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26 Nov - A 'Taste' of the Falkland Islands

RRS Ernest Shackleton Diary

Position @ 1200 UTC - 3 hours: 60°50' South. 045°44' West. 13 nautical miles off Signy Research Station.
Next destination: Bird Island, South Georgia.
ETA: two days after departure from Signy.
Distance to go: 413.0 nautical miles.
Total Distance Sailed: 8163.9 nautical miles (Since departing Hull, England on 19 October 2000).
Current weather: Heavy overcast, but very bright in ice.
Wind: Southerly Force 3.
Sea state: 9/10 pack ice.
Air temperature: -2.5°C.
Sea temperature: -1.6°C.

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It's the Little Things.
A taste of the Falkland Islands (click to enlarge).

Sheep grazing in Stanley

I am sure that much has been said in these pages about the life and times of the Falkland Islands, but when I went walkabout in Stanley this time, I thought I should take these two photographs which typify what Stanley means to me. The two characters above were photographed in the rear garden of one of the many homes on the side of the hill. The sheep will keep the grass down nicely, but if only they could be taught to pick up the old beer bottles !!!. Maybe they could even be taught to meander along to the local litter bin and make a deposit ! Litter bins are coloured blue.

A litter bin in Stanley
Click on the image to make a deposit.

Sunday 19 November found us alongside at Mare Harbour in the Falkland Islands. We offloaded six containers for transhipment by road to our sistership, RRS James Clark Ross, and completed our bunkering from the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Grey Rover. Three Fids joined today - Meteorologists bound for Halley - and so did the mail bound for Halley, South Georgia and Signy. Every opportunity is taken to ship the 'niceties of life' out to our personnel who can go for up to eight months with no mail, no fresh provisions and no visitations. Monday saw the completion of all cargo work, and both crew and new-joiners were at liberty to jump on the occasional transport arranged for visits to Stanley about one hour across the moor-like terrain of the Falklands. Weather this week varied from good to poor and at one point, I entered a shop in Stanley in summer and came out again 20 minutes later to find we were in the grips of darkest winter ! Autumn and spring must have passed by whilst I was indoors, shopping.

HMS Iron Duke Tuesday 21 November was noted for a hasty move of berth for RRS Ernest Shackleton when we had to move back alongside the Ro-ro berth to allow for the arrival of a British warship - HMS Iron Duke, in port from a tour of duty off West Africa. She is next bound to Valparaiso on a 'Sales' deployment for British Warships to the Chilean Navy. Her call in the Falkland Islands was for restoring and fueling and showing her presence as the South Atlantic Guard Ship.

We said 'hello' to more arriving personnel from the Tristar aircraft arriving at Mount Pleasant Airport, and we also welcomed on board Richie Parsley, motorman from RRS James Clark Ross.

Wednesday 22 November was the day scheduled for our departure to Signy, but upon review, we had work that required the relative calm of East Cove, and so the decision was made to delay the departure of the vessel until the morrow. The day was spent preparing the vessel for sea, in re-rubbering the after main deck hatch which had 'sprung a leak' on the way down south, and use the time for familiarisation of the new personnel arriving onboard. The last of the 14-strong FID-contingent joined today, and that made the ship's compliment up to fifty persons on board. More Fids than you can shake a stick at.

Thursday 23 November was the day of departure. Departing from the jetty at 0800 in the morning, and from East Cove by 1500 hours that afternoon. This allowed plenty of time in the relative shelter of the Cove for launching and 'playing' with the boats. Tula was launched and tested under the command of Captain 'Tugs' Mark Taylor, although it was noted that Robin Kilroy, Second Officer much enjoyed the handling experience too, and several practice 'landings' were made on the far shore. Tula was accompanied by Andy 'rubber duck' Liddell the Third Officer in his Humber inflatable, ES1. No problems were reported on any of the craft, but we DID have a slight 'hiccough' in the launching of the lifeboats.

It is standard practice to have emergency drills and 'boat stations' before every passage. This time, we had a full muster of all personnel and got them into the boats. The port boat was the first to be launched, only it would not lift out of the falls. Oh dear. The starboard lifeboat had no such problems and when given a 'lee' by the ship, proceeded to launch and do some circuits around the cove. It was a windy but pleasant day for these manoeuvres, and the orange lifeboats show up well against the grey of Iron Duke in the background...

Lifeboat and the Iron Duke Lifeboat close to

The starboard lifeboat in action - click on images to enlarge

The problem with the port lifeboat was soon sorted and it too went into the water. The good thing about these drills is that if there IS a problem like this, it will come to light before the time the equipment needs to be 'used in anger'. A slight adjustment of the pressure relief valve on the portside and we were again in good shape. After the adjustment, everyone piled back into the boat to test that all was well which gave the editor another photo-opportunity.

The port lifeboat close to Launching the port lifeboat

The port lifeboat - click on images to enlarge

Eventually RRS Ernest Shackleton departed East Cove and reported clear of Pandora Point to the Port Operations on VHF Radio at 1530 hours and straight out into heavy seas with a short steep swell. This made the first night at sea very uncomfortable for all, and a few items flew across the floors and the decks as the ship rocked and rolled southwards. Not necessarily in the direction intended, but one chosen to reduce the ill effects of the weather !

