The Adventures of a Conway Lad on RFA Tidepool 1970-71


Pennant No. A 76                   International Callsign GJMB                     Registered LONDON


Previous Name N/A                                                                         Lloyds Identity No. 5425607


Builder Hawthorn Leslie (Shipbuilders) Ltd, Hebburn on Tyne.


Launched 11th December 1962                                                            Completed 28th June 1963


Displacement (Light-ship) 8,531 tons                          (Loaded) 25,931 tons


Measurement Tonnage N.R.T. 7,411                G.R.T. 14,130             DWT 17,400


Dimensions Length O.A. 584 ft.                    Beam 71 ft.                  Draft 32 ft.


Main Machinery Double reduction geared steam turbines.  Built by Hawthorn Leslie (Eng.) Ltd.

2 x Babcock & Wilcox water tube boilers.    Single shaft.   Speed 17 knots.


Ships Badge Granted in 1963.  It depicts a blue tidal pool at low water, in which there are two scallops and two starfish.


Remarks A Fleet Replenishment Tanker and sister-ship to the “TIDESPRING”


Both highly specialised ships, designed for the fuelling and storing of naval vessel at sea, with high performance under rigorous service conditions.  They have a cargo capacity of approximately 13,000 tons.  They are fitted with a helicopter landing deck, fuelling, maintenance and hanger facilities.


“TIDEPOOL” took part in the 1976 “Cod War” dispute with Iceland.


She was sold in March 1982 to the Republic of Chile, but was retained until August 1982 because of the ‘Falkland Conflict’.  When handed over to Chile she was re-named “Almirante Jorge Montt”, with a new pennant number of AO 52.  Known simply as the “MONTT”, she has been modified to the requirements of the Chilean Navy, including a larger helicopter hanger, defensive weapons and additional whip aerials for their own communication systems.  No further details.

















21st November 1970 to 19th May 1971

British Crew

2nd Officer


For a change and as I lived in Plymouth, I didn’t have far to travel to join this ship as she was lying at Yonderberry Oil Fuel Jetty, across the Hamoaze from Devonport.


“Tidepool” and her sister-ship “Tidespring”, were both improved versions of the original “Tide” class built in the early 1950’s.  The hull shape was really the only thing these newer ships had in common with their older cousins.  They were far more sophisticated vessels, with more modern cargo and pumping arrangements, electrically powered winches for mooring and the replenishment gear and the first RFA’s to be fitted with helicopter landing and hanger facilities. Thankfully, the accommodation was far more comfortable as well.


I thought that this might be a good opportunity to acquaint the reader with a taste of the “home comforts” as provided on RFA vessels.


Officers and crews living conditions were comparatively luxurious compared to those on warships at that time, although possibly rather less spacious and more functional than on many merchant ships, especially commercial super-tankers.


The officers’ accommodation was reasonably comfortable, where each officer had his own air-conditioned cabin with porthole.  Cadets were berthed two to a cabin.  Cabin spaces, which increased in size with seniority, were furnished with a bunk-bed, seating, a wardrobe and drawer spaces for clothing and personal belongings, a bookshelf, bureau desk with a radio antenna socket, a carpet runner and a wash basin.  Senior officers had wider bunks and en-suite facilities, whilst junior officers had community toilet and shower spaces located throughout the accommodation block. Masters and Chief Engineers usually had a suite of rooms.  Bedding, towels and soap were provided for officers and crew, changed on a weekly basis.  The Catering Department provided a steward service for officers’ cabins.  Cadets and crew cleaned their own facilities.


Most UK crewmen had their own cabin space, whilst non-UK crews usually berthed two to a cabin, except the Petty Officers, i.e. the Bosun, Carpenter, Store-Keeper, Yeoman and Donkeyman.  “Captain’s Rounds”, a weekly inspection of the officer’s and crew’s accommodation and the catering areas, usually ensured that a high degree of cleanliness and tidiness was maintained throughout.


Most ships had a small laundry of sorts, with a washing machine and ironing board.  Larger RFA’s had a more sophisticated laundry and carried a couple of Chinese laundrymen to cope with bed and table linen.  They would also launder personal items for a small payment.


The officers’ dining saloon was usually spacious, with table service provided by the catering department stewards.  Three cooked meals a day were available, with a choice of hot or cold dishes.  The dining saloon was usually located close to the galley for convenience.  Larger ships had a small coffee annex attached to the dining area.


