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03 Dec - A Week in the Life of a FID

RRS Ernest Shackleton Diary

Position @ 1200 UTC - 3 hours: King Edward Point, South Georgia. 54°16' South. 036°29' West.
Next destination: Falkland Islands - this is a change from the published itinerary.
ETA: 07 December.
Distance to go: 796.9 nautical miles.
Total Distance Sailed: 8266.4 nautical miles (Since departing Hull, England on 19 October 2000).
Current weather: Overcast, but breaks in the cloud to show blue skies and very bright in snow.
Wind: Light airs.
Sea state: Alongside King Edward Point.
Air temperature: 4.4°C.
Sea temperature: 2.0°C.

Following the successful 'Day in the life of...' series last season, this week sees the return of a similar 'Week in the life of..' series.


Day 1. It was a Sunday Morning and all 'round the house, not a creature was stirring,..' and RRS Ernest Shackleton certainly wasn't stirring particularly far. Last Sunday saw us still in the icy grip of the pack ice off Signy station and working our way slowly towards Factory Cove for refuelling and replenishment of the station. I woke up and had my usual constitutional around the decks before descending to the mess for a particularly healthy breakfast of bacon, sausage, beans, eggs and all things scrummy. I have eaten far too much since getting on board RRS Ernest Shackleton in the Falkland Islands which is probably making up for the fact that when I first joined the "polar roller" I couldn't eat a thing for days. A circumstance which would be repeated later in the week.

The RRS Ernest Shackleton working through pack ice But for this day at least, the ship was not moving. Well, when I say 'not moving' I mean not rocking and rolling. But when she is in the ice, RRS Ernest Shackleton has an occasional thud and bump as she attacks the ice floes and pack ice. A truly impressive sight by any standards. I did not realise that a ship could get through ice as very thick as some of the ice the ship passed through. The pictures say it all.

By Sunday evening the ship had stopped in Orwell Bight in ten tenths pack (that means no patches of water to look at) and due to the darkness, the bridge preferred to stand still overnight than continue to plough on through the night. Our position at this time was only 3 nautical miles short of the Signy station - our destination - but being able to see the station and hear it on VHF radio was quite another thing altogether from being on site and able to run fuel hoses and work cargo.

Monday morning was an early start. The morning brought an overcast, but bright day and the ship was moving slowly through the pack and fast ice by 06.00 am. By nearly 08.00 am we had arrived, with the vessel 'parked' alongside the station's refuelling hose. Prior to our arrival the Signy staff had worked very hard to connect up all 15 sections of their hose and run it out on the fast ice in Factory Cove. By 09.00 am the hose was connected to the ship and pumping began. 80 cubic metres were passed ashore by midday and then began the long haul of draining back the hose and separating it back into its original 15 sections before stowing it all away for another year. A very easy way to pass fuel ashore from the ship's point of view but hard work for the station personnel.

RRS Ernest Shackleton in Factory Cove

This image will NOT enlarge. This panoramic shot is best seen at a distance and shows Factory Cove nicely iced-over with the Signy station just visible at the foot of Rusty Bluff and Coronation Island in the background. The red dot in the middle is the RRS Ernest Shackleton. !!!

Once the fuelling was completed, the mail, cargo and provisions were all landed ashore. This simply meant craning the goods over the side of the ship and onto the ice where 'skidoos/mini sledges' were waiting to take them to the station. Also craned from the ship to the ice were the personnel who wanted to go ashore. No gangway for us,.. We 'flew ashore' in a personnel transfer basket which was a great experience and definitely not for those who suffer from vertigo. Here is a series of pictures with friends being lifted back on board after a hard day's 'jollying'.

Flying basket on ice Flying basket in the air Flying basket coming on board

Click on images to get the FIDs flying.

