Tag Archives: RAN

New horizons

12 Sep

It has been a very long time since I last contributed to this blog of ours, it might have even been this time last year. Louise does such a good job of keeping up with our comings and goings, I sometimes feel that what I can say will be of any interest. Besides I am a much more passive communicator; listening and reading are more my comfort zones!

Talking of comfort zones this is a year for us to be well and truly tested with a baby on the way.   The due date in the middle of September is fast approaching, having seemed for so long to be have been a point far on the horizon. I am incredibly excited, but daunted at the same time. I know that our lives will never be the same again in a matter of days. Louise, as ever, has been extremely organised and we have been busy shopping for baby ‘essentials’, she even managed to bring me along to a baby expo in Sydney a couple of months ago. I will be honest, it was not my idea of fun as I don’t have the best patience for shopping at the best of times, but it was a useful trip and we came home with a pram!

Ardent 2 on the uniform

Ardent 2 on the uniform

Along with fatherhood, 2014 has also seen me taking command of a warship for the first time in my career. I joined my crew, called ‘Ardent Two’ in Darwin at the end of May and we embarked in HMAS Wollongong, an Arimdale Class Patrol Boat (ACPB). The patrol boat community in the RAN is unconventionally manned, with more crews than hulls, and a rotation system of 8 weeks ‘on’ and 4 weeks ‘off’. This means that each crew goes back to a different Ship each time, odd, but it almost works. Anyway, Wollongong was my first and I have since been back briefly to Sydney and am now back for a longer duration, until the birth and hopefully, for a few weeks after it as well. I have immensely enjoyed the first four months in command, have quickly come to realise that all my time in the Navy to date has prepared me for this one job. Each day on board I seem to find myself remembering instances when something similar occurred under different commanding officers and how I reacted then and now. It surprises me how lessons were imparted to me in all manner of situations.

July also saw me reach the halfway point of my Masters of Business programme, which I am being funded to complete by the RAN. It is a pleasing milestone, but the end still seems some way of, particularly as I have taken a break for the first six months in command whilst I get myself settled into the job at sea.

After my first stint in patrol, I had to find myself a place to liven Cairns (well, Louise did, and I just inspected on my arrival in Cairns!) I managed to secure an apartment in the city, which gives me a base up there  and somewhere for Louise and the baby to visit occasionally as well.

The new Cairns pad

The new Cairns pad

Winter sun at Bondi

Winter sun at Bondi

Physically I have also embarked on a press-up (push-up) challenge. I saw this being talked about on Facebook at the end of last year and it intrigued me. The challenge is simply one press-up on Jan 1st, two on Jan 2nd continuing in this vein until Dec 31st! Today I have had to complete 256 press-ups, not in all in one go thankfully, but it is a physical and psychological test that I am determined to complete. In total I will have knocked out over 66,000 over the course of the year.

Doing the push-ups in front of the Ship

Doing the push-ups in front of the Ship

By the end of this year I will have taken on a hugely responsible role in two regards, both in my personal and professional life. They are both responsibilities I feel ready for, although something tells me a tiny newborn may prove more testing than a crew of grown men. Either way, Louise and I are about to find out very soon.

 

 

Naval Gazing

26 Apr

Yesterday I was shown Australia can do pomp and ceremony just as well as the English. ANZAC Day commemorates the anniversary of the landing of Australian and New Zealand troops in Gallipoli in 1915 – part of the Allied expedition in the First World War. Over 8,000 of their forces died and April 25 became the day to remember the sacrifice they made. Today it goes beyond just the anniversary; it is the day Australians and New Zealanders remember the contribution and sacrifice of all their servicemen and women in military operations and they do so with a great deal of pride and patriotism. The day is very similar to Remembrance Day but seems to bear much more relevance to young Australians, continuing to have meaning for their sense of national identity. It was plain to see as crowds of thousands braved the morning chill to wave flags and applaud current and former members of the armed forces and emergency services while bands from local communities, scout groups, schools and universities all joined in the parade. It was a real family event, with young and old turning out to honour the veterans and marching side by side.

