back to article 'Nobody in their right mind would build a naval base here today': Navigating in and out of Devonport

As HMS Severn continues hosting the Royal Navy's Fleet Navigating Officer's course, The Register has taken a closer look at the precision demanded of naval officers conning their ships in and out of one of the most cramped ports where the Navy routinely operates. Entering and leaving Plymouth, home to Devonport naval base, is …

  1. SkippyBing

    Having navigated the twists and turns in and out of both Plymouth and Portsmouth, it was educational entering the US base at Mayport which basically involved stopping once you were alongside the jetty. I think the navs had had us lined up for about the last 50nm!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      A straight run into a dock leaves it exposed to wind and waves when conditions are bad, as well as making it easier for an attacker. So ports generally don't have a straight approach but involve at least one turn on the way in and out.

      1. JDX Gold badge

        "at least one" means you have excluded precisely one option from the set of possibilities.

      2. SkippyBing

        I mean thanks MOTO, but look at Mayport Naval Station in Google Maps and you'll see what I mean.

      3. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Because in the 21st C its always boat on boat action in an attack!

        The wind and waves thing can be a problem but Maryport doesnt face the sea and has a couple of breakwaters which means you can take a ship in in pretty much a straight line and keep the sea swell at bay.

    2. Dwarf Silver badge

      nm or NM?

      <pedant>

      50 nanometers - that was cutting it incredibly fine on the parking

      </pedant>

      Or was that 50 Nautical Miles (NM)

      1. SkippyBing

        Re: nm or NM?

        I don't know I was exercising my rights as part of the International Entering Harbour Club. In the bar.

        1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

          Re: nm or NM?

          Should have used Reg Standards...

          50NM being around 10044 Double Decker Buses, or 46,000 Osmans

          https://www.theregister.com/Design/page/reg-standards-converter.html

          I wonder if Gareth discussed Reg Standards with the Officers in the Wardroom with a view to the Navy adopting them

      2. herman Silver badge

        Re: nm or NM?

        "50 nanometers" - Just a whisker.

      3. bpfh

        Re: nm or NM?

        Newton Metres?

        1. phuzz Silver badge
          Headmaster

          Re: nm or NM?

          That would be Nm.

    3. gerdesj Silver badge
      Gimp

      "Having navigated the twists and turns in and out of both Plymouth and Portsmouth"

      I'm not too sure you really have. I used to live near a place called Admiral's Hard. It's actually a launching point near Durnford St for a foot ferry to Cornwall and not a phallic errr thingie. The roads in and out of Plymouth are a bit special too. The topography around Plymouth is quite tricky and the attempts to join the place up to the rest of the civilized world have been quite half hearted at times.

      Portsmouth - the other town that gets mistaken for the other. I have no idea why: they both start with P and have a lot of Navy going on perhaps?

      If Sir Drake could get his little ships in and out of the Sound then I'm sure you can too. The Brittany Ferries also manage to get their ships in and out. If you need a bigger channel then buy a fucking dredger and crack on.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        If Sir Drake could get his little ships in and out of the Sound then I'm sure you can too.

        Only if the wind was blowing the right way at the same time as the tide was going out, which is why during much of the Napoleonic wars the fleet was based at Tor Bay, on the basis that the wind and tide conditions to leave that anchorage was the same as what the French needed to leave their port at Brest.

      2. CrazyOldCatMan

        The roads in and out of Plymouth are a bit special too

        The only one that mattered to me was the one to Plympton cos that's where my now-wife lived..

        Portsmouth

        Yup. Got sold tickets to Portsmouth quite a few times when visiting my now-wife in Plymouth. Nowt to do with Navy - I suspect that the semi-literate yoof that we had selling tickets in our local train station had heard of the Senior Service..

        Sir Drake

        His 'little ships' had a *much* smaller draft than any modern ships. In fact, I susect that a modern warship exceeds anything before (maybe) 100 years ago.

  2. Korev Silver badge
    Pirate

    The Register has taken a closer look at the precision demanded of naval officers conning their ships in and out of one of the most cramped ports where the Navy routinely operates.

