HNoMS Alta (M314)
International Call Sign: Juliet-Whiskey-Alfa-Uniform
Minesweeper M314 Alta was built as AMS-104 by the Hodgdon Brothers, Goudy and Stevens, East Boothday, ME, in 1953. It sailed shortly under the US flag, before the ship was transferred to the Belgian Navy as "Arlon" (M915). In 1966 she was returned to US Custody and transferred to Norway that same year as Sauda-class "Alta" (M314)
Norway had a total of ten vessels of Sauda-class, five built in the United States and five under license in Norway. One, HNoMS Tana (M313), was converted to mine hunting.
Sauda class was phased out towards the end of the 1980s and early '90s, and was replaced with a new generation minesweepers / hunting vessels of air cushion catamaran-type, built by Kvaerner Mandal.
When HNoMS Alta was decommissioned in 1996, she was transferred to the Royal Norwegian Navy Museum as M314 Alta.
M314 Alta's homeport is Oslo, operation area is mainly Oslofjord and Skagerrak.
The ALTA Story
The museum ship M314 ALTA, which belongs to the Armed Forces' Museum in Oslo, could in 2016 look back upon 63 years in the service of three navies – the US, the Belgian and the Norwegian - the last 20 years as a museum ship in the custody of The ALTA Society (Fartøylaget KNM ALTA).
In 1989 a couple of enthusiasts and former minesweeper hands started toying with the idea of preserving at least one of the 10 old wooden hulled minesweepers of the Sauda-class. Since the beginning of the nineteen fifties these vessels had served in the Norwegian Navy and NATO all through the cold war era.
The first vessel in the class, HNoMS SAUDA and a sister ship, HNoMS SIRA came to Norway in 1953, from the shipyard Hodgdon Brothers, Goudy & Stevens in Boothbay, Maine, USA. The minesweepers of the American AMS 60-class were transferred to allied navies under the Military Defense Assistance Pact (MDAP), devised and implemented by the USA.
In the following years, five minesweepers (HNoMS TISTA, OGNA, UTLA, KVINA and VOSSO) were built at three Norwegian yards from drawings and with materials and equipment supplied by the US Navy. The last three additions to the fleet HNoMSs ALTA, GLOMMA and TANA came to the Norwegian Navy in 1966 as a result of an exchange with the Belgian Navy.
The Norwegian Navy had at the time two large, ocean-going sweepers - HNoMS LÅGEN and HNoMS NAMSEN - that the Belgians wanted, and they traded with three American-built boats similar to the seven we already had. Thus, from 23. May 1966 the Norwegian Sauda class comprised ten US designed minesweepeers.
The two enthusiasts who had served on boats of the class in their National service, one a signalman and the other an engineroom hand, never gave up the hope of preserving a vessel, and after a long struggle, they succeeded in saving the last vessel of the class - HNoMS ALTA. She was transferred from the Navy to the Armed Forces Museum, which in turn bestowed the responsibility for the operation and maintenance on The ALTA Society (Fartøylaget).
However, there was one condition for the transfer: the operation and maintenance of ALTA should not inflict any public expenditure. Fartøylaget now had a boat, but lacked the funds to operate it.
A persistent recruitment of former sweeper hands and other sailors, provided, however, the “Noble Lady”, as she soon was called, with an interested and skilled crew, and a foundation, albeit flimsy, for continued existence.
Fartøylaget KNM Alta, founded in 1995, managed what the Ministry of Defence and the Naval Staff had not thought possible: to operate the “Noble Lady” in such a way that no authority was able to find anything to put their finger on. The MoD's and the Navy's plan B with ALTA - how to dispose of the vessel when Fartøylaget had to throw in the towel and ask that she was taken back - was never implemented, although people in high places were absolutely certain that that would happen.
It did not happen. Already at the turn of the millennium Fartøylaget had established an organization of around 400 members and a volunteer crew who faithfully attended the voluntary work and the voyages.
Sponsors had also been recruited, and memories of the board meetings in 1996 and 1997, when the board members distributed unpaid bills among themselves, remained just that - memories.
The economy picked up gradually and there ware even funds to spare for the establishment of a maintenance fund. However, when our worst nightmare became a reality in 2001, it turned out that the maintenance fund was not nearly adequate. Wooden boat experts from the navy base Haakonsvern in Bergen had during a thorough hull inspection, revealed that the hull had been exposed to galvanic corrosion. The Noble Lady received the experts' sentence: A maximum of three years left to live, unless a comprehensive rehabilitation with the replacement of approximately 900 linear meters of planking in the hull, mostly below the waterline, could be carried out.
