Naval base chief enjoying his Royal visitor

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RECLINING in a black leather chair, Commodore Jeremy Rigby gazes intently upon the enormous grey hull of HMS Queen Elizabeth.

The windows of the office in the Ark Royal building are dominated by the 65,000-tonne aircraft carrier.

Commodore Jeremy Rigby, commander of Portsmouth Naval Base, with HMS Queen Elizabeth - the navy's newest aircraft carrier - in the background

Commodore Jeremy Rigby, commander of Portsmouth Naval Base, with HMS Queen Elizabeth - the navy's newest aircraft carrier - in the background

Outside, an army of workmen, wearing blue and white overalls and large helmets, swarm the Princess Royal Jetty where the navy’s mightiest warship has been alongside since her historic homecoming last month.

This is a scene that will be commonplace in the expansive naval base for the next couple of months while routine maintenance and checks are made on the supercarrier before she continues with the remainder of her sea trails.

And despite her being the largest, most complex warship ever built by Britain, Cdre Rigby admits things have so far gone off without a hitch.

‘It’s been suspiciously easy,’ quips the confident Commodore with a sly grin on his face.

‘That’s testament to a vast amount of planning that went on before, and most importantly the planning was done by the guys who are actually experienced at working on the waterfront: the riggers, the foremen – the guys who actually are used to working on ships and know where the challenges are going to be.

‘For a long time we have worked through those and deconflicted. That doesn’t mean we’ve planned for every contingency but it does mean we’ve got plenty of head room to be able to deal with any challenges that come up.

‘And so far the teams have been exceptionally successful but that also reflects their “can-do, forward-leaning attitude” to make sure that this really great piece of UK engineering really is at the top of its game.’

The enormous aircraft carrier has already proven a real crowd-pleaser, with thousands more people flocking into the city to catch a glimpse of the 280m-long leviathan.

But inside the city’s historic naval base, the ship has attracted an entirely different crowd – the army of engineers and workers tending to HMS Queen Elizabeth, making sure she is fit to carry on with her tests.

A force of 500 workmen and women are part of the extensive programme to look after Queen Elizabeth, affectionately known as ‘Big Lizzie’.

Of this, more than 200 skilled engineers have been drafted from outside the city for the two-month planned engineering period the future flagship.

The ship has so far trialled her enormous propulsion systems. The next phase is to get the ship ready to start flying jets from her flight deck.

A new way of working needed to be designed to help teams navigate the enormous interior of the 17- deck warship and carry out their work without having to constantly leave the ship to find out what their next job is.

As part of this, engineers now use computer tablets which tell them where and when their next task is, cutting down on man-hours and maximising the amount of work that can be done in a single day.

Cdre Rigby says the new method of working in Portsmouth is already inspiring other navies.

‘The ways of operating that we have developed here have caught the imagination of a lot of other navies,’ he says.

‘We’ve had the Australians, the Japanese, Brazilian, Pakistani and American navies come in and looking at how we started from a clean sheet of paper as to what is the best way to support ships.

‘So they’re looking with considerable interest, initially for large ships but also how we are going to extrapolate on to the rest of the fleet.

‘We have had the opportunity to be innovative here, with a new class of ship coming.

‘This is a transformation in the way that you operate and support warships.’

As well as the work to prepare Queen Elizabeth for her next milestone, efforts to ready the base for the arrival of her sister ship, HMS Prince of Wales are also well on track.

Cdre Rigby says he hopes the two new supercarriers – combined with the links the naval base has with Portsmouth’s new University Technical College – will help to raise the profile of the senior service and encourage a new generation of sailors to take to the seas.

He says the ships have the potential to fill the recruitment shortage that has blighted the navy in recent years.

‘Being a part of that (maritime) enterprise has got to be quite exciting for youngsters,’ he says.

‘Events like last week and having the ship here just raises the profile of the navy and perhaps gets people to look into something they might not have done.

‘I hope they do because I can’t think of anything more exciting.’

Among one of the key benefits the new carriers can bring is their impact they have on Britain’s standings in the list of global maritime giants.

The 36-year naval veteran says the two supercarriers will propel the nation into a new era of naval power and secure the base’s future until the end of the century.

‘To be somewhere where we know we are going to be until the end of the century is a novel experience for a lot of people – particularly in defence over the last couple of decades,’ he says.

‘That means we can think big, we can be aspirational, we can be ambitious, we don’t need to have a hand-to-mouth existence any more and we can do things properly.’

He adds: ‘This is a huge declaration of intent and commitment. For a nation to invest this much into being able to contribute right at the top end on the world stage of international security is a huge statement.

‘You just need to reflect on the fact that it was number one in the world trending when she came in to reflect on the fact that HMS Queen Elizabeth is already doing her job of demonstrating that the UK is serious about security and commitment overseas.’

HMS Queen Elizabeth is expected to leave Portsmouth at some point in autumn.

She is expected to begin trials of the F-35B from her flight deck in early 2018.

Her first operational deployment will take place in the early 2020s.