The night was spent parked up in the ice with the BAS Personnel Officer and Logistics Coordinator ashore for the night. Meanwhile, two members from the station, whose onward plans were to take them to Halley as Summer GA's (General Assistants), embarked the ship. Tuesday morning dawned and by 06.00 am, we were rejoined by Miss Williams and Mr Gill in the morning, and it was 'Goodbye' to the personnel of Signy. As usual, the vessel 'backed out' of the cove following the track of the passage inward. At least, that was until we were halted about 1 mile away with some engine setting-up or other and proceeded to sit there throughout breakfast. (More bacon, sausage, beans, eggs and all things scrummy.) After breakfast the ship was under way again. The ship retraced her steps until well clear of the shallow waters and only then did she attempt a 'three point turn' and start pushing through the ice again with her bows. The ship then went north of Signy Island through the Normanna Strait to get back out of the pack ice to the west. This was not a retracing of the route into Signy but an attempt to find lighter pack on the way out. This was successful and the pack was much more broken with stretches of open water between thick floes of ice. We spotted seals and penguins both on the floes and porpoising in the waters around the ship. The weather was calm and clear with only occasional flurries of snow which made for a pleasant day on board. By 10.00 pm that evening, we were back in the open sea and headed north for Bird Island in a westerly swell.

Route through the sea ice round Signy

A porcelain freind in a southwesterly swell !!! Once clear of the pack ice, RRS Ernest Shackleton proceeded on a north-easterly course towards Bird Island and South Georgia. But by Wednesday evening the seas became quite rough with a south-westerly swell making it once again uncomfortable on board. This is where, yet again, I became 'good pals' with my old friend pictured. It is amazing how friendly a bit of porcelain can be in a swell !!

The Meteorology (Met) Team (Boss Jon Shanklin, Liz Hudd, Cathy Moore and honorary member Alan Burchell) have been busy checking out weather stations at the stations we visit. Signy has a MAWS (the Modular Automatic Weather Station). This needed its pressure sensor checking, something the Met Department does at each stop, and Martin Davey, the Signy BC, said that there was something up with the wind direction. A check on the pressure showed that it was OK, but the wind sensor seemed to be stuck in one direction. The team folded down the mast which supports the sensors and looked inside the computer box. There seemed to be a lot of corrosion, but they first checked the wind vane - it went round and gave a correct signal, so that was OK. Putting the same signal down the cable didn't give the correct direction, so it become clear that the problem was the corrosion. This was quickly traced to leaking battery acid from a backup battery inside the computer box. There wasn't a replacement with the spares, so while Alan and Liz tried to track down a spare, Cathy and Jon cleaned out the corrosion as best they could. The BC eventually found a substitute, but even when this was installed the wind direction still didn't work. Unfortunately the team ran out of time at this point so had to leave the system only measuring the wind speed, pressure and temperature.

Next stop was Bird Island and here the Automatic Weather Station had stopped working in early November. Jon thought this might be an easy fix, that just required a computer reset, but on logging onto the system he found that all the system programs had disappeared. Fortunately he had the backups on his laptop and was able to download the programs and soon the system was up and running. The final step of setting the transmitter time suffered a slight technical hitch, but after a few anxious minutes they restored the synchroniser to life and all was well.
Jon Shanklin

Grigory Mykheev After Signy Island, our next port-of-call was Bird Island, or it would have been but for the 30 knot winds and south-westerly swell which made boating impossible on Thursday afternoon. As it was, the Master took us around the north of Bird Island and anchored in a sheltered bay called Elsehul. Thursday evening was actually comfortable with the sun peeping out of very overcast skies and squalls at one point. A Russian cruise/adventure ship also joined us in Elsehul, to allow her passengers a short tour of the bay, and I got a great photo of the Grigory Mykheev as she passed us by.

We also launched our Fast Rescue Craft for a little training before dinner. It was so good to be back in sheltered waters, but disappointing not to be able to get in to Bird Island.

