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10 Dec - Steering, Trekking and Golfing

RRS Ernest Shackleton Diary

Position @ 1200 UTC - 3 hours: 52°36' South. 052°25' West.
Next destination: Bird Island, South Georgia.
ETA: 12 December.
Distance to go: 522.0 nautical miles.
Total Distance Sailed: 9233.3 nautical miles (Since departing Hull, England on 19 October 2000).
Current weather: Overcast.
Wind: North-noreasterly Force 5.
Sea state: Moderate - low swell.
Air temperature: 5.4°C.
Sea temperature: 5.1°C.

The theme of the web page this week was going to be 'gastronomie'. However since a good part of the week was spent on a rough sea and food was the last thing on the mind of many, it has been deferred to another time. Instead, here is a matter-of-factual diary of the events of this week with a few good stories thrown in for good measure !

Last Sunday RRS Ernest Shackleton was still alongside the jetty at King Edward Point, South Georgia. It was here, during the weekend, that the engineers discovered a flaw in the starboard side steering gear during their routine inspections. The upshot of this was that the ship would not be able to confidently enter the pack ice en route to Halley. See below for the technical explanation of 'it's broken ! It just came off in my hands Gov'nor'.

On observation from the Bridge that the rudder response was slow, despite having two Steering Motors in use, the system was inspected. There had been no Steering Gear Alarms to indicate a fault. The Starboard motor was running and taking a current of 20 amps; however the sump contents were cold in comparison to the Port unit, and there was no pressure indication on either the filter pressure gauge or the gauge on the valve block.

The pump was stopped and isolated. The motor cowl was removed to facilitate turning of the motor by hand. The pump discharge pipework from the sump was broken and the motor turned by hand in both directions. No movement was seen of the oil level inside the discharge pipe. All indications were that the hydraulic pump was not being turned. The motor was disconnected and the holding down bolts removed. The motor weight is 180 kg.

The hydraulic oil cooling pump and fan assembly were removed in entirety to allow access. Brackets were then fabricated to allow jacks to be positioned to raise the motor. (The jacks used were the Scissor Jack for Bergen Main Bearing Cap Handling and 2 off Hydraulic Bottle Jacks). With the motor lifted and supported at a height of 4", the coupling was inspected. The drive dogs on the pump coupling were totally worn away, the motor drive coupling was very badly worn.

Motor removal was then considered to allow the coupling halves to be removed. Further bracket fabrication resulted in an arrangement whereby one of the motor lifting brackets was fitted with two pivot pins. On lowering the motor each pivot pin engaged in a fulcrum, the motor was then pivoted from its normal vertical to a horizontal position. The couplings were removed and the pump and motor shafts measured. No spare was held on board nor was any other available coupling held on board capable of being machined to the required sizes. By good fortune, our sister ship HMS Endurance , previously Polar Circle was anchored nearby and was contacted. After a thorough search a similar, but smaller coupling was found and accepted. After machining the motor coupling bore to 55 mm with a keyway to a depth of 5 mm, the remaining wall thickness of the coupling was only 8 mm, with certainly insufficient to withstand the full load torque experienced when using the rudder either in ice.  The work being completed in under 24 hours is a great tribute to our engineering and electrical staff.

During the course of these proceedings the Port Steering Gear Motor coupling was examined. This was fortunately found to be in perfect condition.

Many thanks indeed to the able support of HMS Endurance who were at hand to provide us with the make-shift spare part to allow us to track back to the Falkland Islands to pick up the correct spare part which Kath Nicholson (BAS HQ) had moved Heaven and Earth to obtain in time for a BAS Scientist to bring south with him on the RAF UK to Falkland Islands flight.

HMS Endurance at King Edward Point

HMS Endurance at King Edward Point

The mechanical failure of the steering gear, I am happy to report, did not in any way impinge upon the continual search for 'jollies' by all the FIDS on board - many of whom were first-time visitors to South Georgia. And what an amazing time to see it for the first time. The snow was thick and white and rather plentiful for the time of year. The more experienced visitors to Grytviken and King Edward Point claimed that the snow was  mostly gone by this time in the year, but this weekend saw snow that was thigh-deep in many parts - which was good for the snow-boarding and skiing fraternity on board. Here are two of the many reported jollies to emanate from the mess over the weekend :

Welcome to Antracktooka (It's our word for Antarctica) We are only at South Georgia but "only" I hear you cry. It is a fantastic place to say the least. Pictures, photos, TV and poor efforts at describing it do not do it justice. The views are breathtaking, the Whaling Station exciting and adventurous, the wildlife interesting and the water cold! I decided it was time to discover how cold the water actually is. One fine Sunday afternoon after our steak, onions, Russian potatoes, ...................and a lovely desert.