James is away in Auckland, so at least is in a country where Anzac Day is recognised and got to experience the national celebration, including the traditional dawn service at 4.30 am. This is usually followed by the parade and breakfast washed down with plenty of beers to soften the blow. I was not up for the dawn service but did decide to head into the city for the Sydney Anzac parade to show my commitment as a Navy wife! I ended up going alone as nobody was too keen to get up before 8am on a national holiday, especially considering it suddenly turned cold for a day (top of 19 degrees – Autumn is definitely here and I am clearly acclimatising.) However, it stayed dry, sunny and crisp so, wearing a coat for the first time since we arrived, I found a place at the start of the marching route to watch the parade. After the most frail of the veterans were driven by in a convoy of taxis, men and women from ships, regiments and squadrons marched by to much clapping and flag-waving. It was quite a moving scene, particularly seeing young Australians marching with photographs of their grandparents and relatives who have died in action.

The other tradition, which has become as much a part of Anzac celebrations as the parade itself, is a game of Two-up in the pub. I met up with a group of friends for some drinks and we went over the road to their local pub to watch Two-up in action. None of us were feeling too flush to gamble away much money. When I left, Matt was $5 down, Nicky $5 up and I sadly left $5 down but decided to cut my losses before I gambled away all our money! Two-up (or should that be five-down) is a very simple game of heads and tails, played by as many people as want to participate. You place a bet by waving your money in the air and yelling whether you want heads or tails and hope someone will match you to bet the opposite.

Then the coin tossing begins. A lot of pressure on the spinner, as they’re known.

Everyone watches for how the coins land and once both land with the same side down, the winning better keeps the money so you end up double or nothing. There are always some happy punters with people sometimes winning hundreds of dollars.

This is definitely the rowdier side of Anzac Day for people getting steadily more drunk and willing to gamble increasing amounts of money. The other thing to note is that technically it is the only day of the year you can legally play the game . Glad I made the most of that one opportunity for the year.

On the subject of Anzac and therefore all things military, I thought, for those of you haven’t heard from James recently, a little update might be appreciated. Currently, they are alongside in Auckland and he is enjoying a slightly more relaxed pace after a very hectic few weeks in the run up to Easter. He was conscious of having to make a good impression and prove himself during this first job at sea and he has certainly worked hard to do that, particularly as he was largely responsible for a big anti-submarine warfare exercise off Western Australia. After weeks of planning, meetings and presentations, the exercise was a huge success and James in particular was singled out for playing a significant role in what was achieved. He said it was a big learning curve for him but a very rewarding experience. It seems he has impressed the bigwigs and managed to establish himself not ‘just another Pom joining the RAN for some sun.’

The other issues, for both of us, have been not knowing what comes next. For a few months now we’ve not known whether James was going to have to do another course after this trip, be sent back to sea and if so, to which ship or whether he’d be staying put or given a shore job. In between these options were several others as well, with other jobs and ships presenting themselves as possibilities. It can be stressful for both of us as you’re never sure whether you’ll be spending time together or whether you have to prepare yourself for months apart again. There was a lot of email to-ing and fro-ing, discussing what was going to be best career-wise, best from a home point of view and for us as a couple. There was also the other (but no less significant) issue of James’ broken knee cap and when that would get fixed! There was the concern that trying to get time off for a knee operation and be unseaworthy so soon after joining the RAN, would not go down well and maybe hinder him and his ambitions to be selected for command of a ship. But it seems James has impressed enough on this last job not to need to do a successive job at sea and finally, we know he has been given a shore posting at Watson, just up the road, which is fantastic news. It gives us both some stability and knowledge that he won’t be disappearing for six months to the Gulf.

Finally, on the subject of the sea, Sydney endured nearly 72 hours of continuous rain last week. When it rains here, it doesn’t do it by halves. Torrential downpours for nearly three days and nights and when it stops, the sun comes out as if nothing ever happened and it’s 25 degrees again. The storm meant the sea was pretty big over the weekend and walking along the coast, south from Bondi, there were some huge waves crashing on to the rocks.

They may be good for surfing – but not so much for Naval officers bobbing about on the ocean in pretty stormy conditions. Fortunately James doesn’t get sea sick but I think he was grateful for some time on dry land in New Zealand. Anzac celebrations were a certainly a good welcome ashore.

