14 Aug 2018

14 Aug 18 - Return To Biscay: The First Evening

During the Atlantic Odyssey & West African Pelagic trip earlier this year, I was already planning in my mind a return trip to Biscay this Autumn. This is an excellent & relatively cheap way to see a good selection of Whales, Dolphins & Seabirds. On four consecutive four Autumns from 1998, I was one of a group of Poole Birders who took the P&O ferry Pride of Bilbao ferry from Portsmouth to Bilbao. I was abroad in 2002 on a year off travelling so missed the trip that year & there wasn't a lot of interest for further trips in subsequent years as the regulars all looked to do different holidays. We went as foot passengers on the three day trip. Typically, a four berth cabin cost each of us £30 if booked early with a voucher. We generally took snack food on the ship to eat during the day, so allowing some money for hot & cold drinks & an evening meal & car parking, it generally didn't cost more than £60 or £70 for the three day trip. I had heard on the Odyssey that the Cetacean trips were still being run on Brittany Ferries, but with the complication that the cruise now went from Portsmouth to Santander & returned to Plymouth. However, I could book on the mini cruise on the Pont-Aven ferry with the Orca charity & they laid on coaches to get the mini cruise passengers back to Portsmouth at the end. The ferry is capable of carrying around 2000 passengers on board & seemed a lot plusher than the Pride of Bilbao. Orca put a number of their volunteers on to help with the identification of the Cetaceans, collate sightings & help educate the punters. Some of the passengers were veterans of the Biscay cruises, while others were on their first ever trip & weren't particularly experienced on their Cetacean identification. Other bonuses were as having plenty of eyes on both sides of the top deck & the agreement with the ship that half of the top deck would be roped off for the Cetacean passengers. While this was the rear half, it was generally the more sheltered half of the top deck & did allow easy access to both sides of the ship, the Pont-Aven. The cabin worked out at £265 (including a £30 single cabin upgrade) & another £39 for three days parking at the ferry terminal in Portsmouth. This included the cost of the coach back. It was still possible to take snack food on board, so I only needed to pay for coffee on board & some food & drink during the early evening run ashore at Santander. Gone are the days of the silly prices for the Pride of Bilbao trips, but overall it was still a reasonable price for a couple of days in Biscay.
Portsmouth's Royal Navy dockyard: With the Spinnaker Tower in the background
Part of the historic remains of Portsmouth's Royal Navy dockyard
Confirmation this is the Royal Navy dockyard
Brittany Ferries run from the terminal right next to the Naval dockyard & affords excellent views of a few of the original Royal Navy ships right up to the latest in the fleet. Having spent a few years in the late 80s working on software in use on the Type 42 Destroyers, visits to the dockyard & trips to sea generally off the Isle of Wight were an essential part of testing the new software. I still have an interest in seeing the replacement ships.
HMS Bristol (D23): The first ship I went on board only five days in the job. A bit daunting at the time, but I soon gained experience & was leading my team for the last few years of software testing at sea. It was a great time. She is the only Type 82 Destroyer & was designed to be a carrier protection ship, but the rest of the Type 82 Destroyers were cancelled as a cost saving exercise. She was launched in June 69 & entered active service in Mar 73. She was the prototype ship for some of the new weapons systems that were ultimately deployed to the Type 42 Destroyers & Carriers. She remains based in Portsmouth & has been used as a training ship since 1987
HMS Daring (D32): She is the first of the Type 45 Destroyers & was launched in Feb 06 & entered active service in Jul 09. The Iron Duke (F234) is in the foreground
HMS Dauntless (D33): Getting some much-needed TLC. She is the second of the Type 45 Destroyers & was launched in Jan 07 & entered active service in Jun 10
HMS Defender (D36): She is the fifth of Type 45 Destroyers & was launched in Oct 09 & entered active service in Mar 13
HMS Duncan (D37): She is the sixth & last of the Type 45 Destroyers & was launched in Oct 10 & entered active service in Sep 13. She is named after 1st Viscount Adam Duncan who defeated the Dutch at the Battle of Camperdown in 1797
HMS Iron Duke (F234): She is the fifth of the Type 23 Frigates & was launched in Mar 91 & entered active service in May 93. She is named after the nickname for the Duke of Wellington (of Waterloo fame)
HMS St Albans (F83): She is the sixteenth & last of the Type 23 Frigates & was launched in May 2000 & entered active service in Jun 02
HMS Kent (F78): She is the fourteenth of 16 Type 23 Frigates & was launched in May 98 and entered active service in Jun 2000. I saw HMS Kent in the Plymouth dockyard whilst looking for the Risso's Dolphin at Torpoint. In the background on the right is HMS Forth (P222)
HMS Forth (P222): She is the first of five Offshore Patrol Vessels designed for anti-smuggling, counter-piracy, fishery protection, border patrol & maritime defence duties
HMS Forth (P222): She was launched in Aug 14 and entered active service in Apr 18
HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08): She is the largest (284 metres) which compares to HMS Illustrious & HMS Invincible which were 210 metres long & HMS Ark Royal which was 245 metres long. She is the most expensive ship ever built for the Royal Navy. She was launched in Jul 14 & was commissioned into the Royal Navy in Dec 17
HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08): Ultimately, she will carry up to 36 of the brand-new F-35B Lightning II aircraft & 14 helicopters
HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08): A final view with the Portsdown Hill in the background
HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) emblem
Having sailed past the working Royal Navy dockyard, it was now time to admire the Navy ships of the past, all of which are worth a visit.