    Well, the Royal Navy only has three ports these days (and one is mostly used by submarines)

    1. Danny 2 Silver badge

      Upvoted for the icon, which is the flag the Conqueror flew into Devonport after sinking the Belgrano.

      Trident Ploughshares used to hold a Devonport camp, which I never saw the point in. All the subs would have to unload their missiles before getting that close to Plymouth. Not just cos the warheads, because the propellent. Perfectly fine for Glasgow, well, Helensburgh at least, but real English people live in Plymouth.

      Next referendum and your nukes will be in Georgia, the US state not the country. They were going to France but I think you just blew that chance with the USuka/Aukus debacle.

      1. Korev Silver badge
        Mushroom

        Apparently there was talk of booting out most of the population of Falmouth and basing the boats there...

        1. Roland6 Silver badge
          Pint

          "Although the Falmouth plan is seen as prohibitively expensive and environmentally damaging, it remains one of the few sites in the UK identified as a possible location."

          Well given HS2... that stands a good change of actually happening.

          (That's a pint of Doom Bar - unfortunately the Doom Bar sandbank is situated on the north Cornish cost and not near Falmouth..)

          1. Nick Ryan Silver badge
            Pint

            Is that where the beer got it's name from?

            Been drinking it in Cornwall before it got popular and was shipped up country and into supermarkets... never once stopped to think about where the name came from! (this lack of stopping and thinking may or may not be related to the drinking of the beer...)

            1. lostsomehwere

              Yes, it got its name from there, but it's now a shadow of what it was: it's owned by Molson Coors.

              1. ICL1900-G3 Bronze badge

                Proper Job

                Agreed. DB used to be good but is no longer. Try St Austell Brewery Proper Job.

                1. Colin Bull 1
                  Pint

                  Re: Proper Job

                  P

                  roper job is OK, but Big Job is better and proper black is better still ( all from St Austell )

                  1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

                    Re: Proper Job

                    Betty Stogs was always a good choice beer too.

        2. Danny 2 Silver badge

          @Korev

          It'd take ten years to build a new base, and even then the 'deterrent' requires a deep water port to be credible.

          To my five downvoters, you can keep your nuclear subs at Faslane, just not your nuclear armed subs. It's Île Longue or Georgia for them come independence.

      2. CrazyOldCatMan

        real English people live in Plymouth

        Oi! Some of them are Cornish too!

        (Yes, yes - I get that the Cornish are technically English too but, as someone who's lived with someone of Cornish descent for the last 35 years, some of them get quite offended by being called English..)

  3. Roger Kynaston Silver badge
    Happy

    Nice picture of Southdown

    everyone sees the Frigging Frigate maintenance sheds but Southdown - down river and on the Cornwall side is really nice. Couldn't spot my boat there though.

    1. Colin Bull 1

      Re: Nice picture of Southdown

      And Southdown has a longer history than the ne'er do wells at Devonport

  4. jollyboyspecial

    I've often wondered if the deep water channel wouldn't we a bit wider and deeper if there wasn't that ridiculous breakwater which must contribute to silting. I suppose it made sense from a defensive point of view when it was built 200+ years ago, but it must have a severe impact on currents. But of course in the early nineteenth century you weren't dealing with big ships.

    1. Vulch

      It's the twists and turns around Drake's Island are the problem. There's an underwater ridge between it and the Cornish shore so ships coming out of the dockyard have to left hand down a lot to pass in front of the Hoe and then right hand down to avoid running into the Lido. Removing the ridge has been investigated, but all the modelling results in Sutton harbour silting up along with the entrances to the various dockyard basins.

      Long time ago I saw the proper Ark Royal setting out through there. It had to leave the dockyard empty and do a first replenishment in the Sound, and could also only enter or leave on certain high tides when there was all of a foot (I did mention it was a long time ago) clearance under the keel.

      1. ricardian

        Back in the late 1960s HMS Ark Royal was approaching Plymouth and just past Drake's Island she hit an underwater obstruction, only a minor ding - it was later revealed that the obstruction was a large rock which had been drilled by fleet clearance divers but for some reason (economics?) had not been blasted into oblivion

      2. bazza Silver badge

        have to left hand down a lot

        Ah, that's why I've never seen HMS Troutbridge in Guzz. Leslie only ever said "a bit"...

