Beginning University and leaving was always going to be a step into the unknown; will I make friends? Will I enjoy the course? What societies shall I join? And so on. Within two weeks, I felt that I’d made the right decision with the course I had chosen and had made friends, but I was still scratching my head about what society I could become a member of. Never would I have thought of joining a Royal Navy unit, but here I am, and it’s so much more than I expected it to be and it was just the beginning!
Twenty-three newbies were split into two groups, with ten staying on our P2000, HMS Express, and the rest staying at HMS Cambria, partaking in various activities during the evening catered for by our Seniors. This included lectures on: discipline, teamwork within the URNU, and what we could expect over the coming year. An early night was needed with call to hands at 0630 hours the next morning.
After a hearty breakfast, which was gratefully cooked by our Coxswain and a couple of my fellow students (who had been up since 0530), we were shipped via minibus to HMS Flying Fox in Bristol for a day packed with activities. This was an opportune moment to grab some more sleep, and the quietest we were for the next 24 hours! On arrival at Flying Fox, we were divided into groups which also included students from Bristol URNU. We were briefed by HMS Flying Fox’s Coxswain who explained to us how the day would transpire, and what we could expect.
My group’s day began with firefighting, where we were given a demonstration of how the varied apparatus worked and in what situations they would be vital to fight a fire on ship. We were also given the opportunity to don firefighting clothing and feel the numerous layers there were, and then try the various apparatus for ourselves. I was personally in my element as I have previous experience in firefighting but it was very interesting to see different equipment and how it has been tailored for the Navy’s requirements.
The second session consisted of parade training. Although I was accused of being crazy, this was definitely my most enjoyable session of the whole day. We were put through our paces and learned new things during this session, which I am sure will prove invaluable for future events. We had the opportunity to march to music as well, as we were due to be participating in various Remembrance parades across Wales. On a side note, it was mentioned around the base that our marching skills were better than those of Bristol URNU, but these were only rumours of course!
After a lovely buffet lunch by the kind staff at HMS Flying Fox, it was time for an action packed afternoon. We began with chart work where we were given an introduction to the different aspects of a chart by TO Winder. This consisted of how to decipher a chart and determine latitude and longitude, a compass rose, buoys and more! This was very interesting and was nice to refresh what I already knew and learn new things that would be useful during the time we’ll have on HMS Express. Swapping with another group, we were given the opportunity to try out the P200 Bridge Simulator they have created at HMS Flying Fox. Working in groups of three, one of us steered, another on radar, and the third being the Officer of the Watch. This was a fascinating exercise, which gave us an insight of what to expect when we would be on ship and working the bridge. Some were better than others, and a few of my colleagues became a little too acquainted with rocks and other ships!
After a quick wet, we were due a close encounter with something else that was wet…. very wet: the infamous, much anticipated Swim Test. At the local swimming pool we were briefed on what was expected for us to pass the test: two minutes of treading water and then a 50 metre swim in 6 minutes. All in full length boiler suits! This was a tough test, especially as the pool was only 1.2m and myself being a lanky measure of 1.9m, so treading water without touching the bottom of the pool was something of a challenge! Thankfully everybody was successful in passing this test and it was then a nice break waiting for the others to finish (which happened to coincide with the Rugby World Cup Final).
The highlight of my weekend, was staying aboard HMS Express on Saturday night, and transiting back to Penarth Marina on Sunday morning. Call the hands was at 0645 to square away our cabins, have breakfast, and be in rig ready for leaving harbour brief at 0815. I was on the Flying Bridge for the briefing which gave myself and two of my colleagues the opportunity to witness ship’s company go about their everyday business. It was a very foggy and an ice cold morning, and we locked out of Bristol at 0900. As we passed underneath the Clifton Suspension Bridge, the fog cleared to give way to bright blue sunshine. But it was short lived because as soon as we hit the open sea it was back to the fog. During the passage back, we were shown the different roles each member of ship’s company were responsible for. I shadowed Navs, where I was shown how the radar worked and the method in which he would give the OOW a report of any new contacts that we were likely to encounter. As we were approaching Cardiff Bay, Lt Harvey asked if I would like to take the wheel and have a try at the steering the ship! I can promise you that I had not envisaged being allowed to do this at the start of the weekend and if I’m honest I was a tad nervous. It was very insightful to have CO saying orders and having to repeat back to him and steer the ship to whatever bearing he had ordered. I greatly enjoyed this and hope to have plenty more opportunities to go on ship over the next three years.
All in all this was a fantastic weekend and I feel very privileged to be part of the select few chosen to be part of Wales URNU, which I believe, is the best URNU by far