HMS Prince of Wales prepares to leave Rosyth

Capt Darren Houston
Capt Darren Houston

As Britain’s latest supercarrier enters the open sea it closes the door on an incredible journey which saw her begin as little more than a few segments and transform into one of the most advanced ships on the planet.

And she’s ready to exit the dock this week, all we need is the right conditions.

The HMS Prince of Wales

The HMS Prince of Wales

Starting in September 2014, the first block of what would become the HMS Prince of Wales arrived in Rosyth.

The ship has been built by an alliance, which includes Babcock, Thales UK, BAE Systems and the Ministry of Defence.

Since 2017, the ship has gone through an intensive programme of commissioning – a rigorous testing of each and every possible system.

Now as the shore commissioning and build phase come to an end, the sea trials begin.

But the gigantic carrier couldn’t just leave on any day. The tricky nature of the Forth and its obstacles means that conditions have to be just perfect.

A combination of a calm windless day, along with a low tide to allow passage under the bridges, is precisely what is needed.

Nine tug boats make their way into the dock, ready to guide the massive ship out of a space just 40m wide.

There is around 1m clearance on either side of the ship, so delicate care is needed in moving the giant vessel out.

Despite such a tight squeeze, Captain Darren Houston is confident of making it out in one piece, as this will be the third time he’ll have done it.

“It’s a fairly tricky manoeuvre,” he said. “It’s a very very small gap. It’s really quite off-putting, because where you navigate the ship from on the bridge we are offset to the right-hand side of the ship, so as you look down as you’re going through the gate, you look as if you’re going over the top of the ground.

“But we’ve practiced this quite a number of times, this’ll be my third exit on a Queen Elizabeth-class carrier, we’ve done the rehearsals in the simulators, we’ve worked with the pilots and the tugs on the Forth so we’ve perfected it.”

After a short time anchoring outside Rosyth, it’s time to conduct some final tests on the propellers in preparation for sea.

Once completed, it’s under the bridges – no easy task, but the mast can be folded down to allow clearance for the Forth Bridge - there’s only around 1.5 metres in it.

Luckily, her captain is more than familiar with the famous Forth bridges, having grown up just a stone’s throw away.

“I grew up in Dalgety Bay and went to school locally,” said Captain Houston. “So for me coming back to Rosyth is quite a surprise, as I’ve done it twice now. I was involved in the Queen Elizabeth as well, so I moved here in 2016 and lived locally before we took the ship south, and found myself back in Rosyth as the commanding officer of the Prince of Wales.”

The ship is then set to spend between three and five days in the Forth as various systems are given an initial test – we can expect a fair bit of activity during this time.

Sea trials are expected to be around nine weeks long, the ship will refuel just twice, and spend a while off the north east coast.

Once completed she will make her home at Her Majesty’s Naval Base Portsmouth.