The James update

5 Jan
Yet again Louise has been doing all the hard work with the blog, it’s not that she is any less busy than me, but when I am slumped before the TV after work she seems to find the energy to work at the computer.  Whilst I am still on leave and Louise is at work, I felt it appropriate to give you an update on life from my perspective.
Before I go on – Happy New Year to you all.  It was strange not being at home for the Christmas period and I think that both of us felt a little sad at times not being there with you all.  As Louise mentioned in a recent entry we were very fortunate to be invited to stay with the Lettens in Brisbane and we were made to feel extremely welcome and part of the family, which was wonderful.
I had two weeks off over Christmas which was pretty short compared with the majority of the navy who as a rule close down for around four weeks during this period.  We (HMAS Newcastle) for various reasons decided to take a shorter leave period and frankly that suits me, especially with Louise at work, it also makes going back that much easier!  I joined HMAS Newcastle at the end of November, and my job is the Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Officer, as opposed to my previous existence in the RN where I was the Above Water warfare officer.  To be honest there isn’t that much difference; sink submarines vs shoot down missiles!  So far things seem fine.  The XO (executive officer and second in command) joined at the same time as me and as my immediate boss he seems like a very decent bloke, with a similar philosophy on work/leadership as myself.  The CO seems ok, I will be able to make a more informed judgment once we get to sea in mid January.  Initially I was a little peeved as when I joined he didn’t conduct a formal joining interview with me, and I felt that he had no idea who I was and what my experience/background consisted of.  I suppose that as most of my Australian PWO counter parts tend to be junior Lts with little more than 4 or 5 years experience behind them, he didn’t expect a Lt Cdr with 15 years of service and having served in 7 Ships.  However, after attending a warfare conference at a nearby base before Christmas and after taking on a couple of big projects for him we managed to have the ‘joining’ discussion and I think our relationship has been strengthened because of that chat – I just need to perform now!
The Ship’s programme is pretty suitable for me, both personally and professionally.  We remain in Sydney, going to sea most weeks from Monday to Friday until the end of February, after that we are heading over to WA (Western Australia), where the other main Naval base is located for a few weeks of exercises.  One of the these weeks in a ASW exercise for which we going to be in charge of all the Ships and aircraft in fighting a submarine and basically it is up to me as the ASW officer to come up with the plan to defeat the Submarine over a three day period.  This is a high profile exercise and there is much emphasis placed on trying out some new doctrine that has the interest of senior Navy leadership – no pressure there then!  Once we have completed that series of exercises the Ship will spend a long weekend alongside in Fremantle for the Easter weekend. We hope that Louise will be able to fly out to join me for Easter and we plan to head down to Margaret River a couple of hours south of Perth in beautiful winery countryside.  From WA we head to New Zealand via a quick stop in Tasmania to conduct some navigation training for a batch of navigating students – similar to what I did in 2004 around the channel islands and the south coast of the UK.  Again, commitments permitting, Louise may fly out to join me in NZ for a couple of days.  The Ship returns to Sydney in mid May and will remain East coast based for the reminder of the year, spending the odd week at sea.  As it stands I am meant to be leaving Newcastle in August to commence a warfare course back in HMAS Watson in Sydney, but the CO and XO (and me) believe that my RN qualifications and experience are more than what I would get from the course and they would prefer that I stay on the Ship and take over as the Operations Officer.  We’ll see what happens, I have submitted a formal request for the RAN to recognise my RN PWO qualifications, hopefully I will have an answer by February – it will also mean a pay rise if the request is approved.
My career in the longer term will be determined by how well I perform in Newcastle, however there is a shortage of Lt Cdrs in the warfare world (PWO Lts are now coming through in greater numbers) so I envisage a shore posting as a staff officer.  I hope to be based in Sydney, perhaps instructing PWOs at Watson or maybe at the Sea Training group also in Sydney but going to sea to ‘ride’ Ships as they work up.  The other options are getting on the Battle Staff who are unfortunately moving their HQ to Brisbane, but with the way the RAN is growing with the arrival of HMAS Choules (formally RFA Largs Bay) and the big Helicopter landing ships Canberra and Adelaide in a couple of years (huge Ships like an aircraft carrier they will make a vast difference to what the RAN with embarked army and helicopter forces) that this is where the future lies and it may make sense to get involved from the outset.  There is also the option (if I am selected) of getting a Command of a mine hunter.  Anyway we’ll see, much water to pass under the bridge.
Outside of work Louise has kept you up to date on our activities, life is busy but very enjoyable.  We have a great set of friends and we are really beginning to feel settled.  I have bought a basic road bike (racer) and went for my first early (6.30 am) bike ride with Andrew Letten this morning, we both have ambitions of doing a triathlon…someday!  Anyway it was worth rolling out of bed at a silly time whilst on leave, watch this space.
Well I think I will call it a day there, the cricket is on and Clarke is on 283, so I would like to see him get 300 before lunch.

