A Lynx Mk8 makes low level turn just ahead of the glistening form of frigate HMS St Albans which returned to sea as a £25m revamp drew to a close.
The Portsmouth-based warship has completed the first week of intensive trials off the South Coast – her first time at sea for a good 12 months.
The bulk of first week at sea was devoted to machinery trials such as basic manoeuvring, running the engines at full speed – backwards (or astern if you prefer naval terminology) – and testing the stabilisers.
“My first experience of life at sea was great especially the camaraderie in the mess,” said AB(CIS) Sam Barnard.
The latter help to offset the impact of the sea on the motion of the ship for her weapons systems to work more effectively, make the launching and landing of helicopters easier and safer, and make things more comfortable for the 150-strong ship’s company so they can do their job.
Part of the trial was to initiate a forced roll – a great test to ensure that all equipment is strapped down for rough weather (known in the RN as ‘securing for sea’).
There was the also the chance to meet up with the Lynx helicopters of 815 Naval Air Squadron from RNAS Yeovilton who were training over the Channel.
“After more than a year out of action, it’s fantastic to get back to where we belong: at sea,” said Chief Petty Officer Phil Jackson, 42, from Hull.
“The ship’s company was reduced to 35 during refit, but now that we have a full crew again the atmosphere is brilliant – the successful week of trials shows that the hard work that everyone has put in was worth it.”
For many of the crew it was their first time at sea, and for some it brought a different perspective on life in the military.
“My first experience of life at sea was great especially the camaraderie in the mess. Getting use to the motion took a little time, especially with the machinery trials, but I really enjoyed it,” said 30-year-old AB(CIS) Sam Barnard, who served with the RAF Reserves in Afghanistan before joining the Royal Navy.
Chef Georgina Towler, aged 22 from Wickford in Essex, was also enjoying her first experience of life at sea. She said: “The first week at sea was great. The hardest thing for me as a chef was trying to cook whilst still trying to find my sea legs.
“I did get used to it but we really had to hold on to the food especially during the forced roll trial.”
The initial week of trials is the curtain-raiser to ten weeks of even more intensive trials, again off the South Coast, with the emphasis on the fighting elements of the ship.
Those have been considerably bolstered during the overhaul by BAE in St Albans’ home base of Portsmouth.
On the forecastle there’s a new main gun – The Saint was the very last ship in the Royal Navy to use the Mod 0 4.5in gun, which served the RN well for four decades. She now carries the angular Mod 1 – better known as the Kryten (after the Red Dwarf character with similarly rigid features).
The latest version of Seawolf, the ship’s shield against air attack, has been fitted, while the old command system – which meshes all the data from St Albans’ many sensors so the operations room team can make sense of it – has been taken out and a new one, DNA(2), installed.
Press Release, May 19, 2014; Image: Royal Navy