Marseille – Commander Ken Aitken
Many years ago Fearless was visiting Marseille and a shuttle service was arranged for the ships company to and from the city centre. The Senior Engineer and myself, along with a number of others from the Wardroom, decided to go ashore for a few beers with a view to finding a nice restaurant to have the local speciality of Bouillabaisse.
The evening went as planned early on with a few beers in a number of bars followed by some Bouillabaisse and wine in a lovely restaurant overlooking the fabulous harbour. On completion of the meal a number of our group decided they wanted to go find a club. The Senior Engineer and myself, two crusty old SD’s, decided that a nightclub was not for us so we decided to get the transport back to the ship.
As we arrived at the shuttle pick up point by the harbour, we were horrified to see the bus leaving the stance knowing it would be at least a half hour wait. No problem, Senior Engineer spotted a very small café bar across the road from the pick up point and the intrepid duo set off for a quick drink before the next shuttle. Unfortunately, we ordered pastis for our short break, however, as many will know, it is not a large drink. To cut a long story short, we ended up in a round with the bar owner and anyone else who wandered in to the bar and very nearly missed the last shuttle. Once an OD always an OD!!
Bahamas – Lieutenant Commander Nicolas Bracegirdle MBE
75/76, HMS BERWICK was in the Bahamas and as WEO, I suggested a very quiet run ashore accompanied by some very worthy citizens, namely the Chief Electrical Artificer, the Master-at Arms and the Chief Electrician. We found an English looking pub and for a huge number of dollars purchased 4 pints of Watney’s Red Barrel. This was hardly going to be a sustainable evening and so we moved along the jetty to find a pleasure boat that seemed to be offering free drinks and had a huge queue at the gangway. “Come on chaps” I said to my musketeers and we forced our way to the front to reach the top of the gangway and onboard. “Hello Boys” said a very deep voice from the drag queens who were throwing the party and proceeding to sea. There was no way that we could back out and get ashore and so for the next 90 minutes we engaged in some stimulating conversation. I never managed to live that one down… The MAA had me in the rattle for weeks.
Falkland Islands 1982 – Lieutenant Commander Chris Robison
The deployment to the South Atlantic onboard HMG Glasgow in autumn and winter 1982 was a tough gig. The seas were often very heavy and to see 20-foot waves break over the bows of a warship is an experience I will never forget. No running round the decks to keep fit on those days – in fact no anything except operations to keep the ship moving and safe. Bunk straps to keep you in bed were an essential item.
The photo shows the first ever Falklands half marathon. I was flown ashore to participate and got my 15 mins of fame. I won the race and unbeknown to me, it was being filmed for BBC John Cravens Newsround (an 80s children’s news programme). My Mum saw her son on TV for a few minutes as I found out by the letters from home I received about four weeks later (no internet, YouTube or emails then). I am being presented a trophy by the then Governor Sir Rex Hunt.
Cadiz – Commodore Hugh Whitaker
1983 the Supply Officer of a certain Frigate was approached by his senior rates who proposed a departmental banyan. Absolutely Not was the response, the said Supply Officer having twice lost leave as a Midshipman, after failed to control his unruly charges on banyans in Singapore and Toulon. Different sailors, different ships. “Sir, it’ll be fine. The MAA is coming for discipline. The Coxn is driving the boat. POCK is fixing the food and booze, all you have to do is come along.” Well what could possibly go amiss. A couple of boat trips and base was established on Playa de la Casería, a public beach not too far from the Port. BBQ duely set up and food produced. The “wine” procured by the POCK, turned out to be a local medium/sweet sherry (6 cases) that, plus copious tinnys, were consumed by the assembled company and the MAA decided it was time for games! Top of the list was a “Duck Run Derby”. Hopefully your readers will be au fait with this particular relay race. For some reason the public all kept well away! No one was arrested, no one was “trooped” and all were eventually returned safely to the ship. Some years later when Cdr S of a capital ship was approached by the DSO proposing a banyan at an island in the Windies, the flat No remained a No!
Stockholm – Lieutenant Commander Mike Critchley
A June run ashore to Stockholm was long anticipated during a pretty bland period for the ships company – so, seeing my ship (BULWARK) sail close past me whilst I was heading for Portsmouth on the 0730 Gosport ferry was not good news. No one had seen fit to advise me on my days ‘sick leave’ after an X ray at Haslar hospital the previous Friday that the ship would be sailing earlier than initially envisaged and advertised for the Monday morning.
