When the invitation to a cocktail party on board HMS Daring came through from the British High Commissioner I imagined that it was a sort of boat-slash-yacht (something along the lines of the Yacht Britannia). It was only when I looked at the invitation properly – on Monday, the day of the party – that I realised it was actually a functioning warship. Cue a complete and wholly justified wardrobe panic.
Heels were out – there’s nothing worse than scrabbling around like a fish out of water and tripping over the odd missile or whatever else might be lying around and, anyway, I find it hard enough to walk in them at the best of times.
I settled for my red Ferragamo flats and a new to me but yes, technically, I believe the term is second hand (shhh, don’t tell, I might not get another invitation) Aigner dress bought from my friends Robe Raiders.
Nothing had prepared me for just how massive a ship she was going to be:
Traffic to Sembawang Naval Base was terrible so the party was in full swing by the time we got there.
I had assumed my days of meeting men dressed all in white this year was a thing of the past now that Diner en Blanc has happened, but no…the crew members (three women among them) on deck, chatting and mingling, were all in white – military dress code “Number 3″ according to the invitation.
It did, somehow, feel quite wrong when a burly sailor said he’d help me with my umbrella and promptly produced a cloakroom ticket for it (I had wedged it between a rather large rope securing the moorings and didn’t think anyone had seen me). He looked like he was meant for more important things.
Our tour of the ship was fascinating and was from the guy who actually drives it, Lieutenant Paul Kitching (above), who is away from his home in England for a whole nine months. HMS Daring is his home from home as well as where he works.
Here’s the bridge where the ship is driven from…
…and the scarily small steering wheel that was honestly no bigger than what you’d find inside a Mini Cooper.
This is the all-important Captain’s chair featuring the Daring crest. The story behind it being that it’s generally considered pretty daring to stick your arm into a flame. Get it?
Stairs were narrow and very steep. The short dress was, on reflection, a bit of an error, especially when climbing down (Lt Kitching was very gentlemanly and averted his gaze).
The lead destroyer in the Royal Navy, the gear on board this thing was nothing short of phenomenal. There were 48 missiles at the front (sorry ‘bow’) as well as a huge gun with a 13 mile range that is fed with giant shells about four feet high. And that’s not the half of it, there’s also something on the side of the ship which can fire a rather petrifying 90 rounds a second.
The ship has no exterior right angles, helping to disguise her on any radar as being a 500 ton fishing boat rather than the 8,000 ton warship she actually is. That’s the equivalent of an enormously fat person (say a whopping outsize size 32) passing themselves off as a size zero. Sneaky and at times, very useful I’m sure.
HMS Daring has a number of very different roles: she protects the waters for free trade and so engages in quite a bit of anti-piracy activity which is, Lt Kitching told us, rife around this region, especially the Melaka Straits. On their way here they received no less than seven maydays from boats under attack from pirates. The look on the pirates’ faces when this 150m long warship armed to the teeth turns up must be priceless.
She is also, of course, a proper warship and has been to the Gulf and Afganistan and has the capabilities to be able to manage a serious amount of air traffic control – the equivalent to what goes through both London Heathrow and Paris Charles de Gaulle. This news, frankly, just made me wish that Heathrow Airport would update it’s surveillance radar as any plane I have taken there recently seems to have suffered some sort of delay due to air traffic control problems.
The ship also dispatches humanitarian aid. When the Tsunami hit they were sent to Sri Lanka to help with the clean up operation and to temporarily house the people the disaster had displaced. They then set about rebuilding many of the schools out there thanks to the raft of Royal Navy carpenters and engineers who are always on board.
Lastly, if you’re registered with the British Embassy in the country you’re visiting or living in and there is a disaster or political unrest, these guys have that list and are in charge of evacuating all citizens. They did this for British Citizens in Libya.
On a slightly lighter note, loving the cushions in the Officer’s bar:
Then it was back to the deck to listen to the military band, who were spectacular.
Each piece of music they played generated a different reaction from the chap in uniform I found myself standing next to; for some he stood stock still with his feet apart and when he heard other pieces he stood tall with his feet together.
The Union Jack was then ceremoniously taken down
And I thought I spotted the man who took my umbrella (below) – first one on the left – now with a gun in his hand; luckily he didn’t use my umbrella by mistake.
Here’s Antony Phillipson, the British High Commissioner, sandwiched between the second in command and the Commanding Officer of the ship, Commander Angus Essenhigh.
I liked the Commanding Officer; they only docked last night and he’d already ventured out to eat chilli crab at a local hawker centre. He also professed not to think I was a complete weirdo for hiding my face in my picture with him…
All so I can post this (below) on what is now only probably a semi-anoymous blog anyway.
Our send off was rather splendid, although I have to say I’m not sure I can (or should!) get used to someone saluting me.
HMS Daring is in Singapore to take part in a high profile military exercise. The crew will also participate in several community programmes and events including a visit to the Rainbow Centre as well as to Kranji War Cemetery.