Forth Majeure as Royal Navy patrol boats show off beneath iconic bridge

Trailing white wakes beneath Scotland’s most famous crossing, half the vessels in the Royal Navy’s 1st Patrol Boat Squadron demonstrate their ability to move at speed (nearly 18kts, or just over 20mph) in close formation.

Fresh from participation in centenary events in Orkney for the Battle of Jutland – when they carried royalty and national leaders across the bleak expanse of Scapa Flow – eight boats mustered in Leith docks for a day of combined training.

The 54-tonne craft normally give students from UK universities an insight into life in the Royal Navy.

But after their ceremonial role in the far north, the boats remained together for a rare day of combined squadron exercises, using Leith docks on the Firth of Forth as their base.

Operating seven boats together in such close proximity was always likely to be challenging but the commanding officers and ship’s companies proved more than equal to the task

Lt Ben Dorrington

Led by HMS Dasher – normally assigned to Bristol Universities – seven of the eight 21-metre-long boats streaked up the river estuary in formation.

HMS Archer, Biter, Blazer, Explorer, Express and Trumpeter all lined up behind Dasher (boat eight, HMS Ranger, remained in Leith).

“Normally it would be very difficult to get eight of the squadron’s craft together on this scale without unduly affecting individual programmes,” said Lt Ben Dorrington, HMS Dasher’s Commanding Officer.

“Due to our support for the Battle of Jutland commemorations in Orkney we had a rare opportunity to exercise together and were determined to make the most of it.”

The boats carried out various combined manoeuvres in formation and in groups, including light-line transfers between vessels and co-ordinated departures from and entries into Leith docks.

“Operating seven boats together in such close proximity was always likely to be challenging but the commanding officers and ship’s companies proved more than equal to the task,” Lt Dorrington continued.

 “We completed a number of complex manoeuvres at speeds of up to 18 knots – and at such close quarters it was exhilarating to say the least.

“Manoeuvres on this scale are extremely rare and so most of us will not experience an exercise like this again for some time.”  

Watching it all was the squadron’s new commanding officer Cdr Mark Hammon who was delighted by the seamanship he witnessed.

“This was a rare opportunity to get the maximum number of ships from the squadron to sea at the same time – and a fantastic opportunity for the ship’s companies to operate together in close proximity, practising a number of manoeuvres that both the squadron – but also wider Royal Navy – rarely get to practise.”

The eight boats have now dispersed once more to begin their summer deployments. For the next two months they are ‘bomb bursting’ across northern European, giving undergraduates an extended experience of life in the Royal Navy, taking them as far east as Estonia in the Baltic.