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18 Feb - From Halley to Signy

RRS Ernest Shackleton Diary

Position @ 1200 UTC - 3 hours: 57°27' South. 041°03' West.
Next destination: King Edward Point, South Georgia.
ETA: 19 February 2001.
Distance to go: 270.0 nautical miles (approximately).
Total Distance Sailed: 19,059.6 nautical miles (Since departing Hull, England on 19 October 2000).
Current weather: Dull and overcast.
Wind: Southwesterly Force 7.
Barometric pressure: 981.6 hp/mb.
Sea state: Rough, but following (thank goodness).
Air temperature: +1.9°C.
Sea temperature: +2.6°C.

..was a bitter, sweet experience. As it always is. It is always good to be underway and heading for our next destination, but at the same time, this is the last view of Halley for nine months. It is the last look at Halley FOREVER if you are an out-going Halley station member who is returning to 'civilization', returning to 'normality' and returning home after 33 months ! You cannot live for 33 months in a place without becoming at least a little attached to it. I daresay the same bitter, sweet feelings were going through the hearts and minds of those we left behind. Happy to be left to get into their station routine at last, to start their 'summer holidays' at last, and to be rid of the distraction of the ship-in-the-creek at last. But how many of those being left alone at the 'point of no return' had the bitter feeling of 'oh God, what have I done ???'. I am sure it must enter the minds of all the new 'Winterers'.

Halley says good bye to the ES. Click on image to enlarge Halley says good bye to the ES. Click on image to enlarge

Click on the images to Say G'bye to Halley.

The photos here show how the sun is starting to dip in the sky, and when we left on Monday February 12 at 1900 hours, it was one of the first days that the sun was to dip below the horizon after months of 24-hour sunshine. Even on Monday, night never descended. It simply remained twilight as we pulled away, as we 'stooged' around to do some essential engine room maintenance, and as we finally headed in a north-westerly direction towards Signy.

The farewell was accompanied by the statutory setting-off of some pyrotechnics, by the setting-off of some celebratory champagne corks, and the setting off from our precarious 'home' in Creek 6, much to the relief of the Captain. During our stay, we had to keep the thrusters pushing against the ice, 24-hours a day, and now free of the Creek, we were free of the possibility of thruster failure and a time to turn them off and check them out ! Well done thrusters ! They performed well.

The departure from Halley meant that the ship had 56 persons on board. Twenty one crew plus a full complement of Halley personnel. Some were 'summer-only' visitors who had been deposited by RRS Ernest Shackleton only two months earlier, but others were leaving this barren ice shelf for the first time in nearly three years. Either way, they were all familiar faces after several Halley reliefs. Soon all the new-joiners were settled into their plush cabins with en-suite, under-floor heated bathrooms, and their e-mail accounts immediately ready for use. Compared to the 'communal bathroom facilities' on Halley station, Shackleton offered luxury indeed. And to welcome them onboard, we even arranged for 'dingle' weather for their voyage north.

Monday started off with 24-hours sunlight and fair weather, with only a very few 'grey clouds' on the horizon. By Monday evening a small depression passed over the starboard side as tearful farewells ensued, but the 'low' was only a temporary influence, and things brightened considerably in the late evening.

Cartoon of Andy, the Third Officer, under the minor Bridge Depression. Due to the celebratory aspects of Monday evening, Tuesday started off with reports of a few foggy heads and misty eyes. But the sun soon warmed the day and the fog and mist dispersed to provide yet another clear day. On the bridge, there was a prevailing 'High' with only two weeks left to go till Montevideo. The previous Winds of Monday morning (after the curry on Sunday evening) had all disappeared and the atmosphere was clear and temperate. Even the departure from Halley brightened the spirits of the Third Officer, who had been under a cloud at the prospect of leaving Halley prior to Valentine's Day.

The forecast for the forthcoming period tells of sunshine and an all-time high by around the February 27. This high will definitely be centred around Uruguay. This forecast is valid until arrival Montevideo !

The departure day from Halley was marked by the arrival of the BASLER aircraft, a DC3 en route from Blue One to Halley. The BASLER, a ski-conversion DC3, had been working for Adventure Network International (ANI) in the field and was now routing Halley, Rothera, and Punta Arenas at the end of its working season, and so was able to give us a fly-by on a sunny Monday afternoon before our departure, and an opportunity for more photos, accompanied by cries of 'we want one'.

The BASLER DC3. Click on image to enlarge The BASLER DC3. Click on image to enlarge

Click on the image, and see if you can identify the white spot in the sky.

The BASLER leaving our location and heading for Halley station for the night.

The Captain enjoyed himself chatting to Mike Sharpe, an ex-BAS General Assistant now working for ANI at Blue One. What a lot of gossip. As a quid pro quo for BAS allowing ANI storage space in the Rothera hangar, when the BASLER (Callsign AN200) departed Halley on the morning of February 13 for Rothera, it took part of the load from the Twin Otter (Callsign V-PF-BB) thus enabling the Twin Otter to undertake longer 'legs' on her return to Rothera. 'Bravo Bravo' eventually got away on the February 14 taking with it our friendly pilots David and Geoff, together with David's Routledge, and Ellis, along with our very own Dr David Walton who had decided to make it a full circular tour of the British Antarctic Territory. They all arrived safely at Rothera via Fossil Bluff that evening.

Life on boardfor the next four days at sea settled into a routine of long lie-in's and leisurely days of reading, gaming and eating for the FIDs, and maintenance work and preparations for handover for the crew. Thoughts were now turning to the arrangements for flights home to the UK from Montevideo.

