FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Var in Valletta

Posted in Malta, Valletta by folkestonejack on March 24, 2014

One of the unexpected pleasures of my short break in Malta has been the opportunity to catch the striking sight of two warships berthed in the Grand Harbour – the French Navy’s Durance class replenishment tanker Var (A608) and the Italian Navy’s Minerva class corvette Sfinge (F554).

The Var arrived on Thursday 20th March, having set sail from her home port of Toulon on Monday 17th March to participate in Mission MEDORO. The mission will see her provide logistical support for French units deployed in the Eastern Mediterranean – refuelling and re-supplying other ships far from their bases.

French Navy replenishment tanker VAR (A608) makes her way out of the Grand Harbour

French Navy replenishment tanker VAR (A608) makes her way out of the Grand Harbour

The current ship is the tenth to hold the name of Var, following a line of naval transport ships that started with a 22 gun gabare in 1805. She was launched at Brest on 1st June 1981 and underwent her last overhaul in 2013. The characteristics of the class are helpfully set out in an illustration on the Net-Marine website.

The design of the Var incorporates a platform which can receive helicopters of various types (Lynx , Alouette III, Panther, Dauphin, Gazelle, Puma, Cougar etc.). On this occasion, she has been joined by a SA316B Alouette III Helicopter from the naval base at Lanvéoc in order to enhance the operational capability of the ship.

I managed to get a good look at the ships as I crossed the Grand Harbour on the morning of Sunday 23rd March and was lucky enough to see the Var leave port on the morning of Monday 24th March. The Gardjola Gardens, Senglea, provided a superb vantage point to watch proceedings. Although this tanker can hardly be considered graceful, she still cut a beautiful sight as she sailed past the rich backdrop of Valletta’s sandstone fortifications.

Italian Navy corvette Sfinge (F554) berthed at Pinto 4 Wharf, Valletta

Italian Navy corvette Sfinge (F554) berthed at Pinto 4 Wharf, Valletta

The Var left Valletta on Monday 24th March around 9am, assisted by the tugs Wenzina and Lieni from the Tug Malta fleet. The process was completed surprisingly quickly, but then again my only point of comparison is the more awkward and longwinded process involved with naval visits to London!

Thanks must go to the Malta Ship Photos & Action Photos website for their helpful naval movements log which made it possible for me to be in the right place at the right time.


Une petite invasion

Posted in England, London by folkestonejack on May 31, 2013

The West India Docks have played host to many naval vessels in the past few years but today offered the somewhat unusual sight of an entire class – and prompted more than one bystander to scratch their heads in bafflement at the prospect of this little French invasion!

Four Leopards in the lock

Four Leopards in the lock

Four Leopard class school ships arrived this morning (A751 Lynx, A752 Guépard, A753 Chacal and A754 Tigre) followed by the remaining four members of the class (A748 Léopard, A749 Panthère, A750 Jaguar and A755 Lion) in the early evening. It was quite a sight to see four ships tucked into the lock.

The ménagerie in West India Docks

The ménagerie in West India Docks

The flotilla, known as the Ménagerie on account of the wild cats that the ships are named after, left Brest on monday afternoon for training exercises before gathering for a stopover in London. After leaving London the ships will continue their exercises in small groups. A selection of photographs of the flotilla at sea can be found in the article Toute la Ménagerie à la mer on Mer et Marine.


The eagle has flown the nest

Posted in England, London by folkestonejack on May 4, 2013

The prospect of another warship departing from West India Docks at a marginally less painful time than last week tempted me back to North Greenwich. The French warship L’aigle (the eagle) has been in London for three days, since arriving around dawn on wednesday, and was scheduled to leave at 7am this morning.

French minesweeper  FS L'Aigle (M647) passes New Providence Wharf

French minesweeper FS L’Aigle (M647) passes New Providence Wharf

On the last occasion I visited the stretch of the Thames Path opposite West India Docks I was disappointed to see that a lengthy section of the path, from the O2 towards Enderby’s Wharf, was closed off. This morning I was rather surprised to discover that this had re-opened without any great fanfare. You can get a better impression of this stretch on the 853 blog post Greenwich’s Thames Path has fully reopened… for now?. I was delighted by the improved perspective it provided of the exit from the West India Docks and Blackwall Reach.

The departure of FS L’aigle (M647) from West India Docks was completed with the assistance of tug Christine. The minesweeper entered the lock around 7.10am and made it out into the Thames around 7.30am, timed perfectly for the sun which disappeared behind the clouds not long after. I followed the ship round on the Thames Path, finally giving up as she sailed under the cable car line.


Warships in the morning sun

Posted in England, London by folkestonejack on May 2, 2013

It has been a busy week on the Thames with two cruise ships, two warships and one tall ship arriving and departing. A good appetiser for the trio of British warships which are expected next week for the Battle of the Atlantic commemorations in London!

Yesterday afternoon the Hurtigruten cruise ship Fram left her berth alongside the HMS Belfast at the start of a tour of the British Isles. This morning the tall ship Gorch Fock made a dawn departure, followed a little later by HMCS Iroquois. I had intended to grab a few shots of the Iroquois making its way through the lock gates into the Thames, but she was just a bit too quick for me!

L' Aigle in West India Docks

French minehunter L’ Aigle in West India Docks

One military visitor still remains in West India Docks – the French Tripartite class minehunter L’Aigle (the eagle), which arrived around dawn on Wednesday. The ship looked rather magnificent in the morning sun today.

L’Aigle (M647) was constructed in Lorient, launched in 1986, and is currently based in Brest.


Junk on the Thames

Posted in England, London by folkestonejack on June 17, 2012

The last few days have brought a flurry of international visitors up the Thames, starting with the D’Estienne d’Orves class patrol ship F792 Premier-Maître L’Her which arrived on Friday around midday. The French warship is named after Jean-François L’Her who was posthumously made a knight of the Légion d’honneur for an act of bravery during the fall of Boulogne in May 1940.

Chinese junk Huan Tian Xi Di sails past the Tower of London

Later in the afternoon, the Chinese junk Huan Tian Xi Di passed through Tower Bridge and then, with sails raised, returned the same way. The ship, only the second traditional Chinese seagoing vessel ever to visit Britain, should have been in London in time to join the diamond jubilee pageant but got held up in the Suez Canal. She certainly presented an unusual and striking sight against the backdrop of the Tower of London – a long way from her former home in Hong Kong Harbour.

On Saturday a second visitor from the French navy arrived – Flamant class patrol vessel P677 Cormoran – which I was lucky enough to see on a walk along the riverside at Greenwich. It seems that the crew got a warmer welcome than most when they passed under Tower Bridge, finding themselves under fire from the Tower of London – though only blanks for the gun salute to mark the Queen’s official birthday!

More photos from the Thames