This happened at a time when reductions were the order of the day in the military, including the fact that Naval vessels were temporarily laid up and crews sent home on vacation to save costs. To come to the MoD or the Naval staff, hat in hand asking for around NOK 6 - 8 million to rehabilitate the old minesweeper, was a pretty hopeless project.
Originally, the deadline for rehabilitation had been set to within three years, i.e. by the end of 2004, but because of action taken on board, we managed to stop further spreading of the decay, and the deadline was extended through 2005.
And then came the summer of 2005, and Lady Luck smiled suddenly to The Noble Lady and her loyal minions. Since M314 ALTA was the only gray painted naval ship east of Lindesnes ( the south most point in Norway), she was hired for various official tasks by both the MoD and the Naval Staff, both alongside in Oslo and on short trips on the fjord. One of those who brought guests on board was the former Minister of Defence, Mrs. Kristin Krohn Devold. In early August she was with us in Risør at the Wooden Boat Festival, and we did not neglect the opportunity to tell the Minister about our problems with the financing of the sorely needed rehabilitation work.
Back at our mooring under the walls of the Akershus fortress, we received a welcome message from the Defense Minister's Military Assistant: The minister had "found" some funds, specifically NOK 10 million, which she gave ALTA.
We now had the funds for the rehabilitation, and started the important job of describing the extent of the damage and publish it on the EU network inviting shipbuilding yards in the EEA to bid for the job. When the deadline for tender submission arrived, it turned out that only three shipyards were interested: one Norwegian and two Danish. One Danish yard withdrew when they saw the size of the Noble Lady; they did not have a dock or slipway large enough, and thus there were two left - one Norwegian and one Danish.
The Danish tender, from Hvide Sande Skibs and Baade Byggeri AS in the hamlet Hvide Sande on the Danish west coast, was so low compared to the price from the Norwegian shipyard, that we began to suspect them - the Danes, that is - to lure us down, put the ship on land, remove rudders and propellers and then notify us that the price would probably be a “little” higher - about half again as high as their bid. This led to an intense scrutiny of the tender and serious discussions with the Danish shipbuilders, but they stood their ground, the price they had quoted was real and they were actually willing to go so far as to guarantee it!
The contract with the Danes stipulated delivery of the vessel to the yard in the second half of September 2007, with the return on 15. April 2008, a stay of about seven months at the shipyard.
The contract also contained a section that Fartøylaget should have two inspectors on site at all times during the entire stay. Expenses for this were included in the tender, which actually was approximately half of what the Norwegian tender stipulated. Four of the crew members were asked if they would accept the assignment where two and two would stay one month at the yard and one month at home. The intention was that the inspectors, equipped with relatively wide powers of attorney from Fartøylaget, in order that problems which arose along the way, could be resolved at the yard, avoiding lengthy and time consuming communications back and forth with the board of Fartøylaget at home. The powers of attorney gave the inspectors the possibility to accept additional work up to a certain amount, and expanded yard stay in a certain number of days if needed.
This system worked perfectly: every morning the inspectors' had morgenmad – Danish for breakfast - with the shipyard management and it was not few aspiring problems that never had time to develop because "someone" discussed and solved the problems over a cup of coffee or two.
In retrospect, we can only thank all mild powers that we ended up in Hvide Sande with The Noble Lady. The shipyard's own-trained ship carpenters were of the highest class, which we could observe not only in our own ship, but on the major and minor works carried out on a whole range of Danish sailing vessels, which for years has used Hvide Sande as their winter base. On one of the big three-masted schooners that came there, rot was discovered in the stem. The replacement prow was shaped inside one of the halls, first with a chainsaw and then meticulously finished with a blade and chisel. The old one was removed and it was found that it weighed nearly seven tons. The new one was brought out with a crane, and with only minimal adaptation set right in place by the carpenter who had been responsible for the whole job alone. Impressive!
In addition to the main job of replacing the damaged woodwork in the ship's side, we still had funds to order the undertaking of a number of additional tasks such as laying of new epoxy on the boat deck and fo'csle deck; procuring and installing new propeller shafts (the old ones were so worn that it looked like they had been given threads), new hand rails on the main deck, repairing a variety of minor damages on aluminum details like the stack and the equipment boxes on the main deck and boat deck, fine tuning of the main engines' foundations, as well as new covering on benches and chairs in the accommodation.
