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Author Topic: Nautical "Strange but True!"  (Read 137930 times)

BarryM

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #125 on: May 07, 2008, 11:41:03 PM »

John, that must have given a new meaning to 'tank cleaning'.

This isn't a 'knock the Sparkie' theme  but one story that springs to mind is of the Shell tanker which had been ten days out of port when the Old Man's siesta was disturbed by the Chief Engineer suggesting that he tune into the BBC World News. When he did, it was to hear that his ship was causing concern as London office had not heard from it since it left port. It turned out that the Sparkie had not seen fit to communicate with the outside world for some time but had been covering up by falsifying his radio log. Needless to say, he was relieved at the earliest.

Bryan - it definitely was another world then!  :)

Barry M
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BarryM

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #126 on: May 08, 2008, 12:03:45 AM »

In my day, when joining a ship "out East" - usually Singapore - our kindly employer used to transport us by 'Combi flight'. This was a combined passenger and cargo flight where it was debateable which part was regarded of more value. Somebody once swore that the cargo consisted of pedigree Aberdeen Angus, in which case there was no question which had the better treatment and parentage.

However, in an earlier time, joining the Eastern Fleet meant a sea passage by liner. Obviously this gave considerable scope for enjoyment at Company expense over an extended period. Company expense and enjoyment were never encouraged by the Scrooges back in London and thus alternatives were sought. Somebody had a bright idea - avoid shipping Jolly Jack by sending him overland as far as possible with sea passage used only when unavoidable en route. Accordingly, twenty volunteers (?) were rounded up and sent forth.

What happened to those twenty has never been explained (as far as I know) but legend has it that not one made it to Singapore. Whether they fell by the roadside one by one en route (they were dispatched with expenses) or whether they or their descendents are still forming an expatriate colony somewhere, I cannot say; but the answers out there somewhere.

Most definitely a different world!

Barry M
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sweeper

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #127 on: May 08, 2008, 05:00:18 PM »

In your day Barry?
It's not so many years ago that I (unwittingly) was booked onto a Combi 747 from O'Hare to Amsterdam. I couldn't understand why the highest number seat available was row 38 - I like to sit right at the rear of a plane.
The picture unfolded when I watched the very large side door being used to load pallets of goods.
As an aside, it was one of the best flights across the Atlantic that I have had.
Sweeper (a paying customer!)
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banjo

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #128 on: May 10, 2008, 12:24:56 AM »

 :angel:
Brian...

 When the RFA took over the running and manning of the LSLs ("Sir Tristram" etc.) from BI management attitudes were distinctively hostile. But when the RFA/RN decided to do beach landings from the ships it caused panic within the "old guard". The BI "Master" was a gibbering wreck at the mere thought of it. So much so that he used to sit all crouched up on the deck in the corner of the wheelhouse. With a bag of chips...which he would offer to anyone passing. He was eventually carted off strapped in a chair, and was succeeded by an RFA guy (from an adjacent ship) wearing a brass coal scuttle on his head. He eventually became the "Commodore" of the RFA. But he never realised his ambition to be the first knighted commodore of the RFA.
And so such things happen. Sanity will eventually prevail, and so the LSLs went on under the RFA to be the (in my mind) the best ships for a "Nav" I have ever sailed in.


I am more than curious to hear about your experiences with LSLs.  I had an intimate connection with Lancelot and then the follow up Galahad class.   As the prime user the Army had an excellent working relationship with BI.   The ships were run to suit the customer, the Army.  That quickly changed when RFA took over.   There were suddenly more Officers than you could shake a stick at, all "experts" at things concerning the waters edge when previously they had been loath to venture inside the 100 fathom line.

The expeditious withdrawal from Aden in 1967 highlighted the value of the new class, this and the threatened cutbacks in the RN meant that someone jealously spied the LSLs and thought "OOO..we could be doing that". The ships  went from white to grey and, if it is possible at sea, downhill!!!
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banjo

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #129 on: May 10, 2008, 03:20:46 AM »

 :)
An afterthought..
I would not want anyone to take my remarks as a slur on the wonderful performance of all concerned during the Falklands campaign.

And so such things happen. Sanity will eventually prevail, and so the LSLs went on under the RFA to be the (in my mind) the best ships for a "Nav" I have ever sailed in.  I wholeheartedly agree.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #130 on: May 10, 2008, 06:27:04 PM »

:angel:
Brian...

 When the RFA took over the running and manning of the LSLs ("Sir Tristram" etc.) from BI management attitudes were distinctively hostile. But when the RFA/RN decided to do beach landings from the ships it caused panic within the "old guard". The BI "Master" was a gibbering wreck at the mere thought of it. So much so that he used to sit all crouched up on the deck in the corner of the wheelhouse. With a bag of chips...which he would offer to anyone passing. He was eventually carted off strapped in a chair, and was succeeded by an RFA guy (from an adjacent ship) wearing a brass coal scuttle on his head. He eventually became the "Commodore" of the RFA. But he never realised his ambition to be the first knighted commodore of the RFA.
And so such things happen. Sanity will eventually prevail, and so the LSLs went on under the RFA to be the (in my mind) the best ships for a "Nav" I have ever sailed in.


I am more than curious to hear about your experiences with LSLs.  I had an intimate connection with Lancelot and then the follow up Galahad class.   As the prime user the Army had an excellent working relationship with BI.   The ships were run to suit the customer, the Army.  That quickly changed when RFA took over.   There were suddenly more Officers than you could shake a stick at, all "experts" at things concerning the waters edge when previously they had been loath to venture inside the 100 fathom line.

The expeditious withdrawal from Aden in 1967 highlighted the value of the new class, this and the threatened cutbacks in the RN meant that someone jealously spied the LSLs and thought "OOO..we could be doing that". The ships  went from white to grey and, if it is possible at sea, downhill!!!
Banjo: What you say will take a bit of mulling over. There was more to the RFA "take-over" than you might appreciate. I will address this in a future post....thank you for bringing it to my attention. But from the RFA point of view the ships under MOT ownership and BI management were underused, and all that changed almost overnight. The LSLs proved to be solidly integrated into the Joint Services (not just the Army) and proved their worth many times over the years. I shall come back to this subject.....eventually.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #131 on: May 13, 2008, 07:54:41 PM »

As I said earlier, I have been mulling over the comments made by "banjo" re. the incorporation of the LSLs into the RFA, and would like to reply.
A bit of background first:-
The LSLs were never British India ships. They were "owned" by the then Ministry of Transport. This Ministry (obviously not an ecclesiastical one) also "owned" the troopships (Nevassa etc.) and quite a few others as well. Time came when ship-owning became a bit silly as other parts of HMG were better at it. (vis, the Navy and RFA). BI were the managers of these ships and were also, in the main, responsible for manning them with standard Merchant Navy personnel without much in the way of "services" training...but they did not own them. I would suggest that BI got the contract because of its very long association with HMG dating back to its days when it was more or less a private Navy...and its successful long running of the large troopships. Other companies also benefited from the largesse of HMG, but not as much as BI. Withe the demise of the large troop carriers and more air transport being used HMG and BI were really only left with the rump of the once large fleet, and they were left with the LSLs. I don't think that the RFA lobbied to have them then as it was totally navy oriented. The Army couldn't run them for obvious reasons....i.e would the crews (Caucasian and Oriental) want to join the Army? Much better to have a "piggy in the middle", so the RFA got them. (Remember that RFA also stands for "Ready For Anything"). Much the same can be said for the new "Bay" class now replacing the LSLs, the RN would love to have them, but how the Army would howl. But when "we" were given the LSLs the idea of the Joint Services set-up was embryonic. There is still competition between the 3 main services, but nowhere near the antagonism that prevailed during the 1960s.
So basically, HMG hived the ships off and became a "non-ship-owner" (not totally, but nearly so). It was all a long time ago, and memory fades a bit about inconsequentials, but I believe the LSLs were designed in 1959 and came on-stream during 1965/66, although "Lancelot" was different in so many respects that she really shouldn't be classed with the others. Some were built on the Tyne and others on the Clyde...the Tne built ones had swaged bulkheads.
The main "Base" for these ships was the Military Port at Marchwood (opposite Southampton). Excusively Army then. But the ships got around a lot. Then (possibly even now) a main role is to sustain the BAOR which means a regular ferry run from Marchwood to Antwerp. Mainly tanks and so on. Most of the jobs the ships did under BI management continued after the RFA "take-over", but the taskings became much more numerous and more integrated with the Army,RN and RAF. The RFA personnel were more used to this than the BI (or MOT) people, so in that respect efficiency improved. Although the ships (and crews) worked harder they contributed more to the overall balance of things than they did when they were left "out of the loop". The winter Norwegian exercises are a good example here (where beach landings are common). Also, being RFA manned, we didn't need specialised comms staff embarked. It was inevitable that some friction would arise in the early days. The RN didn't know what to do with the ships and the Army didn't like us "fishheads" running "their" ships. All beyond our control. Thats the way it is guys, get used to it. A lot of MOT people left and a lot of BI guys went back to BI or wherever, but a lot stayed and made a new career within the RFA...more than a few getting command on mainstream RFAs.
"Banjo" asserts that once the RFA took over there were more officers than you could shake a stick at. That is a ridiculous statement as the accommodation for ships officers is very limited. The Military (Army) officers have their own quarters. True, there may have been one or two RFA officers "learning the ropes", but not in my experience, and I was possibly the first RFA officer to be appointed to an LSL.
The comment about the RFA not wishing to go inside the 100fathom line is not just absolute balderdash, but scurillous. No-one but no-one is going to teach an RFA Nav about operating in a close quarters situation. It's an everyday event...as is beaching an LSL when it is allowed. The Nav "training" (then at Portland) always emphasised the proximity of "danger"...and how to do it "blind". Something the BI guys never did.
The "way of life" change for the BI people was a culture shock, and I sympathise with them. But it was necessary for the armed services. Where is BI now? The LSLs had perhaps 4 years service manned by BI, but went on to serve 38 years with the RFA. That says it all really.
End of part 1. more on LSLs soon. BY.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #132 on: May 16, 2008, 09:47:29 PM »

