RFA Grey Rover 1978
3rd June 1978 to 14th October 1978
This was my second appointment to the “Grey”. I joined her in Portland, where she was under the operational control of Flag Officer Sea Training, (FOST). She was standing in for the “Gold Rover” which was normally the resident ‘Portland Tanker’ at that time.
Once again I was involved in the busy schedule of working with ships of British and foreign nationalities, as they laboured through all their “workup” drills. Most weekends however, we were able to go alongside the old ‘Coaling Pier’ or the newer ‘Q’ Pier. Once alongside we would reload cargo and carry out planned maintenance to the ship. There was also repairs to be carried out to our replenishment rigs, which often got rough treatment from the receiving ship’s crews as they went through the training process.
Rather unfortunately, on this ship, we had a Captain who had some unusual ideas, one of which was to not allow wives and families on board when the ship was alongside for weekends. This was possibly not too much of a problem for him or other officers who were either unmarried or could go home for a short break. As he always went off as soon as the ship was alongside, I needed to remain aboard as the senior officer. I was usually busy during the day anyway, loading cargo for the following week’s exercise programme. But during the evenings and any free time however it was very frustrating, especially as my home and family were just a few miles along the coast at Plymouth. This somewhat selfish attitude of the Captain fertilised a small seed of unsettledness that I had begun to feel over the past couple of years. I was missing my family growing up. Anyway, I just had to get on with it for the time being and Portland kept me very busy.
In August of 1978, we were one of the ships at Portland that was open to the public for “Navy Days”. A bit of preparation was necessary to make sure that the ship was looking her best and there were access routes for the visitors to be sorted out. We lowered one of the RAS rigs over the side so that it was suspended above the quay, in order to show how it would look during replenishments. The small ship’s swimming pool was filled with water and a ‘man-overboard’ dummy in a lifebuoy floated in the water. Members of the public were invited to throw coins into the pool in aid of the RNLI.
After a strongly worded complaint to the Captain, the officers wives and families were allowed to stay on board for one night and I brought my family along to take advantage of this generous offer. I remember one funny incident involving my youngest son. He had recently had a plaster cast put on one of his feet following a minor cycling accident with his brother. When the family and I went up to the flight deck I noticed that gradually white marks were appearing all over the place. It then dawned on us that the abrasive surface of the special flight deck paint was slowly wearing away at my son’s plaster cast as he ran around on the deck!
Shortly after “Navy Days” the ship was sent up to the Clyde to join a group of NATO frigates and destroyers that made up the task group known as “STANAVFORLANT”, (Standing Naval Force Atlantic). This was a multi-national group of ships, which at the time consisted of the British frigate “Bacchante”, the West German destroyer “Bayern”, the Dutch destroyer “Limburg”, the Norwegian frigate “Narvik”, the Canadian frigate “Huron”, the Portuguese frigate “Almirante P. Da Silva”, and the American destroyer “Tattnall”. The “Grey Rover” was tasked to be their support tanker for a couple of months as they carried out their joint exercises and manoeuvres and made courtesy calls to various European ports. The group had normally been used to meeting up with a tanker every now and then as required, but were now obviously delighted to have their own dedicated support ship, giving us a very warm welcome.
Places visited during our short deployment with them included Glasgow, Den Helder, then around the Skagerrak and Kattergat and through the Kiel Canal to Bremerhaven. We also went to Zeebrugge then up to Scapa Flow and down through the Inner Hebrides, passing through the Kyle of Lochalsh. This latter transit was a bit narrow for us but all went well. In all these ports there was much socialising between ships and many “RPC” signals were passed. (Request the Pleasure of your Company). These were usually replied to by “WMP” (With Much Pleasure), or very rarely with “MRU” (Much Regret Unable). ‘Boney M’ was the popular band of the day and their hit song ‘Brown Girl in the Ring’ was often blasted out through loudspeakers during parties and replenishments at sea!
Cocktail parties were sometimes hosted by one of the warships for local VIP’s, to which a small group of officers from each ship attended in order to share the host functions. The American destroyer was at a slight disadvantage during these social events as no alcohol was carried on board. However, they more than made up for it by way of laying on enormous cooked breakfasts that followed on after the events on other ships. These feasts started at about midnight and went on into the early hours until everyone was full to overflowing!!
At the end of September we were regretfully detached from “STANAVFORLANT” and were called back again to Portland and Portsmouth, working with our own warships in the English Channel.
The simmering problem between the Captain and myself, which was probably no more than a clash of personalities, was not getting any better and so I eventually requested a transfer to another ship. This was eventually granted from Head Office and I paid off in Portsmouth.