Pirates for Peace report 2004/5,

We finally made it! (next couple of paragraphs for shippy types only! )

The maiden voyage of ex H.M.S. Enterprise, following her still not quite finished restoration, commenced at 1500 hrs on Wednesday 2nd Feb. from Smith’s Quay Southampton, and ended 49 hrs and 490 nautical miles later when she docked successfully in the Harbour at Kilkeel Co. Down. A magical voyage in difficult conditions, precarious and scary but wow! What an adventure!

I realised from the outset it would be eventful, it’s hard to remember how much ship is back there behind you, you can’t see the transom from the bridge, so I think it quite understandable that I bumped the starboard quarter into the stem of Kevin’s Trawler as we left the pontoon. It didn’t do that much damage, what’s a few guardrail stanchions between friends.

One of the bigger concerns I had about the whole thing as we steamed down the Itchen, past dockhead, and into the shipping channel was, would we have enough fuel to get there? ‘This should not be a worry to a fully prepared expedition.’ I hear you say. ‘It is if you don’t have any money.’ I repost.

We departed with about 4ft of fuel in each tank, which translated into about 600 gals, and I had no idea whatsoever how far that would take us. The limited sea trials we had undertaken had been focussed on other, minor details, like will the gearboxes be man enough, (which they weren’t), and will the shaft bearings overheat, (which they did). Matters as mundane as ‘will we have enough fuel to get past the Isle of Wight’ hadn’t been fully addressed.

The feeling of elation when you have spent nearly ten poverty stricken years rebuilding a warship, and then find yourself driving it down Southampton Water on the way to somewhere 500mls away, is indescribable. So I won’t, I hope you’ll pick up the flavour along the way.

The first ten or twelve hours of any voyage with new or refitted machinery is always a time of tension and worry for the ships Chief Engineer, constantly listening for subtle but telling changes of sound, the onset of a tiny rattle here or a whine creeping in there, checking for minute changes in temperatures or pressures on the gauges and instruments, monitoring every vibration and condition, even to the colour and texture of exhaust gasses, assessing every combination of events so as to be for-armed and prepared to keep the ship under way at all costs.

Luckily we didn’t have a Chief Engineer, or any other kind of engineer for that matter, so all that was one thing less we needed to worry about! I was the nearest thing on board to an engineer and I did all the above, but without the commitment to ‘Scotty’s Syndrome,’ – ‘She’ll no tak it Cap’n Kirrk the di-lythium crystals are overheatin!’

We did get past the Isle of Wight and, amazingly, seemed to have used no discernable amount of fuel at all, however I soon discovered that due to an anomaly of Physics, if you add homemade sight gauges to ships fuel tanks they behave in a disturbing and unpredictable way, it’s something to do with a chap called Heisenberg. It may also be partially my fault, but as I’ve got used to it now, it shall be one of the ships ‘charming eccentricities’. You just have to remember which valves to shut and which to open to find out how much is left. We had used some fuel, if my valve twiddling was correct, but very little. This was great news altogether!

The fire and bilge main pump system has the same charming characteristics, but that’s Barry the Biker’s fault. It works anyway. I think. We haven’t had a fire yet. Or a leak.

By the time we reached Start Point I was fairly confident we would not go dead in the water through lack of diesel. I am well chuffed by the speed and economy figures. The prop size and pitch, combined with engine gearing on a boat are crucial to its performance, and my natural suspicion of anything decided by a computer left me with reservations regarding her performance. They were totally unfounded however, and not only does she wind up happily to 14.9knots in still(ish) water, she returns a phenomenal 8GPH (gallons per hour) @ 1,750 RPM, (9.8knots) including generator! This is only 3knots under her service speed, and vastly more economical. In practical terms this translates to roughly a sea mile per gallon. At about £1gal, that gives us a range of approx 750nm. (Bunkers; x2 tanks @ 375gals each.)

I can confirm unequivocably that the ‘Ham’ class vessels were and are ‘uncomfortable sea boats,’ – the old saying is perfectly true – ‘they will roll on a damp lawn’! We had a relatively comfortable passage all the way down our westing to the Lizard, and as we turned north the wind backed from north to south by west and ‘freshened’considerably, whipping up a wonderful 6’swell on our port quarter. All the way up to Dublin bay. Glory be! Things that hadn’t moved since being fitted in 1959 suddenly broke free and leapt all over the place The newly installed very heavy and full hot water tank under the bridge flat, -(in my cabin!) unbolted itself and turned round, neatly removing the cold water feed pipe, and before anyone noticed, deposited about 100gallons of water round my mattress, through an unsealed wiring gland in the deckhead and onto the studio mixing desk below in the control room. This caused the power supply to go fizz-bang, and the group modules to make that wonderful, expensive, fishy/burny smell only cremating diodes and resistors can make! Oh joy!

The Dublin bay to Carlingford leg was in glorious sunshine, and an Irish Sea rollercoaster of white caps, still on the port quarter. Steering this Lady could be a whole wonderful new extreme sport, involving upper body development exercises, stamina, balance, eye co-ordination, stomach control… and that’s just to prevent her going in circles… Actually following a set course on the compass? Mmm, well, I’m sure its possible theoretically. The actual steering mechanism works fine, Three sets of bevel gears, eighty foot of 2” brass torque tube, twelve universal joints, four splined expansion joints, a massive reduction geartrain and a track rod off a lorry, all seconded from H.M.S. Waterwitch and shoehorned in, no probs, and only an inch of play at the wheel. It’s just a knack I’m sure. Irish Steve will get it in the end, and being on an open bridge should help I think, the cold and the driving rain should keep one awake. Even so he managed to accidently turn back as we passed Falmouth. Well, it was at night, and he’d only driven a warship once before, and he was drunk then, so it’s understandable really. Good job I’d just got up and spotted Orion the Hunter astern instead of on the port bow. Although Steve screaming ‘Help me someone’ would have been some sort of a clue also.