Before I launch into my own times on the LSLs perhaps a few lines on the ships themselves that you will not find in any publication. All the relevant data re. length and tonnage etc is easily available elsewhere (the ships are actually a lot bigger than they look). I suggest that those interested log on to <Royal Fleet Auauxiliary> and see what comes up. The basis of an LSL is a large raft with some sort of superstructure plonked on top. The "working bits" like the bow doors and the stern ramp really dated back to WW2 (but still effective). The bow doors opening like real doors do effectively limited the ships speed to a tad over 16 knots. When closed, the doors were "securely" held tight with numerous bottle-screws, but they always leaked a bit. I think it was "Sir Percivale" that thumped her forefoot on a N.Sea sandbank and sprung her doors a bit. Well inside the 100 fm. line. But the main "collision bulkhead" was the primary ramp.There were 2 main ramps and a smaller extendable one. Lots of wires etc. The main ramp fitted as a full bulkhead should, but was also secured with many bottle-screws. The USN at this time were also experimenting with bow doors for their landing ships as they had realised that the WW2 methods were not good enough. They came up with those strange looking things with a great snout sticking out over the bows. I'm still not sure how they worked but it must have been a success as they built a shed load of them. The "visor" idea didn't come for a long time, and I think that was a commercial thing for ferries. Access from the rear (pardon the expression) was via the stern ramp. A simple arrangement of a large steel plate hinged at the bottom and lowered by its own weight, but raised by what appears to be 2 small anchor chains.Naturally, these chains went down int a couple of "cable lockers" via pipes. LSLs bounced around a lot. The noise of these chains banging around inside the pipes incensed the sleepless crew, so they (as the Chinese do) took action and stuffed the pipes with mattresses, pillows and whatever. Amazing what spewed out of the pipes next time the stern ramp was lowered. Don't blame them really as the racket was really nasty. The stern ramp opened into a sort of corridor wide enough to take a battle tank before dipping down to the "tank deck" proper. This "corridor" more or less ran between and a bit above the 2 main high speed (ALLEN) main engines that gave prop speeds of over 300 rpm. And that is a fast prop for a full sized ship...stop the engines and you lost steering immediately. I used to drive them like waterborne truck when they became incredibly manoueverable. The bow thruster was a measly little thing of about 10 tons thrust. Not really enough when berthing in gale conditions.The Main tank deck could take perhaps 16 or 18 main battle tanks and another 3 left in the after trunk. At probably 70 tons each we are looking at over 2000 tons of concentrated weight centred about the waterline of the ship. Not good for stability. So these ships have extraordinarily deep double bottoms. Perhaps 11' deep. (Normal ships have maybe 3' or so).All on a draught of 14'. About 4' above the level of the tank deck level is the troop dormitory level (at the sides of the ship). I think there were 10 dormitories each holding 36 men. Brigade/Regiment strength? Can't remember. I do remember the "sea-sick" smell though. It never went away, even after a dry-docking period. I also recall that we were horrified to find that some of the dormitory doors could be locked from the outside and unable to be opened from the inside. For prisoners of war perhaps? (Another point that "banjo" may not know). With all this "stuff" aboard the risk of fire was always present. The tank-deck had 3 water curtains, and believe me, when they were on "full-bore" it was like 3 Niagaras. So the pumps and bilges had to cope. And they did. As vehicles entered the ship via the bows or stern and only occasionally got craned aboard there had to be some sort of access from the tank deck to the upper vehicle deck. Ramps. Very clever ones. Thes ramps wer also the hatch covers that could slide horizontally, drop one end to allow access from the rear or drop the front to allow for bow entry. It was a genius who designed these. All done with lots of wires, and the Chinese had the system off to a "T". But I will leave it there for today and continue later. BY.
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tigertiger

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #133 on: May 17, 2008, 02:26:13 AM »

Hi Bryan

you said "The Main tank deck could take perhaps 16 or 18 main battle tanks and another 3 left in the after trunk. At probably 70 tons each we are looking at over 2000 tons of concentrated weight centred about the waterline of the ship. Not good for stability. So these ships have extraordinarily deep double bottoms. "

What is a double bottom?
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #134 on: May 17, 2008, 01:55:05 PM »

Hi Bryan

you said "The Main tank deck could take perhaps 16 or 18 main battle tanks and another 3 left in the after trunk. At probably 70 tons each we are looking at over 2000 tons of concentrated weight centred about the waterline of the ship. Not good for stability. So these ships have extraordinarily deep double bottoms. "

What is a double bottom?
Exactly what it says on the tin! (in this case a rather large tin. The area below the bottom (ceiling, just to confuse you further!) of a hold and the insided of the shell plating. Generally about 3' deep and partitioned by many floors (floors on a ship are vertical) which can be open or closed. The compartments thus formed can be used for ballast (either permanent or temporary), fuel oil , extra hull strengthening and a bit of added insurance in the event of the bottom plates being breached. Floors are only found in double bottoms and are really just not very high bulkheads. Still confused? Good. Keep asking. Cheers, Bryan.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #135 on: May 17, 2008, 03:15:19 PM »

