The smiles were shining from all as fleet staff rolled in this morning. A mix of relief and the anticipation fed the high spirits. Relief that the occasionally strained contract negotiations with Thales, whose skilled work force will conduct the majority of the dockings tasks, had yesterday, been sealed with the flurry of a pen and a hand shake. The anticipation, for most of us, came from the action to come. Released from the constraints of working in the public domain of the museum, we could focus on the material welfare of the submarine and the exercise of some of our skills and knowledge that had been held in check. Others anticipated a leisurely cruise on a faultless Spring morning.
There had been months of work preparing the sub for this day. Warwick Thompson had been crawling about amongst the tangle of pipe below the casings. With torch and note pad his inspection of the sub’s tanks and innards are the foundation of the scope of work to be conducted in the coming month. I myself had spent countless hours in strange yogic positions undoing hundreds of bolts so as to free the casings. Everyone had contributed. We had prepared, but on seeing the authoritative stride, black’ n ’whites and scrambled-egged caps of the navy pilot’s entourage, I returned to an unexpected place. Every muscle tensed a little, that whole of being feeling as you left port, like the first day of school only more solemn.
The DMS ( Defence Maritime Services ) tugs positioned themselves fore and aft and her lines drawn aboard. Our pilot, by close inspection, assures himself of their security and then takes his position aloft on the tiny bridge way up in the fin. Radio communication is tested between both lines parties, fore and aft, and the bridge. We all wait and then wait a little longer, a car carrier is coming into port. The delay seems too much for the mass of well wishers on the heritage pontoon and they disperse, perhaps they can no longer bare saying farewell? Then a scramble of activity as the tugs’ lines creak taught and the sub’s let go. A close eye is kept on the closing gap between the destroyer and sub as she turned to head out the harbour proper. Finally a miraculous turn is brought off by the forward tug, much like seeing a front rower morph into Rudolf Nuereyev, as he repositions from a push to tow.
Thanks to the skill of or navy pilot and the DMS skippers all goes smoothly on our approach to Garden Island dock yard. Once Onslow is tied up along side we secure all means of entry and leave her for the night. The museum staff will now begin the formidable task of induction into the dockyard work area, a process that in total will take a full day of instruction and evaluation.