Lusty’s Last Cruise
A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Birdham One Day
by Gerry Knight
Birdham Pool is a uniquely attractive marina and a tranquil berth but the drying approach channel and the Chichester bar mandate working the tide. It happened then that an inconvenient high water provided a reasonable excuse for a sojourn in Portsmouth on our way home from a spring cruise in June 2014.
1. Beyond Belief safely berthed in Royal Clarence Marina
Safely berthed in Royal Clarence we enjoyed a beautiful still and sunny evening before boarding the ferry to dine out in Gunwharf Quays.
2. A beautiful spring sunset in Portsmouth
Another fine day and at sensible o’clock Beyond Belief sailed out on the last of the ebb escorted by the Queen’s Harbourmaster. It was jolly good of him to see us off I thought. But, he didn’t return my wave though, perhaps he was busy.
3. The Queen’s Harbourmaster escorts us home
Leaving ahead of us was SD Powerful, one of the harbour tugs. Though following at a safe distance a sudden change of course was required to avoid running her down when she unexpectedly stopped in the middle of the fairway. She looked very smart in her fresh livery, good job I didn’t scratch it, but what a strange place to park!
4. SD Powerful “parked” in the fairway
Stranger than that even, SD Bountiful joined the party and started a water fight with Powerful. What on earth is going on?
5. Bountiful picks a fight with Powerful
6. An aircraft carrier? In the Solent?
A glance down the fairway provided a clue in the unmistakable silhouette of an aircraft carrier. Now, they’re rather large aren’t they? Better move over a bit! Clearly, I had stumbled upon something of an event. One doesn’t normally expect to meet an aircraft carrier in the Solent.
7. The Navy on parade
And why are all those people standing along the entire length of the deck? And now I see that the Queen’s Harbourmaster has a somewhat larger and more important ship to escort.
8. HMS Illustrious streaming her “Paying Off” pennant
The entire ships company appears to be on deck and there is a very long streamer trailing in the sea astern. Now there are guns firing, in salute I trust, and then a squadron of helicopters arrives to escort her into Portsmouth.
9. A helicopter escort into Portsmouth
Now sailing single handed and simultaneously attempting to photograph what was patently an important event is no easy task and possibly the marine equivalent texting whilst driving a car. The skipper of the cross channel ferry evidently thought so as he saluted us with a Hi-5.
10. A Hi-5 from the channel ferry
Back home in Buckinghamshire a little research on the internet revealed that the subject of all this attention was none other than HMS Illustrious on her final voyage. A few weeks later she was decommissioned in Portsmouth and so, yes, we have no aircraft carriers. Only HMS Ocean remains in service but she has been demoted to a helicopter carrier. HMS Queen Elizabeth has subsequently been launched and is now fitting out and may, one day, even have some aircraft to play with.