LSLs again.
The LSLs also had what was then a fairly novel stabilisation system called the "Flume System" Sorry Tiger, but you're going to be confused again.The "Flume" is really quite simple in theory, but rather difficult in practice. To put it simply, it is an athwartship tank (of the water container sort and not the type with a gun on it). In the case of the LSLs the double bottoms were deep enough to incorporate one without intrusion into a hold or other space. Within the Flume tank are a couple of longitudinal bulkheads (not "floors" this time) that have holes in. The tank is partially filled with sea water. When the ship rolls the water cannot get back to the other side of the ship as quickly as it wants to thus limiting the roll. But we seafarers found that in use it made the ships movement unprdictable and a bit jerky...and the troops were still seasick, as opposed to being simply sick of the sea.
But it's time to go outside on to the open decks. There are 2 flight decks. One at the back where you would expect to find it and the other on the foredeck. One legacy of being designed for non-specialist crews was the absence of much in the way of aicraft support facilities. Basic re-fuelling systems and that was it. Apart from a very comprehensive comms fit (the LSLs were also designed to be secondary comms ships when working with a larger amphibious group). When the ships were designed the largest helo was the Wessex in all its guises. When the Sea King came into service there were doubts about the strength of the after flight deck. All the aft accomodation block was of Aluminium and the helo "pad" on the aft flt.dk. was of steel. Naturally, this steel section had to be insulated from the aluminium structure with Neoprene sheeting. Inevitably some seepage occurred and the aluminium would begin to show signs of sacrifice. I oten wondered if an unusually heavy landing would plonk the steel pad plus the aircraft through the aluminium and straight into the Military Officers accomodation. Messy. Eventually the decks were cleared for Sea King ops, but I think there was still a weight limitation. When the ships were pre-RFA they had 2 twin 40mm guns stowed in the forward hold. WW2 vintage. They weren't kept for long. The accomodation for the ships officers was a relevation to us RFA types. Small, but very well thought out and all with en-suite facilities. BI had a long tradition with passenger ships and so on whereas the RFA was basically run by transient civil servants who couldn't give a monkeys about the comfort of the people manning the ships. RFA management and ship design had to change..and it did. As a young seafarer I and most of my contemporaries would sooner cut off a finger than join the RFA. (Then derided as a "cloth cap and muffler" brigade). But times change. The bunks could fold up into a settee at the push of a button..and this gave rise to a sort of practical joke that involved fastening the bedding securing belts around the sleeping occupant and converting the bunk into settee mode, leaving the hapless occupant dangling in the void space behind with no way out. The whole shebang had to be dismantled to get the poor sod out. The then new "Rover" class were built with accomodation almost identical to the LSL model. There was also a large an well equipped hospital...as you would expect in a troop carrier. The officers bar/lounge was on the stbd. side between the ships accomodation and the Military offs area. (They didn't have en-suite or anything as they weren't expected to be "long term" guests). When "we" took over there was a permanently appointed Army Officer who acted as the liaison between "us" and "them". But after a couple of years or so when the Army had become used to us and found us to be more flexible than the previous regime, he was dispensed with and a Warrant Officer was appointed in his place.
When we (RFA bods) first appeared on the scene we quickly discovered that it had been the practice for the BI officers not to use the bar/lounge when army officers were embarked (unless invited, which wasn't always the case). This was firmly stamped out smartish and the army were told they were now "guests" on "our" ships and not the other way round. Much harrumphing. Tough. But the message got through and life settled down quite nicely for the next 30 odd years. Even the Marchwood Port Authorities (Army) became human. But the Chinese crews always caused problems....usually of a humourous sort. Marchwood is, as you would expect, surrounded by a heavy steel link chain fence. The Chinese loved 2 things. Fishing and eating (and gambling and mahjong). A chain link fence was no barrier to a determined fishing or hunting party. Geese and the odd swan (plus fish) often finished up in the crew galley.
The ships were very noisy. The turbo blowers for the main engines really howled day and night, the bridge was a very noisy place  as well, with all the radar gubbins directly behind the chart table. Lord alone knows how much radiation I absorbed from that lot. But the real killer was the ships stability. Too much of it. These ships had a metacentric height of around 13 feet. Most ships have about 3 feet. In practice this means that the ships "righting lever" is huge. So an LSL would roll 30* one way to 30* the other in around 4 seconds. Constant backache...and they pitched and heaved a lot as well (so did the troops). I once took a VHF call from a passing trawler off the top end of Norway who wanted to know if we had just come out of refit as our ships bottom was so clean.
See if I can find some pics for the next little lot.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #136 on: May 17, 2008, 05:25:18 PM »

A few general pics of LSLs at work. You will see that they really are larger "in the flesh" than they appear. This could be because ships have in general become a lot larger and so a mere 400 footer looks small.
1:- A very crappy old pic of "Sir Lancelot" beached in Warbarrow Bay. But the pic shows some of the more obvious differences between her and her half sisters.
2:- "Sir Geraint" leaving Malta while still under BI management. They did look rather smart with the white hull, blue band and buff funnel. She is only part loaded here.
3:- "Sir Tristram" without a deck cargo. The side numbers appeared only after incorporation within the mainstream fleet.
4:- Not the usual way of landing a Sea King. ("Sir Galahad" no.2, Norway 1992)
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #137 on: May 17, 2008, 05:32:05 PM »

Oops. Cocked that one up a bit. Pic 4 is a more modern one of "Sir Geraint" with at least one "Mexeflote" and what seems to be a pretty full load.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #138 on: May 22, 2008, 06:34:01 PM »

Before I leave the design oddities of the LSLs, a couple more have come to mind. The galley. As you may recall I mentioned that the ships could carry nearly 400 people in various levels of distress. Troops like chips. The galley had a chipmaker. This thing was about 4" square and could accept 1 spud at a time. Good forward thinking there. So when carrying troops some of the poor devils were assigned to the task the Army was originally designed around. Peeling spuds and cutting them into chips.
The second "gizmo" was a beauty. The Bread and Butter machine. Most ships (that I sailed in) carried their own baker. The loaf that was produced on an LSL was extremely good....but odd. At around 3' long and 4" square it accepted a slice of "pussers hard" perfectly. ("Pussers Hard" is a huge chunk of cheese about the same sizeas the aforementioned loaf. Great when melted on toast). The Bread and Butter machine looked a bit like a scary lathe. This thing would cut a 3' long loaf into buttered slices in about 5 seconds flat. I tried it one night just for a sandwich and even though I pressed the go/stop buttons without a gap between I still had enough buttered bread for a dozen doorstoppers.
When we (RFA) took over the LSLs a quick walkround indicated that there were 2 galleys operating within the same large space. The very large forward area cooking for the troops and ships officers, and the after - much smaller - end used by the Chinese crew for their own cooking (swans etc....). The 2 areas were divided by a bulkhead with an access door. After getting really aquainted with the ship (Geraint), and doing a thorough inspection I noticed that the dividing bulkhead was a bit "coggly", and on investigation found that the b'hd was really a metal mesh screen that had been made to look solid by 4 years of accumulated fat from the stove. Talk about a disaster waiting to happen. BY.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #139 on: May 24, 2008, 07:51:58 PM »

Working up to a work-up.
I hope that you all appreciate that these musings are from my own RFA standpoint, and that the RN/ex RN readers will have theirs. I don't wish to tread in waters foreign to me.
Eventually this wee novelette will be about "work-ups"...but some background is required for those of you of a non-nautical persuasion.
During an RFA refit which would normally last for around 3 months once every 2 years only a skeleton RFA staff would be present. Mainly engineers as most of the jobs to be done are in their bailywick. A couple of comms guys, a supply officer to ensure we got paid and to look after the endless incoming and outgoing MoD bumph. A couple of deck officers to strut around and complain, and look after "their" bits of ship. Last bit isn't really true....but only partly. There would also be a few ratings to do "whatever".
Coming towards the end of a refit a crew would begin to arrive. First as a dribble, and before you knew it the ship would be awash with eager beavers wanting to know where the best pubs and totty were to be found. So professional. If it was a Tyne refit I was expected to know all the answers. If I did, then SWMBO would quite rightly have thrown a wobbler. I know more about Plymouth night life than I do about it "up here".
But getting the ship ready for sea is the easy bit. Just get the basics right, do the sea trials, compass swinging and all that stuff and then head off to the re-storing, re-rigging port. But not always. Leaving the Tyne on "Tidereach" for an 8 month deployment we went beyond the piers and the ship died. The Mrs. was not amused as she had to put up with me for another 3 weeks. But it was a crappy old ship anyway.
If the ship is a "front-line" tanker (then Olna, Olmeda etc) then you could reasonably expect the de-storing to be at Gosport or Saltash. If the ship is a "dry" one (Resource, Fort Austin etc), then look to the major dockyards plus Loch Long. Let me begin with a "front-line" tanker. Prior to a refit the ship is "de-stored". This means that everything that is not needed for the trip from the de-storing port to the refit port is put ashore into "lay-aside". We were never told where the refit port would be until the last moment..stupid, but MoD loves its little pathetic secrets. Especially when the refit port knows all about it and there is always someone aboard "who knows" (me for one, if it was to be the Tyne). Portable stuff is jammed into "Chacons" or "Devcons"..just acronyms for large wooden crates about 7' cubes from CHatham or DEVonport. A lot of these find their way into a second life as quartermasters huts complete with all mod-cons. Dockyards do not like this as it buggers up their accounting.
Big things like the re-fuelling hoses that had to be "tested" were also sent ashore along with all the associated running gear and so on. This period would last for perhaps 3 weeks.
Towards the end of the refit we would be subject to a series of HATs (Harbour Acceptance Trials) that would clear (or not) the ship to prceed to the next stage. HATs would ensure the Flight arrangements were OK and the RAS gear came up to spec. The "civvy" stuff was left to the Lloyds surveyor. The SATs (Sea acceptance Trials) came later. Then we go on to the re-storing port. Hopefully this is the same as the de-storing one....but not always. On the odd occasion when this was not the case chaos reigned. Just....for example....de-store at Plymouth, and re-store at Rosyth. I'll leave the logistics and "common-dog" thinking behind this decision up to you. But it is during this period that beaurocratic stupidity really comes to the fore. Generally speaking on a day to day basis Naval Stores are not that much of a problem (although I did find that Portsmouth was much more helpful than Devonport or Rosyth). But all Naval Dockyards see ships as an encumbrance to the running of the Dockyard. Naval Dockyards are run by civil servants. (The USN Dockyards are run by the Navy). Admirals do not count in our yards. The "boss" is usually a PSTON (make of that what you will, but it is one up from a STON).
A couple of examples here might explain a bit.
But as SWMBO is calling me to dinner, that will keep until tomorrow. BY.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #140 on: May 25, 2008, 07:11:03 PM »