The Dartmouth Equivalent

9 Nov

It seems wherever you go in the world, Naval Officer training establishments are pretty blessed with their location. Granted you are almost guaranteed to be near the coast, which helps, but when we spent a weekend down at HMAS Creswell, in Jervis Bay, where James has been training for the last three weeks, it’s no overstatement to say I was blown away by the scenery.

For a start, Creswell is situated in the middle of a national park so the surroundings are not only protected but a host to some incredible birds (perhaps less so when woken by the chorus at 4.30 am), flora and fauna.

The drive from Sydney took three hours but took me through  beautiful scenery, past an area known as the Southern Highlands, due to early settlers likening it to parts of Scotland, so you can imagine the views.

One of the first things James took me to see was the beach, literally a stone’s throw from the wardroom, on the edge of the base:

Captain’s Beach and Sailor’s Beach both belong to HMAS Creswell and one of the perks to being on the naval base is that these beaches are private property and I can count on one hand the number of people we had to share them with.

There are several small villages and a couple of towns a short drive outside the nature reserve so for breakfast we went to Hyams Beach, a tiny village, further along the coast for a ‘breakfast trifle’.

Then it was on to Huskisson, the nearest small town, to jump aboard a whale watching boat. I have never done this before so was really looking forward to it but we were both very excited when we got to see a Humpback whale and her calf playing around in the water just a couple of hundred metres away. Unfortunately I’d need a telescopic zoom on my camera to have captured them in their full glory so the pictures don’t quite give you the same experience we had – but it really was fantastic.

When you’re staying in a nature reserve, you end up seeing a lot more than just whales: there was the echidna, the red-bellied black snake, the sea turtle, a huge number of birds (and I am ashamed to say I cannot name them – apart from the Australian Magpie as it tried to attack us when we inadvertently walked through ‘its’ territory), a wallaby and of course – kangaroos.

Having never seen a kangaroo before, I can now say I have seen dozens upon dozens – they are everywhere around the naval base, many with young in their pouches and joeys hopping about all over the place.

We also took a drive through what is known as Kangaroo Valley on the Saturday afternoon (via a quaint town called Berry), lying just between the coast and the Southern Highlands. For lush countryside, green fields, streams and rolling hills, you could not ask for more. At times, we felt as if we could have been back in England – and James even got to pet a horse!

We were extremely lucky with the weather – topping at 30 degrees both days – so Sunday we decided to walk along the beaches to Hyams Beach for breakfast again (it really was good!), I braved the sea for my first proper swim (still quite ‘fresh’), had a few games of Kubb on the sand (I am officially the champion for now…) and then we took out one of the kayaks, belonging to the base for a paddle up and down the beach.

I think it was about this point that I suddenly realised this is our life now, we aren’t on a holiday, this is just what life out here can offer you: Clear, turquoise sea, white sand, blue sky and a big smile on our faces 🙂

It is a different adventure every day.

All the photos from the weekend can be found in the photo gallery here.

Roos on the quarterdeck

21 Oct

After all Louise’s hard work, I thought it was about time for an entry of my own.  Obviously I have neither the technical know how, nor the permission to write the blog myself, so this will have to go through my editor!

The last two months have been hectic but wonderful.  I think we can say that we are just about settled now; with the ‘big ticket’ items such as car, flat and TV all sorted and we have spent a small fortune on bedding…..  Our shipping arrived this week and so we now have our personal things to make the flat more homely, though apparently there are one or two books that need to find a home now – I think that Kindle will be the best thing Louise ever buys me!

