50MSS 2

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A Long Hot Summer

The Portland at which I arrived in December 1960 was still reeling from the most disgraceful spy scandal in British history. A rather dim middle-aged clerk, Ethel Gee, had been suborned by her boyfriend, Harry Houghton, into smuggling out, for photographing, the confidential results of AUWE's sonar research activities. Houghton had been talent-spotted by the KGB when as a Master at Arms in the Navy he had been employed in one of our East European embassies. The KGB had noticed his drink habit and rather obviously realised that he would be unable to sustain it financially when he came ashore. They also shrewdly recognised that as long as his drinking continued to be undetected he would, as an ex- senior rating, be in line for some Government post after retirement. They, as was their wont, patiently hooked him in with little and apparently harmless errands and then moved him on to bigger things under the usual threat of blackmail. Soon our Soviet enemies had an entire sonar research programme being effectively conducted for them for nothing, by the British taxpayer. Needless to say this treachery put the credibility of our planned unseen underwater deterrent, and British submariners' lives, directly at future risk.

When all this blew into the open it was discovered that the only defence against such misbehaviour and treachery was AUWE's security officer, a retired Commander with no staff whose activities were limited to signing chits and issuing passes. There was no pro-active security programme at all in this, one of the most vital of all Britain's defence research establishments. Fortunately for himself and for his embarrassed masters, the officer concerned was nearing the witching age of sixty, and therefore was allowed to pass into an honourable second retirement.

In the middle of the summer my elderly Austin became fatally ill. Returning from a Chinese Chow trip to Bournemouth she started to steam. We stopped at a little bridge across a tributary of the Frome. A long-haired friend paddled while I baled water into the engine to cool it. We limped back through the dawn.

This couldn't go on. The days when I had got the car up to a shuddering 57 mph, and then had to desist because I thought she would shake to bits, were over. I nursed her back home, worthless, and bought a little green A35 van. Vans were cheaper because there was less tax if there were no rear side windows. Otherwise, believe your worst. The carcass of the Austin I eventually gave to a bod who came round touting to lop trees.

One had various bits of admin housekeeping to keep up with. I never did get the sailors off to a rifle range for their Annual Musketry Course, but we did have a go at swimming tests. Many sailors were needlessly drowned in both world wars because they could not swim. One hot summer day anchored in Weymouth Bay we laid on PST (Preliminary Swimming Test) for all. Jump off at the waist, round the ship anti-clockwise and back up the jumping ladder and you've passed. And no hanging on to the anchor cable on the way round. Andrew was stood-to as lifeguard to dive in and fish out any failures. It went swimmingly except for the Electrician's Mate who said he could not swim. Jump in anyway and do your best. Big, terrified, demurral. JUMP!!! Possibly pushed, in he went. Andrew got him before he sank. Our only failure.

The safety boat provided an unforeseen embarrassment. In the starboard waist we stowed a small motor cutter which was hoist in and out on the starboard derrick. Proof that this hardly ever happened came when we slung the boat for hoisting. It looked pretty neat, in ship's side grey as we had no special colour for it. Up she rises! The midship section inboard, invisible and inaccessible when the boat was on its crutches, was a bright blue. Clearly this was a relic of some other squadron Highburton had been in, perhaps in Scotland years before. Whether this was a booby trap from my predecessor, or whether the boat had never been out during his own two years on board I never discovered. Thank heavens we bowled this out before our Inspection.

This loomed. On different days we should have a Sea Inspection, and before that a day in harbour with Divisions, Rounds, and then evolutions. First came inspection of books and orders. I read up on the previous year's report and felt fairly confident. I was particularly encouraged by the comment on the Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Defence and Damage Control Orders: "A good set of orders was produced on board". I threw in some minor updates and sent the thing to be retyped with 1961 dates. Disaster. Every hole possible was picked on them. I had reckoned without the fact that I had supplanted the Staff NBCDO in the affections of a young lady. What rat told him about me? On the harbour inspection I was hit by another whammy as his man found that the ship's TV aerial lead had been led through holes that were not gastight in the wheelhouse deck and deckhead. This was definitely a legacy but both hits were hits on my CO who as usual took the punch without recriminations which made me feel even more in his debt.