The officers’ lounge area usually included a small bar area for liquid refreshments, with drinks served by a steward on the larger ships.  Furniture in officers’ public rooms and cabins was fitted with loose linen covers.

All ships were provided with a selection of library books, courtesy of the Seafarers Education Service, which were changed from time to time.  Larger ships often had their own quiet library/reading area.


Outgoing personal and business mail from the ship was collected by the purser / ships clerk, bagged and dispatched on arrival in port via the ship’s local agent by air to the UK.  Incoming mail to the ship was initially addressed to the UK British Forces Post Office in London, and then bagged and dispatched by air to the ships next predicted port of call.  Occasionally the predictions were thwarted by operational diversions, much to the dismay of the ship’s personnel.  The mail then had to be returned to the UK and re-dispatched to the next anticipated destination.  When in company with warships, the services were somewhat better, with regular deliveries to the task group.  This was particularly enhanced if there was an aircraft carrier in the group, which could fly off a fixed wing aircraft, usually a “Gannet”,  to a pre-determined airport to collect the mail.  The mail was then distributed around the group, either by helicopter or during the frequent replenishments, when ships were able to exchange such items.


Returning to the “Tidepool” narrative and as usual with my rank, I was the 12-4 watchkeeper, with responsibilities for keeping charts and navigational publications up to date and maintenance of the two Admiralty-Sperry gyrocompasses. This ship also carried a Senior 2nd Officer, who was the navigator and operations officer.


The fact that this ship was fitted with a flight deck meant that another of my duties was as the ‘Helicopter Control Officer’, (HCO).  This was a new task for me and I had recently been on an HCO course at HMS “Dryad”, a shore establishment near Portsmouth.  This aspect of my job, which I really enjoyed, was very similar in many ways to that of an Air Traffic Controller at an airport. It entailed operating a radar set coupled with UHF radio communications to keep track of, and ensure the safe transit of, airborne helicopters to and from and in the vicinity of your own ship.  As well as keeping in contact with the helicopter pilots, you were advising both the bridge and flight deck teams onboard your ship of local aircraft activity. It also involved talking the pilot on to and down a pre-determined glide-path to your flight-deck, so that he could land safely in the event of poor visibility.  If I recall correctly, the glide path was angled at red 165 degrees relative to the ship’s head.  Although the ship did not have to steer directly into the wind to recover the aircraft there were pre-calculated limits of relative wind speed and direction for each class of ship, within which the aircraft could actually land on the flight deck. The helicopter having previously been positively identified by a special radar signal, was directed by course alterations to a position about two miles astern of the ship.  Having attained the glide path at a normal operating height of about 400 feet, the aircraft speed was reduced and it was ordered to gradually descend on a course that would bring it along the glide-path towards the ship and flight-deck.  At certain distances from the ship the aircraft height was checked with the pilot to ensure that he was descending at the correct rate. In limited visibility the pilot would have been using only his instruments to keep the aircraft on the appropriate compass course and at the right height, until at a distance from the flight-deck of a quarter of a mile when he was asked by the HCO to look up for sight of the deck.  Confirming in sight he would then be handed over to the ship’s Flight Deck Officer.  If not in sight he was told to overshoot and try again. The ship of course could be stationary or proceeding at anything up to maximum speed during these evolutions. The various aircraft that I worked with included Royal Naval ‘Seakings’, ‘Wessex’ and ‘Wasps’.


Whilst I was on board, the ship was mainly employed around the U.K. coast, with a visit to Bremerhaven in Germany, a run up to the Arctic for cold weather trials and a trip to Gibraltar and back.  Some way through my appointment, the ship was sent to dry-dock and a short refit at Falmouth, which was a pleasant enough spot.  During the refit I lodged with a couple of other officers at a guesthouse called the ‘Alpenstock’ on the main street.  It was convenient for the town and not too far from the docks.  Mid refit I caught a train home to Plymouth for a weekend break.


In May 1971, the ship was about to be deployed to the Far East. As I was only a few days short of sea-time necessary to sit my Board of Trade “Master’s” certificate, I applied for a transfer to a U.K. based vessel, to enable me to get those essential few days before going ashore to commence my studies.  I paid off “Tidepool” in Portsmouth and had a short 4-day break before joining my next brief appointment, the “Engadine”.