HMS Forth visits the 'gateway to Antarctica'

Royal Navy patrol ship HMS Forth took advantage of spring in the Southern Hemisphere to pay her second visit to the ‘Gateway to Antarctica’.

The wildlife paradise of South Georgia is one the UK’s most remote and least populous overseas territories – 850 miles from Forth’s normal stomping ground of the Falklands.

The weather in the austral autumn and winter rules out visits by Forth – an even with the advent of spring the passage is hazardous.

Spare sailors were posted as ice lookouts, assisting the regular team on the bridge in keeping an all-round lookout for dangers in icy waters.  Several large icebergs, ‘bergy bits’ and ‘growlers’ – smaller chunks of ice just above the waterline – were encountered.

Just in case the ship should run into a berg (she didn’t), Forth’s crew practised dealing with floods, general damage control and machinery breakdowns.

For Operation Southern Sovereignty, the patrol vessel – one of five built for the Royal Navy for duties across the Seven Seas – hosted 18 military and civilian personnel from Mount Pleasant Complex, the hub of UK operations in the Falklands; Forth’s 50-bunk additional mess means she can embark far more passengers than her predecessor, HMS Clyde.

Also embarked was Helen Havercroft, Chief Executive Officer of the Government of South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands, also embarked the ship to visit her administrative domain.

“Taking passage to South Georgia in HMS Forth has been a great experience,” she said. “I’ve really enjoyed meeting the crew and feeling what life in a warship is like on a day-to-day basis.  I hope they all enjoyed their visit and I would love to see them back in South Georgia sometime soon.”

South Georgia is one of the most beautiful places in the world and I’ve been privileged to be able to visit one last time before I leave HMS Forth

Chief Petty Officer Andrew Barsby, HMS Forth

For the first time, Forth was able to berth at the newly-completed wharf in the island’s ‘capital’ Grytviken.

Traditionally, visiting Royal Navy warships and cruise ships have anchored in the entrance to the harbour.

The new jetty next to the British Antarctic Survey research base at King Edward Point allowed all aboard to get ashore and explore easily… rather than be ferried ashore by boat.

Once ashore, sailors explored the abandoned whaling station, visited the grave of legendary Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton and met South Georgia’s rich wildlife including elephant and fur seals, king penguins and albatrosses.

“The visit offered both amateur and experienced photographers alike the chance to put their snapping skills to the test and capture some stunning shots of the landscape, wildlife, and the ship,” explained gunnery officer Sub Lieutenant Owen Long.

 “Some even went ashore after dark to conduct night photography, taking advantage of the clear air and lack of light pollution to take spectacular images of the night sky.”

Chief Petty Officer Andrew Barsby, the ship’s coxswain, added: “South Georgia is one of the most beautiful places in the world and I’ve been privileged to be able to visit one last time before I leave HMS Forth.” 

And one of the ship’s trainee officers led a small congregation in a church service in Grytviken’s church, purported to be one of the most southerly in the world.

The Commanding Officer, Lt Cdr Edward Munns said: “A visit to South Georgia is a wonderful opportunity for many of my Ship’s Company and it has been an honour to command HMS Forth in only her second visit to the archipelago.

“A tremendous time was had by all and I’m certain everyone onboard will hold memories of this place that they will treasure for years to come.”