For the bullshit part of the inspection the hands had been working hard in the dog-watches, so much so that Alan told me to ease off. Even so I had never had time to get them onto stages to paint the ship's side. Alan said he had never heard of a ship going to Inspection without her side freshly painted. When it came to evolutions there was another drama. I had brought the three acoustic sweep devices down from our lay-apart store, painted them, but had not had time to run through their use. Under Gretton's own eye I got the Hammer's power cable trapped under its forestay. He spat me out with I think three words. Rank bad seamanship. He was right of course.

By the time the Sea Inspection came round I was getting a bit jumpy so was relieved when, after we had sailed for it, it was summarily cancelled when all ships in the Channel were sent on a SUBMISS. Some submarine which wasn't missing at all had failed to send a routine safety signal. But after the Affray disaster such things were taken very seriously. By the time the flap was over it was too late to reinstate our ordeal. Weeks passed and we heard no more. I dropped my guard. The Sea Inspection did reappear but by then we were ready for it and I have no memory of undue pain. The catch was that it was all based on operational minesweeping of which we hardly ever did any.

However we were once boned for a week of straight minesweeping with the RNVRs. Each Division around the coast had a CMS and once a year they had a big meet. They arrived in Portland, oddly manned, some full of dentists, some with four buglers, but all keen as mustard and also hoping for a good party. The partying was fine but the first night of exercise, some RNVR ran over my loop and cut the ends off during a lap turn. I was up very late chasing round the Base (they weren't in on the exercise) trying fruitlessly to find someone to mend it. I had hardly turned in when we received a great THUMP amidships. An RNVR CMS driven by a "resting actor" had put the wheel the wrong way while berthing on us. It went on like that all the week. Very tiring.

One aspect of sweeping we did have buttoned and that was danlaying. I used to run three dan moorings in succession, joined by loops of ginger string, onto a sweep-wire drum and run it out on the fly. That way we could lay with way on, which was much more accurate than frigging around hove-to.

It was not all plain sailing. Once I trapped my little finger against the gunwale with a dan anchor I was slow in letting go, and incurred a painful, but luckily light penalty for a piece of bad seamanship. I took it to the Sick Bay ashore when we got in that evening and was told off for not bringing it in earlier! The scar is still visible.

Gunnery was included in the Inspection. I had one solitary Gunnery rating. He had got the Bofors and Oerlikon sparkling clean and then unaccountably jumped ship on the day of the harbour inspection, when of all people onboard he had a smart show waiting. Very occasionally we had a shoot at a sleeve to keep his and our eye in. The Oerlikon usually jammed (Oerlikons often jammed, usually because a round had not been sufficiently carefully and lightly greased before being loaded into the drum magazine). Bringing an Oerlikon back into the base with a warm round up the spout was frowned on. So we chucked the loaded barrel into the sea. I just hope no poor fisherman has found it. Yes, I know we should have taken the time to drive over to the Hurd Deep.

From the bawling and yelling that could be heard all over the ship when our Gunnery man was in the wheelhouse haranguing his wife on the shore telephone one rather gleaned that all was not well in that department, but he never sought to talk about it. He did upset me once when he and another took a lift home from the Bill on a JCB that had been left with the keys in. It was found the next morning in Castletown but fortunately the police were unable to find out how it got there.

The Irish were a bigger problem. If they ran we had no means of getting them back, and while they were away we were that many hands short, and again while they were doing their 90 days over the wall for desertion. I had two. One used to work in Dublin market and come back to the Navy when there wasn't any work there. Chokey meant nothing to the Irish as it was part of tomorrow, for which I am sure there is no word in Erse. The other just hoist his plain clothes suit over his shoulder and walked off ashore on an ordinary evening's liberty but was never seen again. But the services had always relied on the peasant Irish to make up numbers so I suppose the officers had to put up with Celtic waywardness. Different now; I should imagine we are a trifle cautious about employing them and anyway our more technical warfare may not be to their taste.

Alan had a married quarter in Weymouth where he lived with his wife, an ex-nurse. He did not always go straight home after work as he was madly in love with golf, so she had that infatuation to contend with. Their only other cloud was that, as soon as their relations found out that there was a three-bedroom house on the coast with two bedrooms permanently empty, the Cawstons were permanently hosting seaside hols with Uncle and Auntie.

Having no children, Alan and his wife were free to roam around. Alan was in the way of taking HB on weekend visits along the South Coast. Mrs would follow in their Morris Minor, they would have an interesting weekend away, but together, and we would see the world.

