Monster rigs revealed by Magma

Two enormous carbon rigs are being built at a new UK company. David Glenn visited Portchester to look at the impressive Magma Structures operation

Magma Structures Team
Magma Structures Team Inside the 100m carbon tube DamonRoberts CliveJohnson

A recent visit to Trafalgar Wharf on the northern backwaters of Portsmouth harbour revealed one of the most impressive specialist carbon fibre structures manufacturers in the world. The detail of what is going on at Magma Structures in Portchester has been a well-kept secret, but now this company is keen to let people know what they are up to.

Team members behind Magma have in the past been responsible for building the ground-breaking, square-rigged spars for Maltese Falcon, which proved so successful, and the 300ft tall single carbon tube for Mirabella V (re-named M5). Now they are taking this technology to a new and exciting level.

On a recent visit to the fledgling carbon composites company, whose parent is pioneering the use of carbon pipelines for the offshore oil industry, it was revealed that they a building rigs for two vast sailing vessels and that there are up to five other potential projects in the offing, some private and others for more commercially orientated vessels.

The company are well advanced with three 100m tall spars for a more ‘conventionally' rigged three-masted schooner and excitingly they are about to start work on a Maltese Falcon look-alike rig, this time considerably taller at 65m. To complete the latter project, a purpose designed 70m long construction hall has been erected at Portchester into which highly sophisticated CNC machined, heated moulds for the spars will soon be installed.  The integral heating means that thermo-curing of the pre-preg carbon matrix can happen in situ without having to build an oven or to move the structure to a static one.

Clive Johnson, the man originally behind wireless instrument makers Tacktick and now Magma's managing director, couldn't reveal where the hulls for the two enormous vessels are being constructed but when the three 100m tubes for the first project leave Portsmouth by barge this summer the location will undoubtedly be revealed.

However, there is certainly no avoiding the gigantic 100m long tubular structures for the project which are taking shape in Magma's impressive workshops.  They are so big you can walk through the tubes which are being built in sections and have been embedded with fibre optic sensors so that movement and load can be constantly monitored. Eventually data will be tranferred directly from the rig to Magma's HQ in Portchester.

A key player in the Magma Structures team is Damon Roberts, a specialist engineer who was behind Aero-rig and more recently helped mastermind the extraordinary Maltese Falcon rig project. He also worked for Insensys who work extensively in the aerospace and fibre optic monitoring businesses. There can be little doubt that the unqualified success of MF and Roberts' connections in the exclusive world of super-sailing yachts have helped drive Magma's specialist yachting business.

From what we could see in Portchester, the 100m tubes have a relatively deep chord for most of their length - not a wing section but quite large in total diameter - and there will be a separate carbon moulding attached to the entire aft face which will conceal a multitude of cables plus halyards for the sails themselves. An external alloy sail track will be bonded to the trailing edge of the cable conduit.

At the point at which the spars penetrate the deck - the partners - the diameters reduce dramatically. Each mast will be stepped on a bearing to allow the considerable movement anticipated for the free standing structure. We understand that Valencia based Carbospars are building the booms and specialist goosenecks which are so big they have their own maintenance platforms complete with guardrails so that crew can work in safety.

The Magma operation in Portchester is contained in several modernised buildings, one of which houses highly sophisticated test equipment used primarily for the company's carbon tubing for the oil industry mentioned earlier. Security is tight, entry protected by code and specific walkways have to be adhered to. It's not your average spar testing operation, but the free-standing carbon mast technology benefits enormously from what goes on in here.

The company is not restricting itself to marine projects. Enormous articulated sun shades, art installations, aerospace components and wind energy projects all feature in their growing portfolio. In fact with the design expertise on hand, the modern testing and build facilities plus the unique knowledge they possess in some of their key personnel this impressive UK company looks poised to become a major player just as signs of an easing in the economic malaise become apparent.



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