The crew of HMS Montrose have spent the end of Christmas week on the remote Pacific Easter Island – famous for its huge stone statues. It’s thought to be the first time this century a British warship has visited the Chilean territory, which is about the size of Sheffield – but home to fewer than 8,000 people.
The frigate arrived at the island – 2,500 miles off the west coast of South America – on Boxing Day as she continues her epic voyage ‘the wrong way around the world’ from Plymouth to Bahrain.
After a high-profile visit to Chile, which saw sailors join Princess Anne in 200th birthday celebrations of the South American nation’s navy, Montrose headed out into the Pacific bound for New Zealand via Easter Island.
She spent Christmas Eve and Day at sea – marking the festive period in true Royal Navy style: a nativity play on the flight deck, with sailors dressing up as Mary, baby Jesus, the Wise Men and other figures from the Christmas story.
That was followed by a Christmas midnight service – four hours behind UK time – as December 24 turned to 25, led by the ship’s chaplain, the Rev Peter Dixon.
“For many of us, this was our first Christmas away from home, let alone our first Christmas on board a warship, but in the retelling of the Nativity and the singing of carols, the spirit of Christmas flowed in abundance,” he said.
“As Christmas Day dawned, many gathered on the flight deck in festive attire for a unique Christmas service with the sun beating down and the Pacific swell rolling us from side to side.”
The frigate’s officers helped the chefs in preparing Christmas dinner, then served the three-course meal, manning the serving counters and dining halls as a full three course Christmas dinner was laid on, with Commanding Officer Commander Conor O’Neill and his deputy, Executive Officer Lieutenant Commander Tom McKay, carving the joints.
Having enjoyed dinner with their mess mates, everyone spent the afternoon and evening opening presents – whether from home or from the numerous departmental and mess-based ‘Secret Santas’ – ringing home or relaxing in the sun of the South Pacific (the temperature is in the low 20s Celsius).
The warship arrived off Easter Island the next day, with all on board given the once-in-a-lifetime chance to go ashore and see first the ancient statues, known as Moai, at Ahu Tongariki, then the quarry from which the stone came at Rano Raraki.
They ended the brief visit with a Christmas-themed barbecue on the sands of the beach at Anakena.
Montrose has now resumed her crossing of the Pacific, ultimately bound for Bahrain where she’ll be permanently based for three years as part of the UK’s commitment to the security of the Middle East.