In this spirit in late February we went to the Scillies. Sadly we were already too late for the bulb harvest; one ungathered field of daffodils showed what we had missed. Andrew and I decided on an afternoon tour. No luxury coach; we discovered that the local bus took a circular route out of Hugh Town and back for two shillings the round trip (l0p). The driver was proud of his island. Half way round we were the only passengers left and so he diverted this way and that to show us more. At one point he suddenly announced "Churchwarden". There was a private gentleman quietly weeding his garden. One of the sights of St Mary's.

In the Hugh Town pub there was a greenery-yallery piano. Pilot came into his own; he was no mean jazz pianist; gave us and the native Scillonians a full evening's impromptu concert. His guiding star was George Melly. At Dartmouth Pilot had had a poster of George on his cabin bulkhead, confusing for his Divisional Officer who was George's baby brother.

I must have packed another outing into the weekend as I also remember the Star Castle, an Elizabethan fortress and dungeon with walls eighteen feet thick.

In April we had a weekend in Dartmouth. The College was in leave period but at Sandquay the padre, who was taking the air, didn't bat an eyelid as our heaving lines came whistling towards him.

Alan's other favourite was Plymouth which he liked to visit at least once a year to watch Argyle play. This year there was throwing of bottles, which was quite unusual in those ordered days.

We also got in a weekend at Alderney, an unusual naval visit because of the island's small size, minute population, and the difficult harbour. We arrived to find a dance scheduled to choose Miss Alderney. We teased Andrew to get the finalists back on board.

The sailors also enormously enjoyed the dance, so much so that several of them marched down the beach into the sea in their best suits, convinced that they had hit on a clever short cut back to the ship.

We were regarded rather warily by HMS Dingley, a diving boat converted from an IMS. Her CO, a real bubble-head, had a programme of diving trials and having based himself on Alderney, one of whose normal advantages was a complete absence of officers senior to him, rather thought he owned it.

Alderney itself was an education as its singular feature, apart from being treeless following the war, was a coastline of vast concrete bunkers and watchtowers in the building of which hundreds of Polish and Russian prisoners had been beaten, starved and worked to death by their vile German Army slave drivers. The latter of course were just obeying orders, oh nein, ve vere nefer Nazis. The slaves, when used up, were shoved into the concrete to set, often still breathing.

On a happier note, we went with Osborn Boffin to the Victoria pub, or to the hotel whose owner, barman and almost sole staff also ran the airport and represented HM Customs for which he kept a peaked cap under the bar. We discovered this when he summarily shut up shop and kicked us out as there was, rara avis, a plane coming in.

One spot for a bronzy and bathe when there was nothing else on at a weekend was Kimmeridge Bay. Annoyingly, the best blue mornings seemed often to end up by clouding over from seaward after lunch, but I used to lug lilo, wireless, refreshments, kit down the cliff and then get even more annoyed at the oil and tar spots that seemed to collect. I used to blame the Navy's Refuelling-at-Sea tankers. In my ignorance. I was sunbathing on an outcrop of what is now the UK's largest onshore oilfield.

I decided to try and couth up my wardrobe and had Gieves build me some decent suits - one could not then pop into a chain store and be confident of any sort of fit. When I was single my pockets would jingle! But the suits were an investment, as well as vestments, and one of them was still doing duty, principally for the smarter sort of funeral, over forty years later.

Ships permanently at home were allowed one foreign breather per year in addition to any duty visits. For 1961 the 50th Minesweeping Squadron was to make a Squadron visit to Udevalla in Sweden. We set out at the end of May in beautiful weather.

Navigation was a pain. Ships then used to have to keep to what were called NEMEDRI channels (North East and Mediterranean Routing Instructions) which were formally swept channels through all the wartime minefields which, one way and another, once covered pretty well the whole of the North Sea. The operational sweepers in Scotland used to go out with other NATO squadrons and do real sweeping to keep the existing lanes clear, and add new ones. All the NEMEDRI lanes were buoyed so that besides navigation buoys marking mudflats and channels there were lines of NEMEDRI buoys winking at one at night. My natural ability to orientate myself in confused conditions is lousy (an undetected defect). I had already demonstrated this in a Sea Balliol; I was just as bad at sea as in the air. One night I mistook the count on a buoy - probably Group Flashing 5 for Group Flashing 6 - and nearly ran Highburton aground, besides getting lost. Alan was brilliant over this possibly, for him, catastrophic débacle and neither then nor later uttered a word of criticism. Which made me feel even more awful than any bollocking could have done.

