Royal Navy pays off its smallest commissioned vessel

The Royal Navy’s smallest commissioned vessel, Her Majesty’s Survey Launch Gleaner, returned to Devonport homeport one last time on Tuesday ahead of her decommissioning.

In mist and rain, and with a 16-metre decommissioning pennant tied to the stern rail to prevent it flapping around uncontrollably, three of the nine crew lined up for Procedure Alpha as Lt Cdr William Alexander guided the boat for her final entry.

“Despite the wet weather, it was fantastic to be part of such an important tradition, and I’m really pleased to have had the opportunity,” said AB Joel Bradley, Gleaner’s signaller.

He and his shipmates were greeted by former CO, now Hydrographer of the Navy, Capt Gary Hesling as the 14.8-metre craft came alongside in Devonport for the last time.

Gleaner was built to survey waters other craft could not get; despite her size she’s crammed with the latest sonar equipment to measure the seabed around key ports in unparalleled detail.

She was used to survey the Mary Rose wreck site ahead of extensive dredging work to make sure nothing of Henry VIII’s flagship was left on the Solent seabed before the diggers moved in.

More than a decade later, she scoured every inch of Portsmouth Harbour and its approaches to clear the way for dredging to allow the safe entry and exit of HMS Queen Elizabeth.

And she did the very same in Rosyth ahead of the 65,000-tonne carrier’s departure to ensure charts of the Forth estuary were 100 per cent accurate.

The ship’s size has allowed her to appear at Earl’s Court for a boat show (courtesy of a low-loader) and navigate the Rhine as far as the Swiss city of Basel back in 1988 (a seven-day, 680-mile journey).

Gleaner’s successor will be a slightly larger, as-yet unnamed catamaran. A number of new workboats are being built for the RN under a £48m deal signed last summer.