Faster. Nimbler. Punchier. Gibraltar.
Royal Navy crews say the new fast patrol boats Cutlass and Dagger are a boost to safeguarding the Rock.
Six months into operations with the Royal Navy’s Gibraltar Squadron, and the pair – which form the core of the squadron alongside a handful of RIBs – are making their presence felt locally… and are looking to stretch their legs beyond the western gateway to the Med.
Commissioned in May and July respectively, Cutlass and Dagger are larger and more heavily armed than Scimitar and Sabre, and considerably faster than HMS Dasher and Pursuer which plugged the gap between the old boats and their permanent replacements.
The task remains the same: provide security in British Gibraltar Territorial Waters, keeping close watch over Gibraltar’s shores, reassuring the Rock’s 34,000 inhabitants, demonstrating UK sovereignty, exercising with local and visiting forces, and provide protection to visiting warships, submarines and support vessels alongside their civilian counterparts in the Gibraltar Defence Police force.
Three water jets power the boats through Gibraltar’s waters at speeds up to 40kts. The boats are fitted with ‘high-shock’ seating to ensure the bumps are more bearable for the crew when Dagger and Cutlass are zipping along.
Surveillance cameras/sensors, including infra-red and laser tracking, help crew monitor the progress of suspicious contacts by day and night.
“The engines are jet-propelled – the first of their kind operated by the Royal Navy – and allow us to operate at speeds in excess of 40kts,” explained Lieutenant Commander Ollie Barrett, Cutlass’ Commanding Officer.
“It means we can be expected to escort similarly fast-moving vessels conducting illicit activities.”
He’s hoping to take his boat further afield – in the past Sabre and Scimitar occasionally made the passage to North Africa. Whilst not long range, Cutlass and Dagger do possess some creature comforts: there’s a small galley and TV below.
“It’s incredibly important for smaller vessels such as ours to conduct defence engagement, flying the flag for the Royal Navy in ports which the larger surface ships cannot get into,” Lt Cdr Barrett added.
“So there are plans later this year for us to push out, beyond the three-mile limit which we normally patrol, carry out port visits, build up a rapport with other allied navies operating in the area.”
The squadron operates from a dedicated facility and pontoons next to The Tower – British Forces HQ on the Rock – with personnel either living at the main military base at Devil’s Camp, near the airport, or in some of Gib’s family quarters.
Able Seaman Alex Mansell, Seaman Specialist/Navigator’s Yeoman, enjoys the live hard/work hard experience of serving on the Rock.
He says the ship’s company is “quite unique” due to the 365/24/7 demands on the squadron. “The roles can be really intense at times because we can be out on the water at many different times of the day.
“When I’m not at work, Gibraltar is fantastic. I can cross the border, travel, experience Andalusia and southern Spain.”