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Small ships, big seas as coastal and patrol vessels link up in Channel

HMS Ranger (left) and HMS Smiter battle choppy seas off Bournemouth
2 June 2021
Seven of the Royal Navy’s smaller vessels took centre stage for once when they combined for a workout off the Dorset coast.

Needed for a myriad duties around the UK – from ensuring fishermen stick to legal quotas to training major warships to fend off fast attack craft – the boats of the Coastal Forces Squadron and ships of the Offshore Patrol Squadron are among the busiest in the Fleet.

The high tempo of operations, plus the fact that they often dispersed around the UK, means chances of linking up for combined training is rare.

But a blustery spring day afforded three P2000 patrol boats and small, fast gunboat HMS Scimitar – all from the Coastal Forces Squadron – to sortie from Portsmouth, past the iconic white stacks and lighthouse of the Needles, fighting through increasing chop and swell to link up with a trio of patrol ships south of Bournemouth.

It’s rare for all three of the first generation River-class ships – HMS Tyne, Severn and Mersey – to share the same waters; they are heavily in demand on fishery protection duties, monitoring vessels of interest passing through the Channel, and training Royal Navy navigators.

What followed was a series of Officer of the Watch Manoeuvres to test the navigation and ship-handling of all seven participants.

“Practising working in close proximity with each other is core business for ships of the Overseas Patrol Squadron; it builds skills and confidence for the whole team,” said Severn’s Commanding Officer Commander Phil Harper.

 Careful choreography allowed linear and diamond formations to flow into sailing abreast and, after several iterations, the formations ended in a “bomb burst” where all participants sailed off at different angles. It relied on careful communications and clever timing by each vessel.

Officer of the Watch manoeuvres are fun to do. It is not often we get all three patrol vessels together and so the chance to work closely with three larger ships was great

Lieutenant Frances Howes, HMS Blazer

HMS Blazer acted as guide boat for the coastal forces craft, commanded by Lieutenant Frances Howes.

“These were challenging conditions! It was good to run out my team in a Sea State 3 and to see them perform well, completing all the tasks smoothly,” she said.

“Officer of the Watch manoeuvres are fun to do. It is not often we get all three patrol vessels together and so the chance to work closely with three larger ships was great.”

Her boss, Commander Jamie Wells, Commanding Officer of the Coastal Forces Squadron, was aboard to watch his men and women in action.

“This year has been busy for both squadrons delivering on operations as well as preparing for the Carrier Strike Group deployment. It is important to find opportunities like today to train together and keep ourselves prepared.”

Once the exercise was complete, the Coastal Forces Squadron turned back to Portsmouth – with the sea and weather behind them.

“Scimitar was flying back home – we clocked a top speed of 34 knots at one point!” said Commanding Officer Lieutenant Joshua Tyrie.

At just 52ft long, his boat generally remains close to shore on its patrols, but Able Seaman Harry Johnson – passing on signals between the various ships as the navigator’s yeoman –relished the variety of the exercise.

“This role is a lot of responsibility for me and working under pressure with a team and communicating clearly helps build towards my promotion course to the next rate,” he said.

“We get great opportunities in these smaller vessels, and we are often called upon to support other ships, we recently escorted the two carriers.”

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