NAVY NEWS, AUGUST 2010 during fi reworks celebrating Canada Day and (right) one of Ark’s sailors salutes the
“WE’VE cleaned and polished our ship, all 28
years old of her, to make her look the best she can,” Liverpool’s Commanding Offi cer Cdr Ollie Hutchinson stressed. “A fl eet review’s a great event, a great honour.” It is, not least because they don’t come around too often.
Just two in the past four decades in British waters. Canada hasn’t hosted one for a quarter of a century. Aside from physical efforts to prepare a ship for a fl eet review, there’s preparing the ship’s company.
Everyone – minus the duty watch – mans the upper decks. They rigidly hold on to the guard rail; there’s a right way (palms outstretched, grabbing on to the rail from beneath, interlocking arms with shipmates to your right and left) and a wrong way (everything else). Then there’s circling your cap in the
correct direction for the formal act of cheering ship. Off caps. Raise your right arm to the left side of your cap.
Up caps. Lift the cap off your head, hold it by your outstretched right arm which is rigidly angled at 45º. Three cheers for Her Majesty the Queen. Circle your cap in a clockwise direction. Sounds simple? Well, the crew of HMS Ark Royal spent a good two hours practising in the dispersing mist. Whipping them into shape, their drill instructor WO Cox – ‘Mr C’ – a man who’s evidently just walked off the set of Full Metal Jacket. “There should be 12 inches between your legs,” he imparts to sailors standing at ease. “It’s obvious some of you have never seen 12
inches in your lives. Open your legs. Nothing will drop out.” There’s more.
“Some of the RAF are wearing those funny Thunderbird caps. You can’t salute with Thunderbird caps.” “Put some effort into it.” “If you do that again fella, I’ll throw you over the
After 15 solid minutes of drilling, hooraying, saluting, the only words to come out of his mouth? “Room for improvement.”
He barks, snarls and yells because he al
cares. “We are HMS Ark Royal, the Royal Navy’s fl agship,” he rallies the ship’s company. “Her Majesty the Queen needs to have a lasting impression of Ark Royal. She needs to go away thinking that we are smarter, louder and better than anyone else here today.”
practice hoorah drifts across Halifax harbour there’s the distinct sound of children’s voices coming from the Dartmouth waterfront. Hooray…
Louder for sure. As the fi nal
BY NOW the morning fog has parted to reveal a warm, if rather overcast day. On Ark Royal’s fl ight deck, the Merlins, Sea King and Lynx sit motionless. They will take no part in a fl ypast, the last act of the review. But the weather’s clearing… “This is the sucker’s gap,” explains Cdr Rocky Salmon, Ark’s Commander Air, “that clearing in the middle of the day between the mist. It sucks you in.”
He, however, is too experienced an aviator to be sucked in. The staging area for the fl ypast, south of Halifax,
is a mass of grey. The weather is closing in. There’s no certainty that the three Merlin and one Lynx due to be launched could be recovered in good time – and Britain’s fl agship has an exercise programme to stick to. “We’re an all-weather ship,” says her captain Capt John Clink succinctly. “We don’t have all- weather aircraft.” By now, the Queen – dressed in white (journalists always have to mention the colour of her apparel) – is beginning her review of the mustered warships aboard the Canadian frigate HMCS St John’s. Electronics allow us to track her progress around the anchorages. Although thear review is staged within the confi nes of Halifax Harbour, the bulk of the ships (including Sutherland and Liverpool) anchor in the inner Bedford Basin, larger vessels including Ark Royal in the main harbour; the latter’s tall masts do not permit them to pass under the two road bridges spanning the
s the waters. On the bridge, Ark’s electronic chart faithfully
records St John’s slow progress around the inner basin.
For a good hour the carrier’s ship’s company, plus personnel from her embarked Fleet Air Arm and RAF squadrons, line the starboard fl ight deck.
As St John’s enters the narrows linking the inner and outer harbour, surrounded by a gaggle of security vessels – a good half dozen. They are joined on the water by yachts, pleasure cruisers, a paddle steamer, speedboats, a bright yellow tug called Theodore with a smile and giant red baseball cap on its funnel, and a boat towing a triangular advertising hoarding.
Ark’s 1st Lieutenant Lt Cdr Mick Malone anxiously strides on to the bridge and points at a bit of gaffer tape over a switch. “That doesn’t move,” he insists. Said tape ensures that the words coming out of his mouth in a matter of seconds – “HMS Ark Royal! Ho!” – will be heard by 1,000 men and women over the main broadcast. He strides out again. “This is my third fl eet review,” says LS ‘Drabs’ Drabble. “I have never seen the Queen. I am not missing her this time holding down a piece of tape.” He delegates to an AB. The tape holds. Several hundred throats cheer. The Queen waves. Drabs is happy. It is over in less than a minute. St John’s has already moved on to the USS Wasp. A few minutes more and Ark’s ship’s company fall out. There’s a collective groan on the bridge. The Crabs have (again) turned the wrong way when dismissed.
che d At the head of the review column there are
fl ashes of light followed by thick palls of smoke which blend seamlessly with the descending gloom as destroyer HMCS Athabaskan fi res a 21- gun salute. As Ark’s sailors return to their mess decks and cabins, the voice of their captain comes over the main broadcast.
John Clink passes on his gratitude and that of Her Majesty for the efforts of the day. Much of the signal from the Queen is directed at the Canadians – this is, after all, their review – and, like everything in this land, is also couched in French.
“The last three words have not been translated,” says Capt Clink. “Splice the mainbrace.”
pictures: po(phot) jon hamlet and la(phot) gregg macready, hms ark royal
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