On Friday morning at 06.00 am I woke to find that we had removed from Elsehul to off Jordan Cove to begin cargo operations by 07.00 am - chance for a healthy breakfast of bacon, sausage, beans, eggs and all things scrummy. The Fast Rescue Craft was first in the water with personnel going ashore for various tasks but before long, Tula was launched to take the Bird Island cargo ashore and pick up their outgoing cargo too. We all got the opportunity to go ashore and see the little base and the multitude of seals that congregate around the quay and the beach immediately in front of the huts. According to Mark Jessop - the station's seal scientist - this year is going to see a 'bumper crop' of baby seals. They were everywhere: on the walkways, on the steps, on the beach, on the jetty. Little bundles of 'cuteness'. The seals not only proliferated on the beach and around the station, but they tend to climb to great heights up the nearby foothills. As you climb up, and the seals give out, then the giant petrels and the albatross nests start to appear, so on a mountainous climb you are never without the company of some excellent wildlife. Unfortunately, with only a little cargo to work and with the natural ability of the Bird Island weather to deteriorate rapidly, the ship did not stay as long as we would have wished. Once all the work had been done and all personnel had at least set foot on the Island, all hands were back on board and RRS Ernest Shackleton turned for King Edward Point on the eastern side of South Georgia. At 03.00 pm we set sail into a force nine gale and once again we were bouncing around at sea as the barometer bottomed out at 980 millibars. The intention had been for a slow speed overnight passage to King Edward Point and the 50 knot wind ensured it was SLOW SPEED.!

It was Saturday morning (02 December) when RRS Ernest Shackleton headed slowly into Cumberland Bay. HMS Endurance was already within and alongside the King Edward Point Jetty to discharge two containers, so our ship had to hold off in Cumberland East Bay. Heavy snowfall overnight just added to the wonder that awaited us. Grytviken and King Edward Point looked like the picture-front of some candy-box. Excellent snow-covered vistas, tinges of blue skies poking through later in the day and calm waters in the bay, reflecting the old whaling station with the mountainous hills behind.

By 09.00 am RRS Ernest Shackleton was tied up alongside the small wharf recently rebuilt by the military, and this allowed us just a simple walk down the gangway for our shore liberty without recourse to small boat or personnel basket transfers. The ship had cargo to deposit here but moreover, it was a great opportunity for me and my colleagues to stretch our legs for the last time before going south to Halley and not seeing 'land' for up to 2 years. What an amazing place South Georgia is. At 11.00 am the Chief Officer got all the FIDs together to give us a pep-talk on the 'does' and 'don'ts' while we are ashore here. There are restrictions that must be observed, specifically because of the nature of the weather here which can be quite changeable, quite rapid, and very harsh. Not so today. In spite of the overcast skies and the odd flurries of snow, this was excellent 'jollying weather' and me and my colleagues took every opportunity to go and explore.

In the short space of a week, we have seen three bases, three different islands, been introduced to our first pack-ice, seen Lynx helicopters flying from the decks of HMS Endurance, been sent ashore in the Fast Rescue Craft and got to ride in the ships' cargo boat Tula. Not a bad week in the life of a FID !!!.

The Adventures of P B Bear
A bear and 2 FIDs on a bunk at Signy Following last week's introduction to Mr P B Bear, we have news that confirms Mr P B is not actually where he ought to be. The ship was under the impression that P B had hitched a lift with our Air Unit down to the Antarctic Peninsula to finally catch up with the ship in Ice Station Halley. But photographic evidence has recently come to light that proves beyond a doubt that the bear has been seen in Signy station before our arrival there ! See for yourself !

This season Signy station has a great many people, and finding room for a bed is really competitive. Here we can see Simon Gill and Amanda Lynnes fighting with Mr P B to find somewhere to sleep ! But don't worry, I think the bedding situation was sorted out once RRS Ernest Shackleton arrived and we were able to land some new beds and to take two members off the base,.. But what was P B Bear doing in Signy before we arrived ??? And where did he go to next ?? For answers to these questions you will just have to 'tune in' next week and track the progress of the Bear across the Antarctic continent. Eat your heart out Mr Scott !

Forthcoming events : STOP PRESS... Owing to a failure in the steering gear on board RRS Ernest Shackleton, the ship is having to make an unscheduled deviation back to the Falkland Islands to collect replacement parts. Once collected and fitted, the ship should be able to pick up its itinerary with the minimum amount of lost time and still arrive at Halley in time for Christmas.

Contributors this week: Many thanks to A.N.Other (FID) and Jon Shanklin (Meteorologist).

Diary 8 will be written on 10 December 2000 and should be published on 11 December 2000.

Steve B December 03 2000