HMS Queen Elizabeth to leave for first deployment early due to bad weather

Heavy winds forecast for the weekend have forced the Royal Navy to bring forward the departure of its flagship HMS Queen Elizabeth for its first operational deployment to the Far East.

The £3 billion aircraft carrier made an unscheduled stop at its home base in Portsmouth on Wednesday after taking part in a major exercise off the coast of Scotland.

The 65,000-tonne warship had intended to carry out its final preparations for the deployment while in the Solent along with the other ships of the Carrier Strike Group (CSG).

However, poor weather conditions, including 50mph winds expected on Friday, forced the navy to change its plan and bring the carrier into port.

The Queen Elizabeth was brought back early from Exercise Strike Warrior to avoid the worst of the weather and most of the other CSG ships have stopped at Devonport until they regroup once the carrier has sailed again.

HMS Queen Elizabeth
HMS Queen Elizabeth arrives back at Portsmouth Naval Base (Steve Parsons/PA)

People lined the walls of Portsmouth Harbour to see the giant warship, with F35B Lightning jets lined up on the flight deck for the first time as it arrived in its home port on Wednesday.

The carrier had been scheduled to leave again on Sunday morning but further bad weather has forced the navy to change its plan again and it is now expected to leave on Saturday night.

It will be the first time the carrier has left the port at night, although it has sailed into Portsmouth in the early hours previously.

A MoD spokesman explained that winds had to be taken into account because of the narrow entrance of Portsmouth Harbour as well as the dredged channels for the approaches from the Solent which were created specifically for the carriers.

He said: “This is a standard response to a changing weather system.”

It is not the first time the carrier has been forced to change its timings for leaving the narrow entrance of Portsmouth Harbour – in September last year it delayed a sailing because of poor conditions.

Departures were also affected last year after small numbers of the crew tested positive for Covid-19.

HMS Queen Elizabeth
HMS Queen Elizabeth passes the Round Tower as it leaves Portsmouth Naval Base (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Its sister ship, HMS Prince of Wales, was kept in port for several months while undergoing repairs for an internal leak which caused £3.3 million worth of damage.

The carrier, with eight RAF and 10 US Marine Corps F35B stealth fighter jets on board, will depart for Asia accompanied by six Royal Navy ships, a submarine, 14 naval helicopters and a company of Royal Marines.

The CSG, which will carry out visits to India, Japan, South Korea and Singapore, will include the US destroyer USS The Sullivans and the Dutch frigate HNLMS Evertsen.

A total of 3,700 sailors, aviators and marines are involved in the deployment which will cover 25,000 nautical miles.

Thousands of well-wishers and a flotilla of small boats turned out to wave off HMS Queen Elizabeth as it left Portsmouth on May 1 on what was, at the time, understood to be its last sailing from the Hampshire port prior to the deployment.