Big Al, one of our chefs who is going in to Halley for the summer, makes these superb gateaux. So after two lovely steaks, cooked and prepared by the galley crew who do a fantastic job and serve some absolutely scrumptious tucker, we decided to set off for a stroll. Trudging through the snow and most of us now are several pounds heavier! We walked again through the Whaling Station and up past Ernest Shackleton's grave and further round the bay. We had been advised that there was an old Argentine helicopter left there from the 1982 "Falklands Conflict" and an old gun point. We spotted the gun point and decided to move to higher ground as we were currently on the shore. It was difficult as the terrain had hidden seals within and also small streams which were coming from the mountains. "Up this way" I shout. "It looks dodgy" they all shouted back. So off I trudge with Big Al but the others tried to find a better way. Almost on to good ground, one last bit to negotiate. Splash!! I had fallen through the snow, and into a stream, this stream decided to fill my boots with ice cold water!

Emptying boots of ice cold water.  Click on image to enlarge The picture tells the story. Obviously I used a choice set of words although not repeatable for public reading. (Sorry) Al was desperately trying to pull me out and I was desperately trying to pull him in. We couldn't do it for laughing and the others were struggling to take pictures as they were laughing so much as well. The only consolation is that I am not the first person to do it. One of the 'met babes' was the first. She only managed one leg in and she got a little bit smelly whereas mine, was clean water! Many others have had lucky escapes. There must still be many more adventures to relate but if anyone else is unlucky, I shall at least be the first to take photos and ensure it gets on the web page!!!

One of the definite perks of a trip to Halley is the couple of days spent at Grytviken, South Georgia. After a week aboard the ship we were all anxious to get out for a walk, and on the second day, when the weather allowed, we were keen to take the chance to climb Mount Hodges overlooking the former whaling station. I had climbed it a couple of years ago in late February on the way back from Halley when there was no snow around. This time it had snowed heavily the previous day, and promised to be a bit more of a challenge.

Mount Hodges Myself, Russ Ladkin and Andy Rankin set out early on Sunday morning. The weather was quite overcast which had the effect of removing all contrast from the snow surface, and we found ourselves ploughing through knee deep snow as we rounded the back of the mountain towards Hodges Glacier hut at the bottom of the corrie. From here we turned right and climbed to the shoulder of Mount Hodges just out of view on the left of the above picture. At this point the climb became much steeper, the surface much icier, and to me much scarier. Fortunately Andy is one of those people with no fear whatsoever of heights or (more importantly in my opinion) falling. So he wandered ahead, hands in pockets, kicking steps into the snow surface which I carefully followed to the top.

The view from the summit of Mount Hodges Many people have attempted to wax-lyrical about the view from the summit of Hodges. I won't even bother to try to string the adjectives together to try to describe the view, so instead here's a picture.

The descent from Mount Hodges We descended Mount Hodges via the north west ridge linking Hodges and Petrel Peak (pictured). I was attempting to ignore the views in order to concentrate on safe footing. We took a sharp right at the col and descended into the corrie down deep snow slopes, perfect for skiing.

From here we stopped for lunch and watched six others silhouetted against the skyline as they climbed up the ridge we had just descended to the summit of Hodges. We then had the problem of finding a safe route down into the valley between Grytviken and Maiviken. Fortunately at this point Andy disappeared over the edge and all we had to do was follow his footsteps down to a point where it was safe to sledge the rest of the way into the valley.

The journey back to Grytviken was a slow slog through deep snow, which didn't have the icy crust found at higher levels, and every third or fourth step you'd find yourself waist deep in damp snow. It was a relief to return to the relatively solid snow covering around Grytviken, the short walk to the ship, and - in the great tradition of a BAS diary closing sentence - a "hearty meal".

