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aboard – there’s the computerised chart system, WECDIS, for example… although the students are encouraged to navigate the traditional way: paper chart and fi xes. The boats have a pretty limited range (550 nautical miles; a Type 23 for example can sail for 9,000 miles). But it’s not just the small fuel tank which curbs the boats’ range: because they’re not full-time sailors, the students can’t really be expected to spend more than ten to 12 hours at sea in one go.

That’s not to say there’s no technology

“These kids are academically minded. In no part of their lives have they been woken up at 3.30am to go on watch on the bridge. “The fi rst word out of their mouths is usually: ‘why?’. I just growl at them.” He’s joking. Probably.

The leading hand is as salty as any veteran sea dog in the RN – a Service where, he explains, “every meal is a feast, every day is an adventure, every pay cheque is a bounty.”

And that’s not the only hindrance. Food has to be acquired on an almost daily basis (the galley is compact, if not bijou), and laundry taken ashore to a washeteria at every opportunity. If there isn’t one, there’s always Plan B: a bucket.

a guardian. On deployment, they spend the night ashore in a hotel or B&B because there’s simply not space for everyone (there’s always one full- time matelot on board to keep an eye on the students for safety reasons).

AS for the ship’s company, well it’s a job unlike any other in the RN. You’re a sailor, a teacher,

And on that last point... some of the most experienced senior rates can earn more than their CO (that doesn’t happen very often in the military and, oddly, they wanted us to underline the point...).

NOW the rest of skimmerland might be reading

“It’s diffi cult to explain to the rest of the Royal Navy what we do – our BOST, for example, only lasts a couple of days, they take six, eight weeks and they go off on deployments of six or seven months,” says LET Driver. “Our job’s not harder – or easier – it’s just

While the students might be the ‘best and the brightest’, they know little, if anything, of seafaring. “You have to let the students go so far, let them make some mistakes – you don’t want to keep saying: ‘That’s wrong,’” explains Archer’s CO Lt Michael Hutchinson.

this and thinking: easy life.

busy it is,” says Lt Hutchinson. “Every weekend is busy. On the plus side, it’s fantastically rewarding and there’s a great deal of responsibility.” With many of the URNU boats being based away from naval establishments, limited comms at sea, the boats are probably the most autonomous command in the Senior Service (they do have to tell the Fleet Controller what they’re up to daily, but otherwise there’s a fairly free rein). “It’s a great set-up. Being up in Aberdeen is

probably the most autonomous command in the Navy,” Lt Hutchinson adds. “We’re also a very visible presence in the UK – when the Royal Navy’s so hard pressed, URNU boats are always around. “Everywhere we go, we’re able to get right into the heart of a town or city and that generally attracts a crowd. And you have the students spreading the word around.”

ALL this activity comes under the wings of the

“At the same time you have to always ensure the ship is safe. It is a balancing act.” Nor are students necessarily the tidiest of people. They quickly learn that what they think is ‘clean’ isn’t clean by RN standards. “I’ve been at sea since I was 16,” explains LET Simon ‘Screwy’ Driver, Archer’s weapon engineer offi cer.

different.” There is a lot of time at sea. Archer may be the Aberdeen boat, but since the ice cleared from the harbour (you might remember the very wintry picture in our April edition) she’s been away from home almost constantly. By the time she returns to Scotland in mid- October following a spot of maintenance, she’ll have been in her home port for just one and a half weeks over a seven-month period. There is, says Lt Hutchinson, “not a lot of harmony time for the guys”. When the P2000s are in their home ports, Mondays and Tuesdays are days off, Wednesday through Friday are the maintenance days and it’s off to sea at the weekend. “You don’t realise until you do this job how

Offi cer Cdr David Wilson (you might remember him as the fl ute-playing CO of HMS Bangor back in the mid-Noughties).

Command of 1PBS (it also includes the Gibraltar and Faslane squadrons) is the equivalent of driving a Type 22/23/42 – although the job is very different.

“I take great delight in telling my destroyer and frigate colleagues that I have 18 ships at my disposal – that’s about one third of the Navy in the UK,” says Cdr Wilson. With his flotilla being scattered around the four

corners of the UK, he makes sure he gets around the units.

But what are they for? Well, what they’re not is a recruitment tool. “The message we are trying to get across is to instill the Royal Navy ethos. Whether or not

1st Patrol Boat Squadron and its Commanding

they join us, they’ll take that ethos with them,” explains Cdr Wilson. “There’s a good cross section of student life in the units – politics students, historians, lawyers, doctors.

“If you have the capacity to do this and a

degree at the same time, then you’re probably going to be a mover and shaker in society.” In true Whiskas style, nine out of ten URNU students say the experience of serving with their unit surpasses expectations. Two out of three express an interest in joining the RN as a full-time experience. One in three passes through the gates of Dartmouth. “I think the university boats provide a fantastic service – and for some students, a life-changing experience,” Cdr Wilson adds. But the boats are not just here to keep students busy; HMS Raider (Cambridge) took part in 70th anniversary commemorations of the Dunkirk evacuation then, in company with Tracker (Oxford) made the mammoth trip to Gib (mammoth for a P2000, that is) for the summer deployment. Cambridge’s boat will soon be trading places with Bristol’s HMS Trumpeter. As one of the last P2000’s built, Raider’s supercharged, capable of 22kts instead of the more leisurely 14kts of most of the class.

By moving Raider to Devonport, she can be used not just by Bristol students but also by HMS Raleigh, Dartmouth and FOST for fast-attack craft and navigation training. Sounds like fun...

pictures: la(phot) keith morgan, rn photographer of the year

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