The call came when I was based at the Boom Defence Depot in Greenock, Scotland. The order was a bit obscure but it was clear enough in other respects. I had to report to Chatham Navy Base to join a specialised salvage vessel currently undergoing an emergency overhaul – or refit – whatever was in progress. There was only a short time to complete the work and I was to waste no time getting down to Chatham.
The ship looked a mess. Several hundred tons of what I perceived to be outdated junk. That is until I had a closer look.
Although I had completed a comprehensive course in boom defence and marine salvage and had already been involved in some diverse operations, I was still relatively inexperienced. However, I quickly came to recognise that my initial assessment was quite wrong. I wasn’t looking at junk at all. In fact, this little ship appeared to have some serious lifting capabilities – which would prove to be the case. And her name? HMS Uplifter – the brassiere ship of course! Recently taken out of mothballs, she now looked just how any RN ship would look during a dockyard refit – a complete shambles. Lighting, heat, water frequently interrupted and sometimes off for hours at a time. Yet, work somehow carried on until amazingly, the little ship struggled bravely out to sea without so much as a basic trial. That would take place on the way, provided of course, we could reach Plymouth, our final UK stopover without something going wrong.
Although we didn’t know it at the time, there were a number of salvage and other vessels already on their way, or about to do so from other ports in the UK, Germany, France, Holland and Scandinavia. Of course, by this time we knew the destination to be the Suez Canal and the mission was to clear the canal of ships scuttled by Egyptian authorities or whoever in order to block the waterway. We faced a mammoth task by any stretch of the imagination.
But Uplifter was a coastal vessel, not designed for long ocean voyages, at least not specifically. How would we fare, just when winter was setting in?
Read the rest of this article with additional pictures in Sea Breezes Magazine - January 2010 Issue