On a rather chilly day in February I finally head down to Chatham to visit the historic dockyard base in part of the old naval dockyard which used to be one of the major dockyards used by the Royal Navy for over 400 years.
Having read a fair bit about the dockyard and some of the ships currently there I was looking forward to finally getting to see them in person. HMS Cavalier had been on my list of ships to see for a long time being one of the only WWII era destroyers in still in UK waters.
Upon heading down the night before we stayed overnight near by so we could be the first ones at the door the next day. We moved the car over to the museum’s car parking with clearly marked and had plenty of spaces and headed into the main entrance.
Are well thought out lobby and shop area with some very helpful staff manning the tills, a keep chat and joke about how technology was not helping the whole transaction after the till choose to do its own thing and we entered the inner area of the museum. We were greeted by another cheerful member of staff who explained the different areas of the dockyard and booked our timed tickets for the ropery tour.
Not realising how big the site was we had a quick stroll to the other end of the dockyard to the entrance of the ropery, as we walked along the site I got my first look at HMS Cavalier, Ocelot, Gannet all berth here and open to the public. Along the route to the ropery are some lovely period buildings all in keeping with the history on the site. Building such as old Admiral’s office, Commissioners House, harbour master’s office and along the road we saw the end of the ropery.
This building sat on the site where rope for the Navy had been made for over 400, the current building dated back to 1782 and was the longest brick built building in Europe. The rope walk is around 1135ft in length and was capable of laying over 1000ft of rope. We also took part in a tour of the ropery and the member of staff who undertook it was very good at imparting the history of the site, she then asked for volunteers to make there own rope! Which is now sat on the wall in my office. After making are own rope we headed up to the rope walk were all the magic happens, some of the machines that are still used dated back to 1812. The Royal Navy used to thousands of miles of rope a ship such as HMS Victory used 31 miles of ropes from rigging to the rope on the ship’s bell. The Ship HMS Invincible sank off Portsmouth 100 years later part of her Chatham made rigging was brought to the surface in near perfect condition even after being on the sea bed for years.
After we finished at the ropery head out and when to grab some pictures of the old main entrance to the dockyard when it was operational, an impressive brick built gatehouse with a large royal crest above the gate, located near by was the old guard house and a mast with a bell atop that used to call the dockyard workers to work.
Our first ship to visit was HMS Ocelot this O class submarine was very interesting to look around, this is done in small groups due to the nature of the vessel and the confined space on board. History of the Ocelot can be found here
The main reason for my visit to Chatham wsa to see this ship, I had read all I could about her and looked at plenty of online pictures but nothing beats seeing the ships in person. The first sight of this ship in the victory dock tied up alongside in a wet dock was amazing to see, personally a ship should be in water as their natural environment. Walking around the outside of the ship I found the national memorial for destroyer crews lost during WWII which is located next to the gangway leading to the ship.
I headed up the gangway and boarded Cavalier we were greeted by a member of staff who gave us some safety advice and we were allowed to walk around the ship at our own place, The ship is well layout and and easy to navigate around with plenty of articles from her service from post WWII, First section of the ship was the the area where the ships ratings lived and slept, bunks lockers and kit bags I also found a built in toaster!
Walking around main internal sections of the ship here can be found the ships NAAFI shop, library,officers, radio room, heads (Toilets) heading out on the outer deck we passed the galley I was hit by the chilling wind which made our visit rather cold, and we looked around the deck where her torpedoes had been I found the ship’s bell (I even rang it). I headed right to the stern to the rear turret and grab a quick picture with the White ensign that the ship still flew (by warrant).
Heading back inside we head up to officers country to the captain’s cabin and wardroom, all well laid out part of the ship, upon entering the wardroom I took a seat on the rather comfortable leather sofa and just took in the atmosphere of the ship and trying to image this ship at sea or the officers enjoying a pink gin in some far flung harbour.
After regaining the warmth in the hands I head back past the captain’s (CO) cabin and have a quick look inside the executive officer (XO) cabin. Head up the ladder up to the open bridge and this for me was one of the interesting part of the ship. This is where the ship commanded from in any weather, now I can believe being in charge of a ship even one the size of a destroyer is challenging in perfect conditions now throw in a mid Atlantic storm in the middle of the night and you’re the Officer of the Watch (OOW)
On every bulkhead was a dial or other piece of equipment, in the middle of the bridge platform was the ship’s compass with a voice pipe down to the steering compartment (Which I tested of course) and only one chair, the captain’s chair of course. Either side of the bridge on the wings was a couple of searchlights used for sending visual signals in morse code and the ship’s signal flag locker. One level down from the bridge was a smaller section with a signal bofo’s anti-aircraft gun mount and a ship’s office and the steering compartment with the ship’s wheel is located. Walking down towards the forecastle to view the ship’s forward turrets and to grab a few final shots of the ship. As we headed down there a large school group boarded the ship and this was a great sight to see that they were getting to see a bit of the proud naval history this country has.
I left the ship the same way we boarded and headed off to have a keep look around HMS Gannet.
Link to my blog on the ship’s history and photo here
As we board HMS Gannet there wasn’t a lot of the original internal structure left of the ship after many years of being used as training hulk still interesting to go aboard the ship. There were still a few bits that had been recreated on board but which were still interesting to read and see.
We were now running short on time as we wanted to get back on the road before the worst of rush hour. So head back along to the main entrance via the RNLI lifeboat section which had a number of different vessels used by the RNLI over the lifetime of the organisation.
It was recommended that we go and see the new exhibition “Command of the Oceans” unfortunately I ran out of time, but with the price of entry to the museum allows re-entry for upto 12 months I will be returning for sure
Overall Chatham Historic Dockyard was a excellent day out for and I enjoyed it alot. I’d recommended you take the day to explore this place and you probably still won’t see all of it or of course you’ll want to return.
You can find more details about the dockyard at the below links