Today another iconic ship left on her way to the breakers. HMS Ark Royal set off from Plymouth on 20 May 2013 under tow for Turkey where she is to be broken up. It is always sad to see a ship go to the breakers, they are usually with us for so long, and we cannot really picture a time when they are no longer there. The Ark was launched on 2 June 1981, and at that moment I was almost 18 months into my national service. It is now over 30 years later and she is heading for her end.
I was in Portsmouth twice this year, and on my second visit was on a harbour cruise where I spotted her amongst the other ships at the dockyard. She was partly obscured by HMS Edinburgh, but she still loomed over her, as if to say “I am still here, don’t forget about me”.
Sadly, even HMS Edinburgh may soon be taking that long last tow, or end up laid up at Fareham Creek like so many of her fleetmates. The days of these ships are finite, and as much as we wish they could be with us forever, we know that very rarely do preserved ships last very long. Those that do survive into preservation have a tenuous existence, always at the mercy of accountants and rubber stamps.
Many years ago I saw another proud aircraft carrier on her last commission: HMS Eagle called in Durban during December 1971 while we were holidaying there. I was 10 years old and the sight of that ship never left me, and was probably more fuel for my love of ships. Sadly I did not see the Ark at the end of her tow rope, but I know people watched her go, and waved, and ships blew their sirens for her, and as she disappeared into the haze I know that there were many who shared a tear for a great ship. She will live on in the history books, and in the memories of those who built, sailed and loved her. Her entry in the book of great ships is written; as the fifth ship to bear that proud name.
Fair weather for your final voyage HMS Ark Royal.
I revisited Portsmouth and Gosport on 28/09/2014 and Ark Royal’s fleetmate HMS Illustrious was alongside being destored prior to being laid up for sale.
This morning HMS Illustrious slipped her moorings and was towed from Portsmouth en route to the breakers. Fair weather for your final voyage HMS Illustrious.
© DRW 2013-2018. Images replaced 08/04/2016. Illustrious images added 08/04/2016, updated 07/12/2016