At sea with Britain’s first woman sub hunter: Warship commander

‘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.

Sarah West stands proudly on HMS Portland as the Royal Navy's first female commander of a warship.Sarah West stands proudly on HMS Portland as the Royal  Navy’s first female commander of a warship.

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.

Cdr Sarah West looks through binoculars as the HMS Portland hunts a submarine in the Cumbrae Gap, Scotland.Cdr Sarah West looks through binoculars as the HMS  Portland hunts a submarine in the Cumbrae Gap, Scotland.

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.’

Commander West oversees the hunt for the submarine in the ship's operations room.Commander West oversees the hunt for the submarine in  the ship’s operations room.

‘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

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2 thoughts on “At sea with Britain’s first woman sub hunter: Warship commander

  1. RN Retired

    Quote “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.” She is in command of HMS Portland which is a Frigate. qué?

    Reply

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