AFTER 28 months of hard graft, Portsmouth dockyard workers toasted a proud moment last night as they bid farewell to one of the largest shipbuilding projects ever undertaken in the city.
Pride was in abundance at the seafront as hundreds of people turned out to see a behemoth of modern engineering sail out of Portsmouth Harbour.
The 6,000-tonne section of the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier soared above the destroyers and frigates as it made its way out of Portsmouth Naval Base at 5.30pm.
Slow and steady, it passed the navy’s 30-year-old carrier HMS Illustrious as began its 600-mile voyage to Scotland on a 440ft-long barge.
The busy Round Tower fell silent in awe as it went by.
Crewmen standing on the barge appeared like ants in comparison to their cargo.
Yet this block of HMS Queen Elizabeth, which weighs the equivalent of 500 double-decker buses, represents just one tenth of the warship.
Geoff Searle, who is carrier project director for shipbuilders BAE Systems, said: ‘It’s incredible to think this is going to have another three decks on top of it plus the islands on the flight deck.’
Workers gave a hearty cheer earlier in the day as the section left the naval base.
The barge then waited six hours in the harbour before the tide was right to set sail.
‘It’s an unbelievably proud moment,’ said project manager Paul Bowsher, who leads the 1,300-strong shipbuilding team in Portsmouth.
The section, called Lower Block 02, will take four days to reach Rosyth dockyard where the 65,000-tonne warship will be finally assembled by 2014.
It is the first of two new carriers which will be based in Portsmouth from 2016.
Naval base commander, Commodore Tony Radakin, said: ‘These ships will offer a step-change in capability for the Royal Navy. It’s very exciting to see it coming together.’
As the barge left, Mick Ord, managing director of BAE Systems naval ships, said: ‘It’s a fantastic day for the city.
‘But it’s not goodbye, it’s just farewell for a few years until she comes back as HMS Queen Elizabeth.’