Now she's a ship - Honfleur's hull and blocks come together

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How does a cruise ferry like Honfleur grow by five decks in just two days? With some smart shipbuilding, and the help of another extraordinary vessel. Thursday December 20 marked the end of a milestone week for Honfleur.

Just six days previously, her hull was launched into the Baltic Sea at the FSG shipyard in northern Germany where she is being built. Then, in the course of two day-long operations, almost her entire superstructure was added to the hull in two vast prefabricated blocks.

Built in Gdansk’s’ historic shipyards, which also now make luxury yachts and cruise liners, each block is five decks high, over 40 metres long and covers Honfleur’s entire 31m width. Between them they house her airy public areas, her 261 passenger cabins and her bridge. Building them separately but simultaneously cuts Honfleur’s delivery time dramatically. But it leaves the twin challenges of transporting these 2000-tonne structures from Poland to Germany, and lifting them aboard. Here’s how it’s done.

The blocks are pushed slowly off the quayside in Gdansk and onto a sea barge. Once welded in place, they’re tugged to Flensburg, a journey of up to five days. Here, Honfleur’s first block has already been fitted, and the second one waits on its barge.

Meet Gulliver, a 22,400 tonne HLV, or heavy lift vessel operated by marine lifting experts Scaldis. Those twin boom soar 100 metres into the sky and between them can lift 4000 tonnes to a height of 78m, while taking on seawater ballast to stay level.

Here, Gulliver’s prepares to lift the first block after it has been cut from its barge. A thruster at each corner allows her to hold her position at sea with an accuracy of just centimetres.

Seen on its barge, Honfleur’s second block could be mistaken for a seafront apartment block. If it was, it could hold 50 average two-bedroom flats.

Despite their vast size and the weight they bear, Gulliver’s crane operator can raise or lower the load by just millimetres. He’s in constant radio contact with his shipmates who are on, in or underneath the load.

Once Gulliver’s cables have been attached to the lifting eyes welded to the block’s top deck, the operation can begin. The eyes will later be cut away and recycled.

With the block lifted, Gulliver backs away, turns, and inches towards Honfleur with 2000 tonnes held out in ahead of her. Perhaps the most spectacular part of the process.

The block meets the hull for the first time. This is the riskiest part of the process: with only half of the block over the ship, a slip now could irreparably damage both.

Once the block is close to its final position, Gulliver attaches to Honfleur, locking them together and allowing the block to be moved relative to the hull with millimetric accuracy.

Look for the tiny figure crouching between hull and block. Shipbuilders from the yard and expert lifters from Gulliver watch closely to ensure perfect positioning as the load is lowered inches above their heads.

For the final ‘marriage’ of the two pieces, the hull rises to meet the block as water is pumped out of its ballast tanks, slowly and evenly taking the weight of the block, and relieving Gulliver.

She’s a ship! Finally, Honfleur has a face. There’s lots of finishing to be done – just welding the block to the hull will take around four weeks – but she’s just gained almost her entire superstructure in two days.

Just a week before, Honfleur was just a steel structure on a dry slipway inside a vast hangar. Now she’s a ship: afloat and with her upper decks in place, thanks to the mighty Gulliver.

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