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12 Nov - Arrival in Montevideo

RRS Ernest Shackleton Diary

Position @ 1200 UTC - 3 hours: 34°54' South. 056°12' West.
Next destination: Mare Harbour, Falkland Islands, South Atlantic.
ETA: 18th November 2000, 1600 UTC.
Distance to go: 1121.7 nautical miles.
Total Distance Sailed: 6339.3 nautical miles (Since departing Hull, England on 19 October 2000).
Current weather: Warm, sunny and bright after a little rain overnight.
Wind: Light airs.
Sea state: Slight sea and low swell.
Air temperature: 20.8°C.
Sea temperature: 17.2°C.

This Week there is very little to report as RRS Ernest Shackleton completed the passage from Hull to Montevideo with the most excellent of weather, calms and following seas. So good was our progress that we arrived a day ahead of schedule making our arrival at the Montevideo Pilot Station in the River Plate by 1530 hours on Saturday 11 November. Between the Crossing the Line ceremony last week and our arrival alongside yesterday, there have only been a couple of noteworthy events.

Upon completion of the web pages last week, we were blessed with the sight of whales at sea. These passed quite close to the vessel and so we could identify them, particularly because these whales were 'breeching'. I once saw a documentary on the feeding habits of the whales at sea. A feeding technique is to take air at the surface, dive deep and then slowly surface in a spiral pattern. The idea behind this technique is to form what is called a 'bubble net'. Fish and small invertebrates are caught within the confines of the rising circle of bubbles, which allows the circling whale to follow the bubbles to the surface where he can be assured of a concentration of food. This has been typified by the whale breaking the surface nose-first with a mouth full of food and then falling back into the ocean to consume his catch and begin the process again. The splendid sight of these Humpback whales breaking from the surface of the waters and careering back in an enormous splash of water could indicate that the feeding grounds were very rich in the warm fertile waters off Brazil.

There again, these whales could have just been 'playing' and what I have just told you is a total fabrication !

It is noteworthy to see from the inset that the Humpback whale is not indigenous to this area alone. The Humpback is migratory, travelling from tropical breeding grounds in the winter to the polar feeding grounds in summer.

Excerpt from Whales of the World.
Humpback whale.  Acknowledgement - Whales of the World Megaptera - The Humpback Whale. In 1846, Gray created the genus Megaptera from the Greek word megas, the great, and pteron or wing. This was for a whale with huge winglike flippers stranded at the mouth of the River Elbe. The local name 'Humpback', 'hunchback' or 'bunch' whale comes from the knobs and protruberances on its head and flippers. From experience, Humpbacks show very little fear of boats, large or small. Adults have been known to come to scratch their backs on the hull of a stationary ship. This fearless attitude is shown when the whales are busy on their polar feeding grounds or clowning around in the warmer waters of the tropics. Everywhere the response is the same. Groups of grotesque and beautiful monsters, breaching and falling, splashing and tailing, rolling, scooping, finning or bursting out together in great backward somersaults. Humpback whales follow fairly well-marked coastal migration routes between their polar feeding grounds and a few selected tropical coastal or island breeding areas. In the southern hemisphere these lie in the Mozambique Channel, on the north-eastern and north-western coasts of Australia and off the coasts of Equador and north-eastern Brazil.

The following day, we saw yet another display from whales. Doctor Tom, finally got to see his first live whale. After a year in his new position at Halley station, I am sure he will become totally blasé about the sight of whales, but just for now he and the other FIDS onboard were pleased to finally catch a glimpse of these momentarily-visible mammals. However the sighting on Monday was rather unusual - certainly for myself. The first sighting of a whale-fluke (tail fin) was reported by the bridge about one mile distant off the starboard bow. This allowed time for those below decks to get to a good vantage point to see the whales before they - all too often - disappear without further sightings. However on this occasion nothing could be further from the truth. This same fluke was seen to be sticking up from the surface and apparently stationary. It remained in this same position off the starboard side for more than ten minutes.

Whale-fluke or tail fin One particularly informed person on the bridge was able to explain away this behaviour as 'sailing'. I do not know if this is the technical term for this strange anomaly, but it is the first time that I have seen a stationary fluke like this. The very idea of a whale 'sticking his tail up in the air' to catch the breeze and sail downwind - power assisted - seems a trifle bizarre, but apparently whales are the only other species apart from man who indulge in 'windsports' of this nature. It was certainly a sight to see. The guilty party however, never came to the surface to take a bow, so identification of this species of wind-surfer remains a mystery. I just wonder how long it continued to adopt this attitude after we had sailed out of sight of him ?

Apart from whales, we were able to catch our first sighting of an albatross at sea on Thursday. As the Third Officer said, 'now we know we are getting there' when we were able to see the familiar aerial sighting. There will be many more to see when we are down south. For pictures of the size and beauty of an albatross, see the pages on Albatrosses, the Bird Island diary pages (especially September 2000) or refer back to the 1999-2000 Antarctic season of RRS Ernest Shackleton and our visit to Bird Island.

There was also a visitation during the week from a school of Bottlenosed Dolphins that spent a good thirty minutes playing around the bow of the ship one lunchtime.

We have been fortunate with the weather all the way from Hull, south to Montevideo. Usually blue skies and calm seas, only occasionally marred by overcast or cloud. Apart from Tuesday last, when we encountered rain - the first real inclement weather during the daylight hours. The 'rain stopped play' leastways, the FIDS had to put down their paintbrushes and the painting program was put 'on hold' for 24 hours. This single rainy day in a 4-week passage was truly fortunate, especially since from the daily news received on board we hear how back home there are torrential downpours and flooding. I think we managed to leave 'Blighty' at the very best of times. Sources have it that there will continue to be a 'flooding danger' in Britain throughout the winter. I think we couldn't have chosen a better time to be away ! Our sympathies go out to those of you left at home to suffer the constant onslaught of rain, rain and more rain. And now if you'll excuse me, I must go and slap-on some more sun-tan lotion, factor 57 !!!

At the 'cusp' of the week (i.e.Sunday) we were securely tied alongside in Montevideo when we watched a very small cruise vessel arrive in the port. She was small (by cruise line standards) with a blue coloured and white superstructure, and she had the 'classic lines' of a ship of the olden days. Although she was obviously an old vessel circa 1960's, she had a pleasing air about her.

The vessel by the name of Viking Bordeaux tied up alongside and the passengers were landed ashore for sight-seeing tours. Later in the day we were visited by their British Cruise Director who requested that she be able to bring some of her passengers onboard this British vessel for a guided tour. So that afternoon, the Captain played host to two groups of 25 passengers who came and saw what RRS Ernest Shackleton looked like. Considerable interest was shown in the BAS activities. What better way to pass a lazy Sunday afternoon in a foreign port ??

At 1800 hours Viking Bordeaux set sail for the Falkland Islands but not before giving an exchange of 'salutes' on the ship's whistle as she departed.

Forthcoming events: Departure Montevideo on Tuesday 14 November and best speed to Mare Harbour in the Falkland Islands to tranship cargo for RRS James Clark Ross. We are to embark 14 extra persons, so we should have plenty of new faces and the prospect of many more contributors available for next week.

Contributors this week: Many thanks for excerpts of the Whales of the World.

Diary 5 will be written on 19 November 2000 and should be published on 20 November 2000

Steve B November 12, 2000