Skip to content
Recruiting now.Explore navy careers

P2000s navigate canals and lochs of Scotland in summer deployment

P2000s navigated the canals and locks of Scotland during their summer deployment
1 August 2023
Royal Navy vessels swapped open seas for the canals and lochs of Scotland as they gave university students a taste of life in the Fleet.

Patrol boats HMS Charger, Smiter, Biter and Blazer have hosted under-graduates from several UK universities as they conduct summer deployments around the highlands and islands of Scotland.

And they’ve also demonstrated their skill in navigating the narrowest of man-made waterways: the Crinan and Caledonian Canals.

The former links Loch Fyne with the Atlantic, sparing small craft a lengthy journey around the Kintyre peninsula, while the more famous Caledonian Canal links a series of lochs (including Ness) allowing boats to pass from the west coast to the Moray Firth.

Though just nine miles long, it took HMS Charger two days to complete the Crinan Canal transit, negotiating 15 locks and seven swing/retractable bridges.

Even though Charger is one of the smallest vessels in the Royal Navy’s inventory (under 21 metres long and just five metres wide), Lieutenant Andrew Bonham, the boat’s commanding officer, said the canal passage posed “a significant challenge”.

At the narrowest points, there were just 40 centimetres (a little over 1ft in old money) space sideways… and a mere 10cm (four inches) under the keel.

“This was a challenge we relished, a chance for us to test our skills managing seamanship, line handling, and ship handling, with zero room for error,” said Lt Bonham.

“I’m delighted to say that we got Charger through without any damage – either to the ship or the crew – which is a testament to the teamwork exhibited by everyone on board.”

Though still a navigating challenge, the much longer Caledonian Canal is wider and demanded crew and students on Blazer remained on their A-game for the three-day passage.

Sailing the Crinan Canal under the White Ensign is a much less frequent experience.

This was a challenge we relished, a chance for us to test our skills managing seamanship, line handling, and ship handling, with zero room for error

Lieutenant Andrew Bonham

“We had a fantastic response from the local community, and became very friendly with the Crinan Canal staff, who clearly weren’t used to seeing a warship squeeze through and seemed delighted to see us,” Lt Bonham added.

“We were able to host several for tea, some for dinner, and many for tours, as the programme allowed. My personal highlight was bringing one of the lock keepers on board at the Crinan Sea Lock, who was donned full highland dress and piped Charger out to sea.”

Students from universities in and around Plymouth, Bristol, Wales and Glasgow have all benefited from the P2000 experience over the past few weeks.

In recent years, the Coastal Forces Squadron has shifted its focus away from its recent historic role of introducing university under-graduates to the work the Royal Navy does at home and abroad, to operational deployments in support of the Fleet.

The boats have deployed to the Arctic and Baltic supporting the work of larger warships such as HMS Albion and helped Wildcat crews develop anti-shipping tactics when using their new Martlet air-to-surface missiles.

But the role of giving students at University Royal Naval Units an extended taste of life in the Senior Service – from seafaring, navigation, daily routine and boat handling to flying the flag for the navy in places other vessels cannot or rarely visit – has not disappeared entirely.

The craft have called in a string of ports, including Tarbert, Carbost (Skye), Lochmaddy (North Uist), Stornaway, Thurso and Fraserburgh, while Biter has hosted junior officers from HMS Collingwood to teach the basics of pilotage and navigation, while Smiter helped Belfast Coastguard helicopter hone winching rescue skills.

Related articles

Navy News Magazine

We bring you the latest news, features and award-winning photographs from the front-line. Navy News has been reporting on all that happens in the Royal Navy and its wider community since 1954.