Sunday, January 13, 2008

Nuclear winter

Yesterday on a cold January day Billy, Tony and I went for a little 30km paddle over to the island of Bute. You would think we would have had the place pretty much to ourselves but this Royal Navy Vanguard class nuclear (powered and armed) submarine was making its way home to Faslane on the upper Clyde. By the look of her paintwork, she had been on a long World cruise and I am sure that the families of her crew will be overjoyed by her return.

Having not crossed the bows one of these particular vessels before, we were unsure of protocol. Should we stop and let her past? Should we dip our Red Ensigns? Should we welcome her home by the firing of flares? Should we call out greetings on Channel 16 followed by a chorus of "Rule Britannia"? Should we ask "What ship are you?" (She could be the Vanguard, Vigilant, Victorious or Vengeance but boats like these do not have name plates.) Should we attempt to surf her bow wave?

Having left our maritime protocol books ashore, we decided to stop and let her past.



  1. Great pics (like duh), I've never seen one at sea. I did see all four in one week in dry dock (Portsmouth and Rosyth, I think) years back when I was doing Navy Officer application stuff (passed selection but then failed eyesight test!).

    BTW John Gilmour used to drive one for a living. He tells of a time when they headed in at the end of their extended Doomwatch just as you saw, only to be told that their replacement was out of order - so they turned around and headed back out again for another XXX months.

    Mark R

  2. Hello Douglas,

    When I was young I saw one passing by the vessel of my father. Seems ages ago...
    But do you hear them coming, or no sound at all??

  3. Thank you Mark, when I was a medical student, I was attached to the GP practice that looked after people on the Faslane base and their families. I got on both a Polaris and a nuclear hunter killer sub. The hunter killer was really cramped inside and I seem to remember there were torpedoes everywhere, just like Das Boot. The Polaris was huge in comparison but the thought of being on board on just one full mission made me ill!

    Cobber it was amazingly quiet and even though it had a big bow wave, there was very little wake. In comparison the RFA Fort George supply boat which passed just before it was noisy and threw up a huge wake with breaking rollers!

    It was an awe inspiring sight, this sure was no "yellow submarine".

  4. Douglas, I would have broken into "Rule Britannia" on the spot!
    Formidable, Douglas. Great photos!

  5. What a great trip Douglas.

    I recall being met by kayakers coming through the Rhu narrows once, only these ones were in plastic dancers and came from the peace camp!

    in fact, I've got photos of this somewhere, I'll see if I can find them out of interest.



  6. Thank you Wenley and John, what I did not say was that she had suddenly appeared out of a bank of mist which really added to the effect! I am in no way exaggerating when I say it was an awesome experience! When I said that they did not seem to take kayakers as a threat I had forgotten about the kayakers from the peace camp! Indeed Hamish Gow (who was the first kayaker to reach St Kilda) was arrested in the early 1960's after paddling out to a US Polaris supply boat and attempting to climb its heavily greased anchor chain!

  7. Hi Douglas,

    I'm on RFA Fort George, and was on the bridge when we passed you. I hope our bow-wave didn't cause you any inconvenience - might even have been good surfing?! I did sort of wonder whether it might be you in the kayak. By the way, we give the "boats" a wide berth too, there's only one guy with his head stuck up out of the hatch over there!

  8. Great to hear from you Ian, I hope you are having a good voyage and have avoided the worst of the recent foul weather.

    Look out for a photo of the Fort George!


  9. This could have been one of the submarines that recently was involved in a collisions! Was in the news about how the Vanguard collided with a French sub.

  10. Hello Peter it certainly didn't give way to us!