The flagship of the Royal Navy, the aircraft carrier Ark Royal sails into Palma this morning for a courtesy visit and a return to a port which has a long association with ships of this name. The modern-day aircraft carrier, last visited Palma in 1994, before heading back to Portsmouth for a refit which lasted almost six years. Palma was its last port of call. In 1978 I was lucky enough to go aboard the fourth Ark Royal the predecessor to the one which sails into Palma this morning. Palma was also her last port of call before sailing to the breaker's yard. This Ark Royal was the Royal Navy's last conventional aircraft carrier as she had an angled fleet deck and steam catapults which allowed her to operate most of the fast jets of the day including the Phantoms and Bucaneers. At the time I was an eight year old school boy and I went aboard with my class-mates from Bellver International College. It was an enormous ship and although almost 25 years has elapsed I can still remember the visit like it was yesterday. A few days later I watched the Ark sail out of Palma for the last time. There was quite a crowd because she was a famous ship having featured in a BBC series and led to the Rod Stewart song, We Are Sailing. The third Ark Royal was launched just before the outbreak of the Second World War. This was the ship that Palma Nova resident Ana Haywood's late husband served aboard. The Ark Royal was part of Force H. based at Gibraltar. She was heavily involved in the sinking of the German battleship Bismark. Following Churchill's famous proclamation Sink the Bismark she sailed from her Mediterranean base and launched her Swordfish torpedo bombers which sank the German battleship which had destroyed the Hood. She returned to the Mediterranean and was involved in the Malta convoys. When she was returning from Malta and close to the shores of the Balearic Islands she was torpedoed by a German U-Boat and sank. It was a major blow for the Royal Navy which was desperately short of aircraft carriers. The first Ark Royal sailed out of Portsmouth in 1588 and met the Spanish Armada and was later involved in a raid on the Spanish port of Cadiz. The present day Ark Royal is not technically speaking the biggest ship in the Royal Navy. She is slightly smaller than the brand new amphibious assault ship, Ocean. However, she has much greater capabilities. She shouldn't have been called Ark Royal at all. Infact she was due to be called Indomitable in line with her sister ships, Invincible and Illustrious. But following the public outcry at the scrapping of the fourth Ark Royal, the Royal Navy decided to rename her. She is due to remain in service until at least 2015 when she will be replaced by one of the new conventional aircraft carriers which are presently being designed. As it is the Ark Royal's visit to Palma will be extra special. The British Ambassador will preside over a reception on Monday night in which the band of the Royal Marines will perform a concert. There is also a football match this afternoon in Ca'n Pastilla at 5p.m. The Grup Serra, publishers of the Bulletin have provided the strips for the local team. Unfortunately the ship will not be open to the public.


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