Author: Patrick English | Uploaded: 11/10/2010
‘Learning the Ropes’ | By Patrick English
| The Cambridge Student, Michaelmas 2010, Issue I, Page 17
| See the original page at: http://www.srcf.ucam.org/curnu/resources/TCS_Volume12_Michaelmas_Issue1_1.pdf
Picture this: All around you the horizon extends as far as the eye can see; the hot sun beats down on the back of your neck as you hurtle at twenty three knots through the seas aboard HMS Raider. This is the story of ten of your fellow students, who this summer took command of a Royal Navy warship.
For six weeks this summer, students from the Universities of Cambridge, East Anglia and Oxford took part in a 3600mile voyage on board two navy patrol vessels from Portsmouth to Gibraltar, and back.
The trip, split into three phases to give groups of up to 13 students 2 week deployments, departed the Portsmouth Navy docks at the end of June and took in the Channel Islands, the West Coast of France, the Bay of Biscay, the Northern coast of Spain, and Portugal before arriving in Gibraltar.
The deployment, run by Cambridge Universities Royal Naval Unit (CURNU), is a bi-annual event with the sole purpose to put into practice the skills taught throughout the year by the unit. In recent years other destinations have included: circum-navigating the UK; negotiating the Caledonian Canal through the Scottish lochs to the Hebrides; Holland, Germany, Denmark and the Baltics.
CURNU is one of fourteen University Royal Naval Units (URNUs) around the UK which offer members from Cambridge and UEA a mix of shore-based and sea-borne training including navigation, seamanship, ship handling and leadership skills.
URNUs are university societies run by Naval personnel with the aim to educate high calibre undergraduates about the ever important role of the Royal Navy in today’s world. It does not recruit students into the armed forces: students are given the honorary officer rank of Midshipman, but there is no commitment to join the forces after University.
The CURNU has its own warship , HMS Raider, which provides a sea-borne platform for the student’s sea skills to be put into practice. At twenty metres long, with a twin propelled, V12 diesel engine, HMS Raider generates as much power as two Bugatti Veyrons, and hydroplanes at a maximum speed of 23knots. She can take up to thirteen students, a Royal Naval Reserve training officer, and five full time Royal Navy crew, including the Commanding Officer.
The CURNU takes students with varying degrees of sea-faring backgrounds, and teaches them the necessary skills at weekly drill nights, These skills are put into practice on sea weekends and deployments.
Whilst on ‘Raider’, students perform all the tasks that keep her running: From manning the raidar and charts, to acting as Captain and cooking.
“Call the Hands, Call the Hands, Call the Hands”
As dawn breaks, and the morning is still young, the cadet with the last watch of the night is required to ‘pipe’ (make a broadcast on the ship’s internal addressing system) the eternally cursed words “Call the hands, call the hands, call the hands”, which serves as the morning wake up call.
At this point, the crew rise from their bunks and have time to make themselves ‘presentable’ and don their ‘fours’ (the traditional uniform worn by naval personnel onboard ship: blue shirt, navy blue trousers, beret, and steaming boots) before they start preparing the ship for sea.
During the passage from port to port as HMS Raider makes her way down to Gibraltar, it is collectively the students responsibility to steer a safe course and arrive in port at the expected time of arrival, calculated from preparatory chart work done the previous evening. Students are also responsible for identifying, reporting and manoeuvring safely around other shipping, for which they keep a good look out and employ radar.
Older techniques such as the use of sextants is also taught – this was most notably utilised during a night passage across the Bay of Biscay to Santander, by making use of the stars to navigate.
In addition to the professional skills taught, the Unit gives students insights into meteorology, tactical communications, navy tradition (such as mess dinners and ‘Jack Speak’ – the language of the Navy) and perhaps most surprisingly, basic culinary skills.
For the average Cambridge student, it is easy to get through University fed on fine black tie dinners, formal hall banquets, canteen prepared food, or a ready meal straight from the packet into the microwave . Such expectations are regularly met by the numerous formal dinners which CURNU hosts throughout the year – most notably their Trafalgar Night Dinner, complete with traditional sea shanties, rum, and attended by many high ranking naval commanders and admirals.
Whilst in Gibraltar students attended a prestigious summer ball at HMS Rooke; a Hollywood themed, wine fuelled extravaganza with performances from incredible live bands. Hosting a high ranking Commodore with a traditional Navy cocktail party was also a highlight of this year’s deployment.
However, Officer Cadets in CURNU are equally often reminded that the Navy runs on food: aboard HMS Raider during summer deployments, everyone does their fair share of cooking food (or in Jack Speak, ‘scran’) for the rest of the crew.
‘Scran’ is prepared in the ship’s galley. This comprises all the usual appliances but is compressed into a six foot by six foot square, making it even harder to cook a non-microwaved, filling meal for a crew of up to fifteen others. This task is made no easier when the ship bounces from wave to wave, sending anything not fixed down flying.
Other tasks including Man Overboard Drills, flag and light signalling, radio communications and Officer of the Watch Manoeuvres are practiced with the CURNU’s sister ship: Oxford URNU’s HMS Tracker.
As the convoy approaches Gibraltar, the famous rock grows from under the horizon ahead, and the sun sets beyond it, there is a real feeling amongst the students that this a working holiday they will never forget, not least because they just remembered they also got paid for it.
The URNU presents students with unparalleled opportunities to get paid to partake in a myriad of activities including: sailing, hiking, diving, gliding, kayaking, parachuting, flying camps and more; City & Guilds awards in leadership; and invaluable Royal Yachting Association powerboat and theory qualifications.
Cambridge URNU are recruiting new members this Michaelmas and will have a stall outside the University Freshers’ Fair, on Parkers’ Piece, on Tuesday 5th October. Further information can be found at www.srcf.ucam.org/curnu