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Just desert for Navy's ice ship during Namibia visit

24 August 2017
HMS Protector is gearing up for a return to the frozen wastes of Antarctica after making new friends in Africa over the austral winter.

HMS Protector is gearing up for a return to the frozen wastes of Antarctica after making new friends in Africa over the austral winter.

Even around the much milder Antarctic Peninsula - the ship's usual 'playground' - temperatures are well below zero.

Couple that with short days and bad weather, and there's nothing to be gained from survey and scientific work on the frozen continent, prompting Protector to either head for home in Plymouth... or wait for spring's return by ploughing up and down the west coast of Africa.

It's been a busy period for Protector, operating away from her more usual environment

Lt Cdr Carver RN

For the past two Southern Hemisphere winters she's done the latter, using Cape Town as a maintenance base and exchanging one third of the ship's company every few weeks to sustain a two-and-a-half-year deployment (the red and white icebreaker won't see her native Devonport until spring 2017).

The two austral winters in Africa have allowed the ship to make friends in places the RN, let alone an Antarctic survey ship, only infrequently calls in on.

Last month we caught up with Protector in Ghana, training local authorities in the art of board and search operations.

This month, the ship has moved 2,000 miles south to Namibia, collecting survey data as she went.

Protector is fitted with an array of specialist equipment for work in Antarctica - but much of this can be used equally well outside of the Antarctic Circle, chiefly her Multi-Beam Echo Sounder - a sophisticated 'pencil beam' sonar which builds a highly-accurate 3D representation of the seabed.

Normally it's used to survey and safely navigate the poorly charted waters of the Antarctic Peninsula, but this adaptable piece of equipment is also very adept at surveying the ocean floor in more temperate waters.

The ship has surveyed almost the entire length of the West African coast as far as the 'bump' - amounting to about 18,000 square kilometres (6,950 square miles or about five times the size of Cornwall) of soundings which will be fed back to the UK Hydrographic Office in Taunton to allow it to update charts used by mariners around the world and improve navigational safety in the region.

Namibia is the self-proclaimed desert 'Extreme Sports Capital of the World' so a few days in Walvis Bay allowed the crew to let their hair down - after the formalities of an ambassador's lunch and capability demonstration for a sizeable contingent of the local UK ex-pat community.

Sailors and marines headed out into the sands to get their adrenaline fix: dune bashing on quad bikes; sandboarding (more accurately: sliding down sand dunes on a polished piece of MDF.

For those after a more tranquil experience, Walvis Bay was also home to a whole host of wildlife and the ward room took a leisurely morning kayak out into the bay to see the flamingos and get up close and personal to the local seal population, who were more than happy to entertain their guests.

The week of low and high-octane activities in Namibia culminated in the Protector Grand Prix with representatives from all three messes competing for the go-karting podium.

Joining race winner and logistics officer Lt Cdr Charlie Carver on that podium was CPO(SR) Kerry Collins not as runner-up... but as the karter who posted the slowest lap time of the day.

"It's been a busy period for Protector, operating away from her more usual environment," said Lt Cdr Carver.

"With spring now approaching in the Southern Hemisphere it is time for her to make an about-turn and head away from deserts and dunes of West Africa and, after a short period of Operational Sea Training, back to the natural habitat of an icebreaker.”

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