During one particular refit (Devonport) a lot of our hoses were classed as "unsat" during testing. So we had to get new ones. These things are horrendously expensive and get heavily used (and abused) in all sorts of weather. The civil servants refused to issue us with replacements on cost grounds...and stated that we had "sufficient". (about 80). The ship was programmed to eventually go off on the "Armilla" thing in the Persian Gulf (when the "Boghammers" were doing their thing). I had to go personally to the relevant office to try and sort this out. The "discussion" eventually got to the point when I asked if they knew what kind of ship they were dealing with. A lot of blank faces.....even though there was a large photo of our sister ship hanging on the wall in the same office. When "they" kept on saying "no" I had to tell them that I had no option but to OPDEF the ship, and give my reasons in writing to the Admiralty. OPDEF being an Operational Defect that would prevent the ship carrying out an allocated task. We got our hoses.
During one of the regular "re-organisations" the control of certain bits of kit were transferred from the Navy to the RAF and the Army. I think the RAF were put in charge of issuing "domestic" stuff like furniture and so on. God knows what the Army was in charge of. To prevent the re-fuelling hose chafing themselves into ribbons as they slid over the cradles , said cradles are lined with "coconut matting". The RAF refused to give us our order for 100 yards of this on the grounds that it was specifically for the walk-ways around swimming pools. Oh dear. Back to square one. Got it eventually, but with many toys being thrown out of the RAF pram.
And if you really want to know where a lot of your tax money goes......our Captain really needed a new coffee table for the use of guests etc. A simple little thing with a drop leaf at each end. About 20 at MFI or Ikea. I was somewhat startled to see the ship had been billed for 190 for the table. More queries. Yes, the table cost 20, but the (Naval) dockyard charged for collection including the van drivers pay for the period. Then we were charged for "warehousing" (including the handlers salary), and then again in reverse for delivery to the ship. All beautifully accounted for.
Then we go off for re-ammunitioning. You do recall that the RFA is a civilian manned organisation, of course you do. Ammunition? Are we Congolese Freedom Fighters? Mercenaries? (Perhaps closer to the truth). But there we are, miles from anywhere. This has always struck me as rather odd. An RFA tanker does not carry a civil service "crew", but the "ammo" ships do. The same crew members heave the stuff on and off the ship. A Tanker has to load ammo miles from anywhere whilst the Ammo ships can load all sorts of "nasties" within a mile of the City of Plymouth. Apart from being nonsesical I can only assume that it is because the "whinging janners" wanted a boat to get home at night. Lots of stuff to load. Chaff rockets, 20mm ammo, GPMG stuff, aerial gizmos and lots of "fireworks". Quite a few tons of this lot. (Still "civilian"?).
Eventually all is done, and if time permits we may go off on a "shake-down" cruise. This is ostensibly to get the crew bedded in and "get us all up to speed" (as it were)...but a major reason was to go far enough West to allow the bond to be opened and break out the duty free ciggies and stock the 3 bars. But we did do a lot of work as well. Lots of firefighting training and damage control, engine and steering gear failures...all the usual day to day stuff you will find in a normal household. Generally during this period prior to BOST we would be joined by either another RFA or an RN vessel so we could "stretch rigs". This would be in the form of a dummy RAS to get the whole schermozzle working as it shoud. The RFA ships were always a bit reluctant as they did the whole thing for real every day (and night), but the RN always needs more practice. Nothing derogatory here, they always had "newbies" to train...and this is a good chance.
So. Now it is on to Portland (now Plymouth of course) for "Work-Up"(BOST) proper...and so the story begins......
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #141 on: May 27, 2008, 04:48:07 PM »

After the "shake-down" it is fairly usual to nip into Devonport or Portsmouth for a few days to do whatever needs doing.
On arrival at Portland, more often than not, an RFA is stuck on a buoy. Most RN ships are given an alongside berth. Well, I suppose it is "their" harbour! I think I mentioned some time ago that the RN define the seasons strictly by date and totally ignore what the weather is actually doing. A good example of this pottiness is the mooring to a buoy. If you are going to a buoy before the 20th of May then you have to have 2 anchor cables attached to the buoy...even if the weather is sub-tropical. This is a real work out for the deck crew. But if you moor after the 20th of May then one cable will suffice, even though the weather may be Arctic and blowing a hooghly. "Rules is rules". The same applies to which uniform you wear. But one quickly gets to realise that a certain amount of pig-headed sadisticness pervades the minds of (some of) the FOST teams...especially thos who delight in the public humilation of senior officers. They say it is all "character building"..but then, they would say that, wouldn't they.
Many RN personnel only ever do one "work-up" during their entire time in the RN. Could be because a lot of them are not "in" for a full career. The RFA crews are much more "permanent", and so yet another work-up is just another 3 weeks of hassle. Mind you, I agree with all this "in principle"....itis just that one can get too much of it. Another damn silly arrangement is the RFAs penchant for relieving those who have done the refit and work-up with new joiners. So many of the new crew will not be "up to speed". Even the FOST teams used to think this a bit of madness.
The 1st week is the "harbour week", and the FOST staff really do inspect the ship extremely thoroughly...not just for physical cleanliness, but procedures, accounting and so on. This is good as it often shows up areas that have been allowed to slide a little. A bit like taking a driving test after 20 "safe" years on the road. It can be a pretty tense time even for those who are on their 6th or even 10th work-up and who know "the system". We wil also have at least 2 "harbour fires", when a proportion of the crew are ashore (or told not to partake). This requires a totally different organisation to the more usual "at sea" scenario. It could also involve shore based authorities. But more on that later when I discuss ammo ships.
One of the reasons that the RFA ships have much smaller crews than the RN is because (particularly) the RFA officers do a lot more multi-tasking than their RN counterparts. A simple example here would be the general spread of nautical knowledge imparted to MN officers during their training to pass their "tickets". RN people are much more specialised. So to my mind a MN officer getting further RN training gains a heck of a lot. The RFA traditionally had a very high officer to rating ratio. This has changed drastically. The ratigs and POs now have a much more structured career path, and the officer complement has been able to be reduced. Long overdue.
And from what I hear on the grapevine a lot of decent RN ratings subsequently join the RFA when their time in the Andrew is up.
But I am talking about the 1970s and 80s here. RFA training for officers was always carried out in Service establishments for obvious reasons, but this has been extended through all ranks. Good. Even though all RFA personnel remain firmly "civilian".
During our leave periods it was more or less expected that we officers would be called away from the lee of bum island to do one or more courses. Mainly on the S.Coast. Lots of 1st class train travel! (Even by air now and again). 2 weeks at HMS Phoenix for yet more  (filthy and cold and wet and hot) fire fighting training. Back to the same place for the nuclear, chemical and biological aspects of war. Aldermaston for more of the same...except this time we had to dress up and behave like soldiers! Yeucch. On to RFA HQ (London) for a week doing "Alcohol and Drug Abuse Training". Never did really work out what the course name meant...but as the drug councillor (sorry, lecturer) was in re-hab or something the alcohol bit was mainly conducted in a pub. As a 2/O , 2 or 3 weeks training as a radar helicopter controller...RN style, with perhaps 4 aircraft in the circuit simultaneously. A couple of weeks at HMS Cambridge learning how to fire, maintain and control "defensive" weapons. (Good training for when the Falklands thing came up). Off to the SBS base at Poole to learn about "security". Somewhere else to learn more about things that go "bang", and how to deal with undesired "leakages" from same. A rather stupid Radar Nav Course at somehere in Hampshire that wasn't half as good as the standard MN stuff at any MN training college. A dangerous cargo course at Warsash (waste of time, but the local restaurants are good). Naturally, all these courses were spread over more than one leave period. Leave periods were extended to cver the time spent away. I was even sent to the civil service college at Sunningdale to learn about PR. Awaste of time for me as I am not by nature a "spin doctor". To the chagrin of those who sent me! Thankfully a lot of these courses are now attended by POs and Ratings. I guess you could say that "we" got a pretty good post-graduate education in subjects well away from the general mainstream sort of stuff. By far my favourite venue was the old Staff College at Greenwich. Steeped in history. To walk through the tunnel connecting the 2 wings and emerge into the Painted Hall for dinner was like being royalty.
But the real world would beckon. Portland, and back to the realities.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #142 on: May 28, 2008, 04:27:27 PM »

