The faces behind the mighty HMS Prince of Wales
WEIGHING in at 65,000 tonnes, HMS Prince of Wales is a true leviathan in every sense of the word.
The mechanical marvel is longer than the length of the House of Parliament and, from keel to the top of the highest mast, taller than London’s Nelson’s Column.
Her flight deck is so gigantic that it could fit three football pitches or 470 double-decker buses on it.
But behind the mind-boggling numbers and grey hull, is a crew of some 700 men and women who call Prince of Wales home.
And as the mighty warship makes her debut into Portsmouth, The News has spoken to members of the ship’s company to find out what life is like on the regal giant of the seas.
One of those who will have an unrivalled view of the city when Prince of Wales arrives at Portsmouth Naval Base will be Able Seaman Kaj Carter. The 22-year-old from Hayling Island works on the ship’s bridge – the forward most of her two distinctive islands.
Having joined the navy two years ago, he now works as a seaman specialist doing everything from helping to bring the behemoth alongside, to driving boats and sending out tactical radio messages to other ships.
Critically, he has the important role of steering the ship – something that AB Carter admitted was always a daunting prospect.
‘Being on the helm can be a frightening task when you first do it in real life,’ he said. ‘However over time you become more confident and with supervision you fulfil tasks to become platform-endorsed.
‘It will be quite nerve-wracking sailing into Portsmouth for the first time on HMS Prince of Wales, the gap between Old Portsmouth and Gosport isn’t that big and we are a big ship.
‘However, the bridge team has spent months in the training simulators practising for it. So I feel very confident.’
And while seeing Prince of Wales into her new home city would be an unforgettable moment for AB Carter, what he really loves is taking boats out to sea.
‘For me the best part of my job is going out in the sea boats, driving around at 40 knots in the middle of the ocean with the sun out and no clouds in the sky, nothing quite beats it.’
For many of the crew, the first hurdle to overcome is simply finding their way around the enormous vessel.
A labyrinth of passageways wind their way through the 17-deck ship, which is made up of about 3,000 compartments.
But once the crew have worked out how to navigate their way through the aircraft carrier, there is plenty for them to do.
Inside there’s a chapel, hospital and five galleys. There are five gyms to burn off the calories, though crew members can clock up 20,000 steps – some eight miles – during their average working day.
And on hand to refuel the bellies of the crew is the ship’s expert team of chefs. Among them is Acting Leading Chef Tash Mackie, who works in the forward galley as part of the catering services sub department.
The 27-year-old former soldier transferred from the army’s Royal Logistics Corps eight months ago and now cooks three meals a day for the 1,100 sailors and civilian personnel on the ship.
‘The pressure is high, we have to keep over 1,000 personnel happy three times a day,’ she said. ‘We try to produce meals that remind them of being home to bring them small home comforts.
Tash, who lives in Livingston, in central Scotland with her fiance, said life in the Senior Service was totally different to her eight-year career in the army.
‘Being from an army background, this has been a challenge in itself. Not only having a smaller
area to prepare and cook from, but also feeding around three times the amount I am used to.’
Another busy section of the ship is its hospital. The facility is one of the largest of its kind on any of the fleet’s warships.
Staffed by 12 people - ranging from GPs, doctors, nurses, dentists and anaesthetists - the state-of-the-art facility is able to treat everything from day-to-day ailments like sprains and illnesses, to major traumas.
Medical Assistant Abigail Bennet, 26, of Aldershot, is part of the team and has served eight years in the navy.
As a treatment room medic, she is first on hand to see most fresh cases.
‘Life in the medical centre day to day can be busy,’ she said. ‘But there is always a good level of banter to ease the stress that a medical practice will undoubtedly have.
‘The medical centre is just like a GP practice shore-side but at sea and with a few more challenges.’
One of the ship’s most critical areas is the Flying Control - or Flyco. The aft island of the ship acts as Prince of Wales’s own air traffic control centre.
Lieutenant Commander Rudi Lorenz, 40, is among those based in the centre. Like the rest of the crew, the dad-of-two from Hill Head has spent three months at sea.
He said during that time the moment he will never forget was the first helicopter landing on Prince of Wales.
‘It was a mixture of excitement and relief when the first aircraft landed on the deck of HMS Prince of Wales.’
He added: ‘Without a doubt, the most rewarding part of my role has been helping in the generation of the air department, from a small team in Rosyth Naval Base, to a larger, effective team at sea in HMS Prince of Wales.’