Summer Deployment 2016 Phase 3

On July 17th, ten intrepid students from Wales URNU flew out to Latvia ready to join HMS Express in Riga for the final phase of the Summer Deployment. On reaching Express, after the welcoming and safety briefs aboard ship, not wanting to be outdone by other phases, we headed straight for the town to enjoy some Latvian culture, an experience those that went found insightful and very enjoyable.

On the first day, we were incredibly fortunate to be paid a visit by the British Ambassador to Latvia, Tim Colley. Students showed him around the ship as well as explaining the merits of being part of a University Royal Naval Unit. It was also an exciting opportunity to hear about diplomatic life. Following this, we headed through Latvia to a place called Ventspils and onto Sweden.

Whilst on ship we were split into three watches, with each watch either updating the chart in the Enclosed Bridge and reporting our position by either taking GPS, visual or depth fixes, and then reporting this back to the Officer of the Watch. Whilst many of us on Phase 3 were familiar with chart work at sea, it was a lot of people’s first attempt at navigation at sea and they found the experience both challenging and rewarding. The second watch would be placed on the Flying Bridge where they would alternate between Officer of the Watch, lookout or steering the ship. Being on this watch gave an insight into the role of Officer of the Watch and was particularly useful to those who wished to pursue a career as a Warfare Officer. However, for those who did not, the experience still proved incredibly insightful especially as many of us could watch our ability grow and become more confident over the three weeks. The final watch, or the off watch could usually be found making cups of tea for everyone, taking a break, or preparing the next meal.

Sweden was a very beautiful country, and the weather was exceptional. We all took full advantage of this on our Harbour Day by relaxing around an outdoor pool, students, and Ships Company alike as we all welcomed a break. Our next stop was Denmark, which as a country proved to be equally interesting. From Denmark, we proceeded to Kiel in Germany, where we stayed at Kiel naval station, and we able to see some of the ships from the German Navy, as well as enjoying the nightlife of Kiel.

We then sailed to the Netherlands, where we were lucky enough to receive a tour around a Dutch frigate and hear first-hand about their counter piracy and humanitarian operations. It was incredibly interesting to see the similarities and differences between the Dutch navy and our own.  As a thank you, we then showed them around HMS Express, although this tour did not take as long!

From the Netherlands, we went to Antwerp in Belgium where we enjoyed another Harbour Day as we came alongside early. From Antwerp, we sailed to Portsmouth, seen by many as the historic home of the Royal Navy. As we sailed past many vessels, we stood to attention until we heard the carry on. This made all of us incredibly proud to be part of the URNU.

After a brief stay in Fort Blockhouse, we headed to Weymouth which would be our last stop for the deployment, Bad weather meant we stayed in Weymouth for three days. However, this proved to be a nice way to finish off the deployment, as after we had completed Captain’s rounds we could use the rest of the time to explore Weymouth and take it easier before being picked up by the Coxswain and taken back to Cardiff.

Overall, the experience was enjoyed by all, and every student on Phase 3 learnt a lot of new skills from Ships Company and visiting officer, Sub-Lieutenant Mendham. Skills which we are now able to put to good use and improve upon on our next deployment. We are all incredibly grateful to Ship’s Company and the URNU organisation for giving us the experience.

Summer Deployment 2016 Phase 2

After meeting everyone at Luton airport we had a relatively short flight to Gdansk, Poland. Where we boarded the ship and listened to the welcoming and safety briefs and then our time was our own. We all decided to go for dinner with most then returning to ship for an early night but some staying out later to make the most of the short stay in Poland.

The next day was spent sightseeing, soaking up the Polish atmosphere and generally enjoying the free day that we had. The next destination was Klaipeda in Lithuania and after a very rough transit, which saw most students put out of action, we were all relieved to be safely alongside. Once again, when we were secured (finished work) those who were not on watch ventured out into Klaipeda to explore. For those on watch the night usually consists of ensuring all chartwork was ready for the mornings chart checks and the ship was clean and up to the required standard. 

However, as we were not sailing the next day it was a simple case of making sure all the brass work was polished and the ship was in a good condition. The following day we all ventured out to explore what Klaipeda had to offer before returning to the ship for lunch. After lunch we went out for some drinks before meeting up with the Ship’s Company and the crew and students from HMS Dasher. The night continued into the early hours of the morning and was enjoyed by all.

Early the next morning we set sail for Ventspils in Latvia and had a day of relatively plain sailing where we all took part in chartwork, being an Officer of the Watch and a Quartermaster. Unfortunately once we arrived in Ventspils it became apparent that we would be there for some time due to problems with the radar. In total we spent 6 days in Ventspils, where we educated ourselves in local history, took a tour of the town and visited a spa. Most of our time in Ventspils was spent on the beach, which was a two minute walk from the ship. We spent social days and evenings there as well as participating in some physical exercise along the beach on two occasions.