I have been away all this week so poor Louise had to do the unpacking of 70 boxes of shipping (pulling a guilty face!) alone while I have been learning how to fight fires, plug leaks and survive gas attacks.  I have also been enjoying the wonderful surroundings down here in Jervis Bay, three hours drive south from Sydney where the Navy’s fire fighting school is located.  The base here has to be one of the most beautiful military establishments I have EVER been to.  Not only is the fire fighting school here but HMAS CRESWELL is also where new naval officers come to do their basic training, the RAN equivalent to Dartmouth.  The college is located in a natural park, surrounded by leafy woods and perched on a stunning white sanded beach, there are also kangaroos every where – brilliant (except for the droppings!).  Each day after class I have been on the beach on a borrowed Stand Up Paddle Board (SUP) – awesome fun and my ‘new’ thing, I just need to get permission to buy my own board…..

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Work wise things have also been pretty good, though I have been frustrated by certain administrative issues but I guess you get that everywhere.  I have been working at HMAS Watson (probably the second most beautiful base I have ever seen!) where I have had the time and opportunity to get acquainted with what I need to know to do my job as a PWO.  I join HMAS NEWCASTLE (a ship) at the end of November and am pretty excited about that.  As luck would have it I know one of the other PWOs on board NEWCASTLE, as he is the RN exchange officer.  A real bonus for me as it is always good to join a Ship knowing a friendly face, but in this case Nick will understand what a Pom turned Aussie naval officer will need to know.  He has been on his own for the last year so I think he will also be glad to see me.  The Ship’s programme is pretty good, not the pacific deployment that I thought I had been getting, but a shorter period away and close enough for Louise to visit (Perth) next Easter.  As an aside I have signed up for a Post Graduate Diploma in Management and Strategy via distance learning at the University of New South Wales.  I start the course next March, which may seem that I am bitting off a little bit more than I can chew, but actually it is rather expected that officers get post grad qualifications over here (how different to the RN!) and it is a prerequisite if I want to get promoted to Commander (which I do) and it is free, so all in all I am pretty chuffed with this news.

Well I will halt here.  More to come in due course.

The ‘Eastern Suburbs Set’

20 Sep

One of the things we were looking forward to about Australia is the perceived sense of egalitarianism; no snobbery about who you are, where you’re from or who you know but then again, as with all places, the latter can always help!

We discovered this at a cocktail party hosted by the officers at HMAS Watson. The annual event last night was a chance for a bit of a meet and greet with some of the more high profile members of the community and for us, the opportunity to get to know our new neighbours a little better as Eden and Alfonso (Alfie) were both there and introduced us to some of their friends.

There were murmurings that a ‘Malcolm Turnbull’ was there, who we discovered is the local MP for the electorate of Wentworth. Three facts that were good to know just before he arrived at our table and got chatting to us. (We subsequently learned he was the former leader of the Opposition and could potentially be the future Prime Minister if the Liberals win the next election).

The conversation was more an exchange of pleasantries and the ever-coveted business card (although it was a one-way offering) and a brief chat about how we were settling in and what jobs we did. A charming man who seemed very friendly and sociable, unlike some other politicians I’ve come across, the free-flowing drink may have helped.

His wife was equally charming and later, thanks to Eden and Alfie, we also met two news presenters from the Seven and Nine Networks, who were being admired from one corner by a group of girls, who eventually plucked up the courage to ask for a photograph as they were ‘huge fans’.

With our brief brushes with Sydney’s ‘glitterati’ most of the evening was actually spent admiring the views over Watson Bay and out across the harbour, talking about the move and how we were coping with the transition with James’ colleagues and getting to know about life down under from those with more experience than a mere three weeks.

It was the following morning that the benefits of those ‘brief brushes’ came to fruition with several email exchanges and a phone call with a certain Malcolm Turnbull MP… Within an hour of logging on and signing in, I had a meeting set up with a head of news at one of the networks and a dinner invitation chez Turnbulls.

We shall see where this all leads of course but it seems we’re mixing in the ‘right circles’, although that may depend on your political persuasion!

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