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.