For the first time in at least a decade all 14 P2000s of the 1st Patrol Boat Squadron took to the water in unison.
The newly-upgraded fast patrol craft performed two days of combined manoeuvres in the Solent for the annual squadron exercise.
Pictures: LPhots Louise George, Nobby Hall and Dan Rosenbaum
SPECTATORS in the Solent were treated to the rare sight of all 14 vessels of the Royal Navy’s 1st Patrol Boat Squadron performing manoeuvres.
For the first time in at least a decade every one of the Archer-class ships staged a series of close, impressive formations, churning the waters of the eastern Solent white as they raced along at speeds of over 20kts.
The boats, which joined the Navy in the late 1980s, have just completed a five-year revamp which has added ten knots to their top speed and will help keep them in service into the mid-2030s.
A handful of spectactors observe the patrol boats leaving harbour from the vantage point of Old Portsmouth's Victoria Pier.
The P2000s are scattered across nine locations in the UK from Faslane and Leith in Scotland, to Penarth near Cardiff, and Plymouth and Portsmouth on the south coast.
As a result, getting all 14 together for an annual squadron exercise has proved tricky. But with the end of the crafts’ Easter deployments – which took some to Dublin and the Isle of Man, others to Hamburg – there was the rare chance for every vessel to converge on Portsmouth for a few days.
The ships are attached to University Royal Navy Units across the UK, giving students a taste of what the Senior Service does: HMS Blazer serves the universities of Portsmouth and Southampton, HMS Smiter for Oxford, and Pursuer for Glasgow and Strathclyde.
HMS Dasher performs a sharp turn to starboard during the combined manoeuvres
But increasingly they are being used by the rest of the Royal Navy for training junior officers and ratings – especially the commanding officers of tomorrow –specialist navigators, test the responses of gun crews on larger warships by pretending to attack them and perform security duties such as during the 2012 London Olympics.
Lieutenant Jonathan Eastburn, in charge of HMS Ranger, who devised the various manoeuvres performed at speed off Hayling Island and Portsmouth – some conducted with fewer than 50ft separating the 66ft-long patrol boats – said that though small, commanding an Archer-class craft was both enjoyable and insightful.
He said that commanding a P2000 after just seven years and one previous job in the RN was an opportunity second to none and it was great that the Royal Navy gave junior officers a taste of command, helping to forget the naval leaders of tomorrow.
Getting all 14 boats together was pretty hard work, but Ranger’s CO said seeing them all come together made for an impressive sight.
Joining Ranger to observe the three hours of intense manoeuvres – which also involved wartime vintage gunboat MGB81 and HMS Medusa, used in WW2 to protect harbours and the D-Day landings from U-boat attacks – was 1st Patrol Boat Squadron Commanding Officer Cdr Mark Hammon.
He said his squadron did a cracking job for the Navy and for the country as they were now being for much more than university training boats.
Last year, the squadron mustered seven boats together in Leith and personnel thought it would be fantastic to see all 14 boats in the water. With all the refits complete, the opportunity presented itself the first time since at least 2004.