Royal Navy’s newest aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth and new supply ship RFA Tidespring have met up at sea for the first time, as they prepared to conduct a Replenishment at Sea (RAS), refuelling whilst underway at sea.
Weighing in at 65,000 tonnes, HMS Queen Elizabeth was cautiously approached to her starboard side by her 37,000 tonne mobile fuelling station, in one of the most hazardous evolutions a warship can conduct in peacetime.
A full First of Class replenishment was abandoned due to bad weather, but coming together, just metres apart, was an important moment for both ships, according to RFA Tidespring Navigating Officer, Second Officer Paul Stubley.
He said: “This has been a milestone evolution, coming alongside HMS Queen Elizabeth to attempt a first of class RAS trial. This will provide useful data needed for all the vessels in each class. A replenishment between two large vessels bring challenges, particularly with ship interaction and the precariousness of transferring fuel and stores whilst underway.”
The evolution involved a line being shot across to the tanker from the deck of HMS Queen Elizabeth with both hulls just metres apart. The next stage will be for a double probe to be attached, hauled back across to the carrier and connected for diesel to be pumped into her giant fuel tanks.
The man in charge of safety for the evolution at the RAS point on board HMS Queen Elizabeth, Chief Petty Officer Jay Early, says the first successful RAS will be the culmination of years of planning and anticipation.
He added: “Meeting up with RFA Tidespring today is an exciting thing for us, we’ve been talking about it for a long time now. It’s two new classes of ship, with another first for a British ship to have a double probe. It will be a real tick in the box for us to know we can achieve it”, he said.
The double probe concept has been adopted from American carriers – it means twice the volume of fuel can be delivered within a shorter amount of time.
It was a tense time on both decks as the lines were fired across. CPO Early says there was an air of excitement across the team:
“One of things I always say to our guys is, regardless of this being a trial, it’s still real for us; there are lines under tension, the ship is moving, equipment is swinging around, the dangers are very real. A RAS for us is one of the most dangerous evolutions carried out at sea during peacetime. Safety is paramount at all times. ‘Slow is pro’ is one of my key sayings to make sure our people stay safe”.
Chief Bosun’s Mate, or ‘Buffer’, PO Scottie Campbell says a full RAS will be the highlight of his 23 year career.
He commented: “A RAS is what I have been looking forward to since I first joined the ship. The weather impact today was disappointing, but I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved. And I’m proud for the younger guys in my team, because this is their future. We are trialling new kit, on new ships, taking us into the 21st century. Being the first RAS team onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth really has been the highlight of my time in the Royal Navy”.
RFA Tidespring is the first of class of the Military Afloat Reach & Sustainability (MARS) Tankers, specifically designed to provide fuel water and stores to the Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carriers.