RFA Cadets and junior RN officers trade places as their ships sail through the South Atlantic

Junior sailors on Britain’s oldest Naval ship swapped places with young counterparts from HMS Portland for an extended taste of life in the other’s service.

Three RFA Cadets and six Young Officers undergoing training aboard veteran tanker RFA Gold Rover and frigate HMS Portland crossed to each other’s ships as they ploughed their way across the South Atlantic.

Portland is in the second half of a nine-month deployment split between countering terrorism in the Indian Ocean and promoting and protecting British interests in the South Atlantic.

With 210 sailors and Royal Marines aboard, Portland has a crew nearly four times the size of the Tyneside-built tanker, which is due to be retired in the spring after 43 years’ service, while the frigate is due to go into maintenance when she returns to the UK in 2017.

The cadets swapped a world designed at the beginning of the 1970s, where even trainee officers enjoy two-man cabins, for a 1990s warship for large messes with bunk beds stacked in threes. By comparison the RN Young Officers experienced the comparative luxury of large single cabins on board Gold Rover.

”Though accommodation arrangements were somewhat more cramped than we are used to, it was an educational experience and we were shown great hospitality by the Royal Navy,” said Cadet Chris Dorling.

Seeing the job from everyone’s perspective can only improve the mix. Moving forward I feel I better equipped to work with the Royal Navy. All in all, it was a great experience enjoyed by all

Cadet David Dale, RFA Gold Rover

With just 56 people aboard, the RN guests were interested to see how the tanker crew coped with emergencies – a mock galley fire was laid on, while the RFA cadets saw Team Portland deal with a simulated helicopter crash on the frigate’s flight deck.

The frigate experience included time in the ops room (Gold Rover doesn’t have one, just her bridge…) watching console operators deal with various simulated attacks.

And the RFA cadets got airborne in the ship’s Lynx – the very last one deploying on an operational mission before the helicopter is retired at the end of March – as the two ships negotiated the stunning Patagonian Canals at the foot of South America.

The highlight of trading places was a replenishment at sea or RAS when fuel lines were passed from Gold Rover to Portland to refill the latter’s tanks.

On the tanker, the Royal Navy trainee officers observed the chief officer prepared for the refuelling by walking the lines and opening and closing the correct valves and starting pumps so fuel is re-circulated prior to connection. They then watched the winch driving and the monitoring of flow rates and tank levels from the RAS control room.

By contrast, the RFA cadets witnessed the way a receiving ship breaks the initial pressure wave to take position using the fast back/down approach and the constant minor changes of course and speed need to maintain position with ship to ship pressure interactions.

“It was interesting to observe the RN approach to bridge management and to see how the different departments on board work together,” said Cadet George Macgregor.

Fellow RFA Cadet David Dale added, “Seeing the job from everyone’s perspective can only improve the mix. Moving forward I feel I better equipped to work with the Royal Navy. All in all, it was a great experience enjoyed by all.”