Tanker RFA Wave Knight took a break from counter-drug running patrols in the Caribbean by paying a rare visit to Cuba.
The 31,000-tonne support ship received a welcome with full military honours from their hosts during an enlightening and highly-enjoyable visit to Havana.
THE standard of the Revolutionary War Navy flies side-by-side with the Union Jack as tanker RFA Wave Knight receives a formal military welcome in Cuba.
The capital of the Communist republic was the latest stop on a Caribbean odyssey which has seen the support ship weigh into the war on drug running (with some success), fly the flag for Britain in its overseas territories (ditto), be on stand-by to help out in the event of a natural disaster (ditto again) and generally promote UK plc in foreign ports (ditto a third time).
The last two subjects were on the agenda in Havana, where the tanker found a Cuban military band waiting on the quay to serenade the 31,000-tonne naval vessel as she berthed.
Once alongside, the ship’s company knuckled down to working with the Foreign Office in fostering closer ties between the UK and Cuba, discussing how the tanker, her helicopter, and her team of RFA/RN sailors might help out in the event of a hurricane, and hosting hosting Cuban military and government figures at a flight deck reception.
Wave Knight's sailors in front of the statue to Cuban hero José Martí
The Brits also paid their respects at the monument to Cuba’s national hero, José Martí, poet and nationalist who died in the 1898 war to liberate the island from Spanish rule. And they did likewise at the three Commonwealth war graves in the city’s Colon cemetery, where British and Canadian personnel who died while serving in Cuba are laid to rest.
In return, Wave Knight’s Cuban hosts arranged numerous tours for their visitors: a rum factory, a cigar factory and Morro Castle to see the ceremonial cannon firing which takes place every night at 9pm.
“The Cuban cigar factory tour was great – learning about the process of how the cigars are made,” said 3/O(E) Ben Millward.
“It was really positive to meet and chat to Cubans working at the factory and find out about their jobs and lives.”
Sailors were also able to get ashore on their own and explore old Havana – providing a welcome break after an extensive period of counter-narcotics operations working with the US authorities throughout January.
“In 27 years of working for the MOD, I found Havana one of the warmest, friendliest and interesting places I have visited,” said Med Technician John Harris.
Steward Andy Sayer added: “Cuba is a truly unique island – different from anywhere else we have been on deployment.
“It feels on the cusp of change but still lives up to the cliché of being full of character, classic cars, and historic buildings.”