      3. Colin Bull 1
        Pirate

        Interesting viewpoint

        For the first 6 months of lockdown I was renting a 3rd floor flat in Torpoint which looked down towards Staddon heights. Watching the larger ships come in they would go from left to right and vice versa 5 times. Lots of photo opportunities. The best pics were of the large auxillaries ( such as Tide Force ) as they passed The Edgcumbe Arms, towering over it.

    2. Peter2 Silver badge

      I've often wondered if the deep water channel wouldn't we a bit wider and deeper if there wasn't that ridiculous breakwater which must contribute to silting. I suppose it made sense from a defensive point of view when it was built 200+ years ago, but it must have a severe impact on currents. But of course in the early nineteenth century you weren't dealing with big ships.

      It's not there from a defensive point of view. It's there because under adverse weather conditions the harbour was a deathtrap and sailing ships would drag their anchors and end up wrecked ashore with the loss of the ship and crew. This made the dockyard useless for basing a fleet out of.

      The breakwater made it safe to use as a base for ships of the line from the channel fleet during the Napoleonic wars even before being completely finished.

  5. Tom 38 Silver badge

    Depends if you think the French or Spanish are going to attack you

    Difficult navigation, high batteries on each side above the entrance of the sound, the breakwater and other islands to build other forts on, loads of potential wharfage, the choke point between Devil's Point and Cremyll... looks bloody ideal.

    1. Cragganmore

      Re: Depends if you think the French or Spanish are going to attack you

      Our French chums probably feel like having a pop right now :)

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Depends if you think the French or Spanish are going to attack you

      Of course, with modern warfare, a few cruise missiles can overcome all that without batting an eye :-)

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Roger"?

    Yikes. Don't they say 'aye' in the navy any more?

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Happy

      Only if your the cabin boy.

      1. Tim 49

        "Whee-lover". Reassuring to see the RN's Valuing Diversitry, but still.

        1. FIA Silver badge

          I don't think you're allowed to discriminate by height anymore.

  7. Paul Herber Silver badge

    Left hand down a bit.

    1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

      Oh hell, now I have the scene from Galaxy Quest in my mind where they were departing the space dock and everyone on the bridge was leaning one way in the hope that they wouldn't be scraping the wall with a screech on the way out... :)

      1. Tim 49

        If you can find a copy of the 1970s "Sailor" series, Episode 1 has Ark Royal leaving Portsmouth. In the words of the Captain on the bridge: "This place give me the shits every time".

        1. DJV Silver badge

          But, at least, Leslie Phillips in the Troutbridge wasn't coming the other way.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Interesting that "The Navy Lark" is still referenced after some 50 years. Is that original Light Programme/Radio 2 listeners - or new ones to replays on BBC Radio 4 Extra?

            1. ICL1900-G3 Bronze badge

              Original for me...Sunday afternoon, if I remember rightly?

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                "[...] Sunday afternoon, if I remember rightly?

                It may have had several slots - but it is in my memory with "Family Favourites" and "Beyond Our Ken" as we ate Sunday lunch.

        2. SundogUK Silver badge

          https://www.amazon.co.uk/BBC-Sailor-Complete-TV-DVD/dp/B004L0AE10/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=sailor&qid=1632728398&s=dvd&sr=1-1

  8. fluffymitten

    Very much enjoying the Boatnotes II series - thank you team!

  9. bpfh

    Had to read that twice after spitting out my tea...

    "preceded by a police launch, shooting civilian sailors and paddleboarders.". Ah, shooing...!

  10. DrBobK

    Dazzle camo?

    Is that dazzle camouflage on the Severn? I hope so!

    1. Electronics'R'Us Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Dazzle camo?

      That is the Western Approaches camouflage scheme.

      So effective that allied ships collided with each other.

  11. Poons2

    Cables, cables?

    Why not use rod,poles or perches.

    Could HM Navy join the 21 century and not mix Metric and Imperial.

    1. genghis_uk Silver badge

      1NM = approx 10 cables so if you are working in Nautical units, cables make sense...

      They could also use Left and Right instead of Port and Starboard but where is the fun in that?

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