The Adventures of a Conway Lad on RFA Tideflow 1964-65


14th December 1964 to 10th February 1965 as a Deck Apprentice with a British Crew.


After just twelve days leave, I received orders to join this ship at Rosyth Dockyard in Scotland.  Travelling by train from Hastings, via London, to Inverkeithing station, I was amazed to see that as my train passed over the Forth Railway Bridge, the “Tideflow” was there in the channel below me, inbound from sea.


RFA Tideflow

This ship was what I considered to be my first proper RFA.  By that I mean that she was designed for and actively carried out replenishment of warships at sea on a regular basis.  Our main customer was to be the aircraft carrier “Ark Royal”.  She was in the process of intensively training her pilots and flight-deck teams with day and night flying operations in the Moray Firth area.  This area was selected because of the proximity of the Royal Naval Air Station at Lossiemouth, to give back-up assistance when needed.  Our job was to keep the “Ark” topped up with fuels, not only for herself but also for all the aircraft that she carried.  These consisted of Buccaneers, Sea Vixens, Gannets and Wessex helicopters.

Refuelling the “Ark” was always an impressive event and especially so at night.  Both ships were usually darkened, eliminating all unnecessary lighting, so as a result we were all working under gloomy red floodlights.  As we closed in to keep station on her starboard side the ‘carrier loomed enormously into our field of vision, with the accommodation island towering high above us on the RAS deck.  Three luminous nylon gunlines were fired by rifle across to our deck from the separate, red lit RAS pockets of the ‘carrier, two to establish a link for each replenishment rig and one for the distance line and telephone wires to be attached to, up near the bows.  Almost as a matter of routine, the two jackstay refuelling rigs and the distance line and phones would then be hauled back across to the ‘carrier’, with the large loops of fuel hoses spanning the sea and the searching white breakers thrown up between the two ships.  Personnel on the decks of both ships could be seen moving about, mainly by the little light carried on their inflatable lifejackets.  The distance line up forward, with its tiny indicator lights apparently dancing on it in the wind, kept the bridge teams informed of our distance apart.  Steam winches rattled throughout the RAS as their operators paid out or hauled in the three hose trays riding under each of the two automatically tensioned jackstay wires. They were compensating for the movement of the two ships and kept the tension off the pressurised hoses as the fuel was pumped across.  The replenishment operation probably lasted for between one and two hours.  On completion of fuelling, the hoses were blown through with air before being disconnected.  When the hoses had been hauled back to the tanker, the jackstays were uncoupled and slipped.  Still under cover of darkness, the tanker then slowly pulled away from the ‘carrier, whilst the crew began re-stowing and securing the gear, ready for the next customer.

I spent the Christmas period on board, as the ship was berthed alongside in Rosyth Dockyard.  We had quite a festive time, including the odd party with the local nurses.  The other Deck Apprentice and I went ashore to Edinburgh and Dunfermline, seeing the sights and visiting the pubs!  In the New Year the ship moved south for a while, operating from Devonport and into the Bristol Channel, before returning again to Rosyth and the Moray and Dornoch Firth sea areas.
I paid off at short notice in February, transferring to the identical “Tidereach”, which was short of a deck apprentice and thankfully heading for the Far East and a warmer climate.