Farewell to HMSML Gleaner

HMSML Gleaner, the Royal Navy’s smallest ship and with a crew of just eight sailors, has decommissioned at Devonport Naval Base after 35 years of service.

HMSML Gleaner - Her Majesty's Survey Motor Launch - began her career as the Royal Navy’s Inshore Survey Vessel in 1983.  Since then she has operated in the majority of ports around the UK ensuring that safety of navigation is maintained. Gleaner has also deployed outside of the UK to the Netherlands and Channel Islands and has the unique distinction of being one of the few Royal Navy ships to visit landlocked Switzerland, having travelled up the Rhine to Basel.

Her Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander Will Alexander, said:  “I've had the privilege of serving in Gleaner on two occasions, once as the Executive Officer and now as Commanding Officer as she decommissions."

Will is in the unique position of being the last CO of HMS Gleaner and the first CO of the replacement ship, HMS Magpie, due to arrive in Devonport later on this year.

Will said: “I’m very proud to be part of the final crew on one of the Royal Navy’s longest serving vessels. We are also very proud of our recent tasking in Portsmouth, which helped enable HMS Queen Elizabeth to make her first entry into her base port.

"This work clearly demonstrates the valuable support Gleaner provided to the wider Fleet. It has been a real honour to be the last CO and it was a poignant moment seeing the pennant come down.

"I am now looking forward to taking my ship's company across to the new vessel, HMS Magpie, which will arrive in Devonport later this year, so Gleaner's spirit will live on."

I’m very proud to be part of the final crew on one of the Royal Navy’s longest serving vessels. We are also very proud of our recent tasking in Portsmouth, which helped enable HMS Queen Elizabeth to make her first entry into her base port.

Lieutenant Commander Will Alexander

The de-commissioning ceremony took place alongside HMS Gleaner in front of previous CO's and the Commander of the Devonport Flotilla, Commodore Rob Bellfield, who was the guest of honour.

He said: "Today is a celebration of what the ship has achieved. I've always said size isn't everything!

"Thirty five years in service; I've known the ship for a long time - I first went on board in 1983 during the London Boat show.

"As we say goodbye to Gleaner we are now looking forward to HMS Magpie's commissioning and to her carrying on the good work."

 As tradition dictates, following the ceremony a de-commissioning cake was cut by the ship's youngest sailor and also the ship's signaller, 28-year old Able Seaman Joel Bradley with Commodore Bellfield.

Joel, who has been in the Navy for five years, said: "I've been on board Gleaner for just over a year.  It's been an honour to cut the de-commissioning cake with the Commander of the Devonport Flotilla.

"I will be transferring over to the new ship HMS Magpie which will have more advanced kit on board.  In the meantime, I shall be keeping up to date with training."

HMS Gleaner was commissioned on 5 December 1983 and initially designed for hydrographic survey operations along the south coast of the UK.  However, since then she has operated around the UK and further afield.

Throughout 2016 Gleaner was conducting an extensive survey of the Firth of Forth, including accurately measuring the heights of the bridges over the Firth to ensure that the Queen Elizabeth could safely depart Rosyth. Gleaner’s final survey period was of the approaches to Portsmouth Naval Base, Queen Elizabeth’s new home, where she was ensuring that the carrier could safely operate.

Gleaner’s replacement was recently announced by the First Sea Lord as HMS Magpie. She is due to be delivered to the Royal Navy in the summer of 2018. The new ship is a modern catamaran design which will enable the Navy to harness the latest technology and operate a more diverse range of survey equipment, including autonomous underwater vehicles.

With an overall length of 18 metres the new vessel is larger than the existing Gleaner.  The title of Royal Navy’s smallest commissioned vessel will pass on to the fast patrol boats HM Ships Scimitar and Sabre of the Gibraltar Squadron.