When the HMS Westminster came into West India Dock, I was offered a chance to go on board and meet the Captain and some of the crew . This seemed an opportunity too good to miss, so at the appropriate time I went on board and was escorted to the bridge.
Talking to some of the crew, it quickly became clear that the modern Royal Navy is expected to undertake a large number of tasks in an ever changing world from humanitarian rescues to seeing action in the many trouble spots.
HMS Westminster’s Commanding Officer Captain Hugh Beard
Although the HMS Westminster is 20 years old, the technology on the bridge is being regularly updated to maintain maximum effectiveness. However the bridge is dominated by the captain’s chair from where he directs operations, the Captain after explaining some of the ships capabilities rested in his chair to be surprised by the appearance of a Tall Ship sailing past. It turned out be the Stavros S Niarchos and waves were exchanged between the two crews.
Leading seaman Dave Kelvin ( still feeling the effects of running from Portsmouth to London for charity)
I was keen to find out how many Londoners were on board and was surprised to find out there was only three, it appears that although that ships are linked with a particular place, recruitment can bring crew from all over the UK.
Engineering Technician (Weapon Engineer) Lewis Bird, from Carshalton
However chatting with the Londoners, it was obvious that the links with the City were the source of a great deal of pride.
Lieutenant Lloyd Cardy, from Croydon
Although I have been on many ships that have visited West India Docks, the visit is usually restricted to the deck and occasionally the bridge. Therefore when I was offered a full tour of the ship I was curious to see ‘behind the scenes’ of the modern warship.
With a complement of 180 to 200 crew and the array of modern equipment and weapons even a quite large warship like the HMS Westminster feels quite cramped under the decks.
One of the first lessons a new sailor or a landlubber visitor learns is climbing down the steps between decks requires you to keep your wits about you, if not bumps and bruises will follow or ‘hatch rash’ as its known to the crew.
What quickly becomes clear is that the ship has to be a self contained ‘mini- city’ because if you are at sea for weeks at a time, you obviously have to take everything with you.
Other than direct action with the enemy , the great dangers on board are fire or water getting into the ship. The large array of systems regulating all aspects of the ship are manned 24/7 and any incident is acted upon immediately.
There is also constant training at sea both in battle readiness but also endless safety routines to be carried out.
But the life of the modern sailor is not all work , the galley provides a wide range of meals by a team of chefs.
And there is even a small shop if you fancy a bar of chocolate .
The ship usually carries an helicopter unless in port, but I was not sure why there is a red telephone box on the deck ?
As someone who gets seasick on the Woolwich Ferry, I don’t think I would have been attracted to a life on the ocean but it was fascinating to see some of the workings of a modern warship.
If you are interested and would like to visit the ship and see some of the sights for yourself, there is an open day on Saturday, tickets are free but must be obtained from Eventbrite here.
Many thanks to the Captain and the crew of the HMS Westminster for the information and the guided tour.