HMS Ark Royal sailed from her Portsmouth home amid growing speculation that she would become part of the allied forces ranged against Iraq in the Gulf.
Emotional relatives gathered at the Round Tower, Old Portsmouth, and along Southsea seafront to wave farewells to their loved ones on board.
But many of the hundreds of family and friends who had gathered in the morning were left disappointed. They headed home after being told the Ark’s departure had been delayed for two hours because of high winds, and they missed their chance to say a final goodbye.
Lynda Needham, 23, of Hilsea, was waving off her husband Leading Seaman Symon Needham. She said: ‘I was expecting them to have to go to the Gulf. It has been on the cards for a long time and we have been preparing ourselves.’
The Ark sailed to Gibraltar and then took part in exercises in the Mediterranean with other allied ships.
A navy spokesman denied the carrier would travel on to the Gulf but the breakdown of US-Iraqi talks fuelled rumours.