‘We all make sacrifices’: Britain’s first woman sub hunter says her years at sea ‘probably explains why I’m still single’
Britain’s first female warship commander is preparing to lead the HMS Portland on a six-month patrol in the Atlantic on the hunt for enemy submarines.
In 2012, Sarah West became the first woman to be put in charge of a British warship in the navy’s 500 year history, and says she is proud to be at the front of defending our waters from the threat of submarines.
However, the 41-year-old says that the high-octane job comes at a personal cost, revealing that the years spent away at sea mean she is still single.
She joined the navy after getting bored with her nine to five job as a trainee manager.
The ban on women working on submarines was only lifted in 2011 and Cdr West described her appointment to take command of HMS Portland as the highlight of her 16 years in the navy.
However, she plays down her role in being on the frontline of helping to maintain a ring of steel around the British coastline.
‘I’m not reinventing the wheel,’ she told the Mirror. ‘Lots of women in the services have challenging roles. It’s just that I happen to be newsworthy at the moment.’
As much as she enjoys the thrilling nature of her job, she admits that it has not made it easy to meet a partner.
‘There are drawbacks. Years at sea probably explains why I’m single. But every person in the military makes sacrifices.’
She says plenty of men and women on board are missing seeing their children grow up, which makes it crucial to keep morale high.
Now she is in charge of an 185-strong crew whom she leads in trying to out outmaneouvre their underwater enemies.
‘Anti-submarine warfare is the military version of chess. You must work out what the enemy is going to do before they even think of it,’ says Cdr West who is captain of HMS Portland, a Type 23 frigate with submarine-hunting kit, Sea Wolf and Harpoon missiles, Stingray torpedoes and a Lynx attack helicopter.
They have recently been running a training exercise to catch the submarine HMS Triumph, which bombed Libya in 2011 and now trains future Royal Navy captain.’
There is no sign of the submarine despite sending a helicopter to dip a sonar wire into the sea where it is suspected to be.
But suddenly a periscope is spotted several miles away, sparking Cdr West into action, who shouts orders for HMS Portland to move in on the sub and prepares for the similated launch of three Stingray torpedoes.
‘Today has been a good day for submarine hunting,’ says Cdr West.
‘Many more countries have submarines now so there’s always a threat out there. What we’re doing is really important.’
‘You can have state-of-the-art kit but, without well-trained people wanting to use it, you’re useless.’
The ship is set to leave HM Naval Base Devonport in Plymouth for six months on patrol in the Atlantic.
The crew will face threats from storms, with gale-force winds whipping up waves as high as 40ft. Warships sit high in the water for speed and cannot turn away from a storm for comfort when they have to sail somewhere urgently. Many of those suffering from seasickness will be forced to vomit into buckets while on watch.
They are facing testing times as Russia is understood to be on the verge of completing a £1.25 billion K-329 Severodvinsk nuclear-powered submarine which could give it a crucial underwater advantage.
Source – Daily Mail