Ice, ice Navy as HMS Portland visits South Georgia

While Britain recently shivered and braced itself for ‘snowmageddon’, sailors aboard HMS Portland were soaking up the high summer, dips in the ocean and enjoying barbecues half a world away.

Before you grow too envious, however, it’s just 3˚C in South Georgia, where the terrain is largely blanketed by snow and the water is a balmy 8˚C – two degrees warmer than in the frigate’s home base of Plymouth.

The ship spent three days patrolling the waters of the remote island chain – which lies about 850 miles from the Falklands and just 900 miles from the northernmost tip of Antarctica.

As one of Britain’s Overseas Territories, South Georgia receives regular visits from Royal Navy vessels – patrol ship HMS Clyde called in at the tail end of last year – to provide reassurance and support to the small population and British Antarctic Survey scientists.

Portland is in the closing weeks of a nine-month deployment which began in the Gulf and Indian Ocean, joining in the international naval effort dealing with terrorism, piracy and drug-running.

After a month in South Africa to break up the lengthy period away and carry out maintenance on the ship, the frigate resumed her patrols, this time in the South Atlantic and briefly in the Pacific, flying the flag for the country and British industry in Chile.

Each port and nation visited since last June has offered sights and adventures, but nothing quite like South Georgia with its wildlife (king penguins, fur and elephant seals), deserted whaling stations, glaciers and fjords – too much to fully take in during a three-day visit.

I only joined the ship a month ago and in that time I have flown in a helicopter, ridden in a sea boat, helped to fire the 4.5in gun and had a generally amazing time, I think I have already ticked every box in the recruitment brochure!

Engineering Technician Matthew Jeacock (18), HMS Portland's youngest sailor

The first day was spent at anchor in Stromness Bay on the north coast, where sailors were whisked ashore by boat to Husvik Harbour where they were greeted by some very grumpy seals.  Once they had fought their way off the beach, the team climbed Foxtail Peak for some stunning views.

Day 2 found Portland in the next inlet along, anchored in Fortuna Bay where crew decided to open the world’s most southerly pizza take-away. On the flight deck. With outside temperatures hovering at zero.

Head pizza chef, Chief Petty Officer Tony White, said: “I don’t think I have ever cooked pizza with such an amazing view.”

Assisting him with the preparation and baking was fellow weapon engineer Chief Petty Officer Dan Broome.

“Estate agents always say ‘location, location, location’,” said the 37-year-old. “I can’t think of a better one for a pizza shop than this.

“We raised over £700 for Children with Cancer UK through a number of events such as selling these pizzas.”

There was more fund-raising during the final stop of the brief visit: Cumberland East Bay and South Georgia’s ‘capital’, the abandoned whaling station at Grytviken where HMS Portland’s ‘Batman’ and ‘Robin’ (25-year-old Engineering Technicians Sam Barron and Sean Woods) completed their eleventh 10,000-metre run of the ship’s deployment… in superhero costumes.

“We’ve run ten kilometres at each stop,” said Sean. “Bahrain was probably the worst with a temperature of nearly 50 degrees and ridiculously-high humidity. It’s crazy to go from that to worrying about slipping over on ice down here!

“The whole Ship’s Company have been really supportive and we have raised nearly £2,000 for our causes – the Royal Navy Royal Marines Charity and Parkinson’s UK.”

While the dynamic duo were trotting around Grytviken, their shipmates were visiting the whaling museum, Sir Ernest Shackleton’s grave, and calling in at a Royal Mail post office – the first one used since sailing from Plymouth in June.

At nearby King Edward Point crew met the British Antarctic Survey team and offered them a tour of the frigate.

Upon sailing, the ship’s company posed for a photo in front of the world-famous Nordenskjold Glacier.  The youngest sailor, Engineering Technician Matthew Jeacock, who turned 18 over Christmas, had the honour of posing on top of the 4.5in gun.

“I only joined the ship a month ago and in that time I have flown in a helicopter, ridden in a sea boat, helped to fire the 4.5in gun and had a generally amazing time,” the teenager said. “I think I have already ticked every box in the recruitment brochure!”

Captain Paul Stroude, the frigate’s commanding officer, said after the high tempo of Portland’s deployment, the few days in South Georgia offered a welcome opportunity to ‘chill out’ – literally.

“Despite being there in the height of summer, temperatures rarely got above freezing,” he said. “But the ship’s company wrapped up warmly and used some rare time off to explore the stunning scenery and meet the exotic wildlife.”