Sunday, 4 September 2011

Oh For A Life On The Rolling Sea

Given the day and the date, it's a little uncanny that Gibraltar should join the readership (as the 152 country to do so) on this of all days. I have lost count of the number of times we made 'landfall' off 'The Rock', followed by the continued hospitality most mariners enjoyed as result of a visit to this most famous harbour and naval Base. A huge welcome and hope, if you enjoy the read, you will pass the link to all other Gibraltarians.

The coincidence arises as I reach the 50th Anniversary of passing through this gateway at HMS St Vincent, Gosport, Hants on joining the Royal Navy. At the tender age of just 15 years and 50 days I embarked on my most life changing experience, a career at sea that lasted 48 years, and cannot think of a better way to have made a living.

Bell-bottom trousers, coat of navy blue.
Let him climb the rigging, as his Daddy used to do!

My fist ship, albeit for a short 2 months, HM Minesweeper Wilton. From there, I joined

the Type 14 'Blackwood Class' (all named after Admiral Nelson's Sea captains) Frigate HMS Keppel on the Fishery Protection Squadron. Not at all a comfortable sea going vessel, we spent most of that years service inside the Arctic Circle and other northerly latitudes. The real godsend was most of the sleeping arrangements were 'hammocks'.

The following 2½ years, by sharp contrast, were spent on the Persian Gulf Squadron in HMS Eskimo one of half a dozen Tribal Class Frigates 'built for purpose'. This was a commission full of great adventures, not least

assisting with the pull out of Aden, Yemen. It was also to provide me with the most indelible view of anywhere on earth as I went to bed under the cover of dark and woke to the sight of the paradise Island of MahÄ—, Seychelles. With no airport in those days, we had the place to ourselves and got a real taste of what Captain Cook's crew may have experienced.

HMS Undaunted came next, showing me the less glamorous side if the RN, as 'senior ship' of the 2nd Frigate (Training) Squadron at Portland, Dorset. There followed a dramatic career change as a number of us volunteered to join the Submarine Service.

There followed a arduous spell of training at HMS Dolphin the Submarine Training Base in Gosport, Hants including several runs through the 100 foot 'escape Tank'. From there HMS/M Tiptoe, the oldest Submarine in the RN at the time, was my new home for 6 months before

completing a full year on the Ampheon Class 'boat' HMS/M Alcide, which in turn was to be her last months in service.

'Spare Crew' in the Submarine Base was the springboard for Peir-head Jumps, the colloquial term for having to relieve a colleague at short notice on sea-going commitments, serving short periods in a number of 'boats' as a result. Of these HMS/M Ocelot the most frequent and for a while thought I was permanent crew.

By now my service in the RN was reaching an end but there was still time to serve in HMS/M Porpoise before my demob and starting a new lease of life in the Merchant Marine.
Of all my years on the Ocean Waves my fondest memories are for the Submarine Service where only very few ports were visited, but it was a most exciting way of life if you 'fitted the bill'!

The annual Submarine Reunions were an ideal way of reliving these years, while meeting new shipmates (here Sam Dodds, who I didn't know in the service turned out to be almost a neighbour living just a short distance from me),

refreshing the taste buds with a drop of Grog and seeing old shipmates.

Local man Sid Dolton was in 'boats' long before I but we served for a number of years together in Ocean salvage Tugs. Bless you Sid wherever you are.

Former Alcidians Billy Gibson and Charlie Peace - see you both next time!

Flag Officer Submarines 2001

From 1971 to 1990 I served in a whole list of different types of vessel, when in that year another career break saw me join Semi-submersible Oil Rigs in the North Sea. All of that is a story for another day!

Reference yesterday's Bees, John Gifford gave the wrong telephone number, it is
01305 813736

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