An air warrant for a flight to Sweden was easily provided by the Chief Wren at the local barracks – who thankfully I knew. Whilst the ship steamed slowly towards the Baltic I simply returned to my parents for some extra leave.
Only whilst on the train heading towards Heathrow did I remember my passport was actually in my cabin onboard! There was no problem (apart from delaying the flight) and I soon found out it was actually very easy to leave UK without a passport in those days!
On arrival at Stockholm airport I stupidly tried to slip though the passport check – out of sight of the official – without my passport. Apprehended by Erik, a lovely Sergeant in their Border Police Force, of course – I was very politely arrested and placed in a cell. It was Friday lunch time – just as my ship arrived and secured to a buoy in mid harbour – with, it transpired, just one phone line for about 1000 souls onboard.
I explained to Erik that if he could speak to the Master at Arms on board he would be the one to verify my story and help him explain my unfortunate predicament. From my cell I could hear him trying to get the ship on the phone many many times. Eventually at about 2000 (his shift finished at 1800) he got the Master at Arms, just as he was heading ashore, and explained to him that he had someone held at the airport cells claiming to be me. With little thought and certainly no investigation the master simply said “yes we have someone with that name onboard”…
It then all changed – and seriously. I was accused of being an ‘imposter’ and subsequently spent the entire weekend in my cell with only the Swedish edition of the Readers Digest for company whilst my shipmates enjoyed the delights of Stockholm until the Embassy opened on Monday morning for them to resolve my problem. On my return onboard I was so disheartened that the senior bridge watchkeeper had, it seemed, not even been missed!
Within an hour of my release I was back in uniform explaining the seamanship display, that had been rigged in the hanger, to Crown Prince Carl Gustaff on an official visit. He was impressed of course but only to find out later over lunchtime drinks he had already been onboard the previous day in his jeans and T shirt with his girlfriend during the normal ship open to visitors…
Some run ashore – I must go back one day to see what I missed?
Mike still travels, of course – www.maritimeheritagetours.co.uk
A Caribbean Prelude – Commander Mike Clarke
San Juan Airport, Puerto Rico.
0100 Sunday 21 September 1961. I, a 21-year-old Acting Sub still under training, have just flown in from England to join HMS Troubridge in the West Indies. I am met by a posse of (to me) senior officers and when they spot my golf bag I hear some guffaws, not least from my new boss, an ebullient Irish ‘two-and-a-half’: “I think this lad may have some optimistic ideas about his forthcoming training…”
Fast-forward to breakfast in the wardroom next morning. I sit shyly amongst my fellow officers, most of whom I have not even said hello to. True to tradition, they’re all reading the paper, paying me scant attention.
Enter a cheerful American, introduced to us as a Texaco executive. “Hi guys. I’ve come to invite a couple of you to join me for a day’s golf and full hospitality at one of the world’s top courses where they played the Canada Cup recently. So, who are the lucky fellas coming with me ?”
Silence. Some shuffling of feet and murmurs of appreciation. But no takers.
“Say, come on, guys! I’m offering you a great day out. You’re not going to let me down, are you? Where’s that British sporting spirit? You don’t have to be a champion player…”
More approbatory murmurs. Sheepish looks. Still no takers.
Texaco tried once more. Same result.
Well, what would you have done? I held up a tentative hand, looking round timidly. “Well, Sir, if there is nobody else…”
“Great guy! C’mon then! Let’s get going.” More murmurs around me – possibly not all entirely approbatory.
It was one of the best runs ashore I ever had in 35 years’ service. The price I paid? Nothing that day, but a lot of hard grind getting stuck into work next day, my boss unsmiling! But at least I kept the white ensign flying…!
Fort William – Commander Rory Jackson
When serving in HMS Decoy we ended up at buoys off Fort William on a Sunday in, I think, early November. The Navigator and I were determined to go ashore and have a drink but on landing found the town as dead as a dodo but showing great initiative we knocked on the door of the local police station for advice. A very friendly and helpful sergeant said everywhere was closed but had heard that hotel X was having its end of season staff party.
Along we go and are welcomed with open arms. A great buffet, a never ending flow of whiskey and plenty of pretty girls to dance with and of course…
We miss the last boat back. No problem as we are given a couple of the hotels best rooms for the night and rather sheepishly return on board in the first boat on Monday morning.
Indoor Mile Record At Sea – Lieutenant Commander Chris Robison
Whilst on deployment on HMS Glasgow in the South Atlantic I had an opportunity to get ‘ashore’ to an RFA with far more space to run than the deck of a Type 42 Destroyer. One of our Fleet Tankers in had an internal circular walkway that was 8 laps to the mile. They had a mile challenge currently held by a Royal Marine of the SAS and my Captain was keen for a member of his ships company to get HMS Glasgow on the Roll of Honour.
