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Tour Of Duty

Winter Tour of Duty 1971-72

The following article is reproduced from the original, published in the Marconi Marine magazine "Mariner" (May/June 1972) by Ron Vinall, one of the first Electronics Officers appointed to 'Miranda'

The complement of radio room staff for the British fisheries support vessel, Miranda, during her latest winter tour of duty off the north-west coast of Iceland, comprised four members of Marconi Marine’s seagoing staff - an electronics officer and three radio

Here, the electronics officer, Mr R.E. Vinall, relates their experiences during this voyage.

Mothership Miranda on station

Four of us had been appointed to Miranda for the 1971-2 winter trawler support operation off the north-west cape of Iceland. Three of us, Frank Dixon, Bill Smith and myself, met while signing on for the voyage at Postern Gate, the Hull Mercantile Marine office. Ray Smith arrived a few days later and completed the team.

Miranda did not leave for Iceland until 25th November, nearly two weeks after we had signed on. This gave us time to find our way around the ship, to take on the great number of spares supplied by Marconi Marine and other electronics companies and to do sea trials.

The first day of sea trials was a revelation and almost convinced us that going up to Iceland for the winter was not a good idea at all. The ship headed out to the Spurn light vessel to do a D/F calibration and Ray and I soon wished we had not eaten breakfast. The next stage of the trials was a Coastguard exercise, which meant the vessel being at sea a night and a day. The Flamborough life-boat and an RAF helicopter were to have taken part, but the weather was too bad and Miranda carried on alone. The two of us endured another day’ of seasickness.

Sailing day arrived all too soon. The ship was swarming with journalists from newspapers and television wanting to photograph and interview nearly everyone. We did catch a glimpse of Miranda on television the same evening as we sailed up the north-east coast, but the only other result of all their labours that we saw, was a photograph of Ray, who comes from Bournmouth, in the local Aberdeen newspaper.

For the first two or three days the weather was grand as we steamed flat out, 10 knots, for Iceland. The fourth day brought a force 12 storm, which delighted the weatherman, brought the ship to a halt, and made Ray and myself pretty green again.

Another Force 12!

After having been hove-to for about 36 hours we sailed on, made a landfall off Rakenes, passed the Island of Surtsey, which appeared out of the sea following a volcanic eruption a few years go, and eventually took station off the north-west corner of Iceland.

The first two weeks on station were pretty miserable, strong winds and, as the weatherman put it ‘colossal swell’, even a little icing. During this period eating was a problem, the fish were benefiting more from any food I ate. At first we would wait for a calm period and eat like mad and try to make it last a couple of days. However, after these first two weeks we beat the seasickness and were soon able to enjoy a can of beer and a cigarette.

The primary purpose of the operation was weather advisory and trawler round-up. We carried a met officer who was supplied with weather information from Bracknell which enabled him to draw up a chart every three hours.

The information was received via a 24-hour link with Portishead radio, about 3,000 groups of weather codes a day. Portishead continuously ran three out of four transmitters exclusively for Miranda and also kept a continuous watch on our working frequencies.

What joy to be able to call up at any time of day or night and make immediate contact. We also had a teleprinter section which we only used occasionally mainly due to the poor propagation conditions and the time it took to set up the link and make the tape.

The Doctor returns to Miranda with two patients needing attention in the hospital

The trawler round-ups were conducted twice daily, 0940 and 2140. We collected a grid position from the trawlers as they reported. These positions were communicated to the Coastguard at Gorleston and we made a plot of our own on board. Any non-reports were investigated by Gorleston, and any vessel that failed to report to us in the round-up and failed also to contact its owners was reported back to us and we endeavoured to trace it via the other trawlers in the area.

Weather forecasts were also broadcast at these times and any requests for our secondary functions, medical and technical assistance were made during those calls. Urgent calls for assistance were, of course, made at other times too, and we maintained continuous watch on 500kHz and 2182kHz and on the VHF channels six and 16.

Several of the other officers had been aboard Miranda the season before and had told us about trips in the Z-boat to the trawlers. The first trip made by the Z-boat while we were there was a medical job, and we looked on, very glad it was not one of us. However, the day came when a trawler, with the wonderful name of 'Newby Wyke', called up and asked for the electronics officer. Charlie Wilson was the radio officer aboard the trawler and he requested spares for one of the vessel’s echosounders. We found a suitable spare and asked if he could fit it himself, Charlie replied that he would rather one of us did it.

This was to be my first trip in the Z-boat. Herbert Blagdon, the chief officer, helped me to get into a bright orange survival suit, galoshes, and a life-jacket, the boat was lowered with us in it and we set off for the trawler. On the way across it was explained to me how to get aboard the Newby Wyke. ‘Wait until it rolls our way and step aboard’, said my colleague, and that’s exactly what we did.

