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In the navy

Three of the most technologically advanced fighting ships of their time have long been synonymous with Portsmouth - Henry VIII's Mary Rose, Nelson's flagship HMS Victory and the world's first iron-hulled warship, HMS Warrior. Now Portsmouth Dockyard offers an attraction as high-tech for this age as those great vessels were for theirs.

Partially funded by the Millennium Commission, Action Stations is in the dockyard's Boathouse No 6, a dilapidated Victorian boat store specially renovated for its new role. Designed to show off the science and technology that steers today's Royal Navy, numerous interactive attractions allow visitors to experience the excitement and adventure of life in the Senior Service.

The prime draw is a 25-minute feature, Command Approved, shown on a giant screen in a purpose-built, 275-seat auditorium. In this spectacular, gung-ho film Royal Marines rescue British hostages from the clutches of brutal pirates in the South China Seas.

The emphasis here is on interactivity. Just as the crew of the British warship in the film blaze away with machine guns at an oncoming Exocet missile, visitors fire life-size laser guns at a screen when a missile races into view.

Pilot skills can be tested in a replica Merlin helicopter cockpit, while a 19-seat simulator recreates a flight in a Sea Harrier jump jet. A reproduction operations room uses a giant hydraulic platform to mimic the motion of a ship at sea.

Other activities are more obviously physical, even if still conveyed by technical means. Skill and stamina levels can be assessed on ski machines and a rotating climbing wall. A simulated canoe ride behind enemy lines provides plenty of opportunities to dodge a deadly foe and dangerous obstacles.

For education officer Peter Wright, the main appeal of Action Stations lies in its interactivity. "We're trying to give kids a real feel of what it's like to be in the modern navy," he says. "Right from the design stage, we were determined to encourage active learning in children."

Laurence Alster Contact Actions Stations, 17 College Road, HM Naval Base, Portsmouth PO1 3LJ. Tel: 02392 893317 Email: enquiries@flagship.org.uk Web: www.actionstations.org Cost: key stage 1 pound;2.25; key stages 2-4 pound;2.75, over-16s pound;3.25, one adult free with 5 to 10 pupils.

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