I was flown across for two days when the weather was at its best. A day to practice (especially cornering at ‘speed’) and to get used to the conditions. With the theme tune of Chariots of Fire blasting out on the ship’s tannoy I broke the record and posted a time of 4mins 37secs.
Panama Canal – Captain Robert Stopford
Reading Commander Rory Jackson’s adventures in Fort William reminded me of a Run Ashore in Bilbao (Panama Canal) in 1970. HM Yacht Britannia was returning home from Royal Duty. A few fellow officers and I were invited to the home of an ‘Ex Pat’ couple – high in the hills above the Canal. When the time came to return we found that torrential rainstorms had blocked all the roads back to the ship.
Frantic telephone calls resulted in a plan to try and join the Yacht the following morning at one of the locks on the Miraflores Lake as she sailed towards Colon and the Atlantic.
A convoy of cars set off at crack of dawn and threaded its way through the debris and continuing heavy rain towards the Canal, arriving just in time to see the Yacht rising up in the lock. When the bridge wing reached our level we scrambled onboard. The Admiral turned his beady eye on us and, without saying a word, returned to the task of transiting the lock. Nothing was ever said. Phew! These things do happen.
Antigua – Commander David Price
1974 I was the MEO and Training Officer in HMS Torquay when we visited Antigua on a deployment to the West Indies. We had on board some 16 Engineer Officers from RNEC Manadon undergoing their sea-time training.
I came to regret my idea that we should have a team building BBQ on a local beach …
The weather was hot and gorgeous, the beach was white the flat sea blue the cans were on ice, and the BBQ was alight. The MCC were on tour and due to play a local team. Obviously, a game of ‘French’ cricket was a no brainer! Adding spice to the game the batsman and fielders were in the sea. On my turn to bat I was doing remarkable well so much so after a time I had to retire from exhaustion and back ache. I went up the beach and lay face down on a towel. I recall being grabbed by my wrists and ankles as I was being lifted up …..
The next time I came to I was on a bed in a large room with a palm thatched roof. I was still unable to move anything other than arms and shoulders – before I could really start to panic nurses invaded the room followed by a doctor. The worst case outcome I might have broken my back, or a disc had crushed the spinal cord. He was sending for some pain medication from abroad and I would be bed bound for 3 months whilst they completed a pulley system to stretch my body. Oh, and the ship had sailed. (This was all in French because he could not speak English!)
Over the next few days with visits from ex pats and the consul, the picture looked bleak. The food was plentiful but boring, for breakfast, we had horsemeat and rice, for lunch we had horsemeat and rice and for supper horsemeat and rice but with added protein from the spiders that fell from the roof. We never found the key to the cupboard of food that the ship had left for me.
Fourteen days later the pulley system was built. Later that morning, with hurried help from nursing staff and before they could put the cuffs on my ankles I was taken by ambulance to meet the RAF VC10 return trooping flight from Belize with an RAF medical team to keep me safe.
Run ashore in Aberdeen, Hong Kong – Lieutenant Commander Jeremy Quinlan
To an A/Sub Lieutenant (E) in HMS LAGOS, a Battle Class Destroyer in Hong Kong waters in 1959, it was an exciting time. The big dry dock was being filled in – rumour had it that the contractor was charging others to tip so had undercut all the other bidders for the work.
We had sailed from HK a few hours earlier when, from corrosion, we sprang a leak in the Engine Room; it was about the size of half-a-crown and in the main seawater inlet, just outboard of the shutoff valve. Fortunately, it was easy to reach so something or other was jammed in it to stem the inrush. Engines was informed and reported to the Captain. Folklore had it that the best leak-stopper was a piece of bacon which would swell to close the hole and I was sent to the Pusser to ask for some. The answer was short and predictable; we made do with several thicknesses of canvas, held firmly in place and returned to port. Ah Moy’s sampan girls were surprised but delighted to see us. A Kowloon dry dock was found for us, we de-ammunitioned ship and docked down.
Not much later the Captain cleared lower deck & told us that as soon as repairs were completed, we would be sailing. Later, we heard a British merchant ship was going to try to enter Amoy where another had recently been shelled with solid shot. Undocking was completed by midnight. By 0430 we had re-ammunitioned, embarked a doctor and by 0720 were underway at 27 knots into a nasty north-east monsoon. A Union Flag was painted on the top of B turret and we prepared for whatever might occur.
