HMS Forth has paid her first visit to Gibraltar as the Portsmouth-based patrol vessel continues to write the ‘operators’ manual’ for the five-strong class of warships.
With the un-mistakeable outline of The Rock behind her, the UK’s newest operational warship debuts in the Mediterranean.
The 2,000-tonne ship began operations this spring after an intensive period of training off western Scotland.
She’s conducted her inaugural fishery protection patrol and inspected trawlers, and shadowed a Russian warship through the Channel as part of her role safeguarding home waters.
But the Navy was keen to see how the second-generation River-class ship fares in the open waters of the Atlantic – Forth is due to head to the Falklands later this year to replace HMS Clyde as the islands’ permanent guardship – and the warmer climes of the Mediterranean (it’s in the high 20s/low 30s in the western Med at present).
The reward for being thrashed around a bit was a five-day break in Britain’s gateway to the Mediterranean and key naval base where she joined survey ship HMS Echo which was taking a break from gathering vital data about the waters of the Middle Sea.
The ship’s company were treated to behind-the-scenes tours of The Rock – notably the World War 2 tunnels carved into the mountain – sampled its historic sights, met its famous ape population and sampled nightlife enjoyed by British sailors for more than 300 years.
For many onboard, this was their first visit to Gibraltar, such as 18-year-old weapon engineer Liam Kerr.
“I had a fantastic time in Gibraltar after hearing so many positive stories about it from the rest of the ship’s company,” he said. “The local people were extremely friendly and made us feel very welcome – I couldn’t have wished for a better first foreign run ashore [Naval slang for ‘visit’].”
Gibraltar also proved a useful stop to test a crew changeover overseas for the first time; Forth will be deployed with one third of her ship’s company either on leave or training back in the UK, while their shipmates conduct patrols, trading places every few weeks to allow the vessel to remain at sea more frequently.
The ship is now continuing her training, patrols and preparations to head to the South Atlantic later this year.