Wednesday, 26 September 2007

HMS Portland in Anguilla

With the visit of HMS Portland, I have found myself busier than I have been in a little while!

On Monday morning I was invited to sit in on Navigational and Wireless Communications Briefings given to members of the Anguilla Police Service, HM Customs and Immigration Services and the Fire Brigade by members of the ship’s company. These proved to be very interesting and, as Sgt Browne of the Police Marine Unit said of the navigation training, ‘this was knowledge we needed and it will help us a great deal.’

In the afternoon I was invited aboard the ship to meet the Commanding Officer, Commander Mike Utley, affectionately known as ‘Father’ by the crew. I was met by Lieutenant Commander Harry Palmer, the ship’s Public Relations Officer amongst other roles, who gave me a guided tour of the ship and much appreciated background information. He also made me some welcome tea, whilst apologising for the crack in the cup!

Talking to Commander Utley was a delight. I think I was slightly more than he bargained for though! As Lieutenant Commander Palmer had informed me, after the ship’s relief work in the wake of Hurricane Dean in Belize, Commander Utley had given 19 interviews to radio and television in 48 hours. I think he expected I would be there for ten minutes, ask him the barest minimum of questions and then disappear to write my few hundred words! What he got was Professional Penny who had done her homework. Yes, I wanted to know about the ship and what it had been up to but I also wanted to know about the ship’s Captain. So I asked him about his career and what he thought of the new Type 23 frigate he now commanded in comparison to his first ship, a Leander Class frigate back in the early 1990’s. What his wife thought of his frequent absences and just how one of his commands had won the prestigious Jersey Cup for Fishery Protection. In all, we chatted for over an hour and his enthusiasm for his job, his ship and his crew shone through. He endearingly told me ‘I love driving ships!’ and it showed.

Later, the Commander hosted a Cocktail Party for over eighty invited guests and both Joe and I went along. Owen King, the ship’s photographer, was much in evidence snapping away with his Nikon, which I must say I covet! He and I had shared a few minutes earlier in the day exchanging professional courtesies and eyeing each other’s equipment. I liked his Nikon; he liked my Canon but loved my little Panasonic DMC-TZ1, which we both agree is a lovely, capable little camera. The Cocktail Party ended, as all such on board parties end, with Sunset performed with precision and skill.

The ship had to leave suddenly on Tuesday and so all further engagements, including Lunch with the Governor and his staff, were cancelled. The ship sailed at noon. No doubt we will hear about her exploits in due course.
The photo shows Commander Utley still smiling at the end of our interview.

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