170 miles short of Amoy, we heard that all was well there so we turned back. After that, again briefly in Hong Kong, there was some serious relaxing. This included a Wardroom run ashore to one of the famous Aberdeen floating restaurants.
Denmark – Captain Richard Blackwell
It was 1985 and I was a Midshipman and an Officer Under Training in the Leander Class frigate, Hermione.
It was the evening before HMS Hermione’s entry to Aalborg in Denmark for a run ashore to reward the ship’s company for several months trials running off the Isle of Wight. As the Visit Liaison Officer started his briefings, Hermione picked up a distress call from a Danish fishing boat. She was quickly located and brought alongside where the sole crew member, who happened to have only one arm, was plied with CSB until the local lifeboat arrived to tow him back to harbour. As Assistant PRO I was tasked with submitting a piece about our ‘rescue’ to Navy News which I duly did with what I thought at the time was the inspired headline of ‘Hermione lends a hand to armless man’. It was published, although under the undoubtedly more vanilla but probably less controversial tag line of ‘Hermione helps’!
In Response to Denmark – Commodore Paul Herington
I was amused to read Richard Blackwell’s account of the rescue of a one-armed Danish fisherman especially as I was commanding the HERMIONE at that time.
Perhaps I could embellish his account somewhat. We were transiting the Skagerrak at night. The shipping lanes were busy so I decided that I should be on the bridge. From the comfort of my chair, I thought I saw a red flare in the distance. No one else had seen it but I decided that my sighting should be investigated. Sure enough, we discovered the fisherman alone in his boat some considerable distance offshore in the middle of the shipping lanes. We went alongside to render assistance. Being unable to get his engine running again, we contacted the coastguards who informed us that they would dispatch a lifeboat to tow him back to harbour. The fisherman declined our offer to hoist him aboard for refreshments.
It was several hours before the lifeboat arrived to take his small fishing vessel in tow. As a consequence, a leisurely passage at 12 knots had become a 24 knot rush to reach the point of arrival for Aalborg at the appointed time. I cannot recall whether Richard’s article was vetted by me or Navy News.
Malta – Commander Chris Pelley
Newly promoted Acting Sub Lieut (E) in first ship after Dartmouth (HMS Victorious) visiting Malta. Discovering that it was easy to get a Maltese Driving Licence for 5 shillings and also easy to hire a car. Chatting up a naval nurse and, after a pleasant evening out on the town, driving her home to Bighi hospital. Kissing her goodnight and then returning alone to the ship. Getting lost in the dark streets of Senglea. Reaching a crossroads and choosing the road straight ahead. Discovering that this road was a flight of stone steps down to Senglea Creek. Managing to clatter to a stop on the first landing about 50 steps down. Finding way to Police Station. Contacting hire car company. Getting towed out. Paying for resultant damage. Not going ashore nor seeing the nurse again due to lack of funds. Learning a useful lesson (not to show off). Revisiting Malta a couple of decades later. Finding that the offending steps now had bollards across the top!
Run Ashore – Charleston, South Carolina
I’ve enjoyed many runs ashore in various parts of the world. Often the best has been in a remote location such as small Scottish or Caribbean island with limited choice of entertainment. Unfortunately, memories of most ‘runs’ are somewhat hazy, potentially incriminating or inappropriate for recounting in a respectable publication. I do, however, recall a visit to Charleston in HMS Londonderry when part of the DTS, at the time formed by four ships of the 6th Frigate Squadron. Having ‘nuked’ the wardroom of our host USN destroyer at an RPC with an evil concoction called ‘fog cutter’, our hosts decided to take us ashore and get their own back. As we had already proved more than their match at any drinking contest, they decided on a Mexican restaurant with the obvious intention of plying us with the fieriest dishes and sauces the proprietor could muster. Our USN hosts had clearly failed to appreciate that Londonderry’s wardroom (as with most others in the Fleet) had been weaned on late night forays to the Indian restaurants of Pompey and Guzz. At the time, Pompey boasted the greatest concentration of Indian restaurants outside the sub-continent and, since the 18th century, it had been a tradition for young Brits to challenge their oppos to eat the hottest Indian dishes without flinching. The relatively mild Mexican fayre offered by our American hosts was therefore no contest. Result: RN – 2, USN – 0!