We arrived on the last day of May, after a beautiful final passage past sunlight islands, with Bronington in company and closely followed by Yaxham, a piece of timber missing from Yax's quarter from some graunch en route.

50th MSS at Udevalla, 1961[1]

Bronington outboard of Highburton; Yaxham out of shot astern; Sail Training Ship Sørlandet on left.

Reasonably for a Leading Hand our steward HATED the mundane part of looking after the officers. Naval stewards were trained to a very high standard and in fact to standards up to which their officers had long since ceased to step. Ours lent me his Steward's Manual once and it was full of how many stiff evening shirts to put in Sir's weekend grip. Now he came into his own to organise a cocktail party for the squadron and its Swedish guests. He effortlessly rounded up staff from the other ships and set up everything on the forecastle, all done to perfection and virtually unsupervised. I hope he was puffed with pride at what a success his efforts produced.

I had written to a friend from HMS Tiger's visit to Stockholm in 1959, and was delighted when, chauffeured and, it turned out - she had become engaged to an American - chaperoned by her brother, her Beetle purred onto the jetty. Udevalla was a bit bereft of night life (we're in SWEDEN dammit) so after casting about ashore I brought them onboard where Lillan demonstrated her lithe figure by climbing between the hammock rail and the deckhead. Her poor brother had only half a party as he could not touch a drop of grog because of Sweden's (rightly) rigorous driving laws. Later they drove me to and around Gothenburg.

There were other amusements including a Mess dinner given for us by the Swedish Royal Bohuslan Regiment where we skold each other in what was alleged to be schnapps but tasted like petrol. The locals were quite interested in us and used to come down early in the morning to goof. What they got was Ronnie, in a bright Paisley dressing gown, waving a cornflake package at them from his bridge.

In the safe I had some strange eighteenth-century style documents called Navy Bills. They were a sort of open cheque on the Admiralty for use abroad to raise cash for victualling and so forth. Nowadays one could just stick everything on Visa. There was only one catch. Nobody ashore even in the local bank had ever heard of this instrument. I got some kronor for the ship in the end but it took some doing.

We nearly stayed in Sweden for keeps. As we slipped the coxswain put the wheel the wrong way and nearly impaled us on the bowsprit of the Sørlandet, a Norwegian sail training vessel which was very decoratively occupying the berth right ahead of us.

Osborn was doing well. At the end of June we were sent to Brest to demonstrate it to the French Navy. We were berthed next to a French minesweeper which was to be our host ship. In her wardroom, De Gaulle, hand inside the chest of his jacket like his tyrant predecessor with the small but busy penis, presided from a photo frame. Of her five officers, four spoke perfect English. The fifth was detailed to look after us. I ran straight into culture clash. Chef wanted to know where to ditch the spud peelings. I could see no bin ashore marked "Cochons". I made enquiries. Stares of disbelief. C'est normal! One puts them in the harbour!

Still there were the massive slave-built U-boat pens that had served defeated France's Nazi ally so well, and which we and the Americans had made so many attempts to destroy. Even when 617 Squadron's Dambuster Lancasters finally smashed through them with massive Tallboy bombs in the summer of 1944, it was not bombing that drove the U-boats out but the final advance on the port by General Bradley.

The trial day came. We embarked a Captain of the French Navy and proceeded to demonstrate our prowess, passing over a line of practice mines that we had brought with us and laid for this purpose. The sweep was highly successful, triggering all of them, and an extra one that Bronington had laid on some previous visit.

Proceedings on the bridge were stilted, and definitively in French. Below, steward and chef were busy with the greatest challenge of their time on board - a superb gourmet luncheon. It was immensely successful. Even the choice of wine was commended. After lunch our guest switched to flawless English and told us that he lived in one of only two pre-war houses in Brest.

Shortly after our return we were ordered to try out some new cutters for the wire sweep. We set off for Scilly. I was rather looking forward to another weekend jolly there but there was a catch. The Channel was heaving up and down no mean tune (a favourite expression of Fred de La B.'s). Nevertheless we got the sweeps out and armed.

Hardly had I turned in after the First that night than I heard the sweepdeck party called out. First one and then the other sweep parted with the strain of the weather - the stern was snatching on the sweeps as it pitched - and we lost the lot. I settled down to write an s.126 for replacement gear, not our first and certainly not the last such occasion. Usually they were, if well written, granted in full but I always had the worry that I would find some bureaucrat safe in a chair had decided to knock some of the value out of my meagre pay.