For others, the pursuits of South Georgia were much more leisurely. HMS Endurance was kind enough to offer a luncheon invitation to the RRS Ernest Shackleton but with repairs going on apace, a delegation of only four of us - Stuart, Rob, Robin and Steve - departed the ship at 1130 hours on Sunday, all donning the green-coloured military waist-coat-type life jackets to take the flat-bottomed rigid raider craft over to HMS Endurance and then on up the rope ladder to be welcomed onboard by Stuart, the Navigating Officer. Curry in the officers' mess was the order of the day and far more preferable to wading knee-deep in glob and goop across the highlands, lowlands, and marshes of Grytviken. The greatest wading that was done that afternoon, was through a plateful of strawberry desert washed down with coffee and convivial company. Many thanks indeed again to the Captain and Officers' of HMS Endurance for their kind hospitality - and especially the strawberry desert !

It was a busy time for South Georgia last weekend. Not only did it see the arrival of the two ships, lots of FIDS, two private yachts and the Morrison's contractors that were already on site progressing with the new Applied Fisheries Laboratory at King Edward Point, but there was even a delegation of rats to be seen at the gangway one evening... The latter were definitely NOT invited onboard RRS Ernest Shackleton for strawberry desert and coffee ! In fact Mark 'Stalag 17' Taylor kept a constant vigil from the safety of the bridge to ensure that these guests did NOT come onboard unwelcomed.

Cartoon of 2 rats Rats are not indigenous creatures to South Georgia but were introduced during the last century as the whaling industry established itself. And rats are CERTAINLY NOT indigenous to RRS Ernest Shackleton and so Mark did a worthy job making sure the situation remained that way !.  Any one wishing to know more about South Georgia rats, should contact the one-time carpenter for BAS, namely Scobie Pye, whose two main claims to fame were his ability to give South Georgia a winning edge in all football matches against visiting ships, and his treatise on Ratus ratus - the South Georgia brown rat.

Monday at 0900 - 04 December - saw RRS Ernest Shackleton set sail for the Falkland Islands and those on board could open up the next chocolate on their advent calendars ! Scrummy. Four down and twenty to go. Salutes were exchanged on the ship's whistle as we passed by HMS Endurance, and by noon, we were skirting up the north-east coast of South Georgia and starting to enjoy a WestNorWesterly swell and Gale force winds that were to remain with us for the best part of the three day passage back to Mare Harbour. This was most uncomfortable, and the majority of people onboard sought the solace of their beds.   On the way up the north-east coastline, we spotted another of the many tourist vessels that ply their trade down in these southerly latitudes.  Explorer was again seen at a mile distant, but we did not speak on the radio this time, as she was navigating into a particularly difficult bit of coastline for the enjoyment of the passengers aboard and was clearly busy with navigational duties.

Throughout the 5, 6 and 7 December the vessel was pitching and rolling moderately until our final arrival in Mare Harbour, Falkland Islands on the Thursday evening; sleeping was a favourite pastime with our FIDs although due to the inclemency of the initial nights at sea, I saw many of them up in the wee small hours watching videos to distract their minds from what must be unpleasant circumstances of heading away from and not towards Halley - their very reason for being here ! But 'G.I.Jane' at 06.45am in the morning ???

As our estimates for arriving at Halley were now frantically being amended, it was only fair that we got in contact with Halley station to dispell the rumours that we were either going off to Cape Town in South Africa, or worse still, that we were abandoning any attempts at going there at all, and that RRS James Clark Ross would be taking over our role this year!. One quick 'radio sched' on 14 MHz soon allayed any fears and it was good to finally make contact with the folks patiently awaiting our arrival down on the ice.

Upon arrival at Mare Harbour, RRS Ernest Shackleton once again went directly alongside the RFA Grey Rover on the Ro-Ro Jetty to repeat the same procedure as our last call in the Falklands. Once alongside and connected up, the ship received 250 cubic metres of Bunkers while at the same time our FIDS were able to avail themselves of the transport laid on to Mount Pleasant Airport and go ashore for more bowling, shopping and just to be on dry land. By all reports, a good night was had by one and all.

The intention in Mare Harbour was to lay alongside until the arrival of our spare parts on the scheduled Tri-star from the UK whose arrival was expected on the 8 December. These parts were hand delivered without too many complications after rumours of them being 'held up' in Heathrow Airport or having missed the flight altogether. But arrive they did, and were fitted during the evening of Friday.  By Saturday morning, all tests proved successful and so RRS Ernest Shackleton was ready to put to sea once again.