FOST being FOST, he is not paid to trust the training given by any other establishment but his own. Alas, he doesn't do any of it himself....or even come to see us. He "may" pop aboard for a drinky-poo and a sticky bu with the Captain, but he certainly does not address the masses. Perhaps when the TV cameras are there. He has Accolytes to do the dirty.
Portland trains naval ships from all over the world. Please, again, read this in the past tense. Even the USN do it now and again. For all my vitriol, I admire the system and its reason for being...but not some of the people.
I could be wrong here, but perhaps not. I think the whole idea started off during WW2 when the RN was huge and had recruited thousands of undertrained officers and ratings. Sure, they all went to shore based establishments to learn the basics, but doing it all in practice aboard a real ship is different. Portland then was very much a front-line base. Some clever and farsighted politician or naval officer decided that real on board traing should be provided. Tobermory in Scotland was chosen...and what a superb job they did. It was only natural that the programme should continue post WW2, and the programme was moved to Portland. Portland is a very odd place. It is so odd that I think it should be re-classified as a foreign country. During the period of one of our many spats with the Spanish I did once muse in public (only half tongue in cheek) that it may be a good idea to give Spain Portland if they left Gib alone. The 2 places have much in common...including their own language. Although the citizens of Weymouth would not care to be likened to those in La Linea.
Portland harbour is huge. I guess you really have to see it from the air to appreciate its true sizeLook at some of the old wartime photos with uncountable numbers of major ships at anchor (and many more smaller vessels) and there is still room for another fleet. Mind, it doesn't feel all that big when coming in to a precise anchorage on a dark and stormy winters night! Portland has 3 entrances. North, East and South. The South entrance was blocked (deliberately) with an old battleship. The ESC (East Ship Channel) is the one most commonly used for entering and leaving. The NSC is more often used by ships doing a "blind pilotage" or some other evolution that requires a bit of"privacy". The NSC is also prone to interference by uncaring fishing boats and cross-channel ferries that don't give a "xxxxx" even if you are the Royal Yacht. Many an emergency "full-astern" in this area.
In all the years I "passed through" Portland I always thought how "WW2" it looked. Not that it was ramshackle or anything, well, not all that much. It was just the style of everything. And having a small Moss Bros shop just outside the main gate seemed to give the place a "Dads Army" sort of feel. Having a socking great lump of rock so close to the water meant all the buildings and so on were compressed into a long ribbon. Nothing ergonomic about this place. Turn right and you will reach the main gate and then on to Town" or Weymouth. Turn left and you are confronted by a paved route up the North face of the Eiger. God, that hill is steep (and long!). Unfortunately, half way up this hill was the Portland Fire School. Lordy, not again! Not too long ago this country had numerous car scrapyards. (Bear with me). These yards were often on oil saturated ground. So was the Portland Fire School. When the "sadistic ones" lit their fires all sorts of miature oil wells used to sort of explode...usually very close to important anatomical bits and pieces, to the glee of the "ones" who knew where to stay out of trouble. Another dirty and wet day for all "pupils".
By now I had graduated from being a helicopter controller to being a fully fledged Flight Deck Officer. (Another course done during a leave period), but my big mistake here was not to know or realise that the London to Weymouth train got cut in half at Poole. I don't need to tell you which half I was in. There is something sort of world changing when you sit on a train, see the engine pull away but you don't go with it. Such is life. The FDO course was pretty good fun apart from that went on long after the pubs had closed. We "students" were offered the chance to be a front seat passenger in the rattly old Wessex that was our training aircraft. For some reason most of the RN guys declined. I loved it. As the "circuit" was very tight, the aircraft had to bank very steeply, so the pilot asked me to hold the old instrument panel in a position where he could see it. All lends to the romance of the occasion. During a lull in procedings he took us out over Portland harbour and asked if I would like to try and "drive the thing". What a hoot. So I got it to go up and down, I went sideways, I went backwards, In fact I could get it going anywhere but in a straight line forwards. Many years later I surprised a Sea King pilot by actually doing it, but the Sea King was easier to fly. During this course our digs were in La Linea, and so I became sort of aquainted with the wonderful sea front clock. I shall come back to the clock.
One of the oldest tricks in the book that the "sea-riders" (as the sadists like to be known..makes them feel superior or something) do is to either smuggle or post a pretend bomb on board. If the ship missed it the we would be marked as a "security failure" and in need of remedial training. What some of these morons never twigged was that many uf us RFA types had more experience of Portland than they did. Our normal response was to quietly search until "it" was found. Re-package it and send it back whence it came. We sent one back that sat in an office for 3 weeks until it was discovered. Naturally this infuriated the sadists as "we" were not supposed to be free-thinkers. But we won that moral battle.
Every Friday evening the WPP came out. The Weekly Practise Programme. This can be quite a complicated document. It covers all ships running out of Portland (and there could be a dozen or so), what they should be doing at any one moment, and where they should be...especially important if you were to be doing flying ops or a RAS etc with another ship. Sorting this out is a real headache for the Nav. This part is not training, it can stretch some poor guys to a sort of breakdown as every single point has to be perfect. From the ships speed, tidal considerations, the ships position in "the box" (more later on that), where to finish so the next "serial" could begin on time. Doing that and being "ready in all respects" was probably the most difficult and taxing jobs I ever had to do as a Nav. One of my pals (who later left the RFA) was a Nav on another ship, and through tiredness or whatever failed to spot a misprint in the WPP the said (for a particular time) "No calls on Fost". So he didn't. Only when it was too late did he remember that it should have read "NO calls on FOST" (i.e. Nav.Off calls on FOST"). He got a right bollocking for that one.
Another "tradition" with the RN is that some snooty young RN officer is designated to do a "walk around" (in our case a "sail-around) on a Sunday morning. Near us was moored the nuclear submarine HMS Sceptre. The little oik doing the inspection complained that the RFA in question (us) did not give a suitable salute to mark his passing. (I'd probably miss his funeral as well), and that our main radar aerial was not aligned absolutely athwartships. (an impossible task with our radar set-up). I just knew I was going to have fun with this one! Sceptre was accused of "looking like a midden". What, pray,can a submarine look like apart from a submarine?
The CO of Sceptre invited me and a few of our officers over for lunch and a bit of mutual commiseration. And a very merry afternoon it was. Now we return to the Weymouth Clock. During my guided tour of this fantastic machine...the sub, not the clock..my host asked if I would like to play with his periscope (the metal one). We were perhaps nearly 3 miles from Wemouth beach. I had also never really thought how high these periscopes can go. But when you think how deep these subs are I should not have been surprised. After a good look around he showed me how to zoom the thing. "Try the Weymouth Clock Tower"....ZOOM. The poor girl probably still doesn't know that her surreptitious copulation was being carefully observed and commented upon by a bunch of guys 3 milles away. Made my day.
As far as the little oik was concerned I made sure he and his CO were invited to lunch on another day, during which the error of his ways were pointed out to him, and to put it mildly, saying he left with his tail between his legs and a further "chat" with his CO.
Round 1 to us.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #143 on: May 28, 2008, 06:27:11 PM »

Another rather crappy day in Geordieland, so I may as well continue.
Every ship loves to see another one cock things up.I think it basically alleviates despair. So to lighten the mood a little.
At one time the Brazilian Navy were quite regular "customers" at Portland, working up their new Niteroi class frigates (destroyers?). They looked like large versions of our "Amazon" type frigates. I can never remember type numbers, preferring names. But what a wildcat bunch they were. Every one a Grand Prix driver. It was glorious to watch "Niteroi" doing a "rapid departure" evolution. A pity that the order to let go the ropes first wasn't given. Snapped ropes everywhere and even a couple of bollards uprooted from the quay. FOST response to this was a bit more measured than it would have been if the ship had been RN. Something on the lines (no pun intended) of "Enthusiasm when leaving harbour is to be commended, but attention should be given to preparations" But the Brazilians had one more surprise in store. Due for an early morning final departure many, many people in the Portland area awoke to find their bicycles missing. Never to be seen again.

