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.