Tuesday, October 27, 2009

HMS Gloucester swaps oceans

HMS Gloucester safely through Angostura Inglesa

27 Oct 09
On standby to conduct various tasks such as counter-narcotics operations, search and rescue missions or humanitarian relief, HMS Gloucester has taken a break from her South Atlantic patrols and moved through some breathtaking scenery to the Pacific Ocean.
The Type 42 destroyer, based in Portsmouth, has headed north to warmer seas and the Chilean city of Valparaiso.
But with the South Atlantic winter in full swing and Cape Horn too treacherous, the only option was to transit the Magellan Straits.
The straits, which comprise a navigable sea route immediately south of mainland Chile and north of Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego is the most important natural passage between the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans.
The journey included navigating the narrow Patagonian Canals, a tricky 800-mile (1,300km) passage which took three days.
Able Seaman Max Grosse said:
"It was really breathtaking, the scenery was like nothing any of us had seen before, spectacular mountains with glaciers, completely deserted.
"I was at the wheel driving as we passed through the Paso Tortuoso which is barely wider than the ship, not something that I will forget."
For the journey through the appropriately named Canal Icy, which was littered with small icebergs, Gloucester set up special 'ice look-outs'.
And the Angostura Inglesa posed different problems, being lined with the wrecks of stricken vessels.
Lieutenant Sarah Thompson, an experienced navigator, said:
"It was a tense time on the bridge. We were expecting strong winds and as much as six knots [11km/h] of tidal stream, but in the event conditions could not have been better.
"Passing through Angostura Inglesa was the culmination of many weeks of planning and training for the bridge team."
The perfect weather allowed the ship to launch her Lynx helicopter to take some photographs as they passed through the narrowest part of the canal.
But as the ship left the confines of the canal and entered the Pacific Ocean, the first visit for many onboard, they were greeted with a substantial storm, whipping the sea into a frenzy, making their arrival in Valparaiso all the more welcome.
On arriving at Valparaiso, 15 sailors helped out at a school for children with learning difficulties. The building was in a poor material state so the team were armed with huge buckets of paint to leave the main play area a pleasant shade of apricot.
HMS Gloucester left Portsmouth in June and is due to return just before Christmas.

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