Beginning a 6,000-mile odyssey which will take their ships to the Gulf for three years are the crews of minehunters HMS Penzance and Chiddingfold.
The latter sailed from Portsmouth today to begin the epic journey to Bahrain, a journey she will share with Penzance which departed her base at Faslane at the end of last week and, after a brief fuel stop in Falmouth, before linking up with Chid in the Atlantic.
It’s the second time the two vessels have sailed in company to the Middle East for a three-year tour of duty, having last made the extended trip between 2014 and 2017.
Heading back to the UK, mission accomplished, once Penzance and Chiddingfold arrive, are their sister ships HMS Blyth and Ledbury.
The Royal Navy has maintained a four-strong minehunting force – bolstered by a dedicated battle staff and mother ship, currently RFA Cardigan Bay – for more than a decade.
Together, they keep the sea lanes open, deter aggression, work with allies and fly the flag for the UK in a part of the world which is key to the nation’s security and economy.
The two Gulf-bound ships are the first to switch over to a new crew rotational system – four months aboard instead of six, followed by four months back in the UK on leave/undergoing training, courses, education and the like.
The programme is intended to give sailors – 51 on Chid, 40 on Penzance – a more settled life, while getting the maximum out of their vessels on operations in theatre.
“We are the first crews in this new programme – and we’re determined to make it a success. Many sailors are pleased to have increased stability in their lives,” said HMS Chiddingfold’s Commanding Officer Lieutenant Commander Tom Harrison.
The global Covid-19 pandemic reduced the scale of the traditional send-off from families and friends – the usual pre-deployment look around the vessel was, in Chiddingfold’s case, replaced by a social-distanced wave from Portsmouth’s Hot Walls – and will limit/restrict the ten or so port visits on the journey out.
That aside the crews are keen to knuckle down to their mission.
“This will be my first deployment and I’m very much looking forward to putting into practice on operations what I have learned over the last year,” said Able Seaman Connor Hurst, one of Penzance’s mine warfare specialists.
“Minehunters have a long history of delivering success in the region and I look forward to becoming part of that.”
Lieutenant Commander Harrison, 32, from Exeter, said that his team had worked “incredibly hard to get to this stage – it’s been a long run-up to deployment. Now the ship’s company are excited and I am hugely confident they will continue to perform to a high standard, particularly with the introduction of four-month deployments.”
His counterpart on Penzance, Lieutenant Commander Graeme Hazelwood, agrees. “It has been a team effort across the enterprise and one made all the more challenging during the current coronavirus crisis,” he added.
“I feel incredibly proud of the hard work and dedication that the crew and all the support organisations in Faslane have shown in getting Penzance ready to deploy.”