Now and again an RFA Chief Officer is appointed to Portland as senior "sea rider". Often to the annoyance of the RN. One guy I knew quite well tells a nice story about a German destroyer. He was "riding" this ship during a Thursday War", and one of the pre-programmed evolutions was a Man Overboard exercise. The ships "swimmer" was briefed and kitted up, and at the appointed time he "fell" overboard. The ship was hammering down the Channel on a "war" footing. No action was taken about the man overboard. Our man attempted to prompt the Commander into action. His response was "Ve are at Vor,Ja? OK, Ve go on"...leaving the poor swimmer stuck all alone in the middle of the English Channel. He was eventually picked up by another ship. This particular Commander was obviously intent on playing things for real and also sticking it to the RN big time. During his harbour week the local employees at the base decided to go on strike for some reason or another. In the late 70s it didn't take much effort to get "the lads" out on strike. This strike also forced the local power station to shut down. German answer? An armed platoon who "interned" the strikers pickets and his own engineers restored power. This was NOT an exercise! Nowt wishy-washy about that guy.

A "naughty" about the RFA. For those not familiar with the main passage into Portland / Weymouth, there is a very large and awkwardly sited sandbank  which helps define the infamous "Portland Race". It is well marked with buoys, but the tides can be unforgiving. One lunchtime the watchkeeper on RFA "Olwen" was trying to make up for lost time and got it wrong. On a falling tide to make matters worse. Nicely aground. The National dailies loved it. Alas, at the time the RFA was running a national recruitment drive that said...in essence..." Join the RFA and visit places other ships do not normally go". Good timing!.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #144 on: May 30, 2008, 06:48:12 PM »

If you can cast your mid back a bit, you may recall that Cable & Wireless used standard Admiralty charts with overprinting. The Admiralty also do this for their own purposes. One of which is (was) to make the Portland exercise areas a quite unique bit of ocean. Natuarally, the real geographical points were left "as is" (stupid not to), but the overprinting included things like make-believe sandbanks and other hazards. These were treated as "real" by working up ships as part of the navigational training, and woe betide those who treated them as "less than real". These "hazards" were printed in more or less the same way as found on a standard chart, but it was always pretty clear as to what was "real" and what "wasn't". The chatrs themselves were always treated as genuine and were kept as up to date as the real ones. In fact, it was very rare for a a "non-Portland" chart to be used except during a real emergency.
Another, and perhaps more important set of overprints were the "boxes". The Portland exercise areas covered an awful lot of liquid real estate, from well to the East and West of Portland and to about half way across the English Channel. The Channel in these areas was, of course, always open to normal shipping...how could it be otherwise...which could make things "interesting" at times. The entire area was divided into "boxes" printed in various colours and ocassionally even overlapping each other. Boxes came in many sizes from quite small (perhaps a couple of square miles) to huge. Apart from the submarine areas that do not concern us here the biggest was the RAS Corridor.This was an E-W area of maybe 40 miles by 5. A RAS would generally be carried out at 12 knots...although if operationally required it could be increased, with a consequent rise in the danger level. I think the fastest one I was involved in was done at 18 knots. A bit scary.The corridor is E-W for 2 reasons. Prevailing weather and tides, and the impracticality of going in any other direction. An upwind course is generally preferred but downwind is pretty common. Portland being Portland a wind from the N or S or any point between had to be expected and dealt with. The worst case would be an arranged RAS with a frigate which had to spend a fair while preparing, and then the wind would change...as would the sea. The last thing a little frigate would want would be to stuck on the windward side of a large replenishment ship. Changing rigs was perhaps a 30 minute job, but a heck of a lot longer for a frigate...especially if they only had one probe. "Probe"?. A very sexual beast. The supply ship is equipped with a large male appendage, and the receptor has a large "bell mouthed" "female" part. When the connecting jackstay between the 2 ships is connected the "male" part slides down the jackstay, slams into the receptor and begins pumping. A RAS takes as long as it takes..hence the length of the corridor. (In real operations, we could do a "pumpover" from one tanker to another that could take up to 12 hours....all at 100ft apart). But as indicated in the previous posting the ships have to be in the correct box, at the corect time, on the correct course and at the correct speed and positioned in the right part of the box by "start-time". The Navs and Ops officers cannot collude against this Fost dictat. It is workable, if done correctly. Hence a lot of stress, which is precisely what Portland is all about. And none of these evolutions is done in isolation. Ships transitting to an R/V point can have a galley fire, an aircraft crash on deck or even (a rather popular one) the Commanding Officer has a heart attack..and so structures and responsibilities have to be re-jigged "on the hoof". And the show would have to go on.....because we are being trained for a war at sea, and THAT is a hell of a lot different from chugging from point A to point B.
All these evolutions start quite slowly for a "newbie" ship, and build up pretty quickly over the following 2 or 3 weeks. During their (hopefully) final week they are full participants in the "Thursday War". To make up the numbers of participants the "not quite ready" ships are co-opted, but at this stage are not required to be on a "war footing", although they will still have to deal with FOST engendered "problems" (no easy ride here!). The experience also gives the "newbies" a bit of a taste of what to expect when they are promoted to the "first team".
Portland in summer can be quite benign. Stressful, sure. But winter is another thing altogether. Still the stress, but add a lot of weather induced misery on top. Horrible.
Next is the "Thursday War". BY.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #145 on: June 05, 2008, 07:35:28 PM »

