A year into her service, it's been an eventful 12 months for the crew of HMS Medway patrolling the waters around the Caribbean.
Having left home waters from Portsmouth last January, the River-class patrol ship has covered more than 50,000 miles – two trips around the world.
It will be several more years until Medway is back in home waters as she's capable of spending many years on deployment by using allied ports to resupply, change crews and for maintenance.
The warship is currently undergoing winter work in Mayport in Florida before resuming duties around the islands later in the year.
The tour so far has seen the ship's company assist communities in British Overseas Territories throughout the region – flag flying events for the UK – and delivering aid during natural disasters.
Since leaving Portsmouth on January 20, 2020, the ship has spent 184 days away at sea.
In the first year on active service, her crew has been getting to know the various islands, their communities and civilian and emergency services and what facilities are available should one experience a hurricane or volcanic eruption.
The ship, which has a regular crew of 45 sailors plus up to 50 Royal Marines, is able to help with emergency communications, planning, provide skilled engineers and equipment as well as supply food, fresh water, trained medics.
The sailors have all helped with two large-scale disaster relief exercises.
Chief Petty Officer Luke Travell, who joined the ship while she was being built at the Clyde shipyards in Scotland back in 2017, said: "When I first set eyes on Medway she was still having equipment fitted and set to work.
"Assisting with the build process up to taking Medway on her first deployment has been a challenge and an honour. Now she is fully functioning and a key asset to Overseas Territories."
Chief Petty Officer Travell is Medway's longest serving member of the crew and serves as the deputy weapon engineer officer responsible for weapons systems and sensors.
He added the biggest highlight for the crew was helping to intercept a £160 million drug smuggling operation through the Caribbean – a key duty in the ship's mission.
The crew is playing a major role in trying to fight illegal drug trade between South and North America and on to the rest of the world.
She worked with the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship RFA Argus, which spent eight months in the Caribbean until returning home before Christmas.
HMS Medway, which was commissioned into service during a ceremony at Chatham in September 2019, and her fellow ships in the River-class have space for a detachment of 50 military or law enforcement personnel.
Since arriving in the Caribbean, the Royal Navy sailors have been joined by a US Coast Guard boarding team.
The ship has intercepted a dozen vessels, boarding four and two were seized and later sunk as the crew recovered more than 650kg of cocaine in one bust.
Drug runners were also forced to ditch another load – estimated to be about half a tonne – of cocaine in another raid.
The busts earned the ship and her crew international media coverage.
Chief Petty Officer Travell said it was exciting to see the event unfold.
"During the interdiction I was manning the Electrical Optical Display (Infra Red camera)," he added. "I watched the whole event unfold and ensured it was all recorded for future evidence."
The Royal Navy vessel has worked with allies from the US Navy and Coast Guard as well the French and Dutch navies, Brazil and Jamaican officials and maritime police in the Turks and Caicos and British Virgin Islands.
Since departing the UK, the company has docked in Gibraltar, Jacksonville and Fort Lauderdale in Florida, Guantanamo Bay, Curacao, Martinique, the Turks and Caicos Islands, Barbados, the British Virgin Islands, Grand Cayman, Puerto Rico and Jamaica.
The pandemic is said to have limited the ship's company a full Caribbean experience in the navy and chance to explore the islands as would be allowed normally.
But gunnery officer Lt Solomon Jacka said it had been an "amazing experience to see and work in areas of the world I never expected to travel to" and working with people from different nations.
Underwater warfare specialist Able Seaman Cavan Robinson said the chance to carry out different roles to staring at sonar displays in an operations room was a welcome opportunity.
“Working onboard outside my core branch has been a great opportunity, getting involved in sea boat launches and gunnery which I wouldn't normally be as involved with has been very enjoyable,” he said.
HMS Medway was named the best and most effective patrol ship in the entire Royal Navy fleet for 2020.
Fellow River-class patrol ships HMS Trent has conducted patrols in the Mediterranean, HMS Tamar is now ready for operations and the last ship in the class, HMS Spey, is preparing for front-line duties, while the lead vessel, HMS Forth, is already in the Falklands.
Commanding officer on HMS Medway, Lt Cmdr Jim Blythe, said: "This has been an extraordinary deployment for Medway, with the challenges of being a forward deployed unit further compounded by the ongoing pandemic.
“However, my ship's company has remained focused and delivered an excellent output, with many first of class successes being achieved this year, including the first deck landings by Merlin and Wildcat helicopters, and conducting exercises with our partners in the region.
“It was fitting recognition for my ship's company to be awarded the efficiency pennant, and every member of my crew should be proud of their achievement.”
In a week of celebrations for the Towns when she was commissioned into the navy, the crew of HMS Medway were granted the Freedom of Medway with a parade through Chatham town centre.
Leader of Medway Council, Cllr Alan Jarrett, said: “It’s fantastic news that HMS Medway has completed the first year of her Caribbean mission.
"We were delighted to welcome her crew to Medway in 2019 for the vessel’s commissioning and freedom parade.
"Medway has a historic naval heritage, and we wish HMS Medway and her crew every success for the future.”