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HMS Sutherland's ceremonial sail past for namesake clan

HMS Sutherland's ceremonial sail past for namesake clan
22 August 2019
On the prow of HMS Sutherland, Petty Officer David ‘Fergie’ Ferguson plays the bagpipes as the frigate sails past the ancestral home of Lord and Lady Strathnaver, heads of Clan Sutherland.

The Plymouth-based warship hoisted the county standard – a white flag bearing a golden sun on black crosses – as it sailed past Dunrobin Castle on the north-east coast of Scotland as a mark of respect to the duke who gives his name to the ship.


The Fighting Clan has spent the summer safeguarding home waters, monitoring the activities of foreign warships in the UK’s sphere of interest, aided by her Merlin helicopter – call sign Highlander – from 814 Naval Air Squadron in Culdrose.


After a short visit to Invergordon in neighbouring Cromarty and Ross – the nearest port to her namesake county able to accommodate the 4,500-tonne warship ­– HMS Sutherland resumed her patrol safeguarding home waters, continuing along the north-east seaboard for a ceremonial sail-past.


While the senior rating sent the skirl of Highland Cathedral drifting across the North Sea from the forecastle, Highlander  was aloft to capture the occasion, while in Dunrobin Castle manager Scott Morrison and his team waved the flag bearing the family arms from the ramparts – all seen by tourists looking around the fairy-tale chateau’s extensive grounds.

It was an honour and privilege to be afforded the opportunity to play the bagpipes as Sutherland passed Dunrobin Castle.

Petty Officer David Ferguson

“I have taken my bagpipes onboard every ship and establishment that I have served in over 20 years with the Royal Navy and this occasion ranks as one of the best bag-piping moments.” said Petty Officer Ferguson.


“The ship's company of the Fighting Clan is very proud of the close affiliation with the stunning county of Sutherland,” said Commander Tom Weaver, the frigate’s Commanding Officer.


“The opportunity while operating in the area to conduct the sail-past of Lord and Lady Strathnaver’s residence – as our predecessors have done beforehand – was something I was very keen to do. Having our very own resident piper on the forecastle playing the bag-pipes really added to the sense of occasion.”


The short stop in Invergordon, just 30 miles down the coast, allowed the ship’s keen amateur photographer and tech enthusiast Able Seaman Lewis Goodlad to test his drone-flying skills around the huge natural harbour – including a few fly-bys of his ship.


“I've always had a passion for photography and the improvement in drone technology, particularly lens quality and battery life over the past few years has meant that commercial drones now allow me to take some fantastic footage and photos,” said Lewis.


His work, says the ship’s weapon engineer/public relations officer Lieutenant Commander George Blakeman, who also runs the Type 23 frigate’s Twitter feed (@HMSSutherland), adds “a very different dimension” to the imagery and video he publishes on the warship’s behalf.


“It makes my job so much easier when you have someone who willingly gives up their spare time when the ship is alongside to get these images,” the officer added. “The changing light, dependent on the weather and the surroundings where the ship is berthed make this technology so interesting.”

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