SLOWLY they backed the lady in and floated her down onto rows of 240 large concrete blocks, lined with oak. The luxury liner Queen Elizabeth 2, which scraped its hull Aug. 7 on an uncharted obstacle in a channel between Martha's Vineyard and the Elizabeth Islands, was put into South Boston's dry dock No. 3 Wednesday.
Repairs will proceed around the clock, seven days a week, said officials of General Ship Corporation, which landed the contract with the British owner, Cunard Lines. General Ship, which had the only empty dry dock north of Norfolk, Va., large enough to hold the ship, is calling back as many as 125 laid-off workers.
An official with General Ship said yesterday morning that a ruptured oil tank had to be emptied before a full inspection could be done. At least three investigations of the accident will be conducted - by the United States Coast Guard, the National Transportation and Safety Board, and the British Department of Transportation.
After the accident, more than 1,800 passengers - on the way home on a round-trip cruise from New York to Newfoundland - were evacuated from the huge liner and put on buses for the rest of the trip. Water-tight compartments in the double-hulled ship kept it safely afloat.
Officials of General Ship yesterday would not estimate the time repairs will take. Cunard has canceled QE2's immediate cruises. Easing the ship into place
The ship was eased into No. 3 as carefully as a mother tucks her baby into a car seat. QE2 - 963 feet long and 105 feet wide - was slipped into a watery rectangle 1,170 feet by 120 feet. Five harbor tugs, tooting in a tugboat symphony in response to radio commands from docking master David Galman, on board the QE2, first eased the lady into the mouth of the dry dock, holding her in alignment.
Then, from the rear deck of the QE2, a weighted messenger line came streaming out toward workers waiting on the dock. It was a good toss. The workers tied the ship's light line to a hawser - a heavy rope - which was pulled up onto the ship. This was repeated several times on both sides of the stern.
On the dock, the hawsers were secured on capstans to hold the ship in the middle of the area. Two tugs had to back out of the narrow channel at this point, the hawsers doing the alignment job on the stern section from then on.
A crane soon dropped another hawser into the center of the stern, where it was secured. The other end of this hawser was on a huge winch at the far end of No. 3. Then the 67,000-ton ship was slowly winched into the dry dock - tugs at the bow still helping. The side hawsers were moved in sequence onto other capstans down the line as the elegant procession continued. Repairs can now proceed
With QE2 in No. 3, the gate was closed and the lady was sitting in a quiet, tight little mill pond with seven feet of clearance on each side, and about 100 feet on each end.
Two pre-placed buoys were released from No. 3's bottom and floated up, one at the stern, one at the bow. A plumb line was dropped from each end of the ship to be aligned with the buoys, giving the QE2 its final, exact placement - all according to the QE2's "personal" docking plan.
There is 31 feet of ship under water, and the water is 37 feet deep at low tide, deeper at high tide. Two 58-inch pumps empty the dock. (These can be compared to the water pipes in your home, which are probably under one inch, says company spokesman William Coughlin.) The ship sinks down about a foot each 10 minutes - ever so carefully - until it rests on the waiting blocks. Only now can a thorough examination of the damage be done.