Old salt's heart to sink a little

By Ian Stuart

On the surface, Norm Greenall thinks of himself as a bit of a tough old Navy sea dog.

However, the former chief petty officer is not sure how that salty old image will stand up when his old ship, the frigate Canterbury, slips beneath the waves at Deep Water Cove near Cape Brett in the Bay of Islands on October 13.

Mr Greenall, 66, was at the Glasgow yard of Yarrow and Co in Scotland when the 2900-tonne ship's keel was laid in 1969.

He was there for the building and fitting out of the ship, the launch in 1970 and the commissioning on October 22, 1971.

He served three years on Canterbury as a shipwright, including a tour to Mururoa Atoll when the Labour Government sent it there in protest at French nuclear testing .

He probably knows the ship better than anyone and, for the past year or so, has been in charge of the team pulling salvageable items out of the old Leander-class steam frigate and making it environmentally safe to be sunk as a dive attraction in the picturesque bay at the top end of the Bay of Islands.

It is the fourth Navy ship Mr Greenall has sunk. He also led the teams which stripped out and sank former Navy oceanographic ship Tui off Tutukaka, and the Leander-class frigates Waikato, off Ngunguru just south of Tutukaka, and Wellington at Island Bay in Cook Strait.

But when the explosive charges rip holes in the hull and the Canterbury sinks beneath the surface, one week short of its 36th commissioning anniversary, Mr Greenall is not sure how he will handle his emotions.

"At the moment it is pretty good, but on the day it will be pretty tough."

He said that even after a life in the Navy, he may not be the tough old sea dog people thought he was.

The ship will be towed from the wharf at Opua on Tuesday about 600 tonnes lighter than when it arrived.

Since February a team of workers, many volunteers, have been removing ferrous metals and anything that can be salvaged and sold.

They have also had to take out anything which could pollute the clean water of Deep Water Cove.

That meant cleaning and removing about 5000 litres of lubricating and hydraulic oil, and cleaning the inside of any oil tanks.

The cleaning alone took 20,000 litres of dirty water used in the water blasting and steam cleaning.

Climbing into the dirty machinery spaces and tanks to clean them was one of the worst jobs of the clean-up.

"They were black," Mr Greenall said.

The salvage put about $400,000 into the coffers of the Bay of Islands Charitable Trust to go towards the $600,000 cost of sinking the ship. The trust bought the ship for $1 from the Government.

Many of the items of memorabilia were to stay in Northland, including some of the bridge windows which were being installed in a new house in the area.

The shell casing from the last shell fired from the ship's 4.5-inch forward gun turret also sold for $1000 to a local man.

One of the large bronze propellers went to Whangarei and the other would be mounted overlooking the harbour as a memorial to the ship.

Once the ship was towed to Deep Water Cove, a modest 14kg of explosive would be planted to blow about 12 holes in the hull.

Mr Greenall said the hope was that the ship went down on an even keel instead of bow first. The Leander frigates were known to have a weak point slightly forward of the bridge. Both sister ships, Waikato and Wellington, hit bow first and within a relatively short time the bows had broken off the sunken hulls.

Once the explosions were triggered from the command boat, the launch Acheron, the ship was likely to sink to the seabed in less than two minutes.

The ship is expected to bring in millions of dollars into the area from visiting divers.


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