recent post. These photos were taken between June and August 1978 (according to Wikipedia dates for SS America) and are in Manhattan given the angle of each ship and the visible parts of the docks.
« Last Edit: Jan 10, 2021, 06:23 PM by Thomas Hypher »
First sailed on QE2 in August 2003 aged 6 years old. Last sailed on QE2 in July 2008. Last saw the seagoing QE2 in person from the decks of QM2, on QE2's last Transatlantic crossing (Eastbound tandem) in October 2008. Visited QE2 in her new life, in Dubai, in January 2020 and August 2022.

Online Isabelle Prondzynski

Re: Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary Penthouse Fabrication
« Reply #6 on: Jan 10, 2021, 06:54 PM »
Superb topic, with all the details and the photos. Thank you so much, Kevin and Michael!

Kevin, what a huge and complex assignment to take on, so soon after graduation. Well done, congratulations.

Online cunardqueen

Re: Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary Penthouse Fabrication
« Reply #7 on: Jan 11, 2021, 03:02 AM »
As always a very interesting topic. Thanks 
From the moment you first glimpsed the Queen,
 you just knew you were in for a very special time ahead.!

Offline June Ingram

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Re: Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary Penthouse Fabrication
« Reply #8 on: Jan 11, 2021, 06:11 PM »
Very interesting and great photos ! Many thanks !
QE2 - the ship for all of time, a ship of timeless beauty !

Offline pete cain

Re: Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary Penthouse Fabrication
« Reply #9 on: Jan 12, 2021, 08:05 PM »
Again, thanks to this forum for presenting a very welcome platform for- up to now, unknown info regarding Qe2
 just love this, thankyou


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