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

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

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.