IT was an £8m welcome for a Royal princess when she visited the Fylde on Tuesday.
That is the money that has been spent on Fleetwood Nautical Campus in the last 18 months to bring facilities into the 21st Century.
And the Princess Royal, who has strong maritime links, was just the person to officially set the seal on the work and take a close look at the campus’ operation.
John Matthews, head at the Fleetwood campus, was at the Princess’s side all the way.
For him it was a brilliant end to 36 years at the campus.
The 65-year-old, who retires at the end of next March, said: “She is a very impressive lady. She took so much time speaking to everybody – I don’t know how many people there were, but she seemed to get round them all.
“She has a knowledge of the maritime environment and our industry – you were not talking to someone who didn’t know what they were talking about.
“I think the visit was an absolute success, the whole thing.
“She was incredibly easy to talk to and very relaxed.
“I think she has an affinity with seafaring and so she is relaxed in our environment.
“She was very interested in the simulation exercises.
“We were pleased to show her the engine room simulator which is the best in the world.
“The college is looking superb now but the building work has been a big challenge because we had a 15 per cent increase in student numbers.”
The Princess’s two-hour visit began with her arrival by helicopter in the campus grounds.
Among those she spoke to was Robert Gorry, 25, of Acregate, Blackpool, who was in the radio room as part of his deck officer’s course.
He said: “She already seemed to have some knowledge although the equipment here is a lot more sophisticated than it used to be.
“She seemed keen to learn about it and I explained how easy it was to use – once you know how!”
With him was Jack Bottomley, 24, from Kirkby Lonsdale.
He said: “When she came in the room it all seemed quite normal, but when she started talking to you, you began to realise who it was.
“She knew what the equipment was about and asked how we found it. She was interested.”
One of the highlights of the visit was to the ship’s bridge simulator which allows students to navigate in and out of sea ports all over the world in every kind of sea condition.
Among those she met was Capt Sylvester Owobu, 49, who had come from Nigeria for a week’s refresher course and had a day’s warning that he would be meeting royalty.
He said: “She is a lovely lady.
“She was very impressive.
“She had seen another simulator before but she was more impressed with this one, it was really something to remember.”
The Princess also saw the £300,000 engine-room simulator where students are capable of tackling engineering situations.
After that there was a demonstration in the campus’ off-shore training tank. It was there Prince William, her nephew, completed part of his helicopter pilot’s training.
Students demonstrated escapes from a replica helicopter cockpit while Mr Matthews explained the operation.
Before the unveiling of a plaque there was a walk-about lasting 45 minutes in which she met members of staff, land clients of the college, including major shipping companies.