One of the highlights of Ventspils was the barbeque that was organised and carried out by the students. When we finally left Ventspils it was to sail to Kuressaare in Estonia. The transit was arduous with the decision to turn around and return being made and then unmade shortly after conditions at sea worsened. Once we arrived in Kuressaare we berthed in a small harbour called Roomassaare. Many activities were organised for us, such as pistol shooting, volleyball tournaments, HMS Express being open to the public and talking to a children’s summer camp. Once the eventful and enjoyable day was over we attended a barbeque and social in the evening before a run ashore in rig.

This was personally my favourite place that we visited and my favourite night of deployment. The free food and drinks put on for us were excellent and I felt completely welcomed, which led to a fantastic day and night.

Overall phase 2 of summer deployment was fantastic. Although we didn’t have many days sailing and missed many of the places we were supposed to visit, the people and the atmosphere surely made up for it.

Summer Deployment 2016 Phase 1

We started off the deployment by meeting at HMS Cambria where we loaded all of our gear into the unit car and the nine seater van and set off for Grimsby where we met the ship as it finished its transit down from Newcastle.

The first morning aboard ship started with an early call to hands to make the ship ready for the transit south to Lowestoft in company with HMS Dasher and her students from Bristol URNU, fair weather and calm seas helped ease the students back into the chart work and navigation we had covered at the unit.

The following morning the ship was joined by our new MEO (CPO Mark Kerton) and the next day we set off for Amsterdam, the weather picked up considerably as we started through the North Sea testing the stomachs of some of the students and was less than ideal as a first outing for our newest member of Ships Company. Unfortunately during the passage we were forced to turn back due to an engine malfunction leaving us with revised limitations that made completing the transit no longer viable.

Once safely back in Lowestoft we were able to call out an engineer and have the issue rectified. After spending the evening socialising with the Bristol students we were ready to sail for Amsterdam again the following day this time with more success and better weather, we arrived, that evening, in Amsterdam and all the off watch students set off to see what the city was like meeting up with the ships company and the Senior Training Officer (STO) Lt Jim Hawkins for a drink.

The next day was the first harbour day of the deployment and while the duty watch started to prepare charts for the coming passage to Cuxhaven the remaining students went sightseeing starting with lunch on a canal and ending with a visit to an Amsterdam museum! Which was followed by an evening run ashore (night out) in true Amsterdam style!

The transit to Cuxhaven was a long one and we did not arrive before dark leading to some striking scenes as we came into port in a thunderstorm navigating by lights and radar this was testing requiring students to draw on all of their navigational training to ensure the OOW new where the ship was at all times and requiring the look out and OOW to put into practise all they had learnt of lights and signals to give accurate and fast shipping reports as we passed through a busy port entrance in the dark. The following morning we set sail and approached the entrance to the Kiel Canal with the chart team working on 3 minute fixing for the whole hour long stretch of the passage stopping to embark a pilot before traversing the canal.

As we transited the Kiel Canal the students undertook task book training with the STO focusing on navigation. That evening after we had come along side many of the students went ashore catching the train to Kiel, to witness the last that the famed Kiel week had to offer. Now officially in the Baltic Sea and with no tides to be concerned with chart work became easier but the spare time was used for each student in turn planning and executing a pilotage.

The weather stayed impeccable from this point onwards in the phase, with temperatures in the high 20s and clear skies. Now one week into the deployment the roles of Senior Midshipman and Catering Offcier were rotated to give more students a chance to take on these roles. Our transit from Eckernförde to Rostock went smoothly and we arrived in Warnemünde Naval Base alongside HMS Dasher.

Our next harbour day came as the new MEO conducted his platform endorsement this meant that we were also hosting the squadron engineer for the day, only five students were required to be aboard for the platform endorsement so the remaining five went ashore in Rostock and spent the day visiting the local zoo. Unfortunately during the day the starter motor on the port engine failed and this was a problem that we were unable to rectify with the tools aboard and so had to wait for an engineer to arrive with the new part and this was predicted to take a few days.

While in Rostock we hosted a BBQ organised by A/OC Nightingale, which involved all students and ships company ending up swimming in the harbour! Finally on the 1st of July the new starter motor was delivered and we were able to regain our intended schedule meeting up with HMS Dasher in Kolobrzeg, Poland, that evening we were stood down from watch and all of the students went for a last run ashore of the phase. The following morning we transited to Gdansk, during the passage OC Lazenby completed his second task book to achieve the rank of Honorary Midshipman. Once we arrived in Gdansk and secured the ship we said our goodbyes to the ships company and headed to the airport to catch our fight home.

What a great time, and now Navigation makes sense!

Summer Deployment 2015 – OC Munson, SMid

It has been a busy summer for WURNU students and the crew of HMS Express on their annual Summer Deployment, which this year took students from charity garden parties in sunny Cardiff, to fashion shows in Liverpool, through the picturesque Caledonian Canal, and down the east coast of the UK to windy Portsmouth for the Americas Cup.

