The aircraft carrier, which is being decommissioned in 2011 as part of the government’s cut in defence spending, was visited by Queen Elizabeth last month to mark its 25th anniversary in service.
"There is no question that there is a certain amount of sadness attached to this final deployment, but it is also an opportunity for us to celebrate the silver jubilee of this fine ship and for us to show her off once more,” BBC News
quoted Commanding officer Captain Jerry Kyd as saying.
"She has played a very important role throughout her history and we have always been lucky enough to draw great affection and support from the British public wherever we go.
"For me, personally, I have been exceptionally proud to serve as her captain - my very first job after finishing my initial officer training 25 years ago at Dartmouth was in the then-brand new HMS Ark Royal."
British Forces News
reported that he described the final voyage as “bittersweet” and “poignant” but stressed that “morale is good.”
The ship was used in active service during the second Gulf War and in the Balkans.
Commander Robert Bellfield, executive officer of HMS Ark Royal, told The Portsmouth News
: “It wasn't until we came in to the harbour entrance by the Round Tower and you saw the crowds on the shore and your family and friends waving that it became more emotional.
“It's a sad but joyous day because it's celebrating what the ship has done not just her being decommissioned.”
reported that landmarks on Southsea Common were barely visible due to the fog as the ship came in, and that the mist and the cold winds added to the drama.
Hundreds of people cheered as the ship approached and crew members were given permission to wave back.
The Rod Stewart song ‘Sailing” was played over the ship's tannoy, the Royal Marines Band played, and families went on board for one last time.
A fly-past by the Harriers had been planned, but was cancelled because of the weather conditions.
The decision to decommission the Ark Royal three years earlier than had been planned, as well as cut the Harrier force, has been criticised.
reported that retired Royal Navy Admiral Lord West of Spithead called losing the ship at this time "short-sighted."
The Ark Royal will be replaced by the Queen Elizabeth class of aircraft carrier, but it will not be in service until the end of the decade.
The ship is the fifth to carry the Ark Royal name. The first one was used in battle against the Spanish Armada in 1588.
This vessel was almost called HMS Indomitable, but was given the current name because of the outcry over her predecessor's demise.
A parade in Portsmouth is planned as a final send-off for the vessel in 2011.
A video with on each of the Ark Royal ships, and reaction from current crew members, can be seen on the British Forces News website.