'Amazing memories' flood back as former captain boards his old ship's twin in Portsmouth - 44 years after service

A FORMER captain’s ‘amazing’ dockyard memories came flooding back as he was invited to board his old steam vessel’s identical sister ship.

Thursday, 19th December 2019, 12:09 pm
Updated Thursday, 19th December 2019, 6:07 pm

Beaming David Coyne, 72, today got the chance to set foot on VIC 56 – some 44 years after he wrapped up his rounds on board VIC 94.

He was one of seven crew who served on the Victualling Inshore Craft in 1974 and 1975, immediately after graduating from college in London.

Over that time he was tasked with skippering the steam-powered ship as it shuttled stores and ammunition around Portsmouth Naval Base.

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VIC 56 at the historic dockyard, Portsmouth. Picture: Habibur Rahman

Mr Coyne was invited to VIC 56, which is being stored at the dockyard’s Boathouse 4, after Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust was donated the ship in October from her owner, Henry Cleary.

He said: ‘Starting on VIC 94 was quite daunting.

‘I wasn’t very good at ship handling – I’d never done much – and they said this is your ship.

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Diggory Rose, director of the Marine Operations of Naval Base Properties trust and David Coyne, former captain of the VIC 94. Picture: Habibur Rahman

‘It was a steep learning curve but it was very enjoyable.

‘This brings back amazing memories – a lot that I can’t tell you.’

Of all the anecdotes Mr Coyne racked up in his two years on VIC 94, as part of the former Port Auxiliary Service, one returned most vividly.

‘I used to do a run to the Royal Yacht,' he said.

The ship's galley. Picture: Habibur Rahman

‘I made a wonderful approach, got alongside beautifully and nipped down below for a cup of tea and to write the ship’s log.

‘The stoker decided to go down to the engine room and put some nice wet coal on the boiler.

‘All the black soot went blowing over the Royal Yacht. I was quickly summoned to the office and I think I came close to having to say goodbye.’

David Coyne, former captain of the VIC 94, pictured on the VIC 56. Picture: Habibur Rahman

The trust hopes to use VIC 56's cargo hold for an exhibition on the lives of the 20,000 people who once worked in the dockyard, like Mr Coyne.

The ship, previously based in Chatham, is still in working order and may also embark on trips to Southampton and Yarmouth, the trust said.

Diggory Rose, director of marine operations, said it was ‘fantastic’ to welcome Mr Coyne back.

He added: ‘The naval base is still very significant but I think that public connection has drifted with the privatisation of services here.

‘Where we’ve previously focused on the Royal Naval story, we realise Portsmouth had about 20,000 employees in the dockyard at one point.

‘It would’ve been impossible not to know someone who worked here – even if they weren't in the Royal Navy.

‘VIC 56’s cargo hold would make a lovely centrepiece for an exhibition about the civilian aspect of the dockyard’s heritage.’