|HMS Astute on sea trials|
One has to offer one's condolences to the Lords of the Admiralty for getting their boat stuck. I suppose that we ourselves as taxpayers should hope that the damage doesn't cost too much to fix, as we paid £1,200,000,000 to BAE to build her. I know how upsetting it can be to get stuck, but did learn some years ago that just because the water is blue doesn't mean it's very deep.
Last night on television I heard Professor Eric Grove, a maritime expert and sometime defence adviser, opine that the likely reasons for the grounding were (1) the charts were wrong, (2) a shingle bank had shifted or (3) the submarine had been caught in a puff of wind. Option three seems very unlikely, as the ship displaces 7,200 tons and would have been mostly underwater when she grounded. Obviously their Lordships will ask Commander Andy Coles for his version and we may be told the outcome in due course, but I can't help wondering if the new method of navigating had anything to do with it. When she was launched the Commander declared:-
"We have a brand new method of controlling the submarine, which is a platform management system, rather than the old, conventional way of doing everything of using your hands..."
It's pretty lucky that the boat grounded on shingle, as the area is pretty rocky, so matters could have been much worse. Here is a map showing where she got stuck:-
The area is not in fact badly charted, despite what the good Professor says. Even before there were charts it was the custom for naval vessels passing through to recruit (kidnap?) local seafarers as pilots. This probably happened in Roman times and was certainly practised by the navy in Cromwell's time. Cattle were commonly swum across the Kyle and the drovers would have had as good a local knowledge as anyone. In 1719 Sir John Norris was sailing his ships through these waters without getting stuck, while on his way to Scandinavia. He was a canny fellow, old "foul weather Jack" having witnessed the loss of Sir Cloudesley Shovell and 2,000 of his men on the Isles of Scilly in 1707.
However Commander Andy didn't need to capture a local Pict. I have a nice set of sketch maps published by the Clyde Cruising Club forty years ago and I'm sure the Royal Navy could find one in a second hand book shop. Here is a copy of the relevant page:-
My map doesn't show the bridge of course, but a good look-out might be able to spot it on a clear day. From the images on the telly the red buoys are still there and the older chaps in the Royal Navy would have been able to tell Commander Andy Coles that you leave them to port when coming up with the flood tide, that is to say as he was going South at the time he should have used the platform management system to keep outside them. Actually I find the old system easier to remember and usually have to ask Peter for help when we come across the modern yellow ones with wee black things stuck on top.