In actuality the weather for the best part was 'manky'. Reduced visibility in mist and snow flurries kept most people in the accommodation, although some FIDs were in evidence on the aft deck when it was time for exercising. But the wind remained at a pleasant Force 3 or 4 throughout, and the passage was comfortable. No reports of seasickness this leg. The passage was marked by a considerable number of icebergs as we sailed north up the 032° West longitude. From the satellite imagery, we knew there was considerable pack ice over to the west of our track, but this was avoided by maintaining a passage clear to the east of it. By Thursday we were able to steer on a westerly course to bring us to the South Orkney Islands by Friday afternoon. That is when we saw the 'Larsen Cemetery' once again (see the 4 February 2001 diary entry) and the weather improved significantly enough to allow some breath-taking views of these mighty bergs.

No one was more excited to be returning to Signy, than PB Bear. He was pictured here in December and, as his first port-of-call in Antarctica, it is obviously special to him. We arrived on Friday at around 1700 hours, but like the rest of the FIDs on board, he would have to wait until the morning before he could get a chance to go and 'play' ashore.

Upon arriving the anchor was dropped, and one boat trip was made to the shore to deposit two FIDs who were going to stay there for the rest of the season, and one surveyor who went to check the condition of the station buildings. So it was a quiet night onboard for one and all as we lay calmly at anchor in Borge Bay surrounded by small icebergs.

But Saturday morning saw PB and all the FIDs up and about early and eating every scrap of breakfast that Mick the Chef had produced. All week there were few early risers - most preferring to laze in their beds until the middle morning - but with the promise of a "jolly" ashore everyone was up this morning. PB had his usual sugar-coated puffed wheat - because he likes the 'Honey Monster' and then he went to brush up his fur and get ready for the first boat waiting to take people to the shore.

Waiting for the Signy bus. Click on image to enlarge Waiting for the Signy bus. Click on image to enlarge

Waiting for the 'bus' to Signy.
Click on the images to enlarge.

I have never seen so many people lining up quietly to wait for the first 'bus'. You can see the bus queue in the first photo and then everybody was onboard Tula and heading for the shore by 0830 hours. People do not have to dress in the full survival suits when travelling in Tula, but everybody has to wear a lifejacket for the trip. You can see the full array of lifejackets on display in the second photograph, but there is a slight problem. PB Bear is so small we don't have a jacket that is fitting him. Even our smallest jacket was too big !

PB Bear shares a lifejacket with Dr Lil. Click on image to enlarge PB Bear helping Mike the Engineer. Click on image to enlarge PB Bear off with the FIDs. Click on image to enlarge

PB Bear on his way to Signy.
Click on the images to enlarge.

This is how we got over the problem ! Dr.Lil was kind enough to offer her help. If you look at the first photograph you can see how PB Bear got to share a lifejacket with Dr.Lil... Lucky PB Bear !!! PB didn't get to drive Tula this time, but was seen giving a hand to Mike the Engineer before he joined the rest of the FIDs at the shore to go for walks to climb the foothills, to see the seals on the beach and just have the day off the ship ! As you can see, it was just like Christmas with a gentle small fall of snow all morning. Even with his thick fur, PB felt his fingers getting a little cool later in the day. But he came back on board in time for lunch and said it had been a really great time !. He just had time for a shower and to dry his fur before the ship pulled away from Signy for the last time this season and headed for South Georgia at 1400 hours.

A Short Walk Around Signy
At about 6pm on Friday 16th February we anchored less than a mile from the BAS station on Signy Island after sailing along some spectacular scenery on the southern edge of Coronation Island. The following morning most people on the ship got the opportunity to spend the morning exploring Signy Island. After four days sailing from Halley most people took this opportunity.

The short trip from RRS Ernest Shackleton to the shore was made in the cargo tender Tula; we also had a small amount of cargo to deliver to Signy station. There were several large lumps of blue ice in the bay but these were skillfully negotiated before we tied up at the jetty. People either went for a longish walk to see the penguin colony at Gourley Peninsula, or a shorter walk to Cemetery Bay.

The walk to Cemetery Bay is only about one mile over loose rock and mud terrain with sparse vegetation. The first part of the path is a climb of several hundred feet. This type of terrain is very different from the spectacularly flat and white Brunt Ice Shelf on which Halley is situated. For the outgoing winterers this is the first time they have walked on rock and seen plants in over a year.

The area around Cemetery Bay was full of wildlife. Fur seals helpfully warned you of their presence by growling as you approached. These seals are best steered clear off, if you get too close they are inclined to chase and can give a nasty bite if they catch you. Elephant seals were also around the bay but are much larger and less irritable. They are also much slower. A few Gentoo penguins were in the area, also dodging their way between the odd pair of fur seals who were tussling on the beach.

There are four white-painted wooden crosses in the cemetery. These date from the period of whaling activity at Signy in the early Twentieth Century. Some large chunks of whalebone also scatter the beach. Beyond the cemetery lies the active edge of Orwell Glacier. This is the limit of our walk as it blocks access further down the coast.

A classic view of Signy station.  Click on image to enlarge A group of four playful skuas was seen, wheeling in the sky on the walk back to the base. We also took a detour to avoid walking on some delicate moss vegetation. Just before the decent to Signy station some photographs were taken in a most photogenic spot, a classic view of Signy station.

On return to the station we had time for a quick look around and a welcome cup of tea. Signy has a nice, small, cosy feeling being much smaller than Halley. The lounge has a superb view down the beach and across the bay.

David Maxfield

Forthcoming events: Arrival at King Edward Point to collect waste and cargo and uplift some cargo for Bird Island. After Bird Island, it is intended to track direct to Montevideo and arrive by February 27.

Contributors this week: Many thanks to Captain Lawrence for his aeronautical information, and David Maxfield for the report on his jolly.

Diary 19 will be written on February 25 2001 and should be published on February 26 2001.

Steve B 18 February 2001

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