The first day of this busy deployment found ten OCs hosting guests and selling raffle tickets at the annual British Warships Association Summer Garden Party at Hensol Castle in the Vale of Glamorgan. The event included a performance by the City of Swansea Pipes and Drums Band, a Field Gun demonstration by local Sea Cadet unit TS Cardiff, and a show from a barbershop quintet. Upon completion, the students departed Cardiff for Liverpool to join Express.

The 0630 wakeup call took a little getting used to for the students who, until two days ago, had been enjoying the luxury of late morning lie-ins. Yet everything ran smoothly with ship’s company getting used to the new students and the students meeting the new CO (Lt. Matthew Harvey) and DMEO (LET Chris Barker). The transit to Conwy, North Wales in company with Bristol University’s HMS Dasher went smoothly, and the first day ended with circuits led by the XO, whilst the Dasher students looked on in sympathy.

It was only three days into the deployment before the students prepared to host the first VIP of the trip: Commander Stevens (Cdr U). Cdr Stevens had planned to join us for the morning of our journey to Dun Laoghaire in the Republic of Ireland, before transferring to Dasher. However the weather had other ideas, and once the swell picked up the Commander decided to stay and enjoy a buffet lunch on board Express.

The following harbour day in Dun Laoghaire, a mere half an hour train ride from Dublin, was spent getting ahead of the chart work game, before a mass migration to the Guinness Storehouse and Temple Bar to celebrate XO’s 24th Naval Birthday.

On departure from Ireland, a personnel swap occurred between the two P2000s to vary the students’ experience, and a Fire Ex was conducted at sea with five students shadowing Ship’s Company in preparation for when they would have to conduct the exercise themselves. Finally, after a quick scran onboard, the students headed out into Douglas, Isle of Man, for a social joined by Ship’s Company and Dasher.

Almost as if she had never left, Express sailed back to Liverpool for a harbour day, meeting up with some students from Liverpool URNU, whose ship HMS Charger was on deployment in the Baltic.

In the midst of the forecasted “heatwave”, Express found herself open to visitors. The waterfront teemed with members of the public, admiring the classic cars which were part of the 175th Anniversary of Transatlantic Passenger Travel by Cunard Cruises, and the WURNU students embraced the role of tour guides explaining what the URNU does and showing visitors around the small but mighty ships.

In the afternoon, as part of the celebrations, the combined force of 20 URNU students took to the runway showing off the latest fashion in URNU-chic for the “Very Big Catwalk” Guinness World Record Attempt for most models on a catwalk. The existing record of 3,083 people held by Mexico was beaten by Liverpool and a whopping 3,651 people!

The next few days found Express back in Douglas en route to Belfast and on to Port Ellen where the students sampled some genuine Scottish Whisky under the direction of the MEO on his birthday. The next leg of the journey took the ship to Tobermorey and Fort William, where the CO of Wales URNU (Lt Buffy Slayman) and TO Thomas joined the students on the slow passage through Neptune’s Staircase at the beginning of the Caledonian Canal until the crew change at Inverness.

The day following the end of deployment meal consisted of preparations for Captain’s Rounds and the crew change handover to the next batch of students, who jumped right into chart preparations for the transits to Buckie, Aberdeen, and Leith.

Due to an unfortunate bout of bad weather as both Express and Dasher attempted to leave Leith, both ships were forced to turn back and were confined to an  additional harbour day in Leith which allowed students to explore Edinburgh Castle, cook up a BBQ on the quarterdeck, and see a bit more of the city outside of Grassmarket.

The second attempt at leaving Leith proved a much greater success, and the transit to Newcastle proceeded smoothly.

As the ship had missed two days of sailing, it was all hands on deck to get down to Portsmouth in time for the Americas Cup, so the students banded together to get all the charts completed for the 13 hour transit from Newcastle to Greater Yarmouth, and then on to Brighton – the last stop before reaching Portsmouth.

It was a startling realisation upon arrival in Portsmouth that there were only four days left of the deployment (however Ship’s Company were excited to go on leave). Yet the arrival in Portsmouth meant that everything had to be squared away and ready to host VIPs, including Commander 1PBS Pincher Martin, Rear Admiral Surface Ships Tony Radakin, and Fleet Commander Vice Admiral Sir Philip Jones.

On each day, HMS Dasher led the Parade of Sail during the Americas Cup trials, and Express brought up the rear, patrolling the small boats spectator area with a fantastic view of the racing.

Unfortunately, the UK heatwave ended before the racing did, and the final two days of the event were called off. So after heading to Gunwharf Quays for a final deployment meal, Ship’s Company and the students of Wales URNU said their goodbyes and went their separate ways after a fantastic time away.