Fog Cutter (large tumbler)
45 ml Bacardi or other rum
15 ml Brandy
15 ml Sweet Sherry
15 ml Dry gin
45 ml Orange Juice
15 ml Lemon juice
15 ml Orgeat syrup (whatever that is – or use extra orange/lemon juice!)
Serve over crushed ice with a slice of orange.
West Indies – Commander Jim Brown
As the Captain’s Secretary HMS MOHAWK on the West Indies Station in 1967 I despatched a standard visit letter from the Commanding Officer to the Governor of the Cayman Islands in advance of an upcoming visit to George Town. The letter asked for arrangements to be made for the Captain’s official calls, invite guests to a Captain’s lunch party and then to an official cocktail party on the first evening of the visit.
The Governor’s response was most helpful, but apparently an official cocktail party would not be possible as a full range of social activities has already been arranged. This was a new situation to both Captain and Wardroom Mess President, but after a quick consideration of speed time distance matters between leaving George Town and our next commitment it was decided to delay our departure until 2359 on the final day of the visit, and have the cocktail party that evening.
Having been on station for about six months we had got the cocktail party routine pretty well weighed off and the party was a great success. Several of us were invited to go ashore and have dinner with some very generous party guests and it was arranged we would be picked up by boat at 2300. My kind hosts got me to the pick up point in good time and, along with fellow messmates, we boarded the ship’s motor cutter – but minus two of our number who had come ashore with us.
On arrival back at the ship the Captain was made aware of the situation and we proceeded to weigh anchor at 2359.
Somehow the missing officers managed to communicate with the ship and the motor cutter was despatched inshore to collect the two culprits. On their return they were invited to join the Captain straight away on the port bridge wing. I never heard a word of what was said but two officers did not go ashore again for several weeks.
Guernsey – Commander Simon de Halpert
I was the PWO on board HMS CHARYBDIS and we were visiting Guernsey for Remembrance Weekend in Nov 1974. The ship was twinned with Guernsey as her predecessor had been sunk nearby during WWII. By coincidence my brother’s wife was staying in Guernsey with her brother and his wife who were residents there. Between them they had 3 babies under 12 months including twins. I invited them (the grown-ups, not the babies) on board for dinner on the Sunday evening. It was a short notice invitation and I said I would provide the babysitter as they couldn’t get one. We were anchored off St Peter’s Port and the L/Sea (babysitter) was met on the jetty and taken to the flat. He was told that my guests would be back by about 2330 which gave him ample time to get back to catch the 2359 (and final) liberty boat. There were 3 other guests on board for dinner. We were having a very convivial evening until about 2200 when the weather got up and ship/shore boat traffic ceased. By a very heath robinson telephone method (this was years before the advent of mobile phones) I was able to inform L/Sea (babysitter) that he was there for the night, that the cleaning lady would be in at 0700 to take over and he was to be back at the jetty by 0800. There were sufficient officers ashore for each of the guests to have a cabin and one married couple had the sick-bay bunk beds. They were shaken with a cuppa at 0700 followed by a ‘Full English’ in the Wardroom. Meanwhile ashore, pubs and the Police Station accommodated the several dozen libertymen overnight. The Police said it was the fullest the ‘Nick’ had ever been. The ship weighed anchor and the Captain put the bow alongside the jetty to exchange the wardroom guests for the libertymen; there were no absentees. The L/Sea (babysitter) was given a very generous payment and told me that he had had a completely undisturbed night. This was unsurprising as the twins’ dad returned home to find 2 empty bottles of his finest ‘red’ in the kitchen sink!
Malta – Lieutenant Commander Douglas Hadler
My ship HMS ALBION being in Grand Harbour I took a day’s leave to visit some civilian friends I had met in London who were renovating a cottage in Gozo. To avoid the hassle of taking a car on the Malta-Gozo ferry I decided to take the bus from Valetta to Marfa, where the ferry departed from, then do the ferry on foot and hire a car on reaching Gozo.
The bus duly turned up and set off. I asked the conductor, a young Maltese lad, what time we would reach the destination and he told me this particular service was scheduled to go only as far as Mellieha, a mile or so short of Marfa, where it was due at 1045. I told him I needed to do better than that because I was aiming to catch the 1045 ferry from Marfa. He had a word with the driver and came back and told me ‘For 10 shillings we take the bus onto Marfa and for 10 shillings more we get there by 1045.’ (Malta was still on British pounds then). I replied ‘Done’ and handed him a pound. We drove like the wind stopping to let people off but not to pick up new passengers and made it to Marfa – with time to spare.
The rest of the day went as planned. My friends were welcoming though slightly surprised to see me.