(You can download this report from the News Section)
The stage was set: Dry docking in Portsmouth was a distant memory, summer leave now over; HMS DARING was making good her final preparations for Type 45’s maiden deployment. It was not without much anticipation as this has been in DARING’s programme for some time and would prove to be the first venture beyond continental Europe. We were to join the USS ENTERPRISE Carrier Strike Group for their ‘Composite Training Unit Exercise’ or C2X, prior to their Task Group’s deployment to the Persian Gulf. Having completed our own sea training in the South Coast Exercise Areas in June, it was time to put the Navy’s new destroyer through her paces in an environment where the number of aircraft sorties seen in a day would exceed those which other exercises would be able to provide in a month or more. The prospect of visits to Norfolk Virginia, Mayport Florida, and New York City was also keenly anticipated.
After repairing the damage caused by the Southampton tug hitting DARING in early September, we sailed from Portsmouth bearing a small army of contractors and re‐embarked our helicopter and crew for three days of further tests and trials off Devonport. On the evening of Sunday, 19 September we eventually weighed anchor from the Plymouth Sound and commenced the 3,400nm Atlantic passage.
And so it was with eagerness that we spent eleven days on passage west and as the weather, we took the opportunity to hold traditional flight deck sports, a horse racing night and a BBQ. There had been much talk of Hurricane Igor and the associated weather system, for which we modified our route, and the heavy weather remained well clear of us. Apart from the occasional call to watch dolphins or whales, the Ops Room teams were busying themselves throughout the passage with our Fighter Controllers trying to impart their aviation knowledge to some of the our youngest sailors who, in a matter of weeks, would be giving radio direction to United States Navy F18 fighter jets. The Marine Engineers had a hectic time keeping 7500 tons of steel moving at an average speed of 15 knots.
As the weather warmed, it was noticeable we were approaching the Virginia Capes and after an extremely dull pilotage featuring a 12 mile leg through the Chesapeake Bay and passing over the Bridge Tunnel (precisely that, an American invention of a bridge that dives beneath the estuary before emerging on the other side into another four‐lane highway), Naval Station Norfolk opened DARING in a Portsmouth Dry Dock on the port bow. Berthed at Pier 14 their naval base continued well beyond view. Each of the wharves bristled with warships. USS ENTERPRISE, ‘The Big E’ was abeam and eclipsed the dozens of Amphibious vessels, escorts and auxiliaries of the US Second Fleet behind her. Later that afternoon another 100,000 tonnes of nuclear‐powered steel took the other side of our pier and really made us feel small. That said, DARING’s sleek lines and spiky Samson radar drew looks from all who passed us and there were queues of American sailors wanting to come and have a look around and dispel the mystery of whether or not we did actually allow beer on board (the USN are dry).
With just enough time for the seamanship department to erect the awning, the heavens opened and the month’s rain descended upon us overnight. Fortunately, that was short and sharp and a weekend of blazing sunshine was enjoyed at Virginia Beach before hosting a UK Defence Industry Sales Day.
A week later than expected, after dealing with an unexpected mechanical issue DARING joined the Task Group at sea, by now comprising the carrier and eight escorts, as well as the Norwegian frigate FRIJDTOF NANSEN and submarine UTVAER that completed the foreign contingent. In anticipation of the action, we closed up to trial the T45 defence watch routine and took our sector on the carrier. As we took up Plane Guard station over the next few days and nights, 3000 yards astern of the ENTERPRISE, you couldn’t avoid the humming of the Top Gun theme and quoting from the film.
During C2X DARING was involved in serials testing Air Defence, counter‐targeting, Anti Submarine Warfare and possibly the world’s most complicated night Gunnery exercise with eight escorts. The milestones continued to be passed with the T45’s first night Replenishment at Sea with the auxiliary, USNS Arctic, and the landing of Commander Strike Force Training Atlantic’s Sea Hawk helicopter on our deck.
After ten days with the TG, we received permission to detach and turn South to allow us to assess DARING’s capacity to operate in warm waters in anticipation of possible deployments next year. Sadly, time wouldn’t permit any Caribbean island‐hopping, but Cuba did loom on the horizon before we completed our track and returned towards Mayport. During this time the Senior Rates took the opportunity to decorate their mess in Nelsonic style and enjoy the age old tradition of Pickle Night at sea. The Floridian naval station hosted us for a week of post‐exercise debriefs and a little R&R too. Trafalgar Night was an opportunity to impress the Americans yet again as we hosted the Commanding Officer of the USS Vicksburg, a ship we looked after when they visited Plymouth earlier in the year. As we left Mayport there was a fantastic opportunity for 20 members of the Ship’s Company to conduct a Command, Leadership and Management Expedition around several US sites of military interest and this fantastic opportunity was supported by our affiliates, to whom we remain most grateful. A short period at sea also allowed the ship to be visited by the Commodore Portsmouth Flotilla Staff to undertake inspections and professional qualifications for members of the Ship’s Company; all were most successful.
The third visit of the deployment was to have been the last before returning to the UK. West Midtown, Manhattan, New York is one of the iconic berths for a warship. During a busy five day visit, DARING opened her doors to a range of visitors: His Excellency Mr Ban Ki‐Moon the Secretary‐General of the United Nations hosted a dinner on board, the London 2012 Olympiad Committee held a cultural event for guests including Joanna Lumley, Jim Dale and Sir Patrick Stewart, and we had hundreds more guests besides. Despite an uncertain start, DARING achieved her aims for C2X and successfully proved her worth, operating as part of the US‐led Task Group and offering AAW protection superior to anything yet known by the world’s most powerful fleet. In addition, we flew the flag for T45, the RN and the UK, leaving no doubt as to our capability and the greater utility of the DARING Class and the Future Navy. When one of our shipmates took ill quite suddenly and seriously we made a diversion north in order to land him at a hospital in Cape Cod. To replace the extra fuel we had used in the high speed transit and in order to ensure were in an even more robust position to make the transatlantic crossing we stopped in Halifax, Nova Scotia to collect fuel and stores before heading home. We will arrive back in the UK several days later than we had originally planned but such is ‘life in a blue suit’. On our return we’ll proceed immediately into a planned maintenance period taking us through until the middle of February 2011 before we start our build up to what lies ahead and the first truly operational deployment for Her Majesty’s Ship DARING.
On behalf of everyone in DARING, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your continual support and wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. We look forward to meeting up with you in 2011.