This is the first sight of the Royal Navy’s new patrol ship in one of the most starkly beautiful – and remote – places on the planet to fly the Union Flag. For the first time since arriving in the South Atlantic, HMS Forth crossed 850 miles of icy ocean to patrol the waters around South Georgia. The distant archipelago forms part of the territory 2,000-tonne Forth, which arrived in the Falklands at the turn of the year as the islands’ new patrol ship, must reassure and, ultimately, protect. The Falklands patrol ship spends the majority of her time around the namesake islands. But several times a year it heads to South Georgia for a mix of military training, providing support to the island authorities and British Antarctic Survey scientists.
An RAF A400 maritime patrol aircraft scouted the 850-mile stretch of southern ocean between East Cove and South Georgia; the waters are prone to growlers (small chunks of ice) and larger ‘bergy bits’ – remnants of much larger icebergs. For this maiden visit Forth carried Brigadier Nick Sawyer, Commander of British Forces South Atlantic Islands, and two dozen soldiers, air force personnel and civil servants – who made use of the 51-bunk embarked forces mess which makes the ship better suited to carrying troops/commandos than smaller HMS Clyde whom she replaced at the turn of the year.
After a 53-hour crossing, they were treated to the sight of Bird Island – popular with BBC wildlife documentary makers for its rich avian life – plus albatrosses, seals and whales as Forth continued towards the ‘capital’ Grytviken. Once a thriving whaling station, the village is largely frozen in time, but does contain a museum and post office to cater for visiting cruise ships – one was in harbour at the same time as Forth – as well as a British Antarctic Survey research base. The ship’s company explored the hills overlooking Grytviken, paid homage at the grave of explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, and chatted with tourists and guides from the visiting liners.
A brave few chose to chance the 4°C waters for a few minutes before dashing into the BAS centre’s sauna to warm up. Lieutenant Matt McGinlay, Forth’s 1st Lieutenant, said his shipmates were spellbound for an island they called “a gateway to Antarctica”. The ship’s Commanding Officer Commander Bob Laverty added: “The visit was a good opportunity to meet key personalities, integrate and begin to build the bonds of friendship. We introduced Forth to the area, integrated with local officials and scientists, and conducted reconnaissance to update our military understanding of the islands.”