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11 Mar - Port Lockroy and a Blue Ice-berg

RRS Ernest Shackleton Diary

Position @ 1200 UTC - 3 hours: 64°49' South. 063°31' West - off Port Lockroy/Damoy.
Next destination: Rothera Research Station, via Trump Island.
ETA: 13 March 2001 for Rothera.
Distance to go: 354 nautical miles.
Total Distance Sailed: 22,970 nautical miles (Since departing Hull, England on 19 October 2000).

Current weather:
Wind: E x N, Force 2.
Barometric pressure: 989.6 mb, falling.
Sea state: Calm.
Air temperature: +1.0°C.
Sea temperature: +1.8°C.
Last weather observation sent from the RRS Ernest Shackleton

The weather moderated during Sunday night (4th March) as we approached the Falkland Islands and by Monday morning the sea state was slight to moderate.

We made a slow approach to Mare Harbour and due to the berth being occupied by the Charlotte Sif (registered in Singapore) we decided to anchor off the berth until it became clear. The Charlotte Sif is a chartered cargo vessel delivering supplies to the Falkland Islands and had been delayed by gales last week. By early evening it was decided that we could use the West Jetty as the Charlotte Sif would be on the main berth until Wednesday.

So, at 1830 the anchor was lifted and RRS Ernest Shackleton moved slowly towards the West Jetty, which was smaller than the ship, but managed to get alongside without any trouble and soon the lines were made fast and the gangway was down. Customs visited and granted clearance and then anyone who wished to go ashore could do so.

Tuesday saw the start of cargo operations. First some containers had to be removed so that we could gain access to the lower hold where all the waste from Halley had been placed. This was then discharged ashore. At the same time fuel trucks came to give us 110 cubic Metres of Dieso-F76 (the fuel to run the ship). The weather proved to be somewhat typical for the Falklamds, with a 40 knot wind and sporadic rain showers. There was even some hail too.

Once the waste was off-loaded it was time to load cargo. The bulk of the cargo for loading was for Rothera Base with a small amount for Bird Island, Signy and South Georgia..

The final containers were loaded during Thursday morning and so following lunch the ship made ready for sea and we sailed out of East Cove at about 1330L and set course for the Antarctic Peninsula.

The weather on Thursday and Friday proved to be very pleasant and we were making good speed across the Drake Passage.

RRS Ernest Shackleton keeps in touch with the RRS James Clark Ross by HF radio-telephone and so we were able to track her progress as she was finishing off her science cruise before heading back to the Falklands. By some careful calculation it was possible for us to arrange a passing of the ships and so just before 2200z on Friday 9th March RRS James Clark Ross was spotted on the horizon. By 2220z we were closing nicely and the sun was glinting off of her superstructure. As we passed astern of RRS James Clark Ross we sounded our horn, and RRS James Clark Ross sounded hers in reply before continuing with the final few hours of science work before heading for the Falkland Islands where she is due to arrive on Sunday morning.

Saturday morning saw a change in the weather for us with the wind having picked up, and in line with this the sea state had turned to rough, more like the weather one comes to expect from this exposed piece of ocean and so RRS Ernest Shackleton was pitching and rolling once again.

The good news was that we did not have far to go before we reached the shelter of the Antarctic Peninsula and as the weather was behind us, the further south we ventured, the better the conditions became.

By 2130z we were approaching Smith Island and the sea state had dropped to slight and the vessel's motion had gone, making many onboard feel a lot happier. A couple of minke whales were spotted passing down the port side of the ship. Earlier in the afternoon we saw the first ice-bergs of the trip, including a beautiful blue one, Pictured below.

Blue ice-berg. Click on image to enlargeA beautiful blue ice-berg.

At about 0005z a light was spotted ahead of us and upon further investigation it was decided that it was another ship, heading north, and that we would be passing in the night. A call was made to them and it turned out to be the American research vessel Lawrence M Gould, which was on its way from Palmer Station to Punta Arenas, Chile, expecting to arrive there on the 14th March. Later in the night another light was spotted and this turned out to be the a Russian cruise ship, the Grigory Mikheev, with some 25 passengers onboard heading for Deception Island.

Sunday morning, 11th March, and another good whale sighting, this time of some humpbacks. One was keen to show his fluke (tale) with the distinctive white underside. Whilst good to see, the whale was just a bit too far away for any good photographs.

As the vessel progressed through the Neumayer Channel towards Damoy and Port Lockroy a number of leopard seals were spotted sitting on ice floes.

A view of the Neumayer Channel. Click on imaget to enlargeA view of the Neumayer Channel.

Damoy, which is adjacent to Port Lockroy, was looking very barren with all the snow from around the huts completely gone and just bare rock to be seen.

On arrival at Port Lockroy the vessel used her thrusters to hold position whilst Tula (our cargo tender) was put into the water for the short journey over to the base. The old base has been manned throughout the summer months by two personnel who work in conjunction with the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust. The aim is to provide information about the life and times of working in Antarctica, especially during the early days of Antarctic exploration. With some seventy ship visits and in excess of 6500 visitors it is the number one tourist attraction in Antarctica.

Bransfield House, Port Lockroy. Click on image to enlargeBransfield House, Port Lockroy with gentoo penguins in foreground.

Loading of cargo only took a short while and then there was time for those on Tula to go ashore and have a look around the old base before it was locked up for another winter. All personnel were back onboard RRS Ernest Shackleton for mid-day.

Once Tula and her cargo had been stowed RRS Ernest Shackleton steamed the short distance to stand-off of Damoy so that the two Humber inflatable boats could be sent in with the aim of checking the condition of the huts, equipment, fuel stores and to also to check the position of some navigational beacons (markers) with the aid of a hand-held GPS receiver.

Forthcoming events: A short journey to Trump Island to download data from a Low Power Magnetometer, then make for Rothera, hopefully arriving on Tuesday for the final call of the season before heading back towards the Falkland Islands.

The next page will be written on the 18 th March 2001 and should be published on the 19th March 2001.


Weekly diary entries