The new museum for the Mary Rose: She was Henry VIII's flagship & after 33 years at sea, she sunk off Portsmouth in 1545 whilst fighting off an attack from a French invasion force. She had been extensively rebuilt in 1536. It is thought this rebuild contributed to her loss as it reduced her stability. Accounts at the time were contradictory, but the current belief is she sunk quickly when water poured into the lower decks whilst turning in the heat of the battle on a gusty day. The wreck was relocated in the late 1960s & she raised in 1982. I saw her when she was first opened to the public in 1984, but I need to go back & have a look around the new museum
HMS Victory: Nelson's flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar in Oct 1805, which was probably the most important battle the Royal Navy has fought in
HMS Warrior: She was the first of the Navy's amoured-plated, iron-hulled ships & was launched in 1860 & decommissioned when obsolete in 1883. After an eight year restoration, she officially joined the National Historic Fleet in 1987. It's well worth a visit if you are in the Portsmouth area
The Spinnaker Tower: Portsmouth's Millennium was scheduled to be built by 1999, but delays to the project meant building didn't actually start to 2001 & it wasn't opened until 2005. Still it made it for the Millennium using the Ethiopian calendar which is about 7.5 years behind the generally accepted calendar used by most of the rest of the world. Perhaps Portsmouth should also adopt the Ethiopian calendar
The Round Tower forms the entrance to Portsmouth harbour: This area gets packed whenever a Royal Navy ship leaves for or returns from an active deployment
The Square Tower & the old harbour defences: The locals were very imaginative with their names for the forts
The War Memorial on Southsea Common
Southsea Castle
The history doesn't stop as you leave Portsmouth island, as there are several historic forts in the Solent that were built as additional protection to the dockyard. Three are now owned by Solentforts.com which have renovated them into luxury hotels & visitor attractions. Two are currently open to visitors & the third Horse Sand Fort has recently been bought & is being renovated to convert it into a museum. I will definitely be visiting when it is opened.
Horse Sand Fort: It was built between 1865 & 1880. The granite walls are up to 18 metres thick & further reinforced with concrete & armour-plating. It even has its own well to provide fresh water. It was bought in Mar 12 & it is good to see that it being restored & converted to a museum
Finally, we left the Solent & headed South West past the Isle of Wight. I didn't expect much in the way of Seabirds or Cetaceans & wasn't surprised when there were only a few Gannets & a couple of Mediterranean Gulls. Still there were a few final views of the Isle of Wight to enjoy in the early evening.
The Yarborough Monument on Culver Down, Isle of Wight: It was built to remember the first Earl of Yarborough in 1849 who was an MP & large landowner on the Isle of Wight & founding member of the Royal Yacht Squadron at Cowes
HMS Tyne (P281) with Sandown in the background: She was launched in Apr 02 & entered service in Jul 03. She is another of the Offshore Patrol Vessels which I've seen off Studland in the past
St Catherine's Point: The Southern most point of the Isle of Wight. A good place & heavily under-watched place to go Birding. However, it's not cheap when you consider the logistics of taking a car over from the mainland. I was one of two people who went on to look for the last UK Wallcreeper in May 85. It had been seen flying in off the sea by seawatchers who carried on seawatching after it headed inland. Not surprisingly, we didn't relocate it, but a flyover Serin that circled us twice before heading inland was reward for our efforts
It was quickly getting dark & time for an early night so as to be on deck for dawn the following morning when we would be to the South of Cap Finistere on the Brittany coast with the promise of Cetaceans & Seabirds.