Steve is also the chief cook, and created the largest stew known to man for the trip. We were still trying to consume it in late March, it had become alive by then despite being re-cooked every day. It was last seen in the forward bilge gnawing at the old rusty ASDIC transducer. Steve lives aboard as security officer, and is respected in harbour by all and sundry due to him being from Co. Cork and very handy with a baseball bat, although he still hasn’t evicted that stew. Our navigator, and the holder of the Skippers ticket which made our adventure insurable - (just), was Cap’n Flood (we lost several potentially good crew members due to having an officer onboard named Flood, ah well…) Myk (don’t worry about weird spelling, used to be an ‘arty type’) lost several pounds from his portly but majestic frame just spending a few hours a day persuading our wilful Mistress to go in a straight-ish line between two waypoints.

Our ships mascot, the waif JoJo, plague of sentient humanity and destroyer of loudspeaker systems, spent the quietest time of her life asleep in her cabin in the forepeak, unable to torment us with ‘Dizzy Rascal’ at 110decibels as the CD player couldn’t handle the ships movement! Praise be!
Boy mad, she went ashore on arrival, and decimated and pillaged Kilkeel of young men. She has moved on and was last seen devouring Newry.

Our one other crew member was pressed into service by Mr. Flood, Joe Ward, an affable and unflappable ex merchant seaman, happy to take the helm any time of night or day. I suspect him of being of the undead, as he never slept. Mr Flood is his navigation tutor ashore, I hope he wasn’t disillusioned by his time aboard!

Yours truly succumbed to the aforementioned indescribable elation, and despite best efforts, singularly failed to neither set up a workable watch system nor go to sleep after my own watch. This inexcusable behaviour led to a change of appearance over the next 50hrs which ended up frightening the locals severely.

Twenty miles or so from the entrance to Carlingford I phoned our shore party, Trevor Simpson and Catrine Becond-Sands, and requested a destination. After some deliberation it was decided to go to Warrenpoint, a small commercial port at the northern end of the lough, they didn’t respond to our ship to shore request so Trevor phoned on a land line to be told go away. This seemed a decidedly unwelcoming response for a harbour for ships, so we about turned in the narrows at Cranfield and headed for Kilkeel, a few miles to the northeast. The weather meanwhile was taking a turn for the worst, and with the light failing and a truly nasty quarter sea up our belaboured port quarter we wound her up to 15knots and headed east to get the harbour entrance in the right place. Harbour entrance is a bit of an overstatement. From the sea, if you can see it at all, it resembles a tiny dark slot in a jumbled shoreline with a steep beach on the right hand side and an invisible concrete bar on the left. There is of course a light or two, but when the full realisation dawns on you that the entrance is impassable by anything larger than an empty beer can, the lights dim in their relevance. I discovered later that even the Kilkeel fishermen regularly crash into one side or the other.

Well, this, I thought, is great. Nearly 500nm without mishap and end our trip a total constructive loss on the beach or sunk in the harbour mouth like a WW2 block ship! No one in the harbour office, no pilots within a twenty mile radius (couldn’t afford one anyway). I felt unable to let Myk destroy us, he’s such a good person he would be riddled with guilt everafter, so I dutifully took the helm, shut my eyes tight and, still flat out, blundered for the slot in the wall. As it got nearer I suddenly realised that to make matters worse the water on the inside was flat calm. Also that the inner channel shot off to the right with a great old granite wall in front of us about a ships length in. This meant that if we did by some Divine intervention, actually get through the slot, we had to turn hard a starboard in our own length and reduce speed from 15knots to about 4. Why not slow down I hear you chide, well the six foot by thirty foot waves on our quarter that washed us toward the beach with a wonderful corkscrew motion were also doing 10knots, so to have any meaningful steerage way we needed to be going at least 5knots through the water, ergo 15knots, or wallow helplessly. Just to add insult to impending injury, standing on the harbour wall was a witness, a perfect cliché of a local retired seafarer, complete with cap and pipe, just casually there, wonderful! It felt like you’d feel having your lotto numbers come up before your eyes.
We were 60feet from the slot, which had unaccountably got definitely wider, although still not wide enough to accommodate us, and suddenly we were on the right wave at the right time, the stem lurched into line, my frantic wheel spinning to meet her at the top of the swell responded exactly, and whoosh - we were through. Full astern both engines, ouch! apologies to gearboxes… wheel hard a starboard… stone wall 2” from port rail…we settled beautifully behind our entrance wave.

Perfect! but nothing to do with me! If ever I saw a case of Devine intervention this was it.
To this day I’m deeply suspicious about that old windswept sailor, we’d gone a hundred yards further down towards the inner harbour turn and I looked astern to where he had been and there was no one to be seen anywhere….

Pirates for Peace is an innovative and exciting project which will offer young people from all conflict areas all over the world an opportunity to build bridges between their communities by broadcasting from a radio station on board ex-naval vessels

To learn more simply email pirates@piratesforpeace.com.We look forward to hearing from you.