At 2120 hours, the Second Officer and Master gazed helplessly as one of our starboard-aft life rafts launched itself overboard, inflated, and was carried away by the south-westerly winds blowing in excess of fifty knots. It was deemed just too rough to attempt to retrieve the missing raft, and so all the necessary authorities were informed and RRS Ernest Shackleton went bouncing on her way. This loss does not in any way compromise our life saving capability.

We were within HF radio range almost immediately after we had left the Falkland Islands and by Sunday morning we were within line-of-sight VHF radio range of Dr Martin Davey (Signy Base Commander) and the Signy personnel. We passed all the necessary information both ways concerning passenger and cargo movements for our arrival, and also some forward-planning on the 'refuelling situation'.

Saturday afternoon brought the first sighting of an iceberg on the horizon, which won the Master the first prize for spotting it first.!!. Although it was just a speck of white on the horizon to us experienced Antarctic travellers, it was regarded as something spectacular by the first-time Fids on board. But the following morning the ship was surrounded by ice with icebergs in abundance all around and at close range. In another couple of days they too will become blasé about the sight of an iceberg, but there is still something impressive and imposing about the shapes and sizes of some of the icebergs down here. Especially when lit up in glorious technicolour by an early morning sunrise or a late afternoon sunset.

In addition to the normal wandering Black Browed, Grey Headed, Sooty, albatrosses, and the Storm, Pintado, Silver Grey and White Chinned, Giant, Snow and Antarctic Petrels, Priams, Dominican Gulls, Antarctic Terns, and Sheathbills observed on this passage, it was a pleasure to have the two 'Met chicks' in attendance. Whilst whale sightings were somewhat more rare, sightings of Minke and Southern Right Whales were recorded.

Saturday also saw the first flurries of snow and the icicles started forming on the window wipers on the bridge. The heated windscreens were put into action to melt the mounting windowsill of snow accretion. But the wind over the weekend was calm and many of our Fids spent Sunday out on the "Monkey Island" or on the decks testing out their new issue of Antarctic 'clobber' and snow goggles.!

Cathy and Alan sporting the latest in Antarctic fashion As seen on the catwalks of Paris,... Here we see Cathy and Alan sporting the very latest in Antarctic Fashion. Cathy is the one on the right.. (er... I think !)

And now an interlude from two of the New Kids on the Block, our very own Shackleton weather girls

Ice is nice!
Met Fids first impression of sea ice.
We'd waited and waited for our first iceberg sighting so when word went round that one had been spotted we dashed up to the bridge to see a tiny speck of white far away on the horizon. Of course this was amazing - our first iceberg! We danced around merrily at our first glimpse. Then at 2 am there was a commotion outside our rooms and shouts of "you've gotta come and see this!!!" so we ventured out, not quite comatose, into a 2 am twilight to see hundreds of small growlers with the occasional bewildered looking penguin staring back. It was worth the wake up call and we didn't think things could get much better.... until this morning when the whole of the sea up to the horizon was filled with sea ice, growlers, bergs and bergy bits (a technical term - honest), even groups of penguins and a seal or two. One or two films have been used up already! All in all - WOW - ICE IS NICE! (Cathy)

Two o'clock in the morning is an ungodly hour to be woken, but when the reason is the first pieces of real sea ice, no-one really minds. Many adjectives have been used in order to try and describe the wondrous sight we were faced with, and none of them can quite capture the magnitude and magnificence of what we are completely surrounded with, but here goes. Right now the sea ice is pushing up against the ship on all sides. Our progress is very slow, sometimes even backwards! But that doesn't seem to matter either when you've got icebergs on most of the horizon, and the gaps filled in with the jagged mountains of Signy.(South Orkney Islands). There's also plenty of interest in curious creatures that are also passing their time in the ice floes. The Crabeater seal having a showdown with an Adelie who was furiously waving its wings caused even the hardest of faces to break into a smile, some even laughed out loud. They all seem to be completely oblivious to the presence of a large red thing in the ice next to them. (Liz).

The Adventures of P.B Bear

First there was Paddington Bear who came from Darkest Peru, then there was Yogi Bear who came from darkest Yellowstone Park, and now there is ...

For the Children of St.Cuthberts School, who will be anxious to know the whereabouts of that intrepid explorer - the school mascot, PB Bear - he would just like to mention that he is fine and happy, but he missed the ship ! Yes, he arrived in Montevideo ready to join RRS Ernest Shackleton when he ran into immigration difficulties. Just like people, bears need to have a passport to travel. ! Unfortunately PB did not have one and so was delayed in joining the ship. But fear not, PB is in good hands as he has managed to get a lift from the BAS Air Unit and is flying down to Antarctica in style from Stanley. Mr.PB will fly 'British Antarctic Airways' down to the Antarctic Peninsula and Rothera station, where he will then get another flight over to the RRS Ernest Shackleton when the vessel arrives in Halley. So don't miss the regular updates as we receive them on the radio ...

The worlds first talking Dash-7

Forthcoming events: Complete the last few nautical miles to Signy base and effect refuelling and Base relief. After our departure from Signy we will be proceeding directly to Bird Island, and South Georgia.

Contributors this week : Catherine 'Met-chick' Moore and Elizebeth 'Weather-babe' Hudd, the early birds !

Diary 7 will be written on 3 December 2000 and should be published on 4 December 2000

Steve B November 26th, 2000