Towards the end of November, a group of VOS veterans had a trip on Seaplane Tender (ST) 1502 in Portsmouth Harbour. Read on to find out more about the vessel and see some photos from our time on the water!
In the Dark (An Hour on the Water in a RAF Boat)
What must it have been like, serving on the “little ships” of the RN Coastal Forces, patrolling hostile waters during WWII? By the very nature of their missions, they operated almost exclusively at night, when their speed was more important than their might; every contact a David and Goliath confrontation; constantly peering into the darkness for that enemy that may or may not be there.
At the end of November, a small group from VOS had a taste of nighttime sailing in a small boat when we set off from the Historic Dockyard and into Portsmouth Harbour on ST 1502. This was actually a RAF launch during the Second World War but it is very much a scaled-down version of the MTBs and MGBs which saw so much service during that conflict. Whilst in the Harbour, with ships and buildings brightly lit up, it was like a pleasure cruise. Once out of the harbour gate though, it was a trip through inky blackness.
This was on the night that Jupiter was the closest to Earth that it’s going to be for hundreds of years and it shone as bright as a tiny moon above us. It brought about as much light as it did joy to the occasion though and we just hoped the guy driving the fast boat through the pitch-like obscurity could see a lot more than we could!
Admittedly, if we turned our gaze landward, the brightly lit fairground in Southsea was abundantly clear; the Spinnaker Tower a glowing beacon. But if you turned to look to the south, the Isle of Wight was totally invisible and that huge American behemoth, the USS Gerald R Ford in Stokes Bay, nowhere to be seen. How would that have been for those young sailors, hunting down their massive targets in the English Channel or in the moonless Mediterranean Sea? And what happens when you find them?
Luckily, we were just a band of veterans going out to enjoy another of the many wonderful trips laid on by VOS. A trip you’d be happy to bring your loved ones on – as some do. After a little more than an hour, which seemed like twenty minutes at the time, we were back at Boathouse 4 and making our way up the road to join more of our comrades at the RMC. What a splendid event it was and another reminder, during this month of commemoration, of how life was not so long ago when a generation of young people fought for what we can enjoy today. Thanks, as ever, to VOS for giving us this opportunity.
(Written by C. Kimber)
If you’d like to go out on this or a different historic vessel, come on a sailing voyage, go on an accessible motorboat instead of a yacht, or join any of our other activities on and off the water, join our community!
If you’re a veteran from the UK Armed Forces or the Merchant Navy (from any time of service) or a partner to one, VOS would love for you to join our community. We are here to offer our support: call us on 02392 731 767, visit an upcoming drop-in, or email email@example.com.
VOS is immensely grateful to the Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust and the Royal Navy & Royal Marines Charity, as without their support and funding we would not be able to provide activities such as this one.