The main task of the trip now a total failure, so was the visit. It was blowing so hard that with her high freeboard and shallow draft Highburton could not safely be put alongside. In the end we just nosed the end of the jetty to toss various bits to the waiting boffins (who had come by train and Scillonian) and then spent the weekend keeping anchor watch in a lee around the headland to the east. And then back to Portland.

On a more pleasant summer's day - I doubt he would have risked it in windy weather! I was allowed to take HB out all on my own without my CO, who had some Squadron business ashore. Let go aft. Let go forward. Let go backspring. Then I mildly fouled up by not using enough power against the forespring, got blown onto the frigate on which we were berthed - like all Blackwoods, hopelessly trimmed so that she was listing outwards towards us - and there was an ignominous graunch as I tore an eyebolt off the Blackwood and embedded it in my rubbing strake. Very minor but I was mortified to see one of the hands leap out of the wheelhouse with a paintpot to do an immediate touch up on the damage. Had they no faith? Waiting there with that pot and brush? A darker thought - had Alan put them up to it?

It was nearly a very exciting day. It was typical summer Channel weather with clear blue sunlight striated with lines of heavy mist on the sea, stretching up about a hundred feet. Out of one of these fog banks emerged a large, stationary Yugoslav tanker with two black balls up. Salvage! Huge amounts of money! Quick, get Lloyd's Open Form out of the safe! Imagine the disappointment when, asked if she wanted assistance, she hauled down her Not Under Command signal and made way.

Returning at the end of the day Alan was waiting on Glasserton's deck for my alongside, with seemingly every fender in Portland hanging over her side waiting for me. I did better this time, even though it was an awkward approach with Glass across the narrow head of the New Quay berth (constructed between the Coaling Pier and Q Pier across the graves of the old destroyer pens).

This berth was a pig anyway, with too few bollards. Glass had a special one added for her headrope, a job badly done as it pulled right out in a westerly gale leaving Glass and ourselves, who were berthed on her, hanging Judas in the middle of the harbour. Fortunately with our powerful winches we could warp ourselves out of most such messes and often used them, rather than bother Chief and his Black Gang, for shifting berth around the harbour. When Andrew was about I used to leave the whole of that sort of thing to him, but when he left I used to find myself spending quite a lot of time managing berth-to-berth perigrinations at the whim of the Queen's Harbourmaster.

At sea locally there were few great excitements but one day we were pestered by one of the Whirlwind helicopters. Eventually he got in close and held out his blackboard with "RUM KEYS" written on it. On the Tannoy from the bridge: "What are our rum keys doing in that helicopter, Number One?" Down came a bag and, Presto! there were the keys which Pilot, left behind ashore on some errand, had had in his pocket. Covered in shame and apprehension - the hands would NOT have been happy - he had trotted along to the helicopter station and persuaded a friend of ours to run this little errand along with some other business. There would be a hidden meaning to the "DCO" (Duty Carried Out" in his logbook that lunchtime.

Apart from trials there was some other odd-jobbing given us. One one-off was Safety Boat for a parachute jump by frogmen showing off to some visiting firemen. We snugged in close to the spot, ready to fish out anyone in difficulties. One frogman came down fast about a yard ahead of the jack staff. We heard, as he fell rapidly past into the ocean, "Why don't you f#ck off with that ship?"

We were ordered to Portsmouth to fit new screws for some boffinly reason.

En route we decided it would be a good opportunity to stream our sweep wires and change them end-far-end, which lengthens their life. The first one we buoyed, streamed, and recovered in good order but the second disappeared. We couldn't leave it trailing across the Needles channel. In any case, as my bossy-boots contemporary the Flag Lieutenant at Portsmouth charmlessly put it, "We ordered you to recover it".

This made us late on ETA and it was a Friday. Sure enough the dock was not ready for us and no berth was allocated. We were consigned to the totally impractical task of hanging around in a tideway, in Fountain Lake, while we were found a berth. On the Monday there were two surprises.

The first was a Dockyard officer come to ask where the replacement screws were on board. Not on board, we said, you have them. No, you are bringing them with you. How odd, nobody mentioned that at Portland. Sorting this out spun our stay out to a week.

Then came the docking. Normally (and later in Chatham) apart from not shifting really heavy weights, the ship's company are let alone after the ship has been trimmed upright and secured in the dock. Not this time. The dockyard Shipwright insisted on having all hands on deck - in the middle of their dinner - and moving them to and fro to manage the trim until we were sewed on the blocks.

