The Royal seal of approval
The morning light shifted into Mare Harbor, and our preparations continued, I had noticed a small vibration on our propeller during the transfer to Mare Harbor and as we had a navy diver on board I suggested he dived to check the bearing tension of the propeller. My dry suit did not fit him as his legs muscles were a tad over developed, so our happy Scotsman Kris decided to use my sailing dry suit as an alternative. We prepped the diving gear on the dock and the sun grew warmer.
We had been given news the day before that the South Georgia fisheries patrol and supply vessel "Pharos" would be returning the next day, and on board were government dignitaries' along with Princess Anne and her husband, well that will be a nice surprise.
The royal harbor master came down to the dock an hour before the Pharos was due to arrive and noticed the dive gear on the pontoon, hey chaps whats going on here ? we explained that we were just going to do a hull and prop check and his jaw dropped, what the F..........k do you think you're doing?? We had already seen movement and activity during the morning but had thought nothing important, they had had military special forces people out on zodiacs and guard dogs sniffing around the dock all morning, but to us this was all normal practice at a navy dock, well, not quite so...
He informed us that to dive this day would virtually take a royal letter from the queen with the Pharos arriving! Needless to say, we put the equipment away.
The Pharos arrived an hour later, with no real fuss. Docked on the opposite side of the wharf, cars arrive all gleaming in the sun and we continued with on deck practice, sail changes and manoeuvres.
I noticed out of the corner of my eye as I was having a cup of tea and cigarette that a military chap had ran down the gang way of the Pharos and was sprinting over to our direction... hmm what's happening here? He arrived to inform us that the Princess Anne and her husband would like to pay a visit in 10 minutes time ! wow I wonder if she will stay for a cup of tea?
I had first met Princess Anne in London during my BT Global Challenge race events in 2000. As skippers we had all been presented to her as she is a keen sailor and supporter of the race and also of the Save the Children charity that the race had always raised money for.
Sure enough, 10 minutes later they arrived with guard support and lots of others running around the dock side in close proximity. Since our arrival at Mare Harbor we had been flying the Military Flags of the regiment and the Royal Navy flag "The White Duster", not at the stern of Xplore but as a courtesy from the side mast (otherwise we would be charged or fined for flying such a sacred piece of cloth) and these she had seen and hence her interest.
We all gathered on the pontoon and the decks of Xplore as this was a treat to have a sudden royal visit just prior to the start of the Expedition. She chatted with the team, the commander about the project and what was the objectives on the Shackleton centenary. The discussions turned and she asked me about the boat, she said that she had sailed these boats before with Chay Blyth and I found myself deep in conversation with her about the Challenge business, Chay and his past wife Felicity whom they still see each other regularly due to horse ridding events and shared interests. Princess Anne then turned towards Xplore and said to me, Stephen I see you have changed the dodger / cuddy, our entrance point into Xplore. I said yes, we designed and built this 7 years ago. Well Stephen, I would have to say that this is one of the most sensible things to be put on the boat since they were launched, well done ! I was quite gob smacked that she knew that original design so well. The meeting finished and they strode up to the eagerly awaiting cars. We were informed afterwards that her unscheduled visit had thrown the whole day events into a mess !