HMS Prince of Wales: Royal Navy carrier sails out of Rosyth for sea trials

With the end of a journey begins a new one.

Thursday, 19th September 2019, 6:46 pm
Capt Darren Housten. Picture: George Mcluskie

As Britain’s latest supercarrier enters the open sea today it closes the door on an incredible journey which saw her begin as little more than a few segments and transform into one of the most advanced ships on the planet.

Starting in September 2014, the first block of what would become the HMS Prince of Wales arrived in Rosyth.

The ship has been built by an alliance, which includes Babcock, Thales UK, BAE Systems and the Ministry of Defence.

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Capt Darren Housten. Picture: George Mcluskie

Since 2017, the ship has gone through an intensive programmes of commissioning – a rigorous testing of each and every possible system.

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Now as the shore commissioning and build phase come to an end, the sea trials begin.

But the gigantic carrier couldn’t just leave on any day. The tricky nature of the Forth and its obstacles means that conditions have to be just perfect.

Anne-marie Trevelyan and Capt Darren Housten. Picture: George Mcluskie

A combination of calm windless day, along with a low tide to allow passage under the bridges, is precisely what is needed.

Tug boats made their way into the dock, ready to guide the massive ship out of a space just 40m wide.

There is around 1m clearance on either side of the ship, so delicate care was needed in moving the giant vessel out.

Despite such a tight squeeze, Captain Darren Houston was confident of making it out in once piece, as this will be the third time he’ll have done it.

‘It’s a fairly tricky manoeuvre, it’s a very very small gap. It’s really quite off-putting, because where you navigate the ship from on the bridge we are offset to the right-hand side of the ship, so as you look down as you’re going through the gate, you look as if you’re going over the top of the ground.

‘But we’ve practiced this quite a number of times, this’ll be my third exit on a Queen Elizabeth-class carrier, we’ve done the rehearsals in the simulators, we’ve worked with the pilots and the tugs on the Forth so we’ve perfected it.’

After a shot time anchoring outside Rosyth, it’s time to conduct some final tests on the propellers in preparation for sea.

Once completed, it’s under the bridges - no easy task, but the mast can be folded down to allow clearance for the Forth Bridge - there’s only around 1.5 metres in it.

Luckily, her captain is more than familiar with the famous Forth bridges, having grown up just a stone’s throw away.

‘I grew up in Dalgety Bay and went to school locally,’ said Captain Houston. ‘So for me coming back to Rosyth is quite a surprise, as I’ve done it twice now. I was involved in the Queen Elizabeth as well, so I moved here in 2016 and lived locally before we took the ship south, and found myself back in Rosyth as the commanding officer of the Prince of Wales.’

The ship is then set to spend between three and five days in the Forth as various systems are given an initial test - we can expect a fair bit of activity during this time.

Sea trials are expected to be about nine weeks long, the ship will refuel just twice, and spend a while off the north east coast.

Once completed she will make her home at Her Majesty’s Naval Base Portsmouth, where she is expected to arrive in December.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Minister for Defence Procurement, said: ‘The Royal Naval Base at Portsmouth, where the aircraft carriers will live when they're not out at sea is the heart of the Royal Navy. It's where she has been based for hundreds of years.

‘Portsmouth is the home of the Royal Navy and it's absolutely fitting that our world-class carriers will be based there when they're not out and about.’