Wednesday, February 02, 2005


Details emerge of maritime festivities


Navy News
January 31, 2005

A total of 30 nations have pledged to join the Royal Navy for the international gathering of ships to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar – and there could be more before plans are finalised.

The Queen will review the warships gathered in the Solent on June 28 – the first such occasion since the Silver Jubilee review of 1977 – which will be followed by the International Festival of the Sea.

First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Alan West, assisted by Olympic champions Sir Matthew Pinsent and Shirley Robertson, used the backdrop of HMS Sutherland and the London Boat Show to reveal the scale of what the Queen and hundreds of thousands of people can expect to see in Spithead.

Planners are expecting around 140 warships and auxiliaries, the pride of the Merchant Navy – led by the QE2 – plus at least 300 yachts, to converge on the historic stretch of water between Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight for a three-hour review, with steam-pasts before and after.

In 1977, 17 nations offered ships to attend the Silver Jubilee review. Almost 30 years later, 30 have confirmed their attendance, and Whitehall is waiting for responses from ten more.

“It is a real indication of the standing of the Royal Navy and the bonds of friendship that have been created during the nation’s rich maritime history,” said Admiral West.

“There will also be a level of informality never before seen – we are expecting over 900 young people on board ships at the review.”

As part of that informality, the first day of the International Festival of the Sea, which opens on June 30, will be dedicated to schoolchildren; among other initiatives, every child in Portsmouth will enjoy free entry to the event on the first day.

Organisers hope that such steps, and general publicity and interest surrounding Trafalgar’s bicentenary, will help to revive the British passion in seafaring. They want the UK to be ‘marinated’ by the end of 2005.

The public’s ‘drift away’ from the sea is one of the First Sea Lord’s biggest concerns.

“The Navy is as relevant today as it was then. Ninety-five per cent of our trade travels by sea. We export more by sea than France, Germany, the USA or Japan,” Admiral West said.

“It is something the average person in the street is unfortunately not aware of. This year is a unique opportunity to raise awareness of maritime issues and their impact on life in Britain.”

Sir Matthew, the son of a submariner – “My father hated it!” – said he hoped 2005 would help to bring some much needed perspective to today’s hyped world.

He said: “Sportsmen and women are thrown forward as heroes and role models. I cannot see a Pinsent Square in London.

“We don’t come close. I cannot think of a hero of the status of Nelson.”

Among the nations who have confirmed they will be taking part in the review are Australia, Belgium, Canada, Germany, India, Japan, Russia, the United States, and Spain and France – on the receiving end of the British broadsides at Trafalgar, but now firmly alongside the Royal Navy as allies.

The latter is sending one of Europe’s most advanced surface ships, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, supported by half a dozen vessels, and the Spanish will send their aircraft carrier and a frigate.
“The French and the Spanish are very keen to be represented,” Admiral West said.

“This is an important gathering of the maritime nations of the world. It will not be a chauvinistic affair. Our aim is to honour all those who fought at Trafalgar on both sides.”

That spirit of reconciliation between the enemies of 1805 will be highlighted in October, when services of remembrance will be held in Portsmouth, Cadiz and Toulon for the men of the three navies who fought at Trafalgar.

Trafalgar Day itself will be marked, among other events, by the lighting of a beacon close to HMS Victory by the Queen, the first in a chain of beacons nationwide.

The location for the announcement of detailed plans was the Type 23 frigate HMS Sutherland, one of the main attractions at the Boat Show.

The warship spent ten days berthed in the Docklands alongside the ExCel exhibition centre, in company with some prestigious yachts, as ambassador for the Royal Navy in a year which promises much in terms of public profile.

An estimated 20,000 people are thought to have wandered on board during ‘ship open to visitors’ in Victoria Dock, and even greater numbers strolled past the hi-tec RN display stand inside the sprawling exhibition hall.

During the spell in the capital, Nelson himself went on board, in the shape of look-alike Alex Naylor, supporting the publicity campaign for the International Fleet Review, the International Festival of the Sea (IFOS) and the over-arching drive to reconnect the public with the maritime world, SeaBritain 2005.

Sutherland arrived in London fresh from a Christmas break and two months of intensive training under Flag Officer Sea Training (FOST) at Devonport, where the frigate is based.

The ship and her ship’s company of 180 achieved the best performance of any Duke-class frigate being put through her paces by the sea riders – the experienced officers and ratings who observe how sailors react to challenges and crisis – in the past three years, earning plaudits from Rear Admiral Roger Ainsley, Flag Officer Sea Training.

“You’ve delivered everything I asked for – and in spades,” Sutherland’s Commanding Officer Cdr Phil Haslam told his ship’s company. “It would be an honour to take HMS Sutherland into combat.”

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