Question¬†– I’m Michele and I am studying architecture at University of Venezia Italy. I’m studying theme parks for my university research. I would like to know about Buccaneer Bay at Treasure Island Hotel. What is it that makes the vessel plunge? What is the material used to make the HMS Britannia and Hispaniola? Is it fireproof? How deep is deep the pool? How do the water cannons work, wine barrels explode, and three part hull hit effect work? Is the propane gas under high pressure or low pressure. How is the gas ignited?


I’m happy to help. Please note that our work on Treasure Island was limited to the CONTROL of most of the effects. Other companies did the mechanical work. We provided the computers, software, and electrical equipment.

The sinking Britannia was built and controlled by a company that doesn’t exist now. The ship is a steel structure which does not extend much below the water line. When standing on the “deck” of the Britannia, you can look between your feet and see water and the bottom of the pool below. The ship rolls along a track pulled by a loop of winch cable. At the “show” end of the track, the ship locks into a hydraulically powered tilting table. The table hinges down into a pit to “sink” the ship. The ship carries many of “our” water-tight control boxes to control the fire and pyrotechnic effects onboard. These remote boxes are controlled by computers near the technical director’s (TD) booth via a bundle of underwater umbilical cables. The propane gas is carried in an onboard tank which is refilled before each show at a computer controlled refueling station. An onboard air tank and air hose in the umbilical supplies the pneumatic effects.

Both ships are of steel construction and are highly flameproof. (Anything that wasn’t completely flameproof burned away before the show opened.) The combination of flame, pyrotechnic byproducts, sun, and water is tough on everything, requiring constant preventative maintenance. (The show is not cheap to keep up.)

The Hispaniola is actually a building sitting on the bottom of the pool. It’s basement contains the pneumatic plumbing to service the 10 water cannons under the lagoon and the Hipsaniola’s cannons, many electrical cabinets, and a hydraulic power unit for the wave makers and the breaking mast effect.

The pool is probably only 2 to 4 meters deep, but much deeper under the tilting table. It contains brominated (not chlorinated) water so the effects equipment will survive longer. There are many hydraulic “wave makers” under the boardwalk on the street side. The hydraulic oil is environmentally safe vegetable oil.

The barrel, debris, and water cannons are all basically the same device with different “ammunition”. Each consists of an air tank, a fast acting “master blaster” air valve, and a cylindrical nozzle. Each can be filled, drained, and “blown”. The barrel launchers also use a little water in the nozzle to help seal around the barrel. The Britannia’s hull-hit effect is a pneumatically controlled hinged section of the hull. The “hull hole” is withdrawn inside the ship under the cover of a water blast from a cannon below. The smooth edges of the hole are replaced by two more panels of “broken boards” that flip out once the hole is open.

The propane is fairly low pressure, maybe 20 psi. The mixtures produced by the nozzles are intentionally short of air to give a smokier flame. The land side flames are ignited with pilot flames which are started with electrical sparkers. The flames on the Britannia were originally lit by hot-surface igniters (which will work wet), but were too difficult to maintain and didn’t light reliably. They were replaced (before the show opened) by pyrotechnic igniters (flares) which have been very reliable. All of the flames are managed by dedicated burner controllers to insure ignition.

All of the flames are enhanced by synchronized pyrotechnic explosions. The hundreds of pyrotechnic charges used in the show are manufactured specifically for this show. Each shot is guaranteed to perform as designed for its own specific function in the show. Just enough pyrotechnics for a few days of shows arrive on a regular schedule, each carefully labeled and serialized and packaged for each area of the show. A team of pyrotechnicians installs each pyrotechnic device in its proper position just minutes before each show. Every shot is tested by the computer before the show begins. The pyrotechnic equipment is carefully designed to prevent a wide range of failure modes.

When the Britannia’s captain goes down with his ship, he uses a diver’s air tank to breath while the ship is sunk, then resumes his standing position on the gunwale when the ship rises again to the tune of “Hail Britannia”. The rest of the crew of the two ships which have jumped or been “blown” into the water either swim to shore or are “rescued” by the safety crew in a small boat.

Throughout the show, an extensive behind-the-scenes safety team carefully monitors the safety of every actor. The safety system uses many sensors and push-buttons to insure that each actor is safe from harm during the various explosive effects. None of the effects can occur without the specific permission of the technical director in the control booth. The captain of the Britannia also holds down a pushbutton which will disable all the Britannia’s effects if released. All of the safety systems are tested on regular schedules, many of them prior to every show.

I don’t think we have any blueprints of interest to an architecture student. All of our work was with electrical schematics. I’ve attached a picture of the Britannia and its track instead.