Our departure from Mare Harbour was planned for Saturday evening to allow our engineering staff some well deserved time off before being back at sea, and a last opportunity to receive mail and stores for the ship and BAS stations. Alongside in Mare Harbour this weekend, were Grey Rover, and Seabulk Condor - a MOD supply/support vessel in the Falklands to replace Oil Mariner of last season. Seabulk Condor was due to depart for South Georgia with two BAS personnel but due to a last minute need to embark additional military personnel, they were only able to embark the replacement Paramedic for King Edward Point leaving Mr John Newman behind. Therefore RRS Ernest Shackleton was enlisted to embark John and take him into Bird Island on our passage to Halley. So it was that with John embarked and all those who had enjoyed their afternoon off now back onboard, at 1900 hours local time, RRS Ernest Shackleton slipped from the main jetty and headed out to sea once more. It will take three days to retrace our steps to South Georgia, and thence on into the ice and towards Halley to arrive in time for Christmas.

Apart from the many visitations to the Stanley 'city centre' - that thriving metropolis - there was also a chance for a little golf on Stanley's one and only international golf course... FORE!!!!

Golfing cartoon I am sure all the golf fanatics reading this will understand that after four weeks without swinging a club I was getting serious withdrawal symptoms. What joy then to find that we were on our way back to the Falklands. I immediately decided that I had to find some golfing partners so that I could get a game at the very famous Stanley Golf Club. I eventually tracked down two partners, Robert Day the Second Engineer and Steve Buxton, the Communications Officer, who after much pleading on my part agreed to come with me for a game. On arrival at Stanley I rang the Club Secretary who kindly agreed to meet us at the course to kit us out with clubs and other appropriate gear. I had heard the course did not have the normal fairways you associate with a top club and that the grass cutter was a flock of sheep, however I was still concerned that I did not have my normal golf shoes and that I would have to wear my walking boots( the last thing my club at home would allow on their precious greens). However, my concern soon disappeared at the sight of the course and I realised that my walking boots were the exact footwear required.

The Club Secretary broke off his round of golf and came to meet us. He then kitted us all out with clubs and asked how many balls each we wanted to purchase, adding that we would have to keep a close eye on where the ball landed as they were easy to lose. With this we decided that six each would be a wise move. We then proceeded to the first tee and after we had all driven off the clouds appeared and heavens opened, yes just the weather to enjoy a game of golf on what appeared to be the Yorkshire moors. The rest of the round became a mixture of joy, laughter tears, yes a normal game do I hear you cry, but the obstacles were not bunkers but rocks, tussock grass, bomb craters and sheep. I must say that I had a good game and was rather pleased with my standard of play. I particularly made use of the local rule whereby if you were within two putter heads of the pin that it counted as being down, a 'must' to bring to the courses of Europe. I have to say however that my playing partners did not have such an enjoyable round, but I will admit that using women's golf clubs did nothing for Robert's game and that it was a good job that Steve had purchased the extra golf balls. All this apart, it was an enjoyable afternoon well spent in Stanley (it would be - I WON)... and I must thank my partners Rob and Steve for playing and of course Gary the Club Secretary for making our visit very welcome. We all agreed that we did enjoy the round and will try and play again next port call.

Author : Trish Williams

The Adventures of P.B Bear

PB Bear in the snow
Click on the Image to see PB.Bear in the Snow.

So where is PB.Bear this week ??? Truth to tell, we just don't know. Last seen at Signy station before our arrival there last week, we lost track of his onward movements until someone onboard received this photo of PB enjoying himself in the snow,.. But where ??? We immediately set the Navigating Officer to the task of establishing his whereabouts from the photo. The possibilities finally boiled down to:

  1. PB Bear was already in Halley awaiting our arrival;
  2. PB Bear was in South Georgia enjoying the crisp white snows that we have just left behind last week;
  3. PB Bear was in SWITZERLAND, on the Piste;
  4. Or, more likely, PB Bear was in the NORTH POLE visiting Santa !

Judging from the time of year, we are inclined to suspect that he is actually in Greenland !! PLEASE. If you know the whereabouts of PB Bear, get in touch with us on the ship as we are all anxious to know WHERE IS PB BEAR ???

Forthcoming events: Arrival at Bird Island on Tuesday afternoon to land Mr.John Newman and some mail and fresh produce.
Dental Officer, Wee Wendy's Birthday and the judging of the Shackleton Art Competition next Saturday.

Contributors this week: Many thanks to Mark Godfrey (Fid) , Rob Hibbins (Mountain Goat) and Trish Williams (Golfer) and to the Chief Engineer for his insight into all things technical.

Diary 09 will be written on 17 December 2000 and should be published on 18 December 2000

Steve B December 10, 2000