Initially four men were working on The Noble Lady, two experienced carpenters and two apprentices. As the affected wood was removed and new planks fitted, several carpenters were set to work to ensure that the schedule was kept.
That is, there were some delays. It is an awful lot of weather in Hvide Sande: During December 2007 and January 2008, The ALTA was subjected to a total of four storms with winds up to hurricane force. "The plastic building" that had been erected around the ship to provide optimal working conditions for carpenters, ended up in Germany somewhere during a couple of hurricanes, and the company which had been responsible for the erection of the plastic hall in the first place, was called back to add new plastic covers over the framing of steel and plastic pipes. Some wind damage of lesser magnitude was repaired by the shipyard's own people. These force majeure stoppages led to a total of about two weeks' delay, with no financial implications for the shipyard. Return delivery occurred 2. May 2008, and Commander (SG) Svein B. Nielsen, could sail a "reset" vessel back to Oslo.
On 23. May 2016 it is exactly 20 years ago that the then Lieutenant Erik Hansen (now Commander (SG)) sailed the HNoMS ALTA to Horten where Fartøylaget's crew took over for the final leg to Oslo. It was with some skepticism that Erik handed over the responsibility of the still naval vessel to Fartøylaget's first commander, Commander Hans Borti Salvesen, with lots of experience as captain of minesweepers, but who had not been on a bridge since the late 60's. It went well, however, and on arrival in Oslo, Erik struck his pennant and Borti's pennant was hoisted. We are now on our fifth commander - LtCom (R) Tore Pettersen - since the takeover.
Since the establishment of Fartøylaget KNM ALTA in 1995 we have had an almost unchanged number of members. Each year some leaves us, but new members are recruited, and the total number has hovered around 400 most of the time. However, it is a sad fact that some of us who have been around from the beginning in 1996, are now beginning to feel the ravages of age and wants for different reasons to step down. Therefore, we need new enthusiasts to continue the ALTA project. Key personnel for electrical and mechanical details are at the top of our wish list, and if there is anyone who reads this with relevant background, not necessarily earlier minesweeper hands, but women and men with an electrician or machinist background, who will get on-the-job training when it comes to the DC power plant and the GM diesels, please contact our Commanding Officer, LtCom (R) Tore Pettersen, by phone +47 9068 9358 . email. firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition to a series of weekend voyages in the summer we have normally a summer cruise over one week to ten days with the Wooden Boat Festival in Risør the main goal. The ALTA is in fact the largest wooden sailing vessel in Norway, and therefore deserves a place in the Wooden Boat Festival each year. In winter we organize courses and meetings for members, and twice 14 crew members have participated (without the boat) in a weeklong trip to Portsmouth, UK. The last time was in March 2012 with visits to the historic shipyard and other museums in Britain's legendary naval city. A definite highlight was dinner on the gun deck of Admiral Lord Nelson's flagship HMS VICTORY, the naval vessel with the longest service time and still in active service as the flagship for 1st Sealord of the Admiralty. Before and after dinner we were treated to refreshments in the officers' mess.
The first captain after the takeover in 1996, Hans Borti Salvesen, is now general manager of Fartøylaget. It is he who controls the sailing schedule and list of events on board, and can be reached at 952 16 915 (email@example.com).
One of our main tasks in accordance with our agreement with the Armed Forces’ Museums – our "shipowner" – is to show the ship as often as possible to the public, both in Oslo and in other places we visit. During our Open Ship sessions, we have had up to 1500 – 1600 visitors on board during the course of a weekend, but the average is probably closer to 400 in Oslo.
As mentioned, our economy is relatively good, but of course we want more sponsors who can help with the funding of operations and the maintenance work. In return, sponsors get the opportunity to hold meetings, lunches and dinners on board throughout the year. One of our main sponsors – Lloyds Register EMEA, Oslo – has over the last decade chartered us as hospitality vessel during the great oil fair, the Offshore Northern Seas, in Stavanger every other year. In late August 2016, we were there again, for the seventh time.
Lloyd's Register of London - has also adopted the idea of using ALTA as a hospitality ship during the big international shipping fair Norshipping every other year in Oslo. We were last chartered for this task in 2013.
Below is a list of the AMS 60 minesweepers that served in the Royal Norwegian Navy from the mid 60’s to the mid 90’s:
M311 Sauda M316 Vosso
M312 Sira M317 Glomma
M313 Tana M331 Tista
M314 Alta M332 Kvina
M315 Ogna M334 Utla
The Alta Story provided by Alta's CO, Mr Tore Pettersen.