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Dracula spectacular as HMS Queen Elizabeth and RFA Tideforce link up off Whitby

20 July 2023
You thought Whitby was only famous for fish and chips, Dracula and Capt Cook…

But unbeknown to tourists converging on the picture-postcard North Yorkshire port, two leviathans were lurking just beyond the horizon.

The UK’s flagship HMS Queen Elizabeth and fleet tanker RFA Tideforce – more than 100,000 tonnes of naval might and muscle – spent two days together off the East Coast as the carrier conducts training ahead of her autumn deployment.

Two days of RASing – replenishing at sea – were conducted to keep seamanship teams on both vessels on their toes.

It’s the job of the four Tide-class tankers to provide the Fleet – especially carrier task groups – with fuel on the go, sustaining operations and avoiding the need to head into port to refuel.

Using all her rigs and probes at maximum capacity, in the right weather conditions and the like, the Tides can pump as much as 2,400 tonnes of fuel into the waiting tanks of HMS Queen Elizabeth in just an hour – enough to fill the tanks of 43,000 family cars.

Less was delivered during the two training RASes off Whitby.

First, the 37,000-tonne Tideforce making an abeam – sideways for non sailors – approach to the carrier’s starboard side until the ships were sufficiently close enough for the gunline to be fired.

That’s the first step towards the ships becoming connected together by a jackstay and fuel line, with HMS Queen Elizabeth receiving both marine diesel and aviation fuel.

Once the transfer of fuel was complete, the ships separated but continued in company overnight. Night time flying had been planned for helicopters between the two ships, but these were cancelled due to strong winds.

This period of integration in the North Sea allowed both the bridge and seamanship teams to further develop their experience of Tide and HMS Queen Elizabeth and their ability to work together ahead of future operations.

Commanding Officer Captain Pierre Wyatt RFA

Undeterred the bridge and tactical teams of both ships continued with station keeping exercises overnight with the tanker required to ‘follow the leader’ on the carrier’s instructions passed between the ships by tactical radio.

Come daylight and time for a second replenishment, again abeam, but on the carrier’s port side (opposite from her two islands).

Whilst the bridge of Tideforce is visible from the bridge of the carrier, the vast majority of the tanker is out of sight when refuelling from the port side of a carrier.

Despite this, command of the carrier held firm and the bridge team of Tideforce skillfully placed the tanker at the optimum distance for a replenishment. In spite of heavy seas, the gunline was fired and the ships were soon connected.

Once the manoeuvre was completed, the two ships parted company – Queen Elizabeth continuing her training, Tideforce heading to port for a period of maintenance.

“This period of integration in the North Sea allowed both the bridge and seamanship teams to further develop their experience of Tide and HMS Queen Elizabeth and their ability to work together ahead of future operations,” said the tanker’s Commanding Officer Captain Pierre Wyatt RFA.

“Conducting replenishments on both the Port and Starboard side of the Carrier allowed Tideforce’s navigation team to continue to enhance their understanding of the most effective approach and station keeping methods, which will be key to effective future operations.”

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