The hot weather and sea temperature have proven to be welcome change, but have also presented real challenges for a ship designed to operate in the much colder climates of the polar regions. The team has delivered fantastically throughout

Lieutenant Commander Matt Lindeyer, HMS Protector’s First Lieutenant and Charge Surveyor

Protector spends the British winters – summertime in the Southern Hemisphere – working around the frozen continent, withdrawing to the more temperate climes of South Africa for the austral winter to undergo maintenance and conduct survey work and training, typically off the west coast of Africa.

This year, however, she was dispatched to Indian Ocean islands just south of the Equator, where the temperature is a balmy 30˚C pretty much all year round.

Protector and her smaller survey motor launch are equipped with sophisticated sonar suites and software which can map the seabed in 3D and provide unparalleled understanding of what lies beneath the waves.

In addition to her full-time survey team, the ship was joined by a small group of specialists from the Royal Navy’s Hydrographic Unit to make the most of the short time in Diego Garcia.

After surveying the harbour entrance, Protector headed north to the atoll of Peros Banhos, with the aim of charting the main channel into the atoll – allowing vessels from Diego Garcia to shelter in the calm waters if necessary.

It wasn’t just the survey team that managed to get ashore in this tropical paradise. Sailors explored the deserted islands, swam in the various lagoons and saw the vast array of wildlife. One group were especially fortunate when a large pod of over 20 dolphins decided to play in the bow wave of one of the boats.

“The atoll was so remote – I don’t think they had seen many humans, let alone small boats before,” said Protector’s Navigator Lieutenant Beau Henrickson.

“They were certainly very curious of us. After accompanying us for 20 minutes they put on a fantastic display, jumping clear of the water in a scene that was more akin to Sea World than their natural behaviour!”

For the crew of Protector’s sea boats around the numerous reefs surrounding the island provided a new challenge,

“I spend most of the year dodging icebergs and leopard seals but here I’ve spent my whole time dodging turtles and coral! It’s been an incredible experience”, said Able Seaman (Seaman Specialist) Connor Mason.

On the main island, Survey Motor Boat James Caird IV was sent around the base and main berths – its shallow draught allows it to inspect places Protector herself cannot get.

That allowed the ship’s company some time off: some hosted British and US personnel for tours of the unique patrol ship (among its many quirks, officers and ratings eat in the same dining room).

Sailors and Royal Marines also supported a team of scientists on the island researching green turtles; they spent three consecutive nights assisting in capturing and satellite tagging of these creatures, all of which were over one metre long and incredibly powerful – they often required four or five people to handle them whilst the scientists got to work.

HMS Protector’s year-long unbeaten record on the football pitch came to an end; they were beaten 5-2 by their hosts.

And finally there was a traditional ‘hands to bathe’ – a chance to swim in the open waters, with the ship’s sea boat close at hand constantly circling Protector to make sure there were no sharks around.


Lieutenant Commander Matt Lindeyer, HMS Protector’s First Lieutenant and Charge Surveyor said the crew had worked hard and played hard in Diego Garcia and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

“The whole ship has really come together and worked hard to pull off a successful survey, in what has been at times quite-demanding circumstances,” he said.

“The hot weather and sea temperature have proven to be welcome change, but have also presented real challenges for a ship designed to operate in the much colder climates of the polar regions. The team has delivered fantastically throughout.”

The distinctive Plymouth-based ship is now preparing to return to the Antarctic, three years into her epic deployment. She won’t seem home until 2020, although her crew will as she rotates one third of them every few weeks to sustain the five-year mission.

Hydrography and Meteorology Specialist

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