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Navy’s top navigators of tomorrow earn their spurs in two-week workout on HMS Mersey

2 March 2023
The Royal Navy’s top navigators of tomorrow have been tested in the Highlands and Islands as HMS Mersey manoeuvred at speed amid lochs and inlets.

The Portsmouth-based patrol ship today completes a fortnight of testing experienced navigators in all weathers and scenarios by day and night to prove they are ready to guide Royal Navy capital ships around the globe, or pass on their knowledge and expertise to the next generation of young navigators as instructors.

Students on the Spec N (Specialist Navigator) course spend eight weeks in the classroom/on simulators then two weeks at sea for the real-world environment.

Typically that’s on HMS Severn, the Fleet’s dedicated navigational training ship. But with Severn otherwise engaged, her sister Mersey stepped in.

The 14 trainees/instructors brought a purpose-built navigation classroom inside a container, loaded on to Mersey’s flight deck, before heading for the Irish Sea and western Scotland for the hands-on training.

Students are expected to employ a host of specialised navigation techniques as they safely navigate a ship through a series of challenging environments at speeds of up to 20 knots.

Such techniques include horizontal sextant angles and fixing the ship’s position using depth soundings, but most importantly students are encouraged to be creative and “think outside the box”.

Instructors rule out the use of equipment usually considered essential for navigation (such as the bridge centreline pelorus), or that their plans will have to change at a few minutes’ notice. As the course goes on, more of these additional challenges are injected.

“Few on board Mersey knew exactly what to expect – except that the ship would ultimately be coming alongside somewhere along the West Coast of Scotland and that for much of the time the crew would be closed up at Special Sea Dutymen due to the risks involved with navigating so close to shore, placing a greater strain on the ship’s company than normal running,” said Sub Lieutenant Owen Moore, a Young Officer undergoing general training on Mersey.

“As it turned out, Spec-N running proved to be hugely rewarding for everyone on board. After traversing some rough seas, personnel were rewarded with spectacular scenery including the entire perimeter of the Isle of Man, the coast of Northern Ireland, the Isle of Skye, the Western Isles and the Isle of Lewis.”

 
Once again HMS Mersey and her crew have proved themselves to be up to the challenge.

Lt Cdr Mitchell

“As it turned out, Spec-N running proved to be hugely rewarding for everyone on board. After traversing some rough seas, personnel were rewarded with spectacular scenery including the entire perimeter of the Isle of Man, the coast of Northern Ireland, the Isle of Skye, the Western Isles and the Isle of Lewis.”

The patrol ship was blessed with surprisingly clement weather off Scotland’s West Coast for much of the training, permitting breathtaking views of towering cliffs, pristine lochs and picturesque villages as well countless birds and other wildlife – and one evening a particularly clear view of the Northern Lights.

To demonstrate their capacity to excel, the students are expected to intersperse their navigation briefings to the captain with anecdotes, interesting facts, local histories or indeed almost anything, provided it had some tenuous relation to what Mersey’s Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander James Mitchell, was looking at out of the window. 

“The most important factor is that the “dits” are delivered with confidence and panache – and entertaining for the bridge team,” said Owen. 

“After perhaps a few false starts on the earlier runs the students delivered in spades, with material including funny hotel reviews, in-depth descriptions of local whiskies, and personalised haikus; often complemented with off-the-cuff witticisms in response to follow-up questions.”

The seagoing training for the navigators ends today and has provided a welcome change from Mersey’s more regular patrols around the UK.

“Once again HMS Mersey and her crew have proved themselves to be up to the challenge,” Lt Cdr Mitchell said.

“There is no doubt that the Specialist Navigator course of February 2023 will be the source of several great Navy memories for many on board, and if there were a requirement for the ship to take on this tasking again in the future, she would surely be glad to do so.”

 

Picture credit to Andrew Brown.

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