HMS Sutherland navigators tested to the limit

These are the grim conditions the Navy’s top navigators faced as they were tested to the limits during a week charging around the coast of southern England aboard HMS Sutherland.

Five students were expected to guide the frigate safely in open seas and confined waters such as harbours and bays to earn their right to navigate state-of-the-art warships.

The Fleet Navigation Officer’s course determines whether men and women have the aptitude, thoroughness, leadership and ability to think and act quickly, to plot safe routes for Royal Navy Type 23 frigates and Type 45 destroyers as qualified navigating officers.

The students had all spent five weeks in the classroom/simulators learning the finer details of complex navigation, before joining the Fighting Clan for a week running up and down the Channel between Plymouth and Portsmouth.

With winds of up to 60 miles per hour and sea states with waves over 30ft high, safely navigating the ship was no mean feat – especially when you consider none of the students had any previous experience onboard a frigate.

Lieutenant Commander George Blakeman RN

Each student took it in turn to navigate Sutherland around Plymouth, Portland Bill and in the busy shipping areas of the Solent and each ‘run’ grew in complexity – especially so at night.

As the week’s practical training drew to a close, the frigate ran headlong into Storm Gareth.

“With winds of up to 60 miles per hour and sea states with waves over 30ft high, safely navigating the ship was no mean feat – especially when you consider none of the students had any previous experience onboard a frigate,” said Lieutenant Commander George Blakeman, Sutherland’s weapon engineer officer.

“At times it was particularly challenging for the ship’s company and the students as we were battered by huge waves over the bow and poor visibility.”

All five students survived their ordeal and passed the course, impressing Lieutenant Hugo Wiseman, one of two instructors assessing them.

“Sutherland gave the students the opportunity to hone their skills in challenging conditions. Thanks to this training, they can go proceed to their next appointments confident that they can handle their units – regardless of what Mother Nature throws at them.”

HMS Sutherland’s Commanding Officer Commander Tom Weaver, who turned the frigate’s hangar into a temporary classroom for the students, said bridge simulators were extremely useful training aids, but nothing compared with the full experience of being bounced around for a week on a real warship.

“Students are well prepared by training in the classroom and simulators, but to do it for real onboard the Fighting Clan as sea in tough conditions and busy shipping lanes – that’s a real test of ability, and one which I’m delighted to say all of the students passed.”