Finally, newly shod, we were free to go back to Portland. Smack into a sou'wester. We took the biggest beating of my entire Channel time, to the point where I truly wondered whether John I Thornycroft had got it right. For the first and only time I was totally hors de combat, although I seemed to be in free flight above my bunk every time the ship fell into a hole in the sea. I must still have looked sea-green when I appeared on the bridge just as we passed the Portland breakwater.

Towards the end of October we were ordered to make a long trip to give Osborn and its cable an endurance test. We were also to carry underwater TV cameras to record cavitation from our new screws. This was in connection with the development of Dreadnought, Britain's first nuclear submarine. Cavitation is the bubbles that form abaft the blades of a screw as it turns. These make the noise in the water that can be detected by an enemy's passive sonar. At this stage the focus was not so much on the performance of the screws as on the cameras themselves, which were a great novelty. One was not then regaled in one's home with colour pictures of people's bottoms in swimming pools. Gibraltar was chosen as a destination offering a sufficient distance.

At this point our Sub, playing in goal for Highburton, was crocked by one of the Glassertons in a needle inter-ship soccer match. Alan insisted on a replacement to cover the watchkeeping. We were lent Fred de Labillière, good company, but in the early stages a weird sight with just a large nose peeping out of a schnorkel-type balaclava. We also embarked Osborn Boffin, charging him as much as we could for accommodation while still keeping a straight face, which would still leave him hugely in pocket from his civilian's subsistence and for all I know danger money.

We were also repeating our aborted test, with the wire sweeps, of the TMk8 cutters. This time I freshened the nip regularly and we turned in some sort of a result, chiefly that the cutters all fired themselves spontaneously in the water without waiting for a mine.

Of course, being October, Neptune blew his head off. On the way out we had to hide in Brest Roads it blew so hard. Anchored for the night, Alan settled down in the wardroom for a rare social evening of poker, of which he knew endless variants. Small ship Captains cannot keep their own mess but somehow Alan got it exactly right about when he could reasonably be in the wardroom and when he should (and probably preferred to) be in his cabin away from his rather juvenile subordinates.

So far from land, one's Navigating Officer had to earn his pay with a bit of astronomical navigation. To resolve the data from the sextant we used to use an American hydrographic publication, in four volumes by stripes of latitude, called HD486. As we neared Knobbly Knobbly Cape St Vincent I entered the chart house where he was working out his morning stars. I heard a mutter of "Father's not going to like this". How perceptive! We had worked our way down through volume two of HD486 and emerged at the back cover. We did not have volume three on board. We were effectively lost. Alan said his shore leave might not commence until he had come by a volume three, means to this end being left to his initiative.

By 2nd November we were alongside in Gibraltar, for me my seventh visit. Pilot shot off like a scalded cat to the Base offices to scrounge the next volume of HD486 for the return trip.

Fred and I decided to improve Osborn Boffin's knowledge of the world. We invited him to join us in a trip across the border to La Linea. After the odd sherry at Dirty Dick's we took him to an entertainment that really opened his eyes. Mine too. Of course we left before the proceedings got personal.

To begin with, Gibraltar itself was rather dull, as there were no other ships in. The greatest excitement on offer was the Naval Officers' Pavilion, the local officers' club. We could hardly fill it on our own. However we got wind of a dance to be given by the nursing sisters at the Colonial Hospital, friendly souls who did not deserve their rude local naval sobriquet of the Camel Corps. I found a lady, who was not Camel Corps at all, but nanny to the family of a rich Scorp or perhaps Spaniard who was away on his own jolly to Algeciras across the bay. Things brightened up exceeedingly, indeed, this was the only one of my nine trips to Gib that I actually enjoyed.

For the sailors, it was (designedly) a golden chance to top up with Christmas "rabbits". So also for us. A curiosity was that the Gibraltar duty on a bottle of sherry was independent of the size of the bottle. We stocked up with gallon jars for thirsty parents.

We got beaten up by the weather on the return trip and had to put into Lagos Bay for shelter. Here, two hundred years before, half the French Toulon fleet had fled rather than face that brave Cornishman Boscawen, who, catching Johnny Frog embayed, forced them to run ashore and, burning their ships to the waterline, saved England from invasion in the Seven Years' War. Now his name merely adorned a dump for my unwanted minesweeping kit. As it happened that was the nearest I got to "visit" Portugal in all my naval globetrotting.

We were now due for refit: see 50MSS_3

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