THE peace protesters slipped into the water just after midnight, their images dancing on the waves of the Gare Loch. They cupped their forefingers and thumbs and silently offered a gesture of good luck to each other. Then they walked into the darkness.
Minutes earlier, at a secret location, they had been dropped by a car after a journey from the Coulport peace camp in Dunbartonshire.
They rested during the day, and now, their senses alive, they were to prove that "two middle-aged peace activists" could do what terrorists could easily achieve; infiltrate the heavily guarded Clyde naval submarine base at Faslane and "threaten" a nuclear warship.
The activists hatched their plan days ago. They are among dozens of protesters who have flocked to the camp near Faslane and the adjoining naval base at Coulport for two weeks of protest. In a week, 38 have been arrested.
The pair carried nothing more deadly than spray paint in bags slung bandolier-fashion across their chests.
The planned to daub the word "vile" on the boat.
Their purpose was two-fold, to advance the moral argument for nuclear disarmament and prove that the west of Scotland could be placed in danger from a nuclear incident.
They achieved the objective.
The woman would eventually have to shout to a guard with a machine pistol that she was a peace activist for fear he might shoot. The man would attract attention in more dramatic fashion by clambering on to the hull of HMS Vigilant, a Trident nuclear submarine, and ringing the ship’s bell.
But first there would be the long swim, punctuated by evading the sweeping searchlights mounted on the rigid inflatable dinghies manned by Ministry of Defence officers.
As they entered the water, the starlight picked out highlights on their black rubber wet suits and the hoods that obscured their heads. An otter, alarmed by unexpected human intrusion, dived for deeper water.
A fellow peace protester from the Trident Ploughshares campaign group said last night: "Lights from the base were in the distance, hard, bright, reflected on the water. The water seeped into their suits. It wasn’t cold and it was bright. The stars were out."
They saw the dinghies’ searchlights. One almost caught them, but they waited and stayed still. The lights criss-crossed the Gare Loch, but they wore hoods and turned their backs to present a black image.
The Ploughshares source said: "They told us they felt good, they had rested."
All was silent. They edged their way toward the Vigilant. They had chosen the word "vile" as a protest and because the names of all these boats begin with a "V".
The base’s lights shone bright, but they moved into darkness, each taking a side of the boat. They knew they were close; they smelled the sewerage, the urine.
"Submarines are incredibly sinister when you see them in the water," the Ploughshares source added.
The protesters saw three people on the jetty. They were armed.
But the pair swam past and the woman began spraying.
She had lost sight of her partner; he was on the other side of the hull and out of sight.
She knew that the more she sprayed, the easier it would become to spot her. The man with the gun shouted and she shouted back; she didn’t want him to open fire.
"It took half an hour to get her out of the water," a friend said. "They hadn’t even seen her partner - then all hell broke loose. He was ringing the ship’s bell next to the conning tower."
The protesters have been charged under local bylaws with malicious mischief.
The man was remanded, but the woman was released from Clydebank police station.
A colleague said: "They are guilty of protesting, not of crime. International law dictated these weapons are illegal.
"What is more frightening is that they breached a military base while the world waits in fear of terrorist attack."
Police confirmed last night that Gillian Sloan, 40, a social worker from Edinburgh, and David Rolstone, 55, a boat builder from west Wales, will appear at Dumbarton Sheriff Court today charged with breaching local bylaws and malicious mischief.
INSECURITY: A GAP IN UK DEFENCES
SINCE 11 September last year, security at militarily or financially important places across Britain, thought to be at threat, has been stepped up.
The security service, MI5, has drawn up a secret list of 350 places it considers at risk from al-Qaeda cells.
In addition, the service has been surreptitiously sending recruits to some of the potential targets to test defences and response times.
But despite the efforts, the extra security has not always been as effective as it was meant to be. Recently, a newspaper reporter twice managed to enter Rosyth, one of Scotland’s key naval dockyards, in Fife.
The journalist first held up a card from the out-of-town store Matalan rather than a true ID and a second time an out of date parking permit got him through the gates.
Concern has also been raised that the government agency charged with ensuring Britain’s 31 civil nuclear sites are protected from terrorist attack is suffering from a shortage of specialist inspectors.
Despite the concerns, security has undoubtedly been pushed to the forefront since the war against terrorism began.
An extra 20 million has been given to Britain’s security services while MI5, which looks after security within the UK, intends to recruit 130 more staff. MI6, which has an overseas remit, intends to take on an unspecified number of operatives.