Enter the Dragon!
It is the first time this state-of-the-art ship has visited her adopted port and it is to be a very busy, celebratory few days for the crew.
On her day of arrival, she will host a number of invited guests for a special capability demonstration and reception, before opening her gangway on Friday, Saturday and Monday to a wide range of visiting schools and colleges.
Two of the ship’s guests during her time in port include the Secretary of State for Wales, Cheryl Gillan MP, and First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones AM.
The biggest day of the visit, however, comes on Sunday, when the ship opens to members of the public to come along.
From 10am-5pm, HMS Dragon’s decks are ready to welcome the people of Wales on board to learn more about their ship. Members of the crew will be on hand to chat about the capabilities of the Type 45 vessels, life in the modern Royal Navy and their own experiences of life at sea.
In addition to these main activities, the ship is also looking forward to a bit of a rugby theme to her visit, when members of the crew play Cardiff Harlequins on Friday (March 16), before taking a less hands on role as guests for the Wales v France match on Saturday at the Millennium Stadium. The ship’s team is being presented with special kit sponsored by Harris Pye Group.
HMS Dragon’s Commanding Officer, Commander Darren Houston, said:
“There is a palpable sense of pride among the crew for bringing Dragon to her adopted home for the first time.
“It is a very special occasion and will, no doubt, be the first of many such visits during her anticipated 35-45 year career within the Royal Navy’s Fleet.
“We have already established some close ties with the city and the Welsh Assembly, amongst others, and look forward to augmenting these and building on them still further in the years to come.
“In particular, I know my ship’s company is particularly looking forward to sharing this great ship with the young people of local schools and colleges involved in tours and, especially, welcoming Cardiff locals on board on Sunday.
“Opening HMS Dragon to the public for the first time will be a huge celebration for us and we hope that as many people as possible will come along, allowing us to share our great pride in the ship and her strong Welsh connections.”
There are a number of crew members, too, for whom, as proud South Wales locals, this visit is a particular highlight.
For brothers Petty Officer Christopher (32) and Able Rate Johnathan Hughes (24), from Pontypridd, and Petty Officer Lavina Sparling (47) from Llanelli, this is a true homecoming.
Christopher joined the Royal Navy in 1997 and is the catering manager aboard HMS Dragon responsible for making sure that the 185-strong crew is well fed and watered, while his brother Johnathan, who followed his brother into the service 10 years later in 2007, is a communications specialist.
It is very unusual for brothers to be posted to the same ship and Christopher said: “We are very close and I know that our parents are very proud.
“During my 14-year career, this is the first time I have visited the city of my birth on an RN warship. Being a proud Welshman and Valley boy, serving on a Cardiff affiliated ship with my brother, this is going to be on of the highlights of my career so far.
“Cardiff is a beautiful and proud city and I cannot wait to show my shipmates what she has to offer.”
Lavina’s job on board is to ensure that the ship’s communications systems are kept fully operational. She joined the Royal Navy in 1990 and her first ship was Cardiff’s previous affiliated vessel – Type 42 destroyer HMS Cardiff.
“I remember sailing into Cardiff on HMS Cardiff as one of the service’s first sea-going female ratings, and being very proud, not least when we exercised the freedom of the city.
“Now going back on board HMS Dragon, returning to the Welsh capital will be a very special moment, especially as this is my final ship in the navy.”
Britain’s six Type 45 destroyers are the most advanced warships the nation has ever built. Their mission is to shield the fleet from air attack using the Sea Viper missile which can knock targets out of the sky up to 70 miles away if necessary.
The Type 45s can also be used as general-purpose warships; they have huge flight decks to accommodate helicopters up to the size of a Chinook.
There’s enough space on board to host a Royal Marines detachment up to 60-men strong.
As for the ship’s company, they enjoy ‘creature comforts’ only dreamed of by their forebears: no sailor lives in a mess square for more than six people and there are no communal heads (toilets) or showers.