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22 Oct - Dry Dock Special Issue

RRS Ernest Shackleton Diary

Position @ 1200 UTC: 42°52' North. 10°31' West.
Next destination: Montevideo, South America.
ETA: 12th November 2000, 2100 UTC.
Current weather: Bright, Sunny and Fresh.
Wind: Southerly 2 to 4.
Sea state: Slight sea and swell.
Air temperature: 16.3°C.
Sea temperature: 16.6°C.

Welcome Back to the RRS Ernest Shackleton

Refit on the Tyne lasted from her post-demobilisation-Aberdeen arrival at the Engineers' Quay A&P Tyne, Wallsend, on September 12th through to her departure from a dock entrance berth on October 8th. She then routed to Grimsby for cargo operations and finally to Hull to complete preparations for sea. Her second Antarctic season commenced on 0730 hours on Thursday 19th October on the departure from the King George Dock.

All up, a full 4 week 'off line' period when tight maintenance schedules have left no time for the weekly updates to our Web site. Apologies, however what follows is a precis of previous events.

The first thing noteworthy of mention is that crew change within the week commencing September 13th. Initially a small party of 8 joined the ship to take over the reins from the Summer crew whilst the remainder were attending the Basic Offshore Introduction Course at PETANS in Norwich in preparation for next summer in the North Sea. A commendation must go to the '1st half crew' under the command of Capt.John Marshall, for admirably shouldering the first sojourn into North Sea operations on the RRS Ernest Shackleton. Judging from the state of the off-going crew, it was a taxing and exhausting four-month exploration into unknown territories for our intrepid polar adventurers. This is like Scott in reverse who left the locality of the North Sea to venture down South!! Surely a remarkable reversal in that previously most Polar Explorers were old North Sea hands?

Those who joined on Thursday 14th September saw the vessel tied alongside A&P Tyne the company which was contracted to carry out the dry docking this year. The remaining crew joined on Monday 18th and the vessel entered Dry dock number 4 at 1000 hours on Wednesday 20th.

The return of Captain Stuart Lawrence's team was marked by the tragic death of his Chief Cook, 'Del' Hunt. Following a short illness during the summer 'Del' had been passed fit to rejoin. However, on his arrival on board, his condition was observed to be very poorly and it was on his way back home that he suffered a cerebal haemorage and despite the best efforts of the 'call out' ambulance team and the staff of the Intensive Care Unit at South Tyneside Hospital, his life support machine was turned off on the Tuesday morning. His funeral was held at his home town of Tarleton and was well-attended by his friends and shipmates. We have lost a great Chief Cook and shipmate.

Into the Dry Dock.

The dock The tug High and dry at last

The dock

The tug

And high and dry at last

The Dry dock was much like any other dry dock - or so I am told. I have been in much worse dry docks myself, so I am not complaining in the least. One thing that ALL dry docks seem to have in common is the ability to find the bulk of work left to complete in the last days. THIS dry dock appeared to be no different. It DID allow for some impressive photo opportunities beneath the hull of the ship and I will feature some of these over the period of the next two or three weeks. Specifically, it was interesting to see what we had 'below decks' or even 'below the keel'. Transponders, Azi-pod and thrusters were well and truly looked at by all. It was interesting to see the operation of some of these as they were lowered and retracted again into their various orifices underneath the vessel. Some were in good condition and others were not so. There was an Sonar that, when lowered, showed signs of damage and upon closer inspection was found to be very ill indeed !. What should normally have been water-free had been turned into a mini-aquarium for fish and marine growth so this was condemned as 'never to work again'. Another transponder called the HIPAP, when lowered, resembled some sort of overgrown candy-floss (or 'cotton candy' for our American readers). A multitude of marine growth had attached itself to the 'ball' of this expensive piece of equipment and thrived as it had been retracted into the relative shelter of the ships hull. The only way to remove this was to carefully 'plane' it away with a soft piece of wood and then wash down thoroughly with soapy water and elbow grease. Great fun. Here we can see a 'gaggle' of officers all gathered around prepared to assist in the 'removing of the barnacles and weed' ceremony...

The HIPAP Transponder - a golf-ball minus the fuzz ! The HIPAP Transponder - a golf-ball plus a little tender loving care.  Not a HIPAP Transponder - this is the Azi-pod and isn't it big ???

The HIPAP Transponder - a golf-ball minus the fuzz!

The HIPAP Transponder - a golf-ball plus a little tender loving care.

Not a HIPAP Transponder - this is the Azi-pod and isn't it big?

If you think all these photographs are a little lacking in colour, you are right. It was not until they started to spray the ship in a nice new coat of shiny paint that the dry dock took on a more technicolour feel. Largely, below the hull everything was brown and dirty and that included all those white boiler suits by the time we finished the dry dock! One pleasing addition to the RRS Ernest Shackleton was it's name! Although the naming ceremony for the ship took place in May, we have hitherforeto had the impression of 'Polar Queen' poking through the white painted letters of RRS Ernest Shackleton. But now those metal letters have been removed and the ship now sports it's own name and port of registry in glorious white. Now it feels truly real. But it was not only below and around the hull that the work was continuing. Inside the engine room great machinery was being moved and craned and jacked around and up on the superstructure, new accesses, walkways, gantries were all being added to ease our future operations. And as fast as these were erected, the ships' crew were at hand to give it a protective coat of paint and to keep the 'old girl' looking good. Here is a particularly impressive BEFORE and AFTER set of photographs showing how easily this metal-work seems to have materialised!

Dartcom - before installation of metalwork Dartcom - after installation of metalwork



But all good things must come to an end and by October 8th, we sailed away from the Tyne and dry dock for another two years. Not all systems were 'go' as we headed out past the pilot station and out into the North Sea on a fair and sunny Sunday morning. Certain things such as the magnetic compass, needed 'fine tuning' and many others - such as the radar - were to fail on the journey down to Grimsby. It is a sad truism, that ships are generally in better shape when they go INTO dry dock then they are when they LEAVE. This appeared to be the case this year too, and as I sit here on the southern-bound leg of our transit from Hull to Montevideo, only some of those failures and breakages seem a lifetime away as we continue to 'mop up' the mess that resulted from 3 weeks of ripping the ship apart.

The weather upon leaving the port of Hull on Thursday morning was still and clear. The skies were quiet clear and the winds were light. We have only four FIDs onboard for the southward journey and they were being 'broken in' gently with a pleasant cruise down the east coast of England. The 'Polar Roller' reputation had preceded our sailing, but so far she has performed excellently and has not repeated last October's performance when the opposite crew had a terribly stormy transit. Across the Bay of Biscay now and once again we have fair weather, fluffy clouds and sunshine which bodes well for the rest of the voyage.

Next week I will elaborate on some of the aspects of our Wallsend dry docking. The work, the nights out, the shopping in the Metro Centre and more photographs from the dock bottom. Apologies for the 'matter-of-fact' reporting style of the web-page this week, but I have a lot of reporting to do and not enough web-page to do it justice. Don't miss next week's continuum of life on the blocks and afloat. Same place. Same channel.

Forthcoming events: Journey to Montevideo, Embark Fids for onward transportation to the New World (Signy, South Georgia and Halley) and hopefully the odd B-B-Q en route.
Many thanks to this weeks contributors: Nobody so far - so don't be shy people, please contribute!

Diary 2 will be written on 29th October 2000 and should be published on 30th October 2000.

Steve B October 22nd, 2000