Royal Navy warship HMS Lancaster was at the centre of a stunning natural lights show during a two-week solo patrol of the Arctic.
For the second time in 2021, the Portsmouth-based frigate ventured into the frozen wastes on a 3,000-mile round-trip through the Norwegian Sea and into the Arctic Circle – the latest Royal Navy vessel to head to the High North over the past few years.
As a ‘lone rider’ the ship had to rely on herself for all eventualities – food, fuel, emergencies – and made a quick pit stop in the Shetland Islands to top up the fuel tanks before heading out into the open ocean.
With temperatures in the Arctic barely reaching double figures even in late summer and the water an unforgiving 6 Celsius – meaning hypothermia sets in in minutes if anyone falls in – Lancaster’s crew used the journey north to prepare.
Practising these emergency situations is vital for training up new sailors during their first time at sea and to refresh the skills of those with more than their fair share of experience.
That included dealing with mock fires and evacuating a casualty by helicopter to hone the skills of both the sickbay team and the crew of the Wildcat helicopter from 815 Naval Air Squadron.
The Wildcat forms an essential part of HMS Lancaster’s front-line missions, using its array of sensors to scour miles of ocean for surface contacts. It’s also the first port of call to get a casualty off the ship quickly and to hospital ashore.
They winched the ‘injured’ sailor – Midshipman Hutton who found it “exciting to be straight in at the heart of the action on my first deployment with the Royal Navy” – from both the flight deck and the more cluttered forecastle.
Entering the Arctic meant an age-old maritime tradition was performed: the ceremony of the Blue Nose, where King Neptune – played by Warrant Officer 1st Class Alex ‘Spud’ Spurgeon – demands a tribute from sailors who’ve never been to the Arctic before (a small, but not insignificant number as the frigate patrolled the region back in March).
He boomed: “These sailors did appear in the northernmost reaches of my realm, bound for the dark and frosty wastes of the land of the midnight sun!”
Each was bathed in ice-cold Arctic water by Lancaster’s Commanding Officer Commander Will Blackett and members of the Warrant Officers’ and Chiefs’ mess to allow them to sail beyond 66 degrees North.
To warm them back up each sailor was offered the customary ‘tot’ of rum before heading below to grab a hot shower.
Other aspects of the Arctic were less bracing. As the sun set on the first clear night sky since arriving in the High North, the ship’s company were treated to a spectacular display from the Aurora Borealis. With the sky alive with dancing swirls and streaks of green, awestruck sailors stared into the skies.
“I’ve always wanted to see the Northern Lights during my career and they sure didn’t disappoint – what a display!” said Assistant Weapon Engineer Officer Sub Lieutenant Ollie Perry.
Commander Blackett said that his sailors had been “raring to go” on deployment again after summer leave – Lancaster has been heavily engaged all year from the Baltic to the Arctic to home waters.
“I’m incredibly impressed with how all of my sailors have battled the arduous conditions to sustain Lancaster on our solo arctic passage,” he added.
Once her patrol was complete, the ship turned around and made her way for Belfast for a short logistics stop before joining Royal Navy and international warships taking part in the Joint Warrior exercise which takes place off north-west Scotland until the beginning of October.
In doing so she ran into Storm Larry, battling through a Sea State 7 with 40mph winds and seven-metre waves.
I’ve always wanted to see the Northern Lights during my career and they sure didn’t disappoint – what a display!
Assistant Weapon Engineer Officer Sub Lieutenant Ollie Perry
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