Before I begin (no, it is not Jackanory), a word for "Roger in France":- I tried your method of posting. The screed went somewhere but Lord alone knows where. I guess there are people around the world scratching their heads trying to make some sort of sense of it...
To begin.
It is not unusual for the "ship" to be preparing for the "war" while the poor Nav. is doing his ultimate test. The "Blind Pilotage" entry into Portland harbour via the NSC. All done on radar using parallel indexes and so on. No chance of a quick peep out of the windows.This navigational test is a killer and needs many hours of preparation. Using the Portland charts, there is a large and irregular shaped sandbank/reef between the natural entrance and the FOST entrance. This is laid out as a narrow channel. The Navs job is to get from the "start point" to between the breakwaters within one minute of the stipulated time. At the same time he is doing this he is required to maintain a running commentary on what he is doing. The winding course will take the ship within yards of disaster, and so all wheel orders and engine rev.counts have to be done with regard to the ships size, her "pivoting point" and sideways movement...and with regard to the position of the radar aerial being used. Very easy to forget the 400 odd feet of ship trailing along behind the radar. It is quite nerve wracking. I failed miserably on my first attempt, but after an entire night trying to sort it out I passed the next time. Makes no difference if it is day or night...but a heck of a lot of difference to the rest of the ships company who may have been looking forward to an evening ashore. Sorry, chaps. FOST Rules!
While the Nav is doing his "thing", the rest of the ship has been preparing itself for war. One of these preps is the destruction of your living space (cabin). According to FOST all (and I mean ALL) moveable items in your cabin have to be bundled up into a large heap in a corner and lashed down with rope. This is a megga inconvenience. Come back to your cabin for a kip and then remember that all your bedding including the matttress is part of the heap. Rats. Lie on the floor. I never really got my head around this thinking. If a shell, bomb or simple fire hits or impinges, does it really matter if everything is in a heap or not. Just another example of the Marquis de Sade at work again. A bit like (much later) an idiot CO during the Falklands thing trying to ban smoking during an air-raid...but there we go.
So the ship is now ready for war. We are all dressed up in our blue or white boilersuits, anti-flash gear (very fetching, and all carrying our "survival kit". Enough to fill a suitcase and be too heavy to hoist into a locker on a tourist flight to Majorca (or wherever). Not knowing what we may encounter, we have to tote around:-
1...A personal self contained compressed air breathing set. This gives about 20 minutes of air. Excellent. Heavy. Large bright orange bag.
2...A Gas Mask. A term hated by the military (so that is what we call it). "Personal Respirator" is the PC term. This is "fitted" to your own facial shape by RN "experts" (hah!).
3...A "Once Only" survival suit. A lightweight all enclosing "pak-a-mac" designed to delay the onset of hypothermia. But if you don't tie the cords correctly all the air will go to your feet and so make you float upside down.
4...A Lifejacket. Standard RN issue. Tightly packed into a pouch worn around the waist. Pretty good things really....except that you can never get the damn things back into the pouch. I general usage they are worn on an almost daily basis during RASes etc. Years ago we used to just hang them around the neck uninflated (they are not auto-inflating for many reasons...another type is) until tests in a pool proved that the human lungs are insufficiently strong to inflate the jacket when in the water, so now they are worn "semi-inflated".
And all sorts of other bits and bobs depending on the threat. When all this lot is hung, strapped and carried then doing any sort of work or anything requiring mobility is both tedious and difficult. This gets even worse if the ship may encounter a Nuclear, Chemical or Biological hazard. But I won't get into that stuff.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #146 on: June 06, 2008, 07:28:05 PM »

Sorry to have to do this, but I must backtrack a bit. Front-line RFAs are built with "citadels" enclosed within (usually) the superstructure. RN and RFAs are liberally endowed with "vents" of all sizes ranging from a few square inches to many square feet. All have distinctive markings. Generally indecipherable to an RFA crew, but it all boils down to where they go and what they do. Some suck, others blow. Some that are normally shut have to be opened, and vice verca when the ship is entering a "hostile environment"...nukes and chemicals and that sort of thing. When all the vents etc. are corectly opened/shut the AFUs (Air Filtration Units) are powered up to give the citadel a positive pressure. Entrance and exit for personnel is via double air-locks. The AFUs are really noisy beasts and this only increases the tension level when they are running. A citadel test is always carried out at the end of a refit. This is when you find out which cabin(s) have had a little hole drilled somewhere so an aerial can be fed out. Naughty. The presence of these holes is normally indicated by a whistling from the little hole. The internal pressure build up (or lack of it) is measured by a simple manometer. (A "U" shaped glass tube partly filled with a liquid, pressure from the inside forces the liquid down on the high pressure side. Not all that unusual to see the thing going backwards...must be a leakage somewhere). Eventually somebody decides "that is as good as it's going to get".
Then we must do pre-wetting trials. As if sucking and blowing isn't enough it now seems as if we will have to wear incontinence pants. "Pre-wetting" is a spray system that supposedly keeps off - or washes off - "contaminants. When we had nice green decks and the ships were reasonably new seeing this system working well was akin to watching a nice lawn being watered. But over the years and given the average sailors ability to lose all sense of reason when given a paint brush a lot of the spray heads get choked. So instead of a good spray it now looks more like the system has a prostate problem. More money spent.

But back to the "war"
By 7a.m. the ships company have been fed and watered. Dressed in full "wartime" regalia, toting "ditty bags" and strung around with all the "survival" gear we are "ready". Even with names/ranks printed on the boilersuits the crew are as identifiable as a team of Daleks. Except for our Captain, who is "of short stature" and has an Olympic size belly. Nice to recognize the one who makes the decisions.
This is (as usual) to be a "co-ordinated" departure. That is all the ships have to leave the harbour entrance in a pre-determined sequence , at a pre-determined time and be 1000 yards apart, and be in line astern. This is a doddle for the war canoes, but can be bloody difficult for a 30,000 ton replenishment ship that is on a buoy and invariably pointing the wrong way. OK, we are on a "slip-rope" and the buoy jumpers and their boat are safely back on board. But we still have to turn around and slot into our allocated place in the procession. And assuming we manage that, there is a hard right turn immediately on clearing the entrance piers. Again, a doddle for frigates and destroyers but a tad awkward for a 660' long ship. By the time our stern can swing clear of the stonework we are hopelessly out of line. But until hinges are fitted to the hull we have no option.
As soon as this armada is clear of the main channel entrance buoy the game begins. Naturally, there are 2 sides. "Us and Them". Blue and Red in those days, but now are probably deemed to be Pink and Eau-de-Nil or something. Our "opposing" forces include one or more submarines, FPBs and aircraft. There may be other surface units also tossed into the mix. But the aircraft are worthy of a mention as they are probably the main "threat". Designated "Falcons", they are in fact ex RAF Hawker Hunters (now owned by a private company) and flown by "geriatric" ex RAF pilots (probably about 40 years old of so). And these guys really know what they are doing. Some of them even flew with the Red Arrows...probably when they used the Hunters. By now all the ships are at "Action Stations". Guns and decoy rockets manned...guns not loaded, but the decoys may be. Naturally enough the first attack is from the air. For a "first timer" on deck seeing a Hunter screeching in very low at over 400 knots with vortices swirling off its wing tips it is a bit of an exciting heart stopper. And this goes on (and off) for a few hours. Of course we get hit. People get injured, killed or worse (they might miss their "action snacks"). You will realise by now that the Corps of Sadists have a team on each ship intent on making life as awkward as is inhumanly possible. (On good authority, I hear that on leaving the RN many of them get jobs with local councils and are in charge of wheelie bins and car parking).
All the evolutions and exercises done during the previous weeks in more or less isolation now come all at once. Fires, Damage Control (shoring up bulkheads and stuff), medical teams treating the wonderfully and realistically (and overacting) casualties. Lose electrical power, steering gear breakdown. Bridge team decimated (Captains love this as they can toddle off for a brandy or something). All ths chucks the ships organisation out of the window. Although nowadays the job of NBCDO is the province of the Ch.Engineer (now Captain(E)), in those days it was the 1/Off(X) who was the NBCDO. Me. It was always impossible to not get carried away with the tension and "realism" of all this. Totally and utterly knackering for everyone on board (except Capt. Pugwash). All the courses and shore training do not prepare you for your first exposure to a Portland War. Anti-submarine zig-zags (timed to the second to avoid collisions), anti-torpedo evasive manoeuvres, blah, blah, blah. And then it is all over, and we have to revert to normal behaviour before entering harbour for "wash-ups". These de-briefings are done in front of the entire ships company (except those who really have to be someplace else). No-one, of whatever rank is excused having their shortcomings (or, indeed, good points) made public. Can be quite humiliating. But with a few reservations we come out of it all with a "Sat" (satisfactory), which is OK. I have only ever been on one ship that got a "Good", and that was really because the ships company had been together for a few months rather than a couple of weeks.
I'm sure I have inadvertently left a lot out here, but I hope you got "the feel" of it. BY.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #147 on: June 14, 2008, 06:11:46 PM »

