HMS Atherstone halfway home for Christmas

Passing under the 404-metre span of the Friendship Bridge, minehunter HMS Atherstone approaches the mid-way point on her long journey home.

After three and a half years as part of the UK’s mine warfare force safeguarding shipping and sea lanes in the Gulf and environs, the Crazy A is making her way back to Portsmouth in time for Christmas.

Although it’s only 1,100 miles as the crow flies from Bahrain to Suez, the small matter of sailing around the Arabian Peninsula means the canal linking the Mediterranean and the east is roughly half way between the Gulf and Portsmouth.

With minehunter crews trading places every six to seven months, most sailors return to the UK by RAF aircraft through Brize Norton.

For the final crew embarked on the ship’s deployment, there’s the challenge of a six-week odyssey bringing Atherstone back, plenty of stops in ports rarely visited by the Royal Navy, and the unique, high emotions of a naval homecoming.

All of the guys are looking forward to sailing through the Mediterranean and making sure that we finish the deployment well – just as we started it in Bahrain.

Able Seaman (Diver) Ben Phillips

“Sailing Atherstone home after her three-and-a-half year deployment in the Gulf is an excellent experience for my crew,” said Lieutenant Commander Mark Headley, the Hunt-class ship’s commanding officer.

“They’ve worked tirelessly throughout the deployment to ensure that the ship has provided maximum operational effectiveness in keeping maritime traffic safe.

“Obviously, it is a good feeling to have passed through Suez, but more challenges await us on the remainder of the voyage home and we will ensure that we keep up the good work of Maritime Security Operations throughout the rest of our time deployed.”

The last stop east of Suez was Aqaba for some training with the Royal Jordanian Navy.

“The voyage home so far has been very enlightening and rewarding,” said Able Seaman (Diver) Ben Phillips, one of seven clearance divers aboard Atherstone.

“Visiting Jordan was a brilliant opportunity to experience a new culture where Royal Navy ships do not often have the chance to go.

“All of the guys are looking forward to sailing through the Mediterranean and making sure that we finish the deployment well – just as we started it in Bahrain.”

Since leaving Portsmouth in May 2012, Atherstone has covered more than 50,000 miles – that’s twice around the world – and spent more than 8,630 hours (just over 51 weeks) on operational tasks.

She’s taken part in 14 joint UK-US training exercises and conducted extensive surveys of sea lanes to ensure they remain open for lawful shipping.