Royal Navy minehunters HMSs Chiddingfold and Penzance have arrived in the Gulf after a 6,000-mile odyssey from their home ports in the UK.
The duo, who are replacing HMS Blyth and Ledbury, were at sea for two-and-a-half months as they sailed through the Mediterranean, the Suez Canal, the Bab El Mandeb Strait and the Strait of Hormuz before arriving in Bahrain, home for the pair for the next three years.
Chiddingfold’s journey from Portsmouth was immediately stormy as the Hunt-class minehunter encountered foul weather in the Bay of Biscay, facing five-metre waves and wind speeds of 50 knots.
Her 50-strong Crew 3 from MCM2 were relieved to finally see the Rock of Gibraltar, first stop on the journey to the Gulf, and time to meet up with Sandown-class HMS Penzance, who had sailed from her home on the Clyde via Falmouth.
The pair continued through the Med, stopping off at Sicily, Crete and Cyprus. Covid restrictions meant many of the pair’s port visits were restricted to the jetty.
Once in the eastern Med, Chiddingfold supported NATO’s Operation Sea Guardian, which involves allied ships patrolling the Mediterranean.
Operations Officer, Lieutenant Isaac Johnson, 27, from Somerset, said: “Our assignment to Direct Support of Op Sea Guardian and the commendation we received for our reporting demonstrates that MCMVs can make a useful contribution to a variety of maritime security operations.”
Next up for both minehunters was the Suez Canal.
Chiddingfold’s Navigating Officer, Lieutenant William Gunter, 25, said: “The Suez Canal is a navigational wonder of the world. The canal transit marked the start of our time in the Middle East, HMS Chiddingfold’s home for the next three years, so it really was a significant milestone of the deployment.”
Arriving in Bahrain, the crews – 50 on Chiddingfold and 40 on Penzance – had a few days to relax before work started again.
Chiddingfold’s Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander Tom Harrison, said: “It’s been a massive team effort to get Chiddingfold to Bahrain.
“My crew have worked with determination and fighting spirit to overcome the many challenges of COVID-19, inclement weather and being away from base port for ten weeks with limited support. We are now fully focused on contributing to efforts in the Gulf.”
Chiddingfold and Penzance will now be forward deployed in Bahrain for three years, operating under the new MCM dual-crew manning model. During her time there, she will be involved in multi-national exercises, mine hunting, maritime security and wider defence engagement.