FORMER submariners told of their delight at the arrival of the nuclear submarine HMS Sceptre at Portland.

Members of the Dorset branch of the Submariners' Association hailed the timing of the visit as co-inciding with the 50th anniversary of the visit of the world's first nuclear- powered submarine, the USS Nautilus to Portland, in 1958.

They include Rupert Best, president of the Dorset Submariners' Association, who was second in charge of HMS Sceptre in its early days.

Robbie Roberts, chairman of the Dorset Branch of the Submariners' Association, said: "We are delighted that Sceptre is coming so soon after Tireless which, at the end of last year, made the first visit to Portland by a nuclear submarine since Portland Port took over the former Naval Base in 1996.

"They can be assured of a warm welcome by former submariners in this part of the world and we look forward to seeing a strong team at a reception we will be holding for them.

"The commanding officer will be taking advantage of the opportunity to award dolphins, the badge earned by all ranks once they have completed the demanding requirements to be a fully qualified submariner, and he has invited our senior member, Gordon Newman, who served in X-Craft, the midget submarines of the Second World War, to take part in a ceremony which will bridge the 60 years between then and now."

The HMS Sceptre will spend five days at Portland. A reception was held on board the vessel for dignitaries last night.

The HMS Sceptre is the second submarine to dock at the island in seven months following last October's visit by the Trafalgar-class HMS Tireless. Cruise missiles are the main armament of each vessel.

Special potassium iodine tablets to offer protection from radiation in the event of an emergency have been issued to nominated co-ordinators at many local sites including prisons, schools, hospitals and hotels.

The HMS Sceptre is one of only two Swiftsure Class Fleet Submarines (SSNs) still in service.

It stops at Portland Port half a century after the USS Nautilus called in at the former navy base.

Mr Roberts said that many of the branch members worked in defence companies based in South Dorset, some of them in support of the new Astute class of submarines and the links with the officers and men of today's submarine flotilla were strong.

Mr Best said that he remembers the day the boat was launched in November 1976 with affection.

He said: "So far as I am aware Sceptre is the only submarine, and possibly the only Royal Naval warship, to have been launched with a bottle of cider.

"The then Taunton Cider Company presented a bottle of Pommia, their bottle-fermented cider, made in the same way as champagne, to be broken over the bows by our sponsor, Lady White.

"Watching the ship that is to be your home and the focus of your professional life for the next few years, slide down the ways and take the water for the first time can be quite an emotional moment.

I am glad to say that we kept alive the links with Taunton for some while after that and I well remember a day during a two-week stay at Portland, when a cricket match against the cidermen on the Officers' Field was followed by skittles at one of their local pubs.

"I think we lost both matches but I am sure we held our own when it came to consuming the product."