RFA "Pearleaf".
Casting minds back aways...After I completed the rather bizarre gyro course in my own personal castle, I was eventually flown to Bahrein (as always, facing backwards in a VC10). Not having a visa or anything I was whisked away by "somebody" and sent off for miles and miles in the darkness of a Gulf night to Allah knows where. Wherever it was we eventually got there. I was greeted by a Chinese QM who immediately took me to the officers bar. He must have had second sight, but there was more to this than altruism. Just about every officer on board was there...not to greet me, of course, but it sure set the tone for the next 9 months. The guy I was relieving had already left the ship which was a bit of a "downer". But I was made very welcome by a wizened welsh dwarf who was wearing a tatty old vest, baggy shorts that may once have been white and a pair of ""xxxxx"-quicks" (flip-flops to you land lubbers). He was also chewing a matchstick and playing a banjo.He turned out to be one of the most professional and caring Captains I ever sailed with in the RFA. I was told to get a beer and come to see him at "O-Crack-Sparrow-Fart" next morning. My first surprise was that the "meeting" was to be held in his bedroom. No problems. His first question was to ask if I played table tennis. I thought it best to say yes, although I was pretty crap at it. A big grin and I was uhsred into his dayroom. Which was filled by a full size table tennis table. He was now wearing a cleaner pair of baggy shorts and chewing a new match. Me, in "meeting new Captain for the first time" dressed in immaculate whites. Five minutes after he had lobbed a bat at me I was as rumpled as he'd been the night before...and all the playing time he taught me about the ship and ho he ran it. But one thing he never told me. After about an hour of being hammered by a master (in both senses) he suggested I might like to get the courses etc. to Bandar Mashur laid off. It was with some trepidation that I said "OK, but can you please tell me where we are now, as I really need a start-point". Everone on that ship loved him to bits. Not long after joining I realised why the rather swish wood panelling in his dayroom had cracks, splits, dents and holes in it. You guessed. Bat damage. There were 3 public rooms on that ship. The officers bar / lounge, the dining saloon and the table tennis room. Happy days. Funnily enough the ship was run to a very high standard (with the exception of a few bits of wood panelling). The Chinese crew were loyal to a "T" (whatever that means), the ship was immaculate and everything was done well...and soberly. In retrospect I cannot recall anyone abusing the "system".
The main task for the ship was to keep Singapore Naval Base topped up with FFO, Deisel and Avcat; running between various Gulf ports and Singapore....with the odd excursion to do something else. She was RAS capable with 2 beam rigs and a stern RAS capability. So nothing outstanding about the job, but life still had its "moments". This was my first job "on my own" as it were. Smashing. Even the gyro held no terrors after "my course". But no-one had told me that this ship had 2 different sorts of gyro. The Sperry 1005 I could handle, but a Browns I had only vaguely heard of. The Sperry was a monster of a machine that really needed a cabin of its own, and looked as if it could withstand a near miss from a 6" shell. In other words, typically American. The Brwon was British, and therefore smaller and more "elegant". Both relied on Mercury for electrical contacts. But the only thing they had in common was the spinning wheel. The Sperry compass "card" twitched permanently from side to side, and the Brown pumped up and down. Eventually I cracked it and came consider the Brown a better machine, but not as robust as the Sperry. Being bog ignorant in those days I was not aware that mercury digests gold. So it ate my rather new wedding ring. I guess both the gold and the mercury still lurk somewhere within me, but SWMBO has never been totally convinced of that story.
Leave it there for today.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #148 on: June 15, 2008, 08:47:53 PM »

My first trip back to Singapore from the Gulf coincided with the first Moon landing. We were just rounding the lighthouse at the bottom end of Ceylon (or had it already been re-named...can't remember). I had the 12-4 watch (this was a night one) ...with a huge full moon in view. I had one ancient bakelite headphone earpiece plugged into the RDF (radio direction finder) and was tuned in to whatever. All the English speaking stations were broadcasting it anyway. Quite emotional really, what with where I was, what I was doing and looking up at this huge moon. Shall never forget that watch.
Entering the Singapore Straits at night (and for the first time "on my tod") can get pretty nervy. Almost as bad as approaching the Scheldt in the middle of a winters night around those mythical nautical "roundabouts"....except Singapore is warmer, and the constant sheet lightning gives one a fleeting photographic glimpse of unseen little boats and stuff. But eventually I got near to the JSB (No TLBs here!)(Johore Shoal Buoy) so I can get the rest of the ship out of their scratchers ready to go up the channel to Sembawang where the Naval Base is. Sembawang is on the North side of Singapore Island, very close to the Johore causeway that links Singapore with mainland Malaysia. My previous experience of Singapore had been as a Ben Line cadet when if not anchored in the roads we would be in Keppel Harbour, and with C&W which had their base at the western end of the strait. So Sembawang was a bit of a first (of many) visit. Lots of muddy water and trees on the way up, past the Changhi Memorial. Very "prehistoric" until civilisation re-appeared in the form of a naval base. Still think it was an odd place to build it though. Sembawang village during the 60s and 70s was a glorious refuge from the 20th century. A walk to the village from the base only took about 30 minutes, but it was always fascinating.Tiny little Chinese or Malays riding bicycles loaded with enough cargo to fill a large Transit van, 3 ft deep monsoon ditches alongside the road with bellowing bullfrogs....and all sorts of other wildlife. Even louder and "scarier" on the return trek. Up until perhaaps the early 1980s Sembawang was a real Kampong. Now it looks like a sort of Oriental Milton Keynes. Soulless.
But at the time I am talking about the shops were really just very large wooden sheds...filled with everything a matelot could desire...except that one, sir. Heaven alone knows how many pictures of tigers painted on black velvet were sold over the years. A counterfeit tape or watch? No problem. The renowned "Toothy Wong" the tailor had his base here. And what an institution he was.Poor Toothy, died in a fire in his shop. His son, Alan, still bears the scars from that fire, but he re-built the business and it was thriving last time I was there. But the usual evening destination was the "Sembawang Hilton".This was in fact an empty dirt floored lot between 2 shops with ancient rickety tables and chairs and a smelly open sewer about 20 yards away. The cooking was done in woks made of old boilerplate and heated to incandescence by oxy-acetalene torches. Chuck raw food into there and it would leap out again fully cooked in a matter of seconds. All gone now. The best food in all of Singapore. But I have digressed too long. I have forgotten that I was supposed to be on a ship.
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Bryan Young

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Re: Nautical "Strange but True!"
« Reply #149 on: June 16, 2008, 04:56:41 PM »

An aquaintance of mine at the time was a gun collector and had a "few" items from the US guys who were a bit busy in Vietnam at the time. He asked me to "look after" a Thompson machine gun for a few weeks. He also gave me about 400 rounds for it. This was a pretty open secret on board and I was eventually persuaded ( by the engineers, who else?) to fire the thing. So boxes and tin cans were chucked over the back end and we all had a blast. ...and missed everything. Su Ki Lun (bosun) eventually approached (walking as only the Chinese can do) and asked if he could "look". OK. Within a few seconds the gun was laid out in its constituent parts, with him muttering "Lap Sap" to himself. (If you want a translation that won't set bells ringing ask Tiger Tiger). So he put it all back together and fired in short bursts and began sinking boxes and cans with ease...and a big grin. "Where did you learn that, Suki?" ...."Ah, Long March, 1949". We slunk off stage left.
Being on a "small ship" it fell to me as 2/Off to be the "medical officer". Hmmm. But in one sense I am suited to it as I appear to be impervious to the suffering of others (unless they happen to be my nearest and dearest). At that time I was both interested and clueless about "doctoring". An untrained Mengele sort of thing. All merchant ships, including those with a "real"doctor have a "medicine cabinet", usually a cupboard somewhere or other, stocked with whatever the ever changing rules say it should be stocked with. My only "guides" were a copy of "The Shipmasters Medical Guide" and an old copy of MIMMS (a sort of medical thesaurus that can point an ignoramus towards something else that is incomprehensible). So I devised my own method of diagnosis. This was difficult with the Chinese as they used to slather any afflicted part (sometimes internally as well) with a sort of purple paint. Quite lurid sometimes ....especially....no, not going there. One of my neighbours at home owned our local butchers shop, and in a flash of inspiration I recalled him having a chart of a cow showing where all the cuts came from. Magic. So I drew up a full size human outline and stuck it on the inside of the cupboard door. Then divided it up. Headaches, tummy, clap,knees, piles...you get the picture. Then I re-organised the cupboard to fit the categories. So what is difficult about being a doctor? Over the months the system was refined. I even got a diagram of a person from the rear...but I had to keep the key. However, emergencies happen. In that event I would have to drag the captain away from either his table tennis or bed to take over the bridge if it was on my watch. My most notable among th officers was a 3/Eng who had somehow managed to get a metal splinter down into the end of a finger that he couldn't get out with a pair of pliers. Engineers do not have tweezers...too wussy apparently. So, sat him down, got the end of the splinter and pulled.Three inches of wire came out. He looked at me and very clearly said "do you mind if I ..." and fainted. That bit was easy, after all, he was an ex-first division football player.
End for today.
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Notes from a simple seaman
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