Herbert Blagdon or Tim Stafford, the second mate, always drove the boat and jolly good at it they were too. We had some hair-raising moments during these trips - on a couple of occasions the engine broke down and on Christmas Eve it was so windy that I had to spend all night on a trawler because we could not launch the boat.

Normally, when a job was finished, two baskets of fish were offered and accepted and usually a tot of rum which was also accepted. The fish were generally left in the baskets for transportation in the Z-boat, but I can remember one dark night when the fish were just tossed into the boat and I was tossed in behind them, thank goodness for the rum that night.

Miranda made several runs up to the 'ice edge'

Jobs became more regular and more varied as time went by.

Many of these were on equipment which we had not seen before but, with the help of mountains of manuals and the comprehensive range of spares with which we had been supplied, we claimed a 100 per cent record for fault-finding and the few jobs that went unrepaired were due to lack of suitable spares.

Trawlers do not usually carry electricians, neither did Miranda, so each time an electrical fault cropped up both the chief engineer and myself went along. We claimed a 100 per cent record on these too, and this included one diesel electric main engine. With good back-up from the people on Miranda and a certain amount of luck, we were able to repair these breakdowns. It was always a team effort - not just one individual’s skill or experience.

Miranda Miranda in Reykjavic harbour with the record breaking Trawler Ross Renown

Storm Force 12!

Sea Ice!

Miranda in Reykjavic harbour

with the record breaking Trawler Ross Renown

The doctor was also kept very busy, both visiting and giving advice by radio. The record for teeth extractions was broken twice over, the doctor was so proud, I expected to see him wearing them round his neck. The hospital aboard Miranda was well equipped and was also a good place to sleep in rough weather. We all had 'thwart' ship bunks but the hospital had the more normal arrangement and even had a swinging cot which was jolly comfortable if you kept your eyes closed.

Miranda was fitted with a bathythermograph and made several runs up to the ice edge when using this apparatus. Seeing the ice was both fascinating and awful, sometimes even frightening.

This season the weather was unusually mild with practically no icing conditions. However, there was always plenty of wind and a big swell running. This made life uncomfortable at times but we always had plenty to do and we got on well with the other officers, who were a great crowd.

Ron views the hot springs near Reykjavik

Richard Townshend (Coastguard Officer) views the hot springs near Reykjavik

During one of our visits to Iceland the Icelandic Coastguards took the whole ship’s company to the hot springs near Reykjavik. On another occasion we played football against a local team in lsafjiord. We lost the match nine goals to nil but as they had given us a ten nil start we reckoned to have won by one to nil. We also made an expedition into the Icelandic mountains while Miranda waited in Adhalvik Bay for a trawler needing a welding job performed to come alongside.

The operation came to a premature conclusion when the crankshaft in Miranda’s main engine fractured and we reached Leith on 22nd March under tow. It was calm when we broke down and we were rather ignominiously towed by a stern trawler, 'Criscilla', to Dyrfjiord. We laid alongside at Thingeyri for about five days waiting for the tug Tradesman to tow us home.

We were on station for a total of 110 days and, except for Bill Smith who was relieved by Ken Gardiner, the radio staff stayed the same.

I know I speak for all the radio department when I say that we enjoyed the exercise very much and gained a lot of experience both jobwise and about life generally.

Each of us felt he had made many friends among the trawler radio officers contacted on the air and was able to put a lot of faces to the voices when he went out on repair work.

We were there to help the trawlers but could not have done so without the great deal of much appreciated help we received from them.

About 12 Baskets!

About 12 Baskets!

On completion of Miranda’s winter tour, her master, Commander C. Adams, RN (Retd), DSC, has written to Marconi Marine to praise the work of the company’s communications staff appointed to the trawler support ship for its term of duty.

In his letter he expresses his complete satisfaction with the way the electronics officer and the team of radio officers carried out their duties.

He speaks of the high degree of technical competence demanded of the electronics officer, who, on Miranda, has to work not only with equipment familiar to him but in the whole field of electronics from radar to trawlers’ or own ship’s main or auxiliary electrical equipment.

The teamwork of the radio officer staff was a most important aspect. They all had to have the ability to undertake the duties of the electronics officer when he was out of the ship including the twice daily round-up and reporting of trawler positions, the supplying of spares for repair jobs and providing assistance aboard trawlers when required to do so.

Commander Adams concludes his letter with the suggestion that Marconi Marine might like to consider assembling the same experienced communications team for the next support ship operation.

Tough Job Well Done

(Above article reproduced from the Marconi Marine magazine 'Mariner' May-June 1972)