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Richard Townshend’s Page

Welcome to Richard Townshend’s Page.


Richard contacted me early January 2015 and sent many photo’s and a fascinating write up of his 3 week tour on Miranda.

He was a serving Coastguardsman (the old name for current Coastguard officers) and had volunteered for and was one of a fortunate few (Richards words! - Ed), who were selected for 3-week tours of detached duty (training) onboard Miranda, in the early 1970's.

My duty period began when I flew from Gatwick to Keflavik via Glasgow on the 31st January 1972, from where I was due to fly on to Isafjord to join Miranda, but the weather had other ideas and I was held in Reykjavik for a couple of days before eventually making that flight.


The attached photo's of the crews 'Mountain tour', are indirectly related to my flight from Glasgow, in that I was fortunate enough to be seated next to Mr. Hannes Hafstein of the National Lifesaving Association of Iceland and during our in-flight chat we had time to discuss both his Associations role and responsibilities as well as those of Her Majesty's Coastguard.


We got on well and as a result of his learning that I was in the British Coastguard Service and joining Miranda for a 3-week tour of duty, he offered to give the Miranda crew a tour of his headquarters and the surroundings mountains, if we were to put into Reykjavik during that time.

On arrival at Keflavik  I thanked Mr. Hafstein for his generous offer and said I would most certainly pass on his contact details to the Support Commander and hoped to meet him again. But to my surprise, that meeting was much sooner than I had anticipated, when he contacted me at my hotel the following morning, after somehow learning that I was weather bound, and a short while later, picked me up for a personal tour of his headquarters.  A most charming man and I was extremely grateful for his time.


The following day with a slight improvement in the weather, I got my flight to Isafjord and experienced 'that' landing, one which is often talked about these days and actually features on YouTube (but surely it had a lava landing strip in 1972?).


What a shame YouTube wasn't around in those days, as no-one onboard the twin-engine Fokker Friendship F27 appeared to speak English and as such were unable to warn me of what to expect when coming into land! 'Mountains on both sides and in front', water below and the aircraft descending rapidly - all very disconcerting and it would have been a lot worse, had the other passengers not been observed chatting so happily!


On arrival and with Miranda still at sea, I was booked into a lovely quayside hotel for a short while until she arrived, but was soon onboard and having been briefed by the Chief Officer and shown around  by the Third Mate, I met Support Commander Charles Adams and was able to pass on Hannes Hafstein's invitation - which resulted in our tour (and the photographs).


The collection also includes a selection of rough weather shots, including some taken during the 'storm' of the 19th/20th February when we were called to a trawler which had two of its crew overcome by fumes in the engine room.  At 75 miles out from our position off Isafjord and with weather conditions  deteriorating, for which Miranda was already advising trawlers to head for shelter, the crew was facing a challenge!


I recall the pre mission briefing, during which the Met officer was giving the very latest update using a chart on which he had, over a couple of days, been plotting  a huge low coming across the Atlantic, the centre of which had so many isobars, it looked like a very tight dartboard!

Asked by the Support Commander for his latest prediction of wind speed, time of arrival etc., the Met officer expressed concern over its intensity, the possibility of 'Storm Force 12'  and a rapidly building Atlantic swell - which should be with us later in the day!  


With all taken into consideration, the go-ahead was given and Miranda set off 'at best speed' hoping to beat the low and rendezvous with the trawler which was making best speed towards us.


I don't think any of us will forget (well I certainly haven't) the next couple of days and I recall we rendezvoused with  the trawler, to find she was pitching and rolling so violently  that  almost a third of her hull (below the waterline) was visible and we were pitching and rolling similarly - so much so, launching  the Z-boat was never an option and as there was nothing we could do, the trawler set off at her best speed for port (or at least shelter) - and we at ours, what was it 8 knots max? and that "dartboard" caught us up!  


Conditions that followed were to me 'horrendous', but probably much less so to the rest of the crew - who were used to such lows, but even so, many of the officers and crew seemed to be in the Operations Room for the duration!


During that time I scribbled; "Met Officer reports the National Physical Laboratory wave recorder has broken, - well, went out of the top at 88' and at the height of the storm he was reporting wind speeds of over 100 mph".


All these year later, I still vividly recall the height of that rolling Atlantic swell and how each mountainous wave was a challenge for the crew as they struggled to keep the ship 'hove-to'  when the auto-pilot alarm was sounding almost continuously to warn that she was being knocked off course with a subsequent risk of broaching.  


For me standing alongside the auto-pilot and watching the Chief officer or his crew's calm, but immediate, response to alter the ships heading each time the alarm sounded - was most reassuring and highlighted the exceptional skill needed to keep the ship safe.


As with all storms this one eventually passed and was greeted with sighs of relief as conditions abated and we headed down to Reykjavik, arriving early morning on the 21st February.


For me this was to be my last day onboard as I was to fly home the following morning and it was also time for a partial crew change, so that night we had 'a bevy or two' onboard to relax after a very hectic couple of days.


Final comments:


Serving on Miranda was a great privilege and I learned a huge amount, not least about the weather and sea conditions!


More amusing (well sort of!) was to witness first hand, that those large Atlantic Cat fish       (Icelandic Wolffish) caught by the trawlers, have very strong jaws and some really vicious  teeth - so when two baskets full of them are emptied on you 'from a great height', finding the lifting strop in the bottom of the Z-boat - becomes a very hazardous  task!


But most of all, I came away with enormous respect and admiration for the Officers and crew of Miranda and the crews of our Deep-Sea Trawler Fleet, who had to endure those often horrendous conditions on an almost daily basis for months on end.

All very special people - and THANK YOU ALL for the experience!


And so! Over to Richard’s fascinating write up:

Photo album

Coastguardsman Richard (Dick) Townshend at the hot springs - Iceland 1972