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18 Nov - Arrival at Signy Island

RRS Ernest Shackleton Diary

Position at 1200 (UTC - 3 hours): 60°42'S  45°34'W (Steaming in vicinity of Signy Island awaiting improved weather conditions.)
Next destination: Bird Island and South Georgia
ETA: 24 November 2001
Distance to go: 500 NM
Total Distance Sailed this Season: 7796.9NM

Current weather: 
Wind:  NW x Force 9
Barometric pressure: 969.0  mb
Sea state: Rough
Air temperature: 2.0°C.
Sea temperature: -0.7°C.

Ships position taken from the regular weather observations (only available whilst at sea,  courtesy of Oceanweather.com). Select "South Atlantic" area and click on "Marine Observations". Callsign is ZDLS1.

Mind that berg..... A change in weather, Sunday morning, saw the vessel back at sea with strong winds and a rough sea state.

Monday morning and the vessel moved off the Main Berth at East Cove to spin through 180 degrees and return alongside, this time port side to, in order that the we could deploy our cargo tender Tula, the starboard lifeboat and the Humber inflatable boats. The remainder of the day was spent with the deck crew gaining small boat training and a number of lucky FIDS enjoying being whisked around East Cove in small fast boats in order to see some wildlife. The lifeboat was also put into the water (the port one having been done a few days before) as this is a legal requirement that they are launched at least once every three months.

With the small boat training completed, all cargo secured and everyone onboard for lunch on Tuesday, the Ernest Shackleton slipped the berth at 1308 and made for the South Orkney Islands, and Signy Island. A talk was given to all the new joined passengers about life onboard, and during this they were all told how the Ernest Shackleton does not roll much and pitches in rough seas.

On Wednesday morning at 0815 we passed the James Clark Ross, who was north bound as she headed from Signy to East Cove, arriving in the Falklands on Thursday morning.

This was also the day that we were proved wrong, with the vessel rolling heavily at times and no doubt catching out the unwary who may not have put as much away as they should have. One wastepaper basket on the Bridge decided to take up flying, but aside from that no real harm was done.

Breakfast in the Mess Room The Mess Room and Breakfast.

During the 4 - 8 watch on Wednesday evening the Antarctic Convergence was crossed. This is also known as the Antarctic Polar Front or the Polar Frontal Zone and is the zone where the cold, dense northwards-moving Antarctic water sinks below the warm sub-Antarctic water before continuing it's progress northwards under the surface. This transition gives rise to a temperature change in the meridional direction of between 3-8° C in the summer and 1-5°C in the winter. A ship crossing this zone may see a single jump or a transition through a number of changes. The sea surface temperature at 1600 was 5.2°C and by midnight it had dropped down to 0.6°C. On thursday at midday it had dropped to minus 0.3°C.

With this sudden change in temperature the other great feature of the Antarctic Convergence manifested itself........FOG!

With all onboard looking forward to seeing their first iceberg as we approached Signy on Friday morning, imagine the disappointment when all that could be seen was a few hundred metres from the ship with a heavy fog hiding all around. Only the watchkeepers on the Bridge knew the true extent of the ice situation, with the radar screens cluttered with targets.

Due to the poor visibility the speed of the vessel had been cut back during Thursday night and this resulted in a delayed arrival at Signy (who informed us that they did not have any fog at all and that the sun was shining down on them). As we slowly entered Borge Bay to anchor for the duration of our stay, the fog suddenly lifted and Signy was indeed bathed in sunshine.

With the ship safely at anchor it was time to get Tula into the water to start discharging the cargo ashore. Also going ashore were a specialist team to remove asbestos from all the original Signy buildings which are to be demolished and removed from the island during the course of this season.

Tula leaving the ship with a full load of cargo for Signy. The cargo tender Tula heading for Signy with a full load of cargo and personnel onboard.

Signy had only been opened up earlier in the week when the James Clark Ross dropped off the base personnel and much of the base cargo was put in at that time. However there was a few runs to be made with Tula to discharge the cargo we held onboard and this was completed by Saturday morning, when once again we were blessed with some good weather and lovely views of Coronation Island and Signy Island.

During Saturday afternoon there was an opportunity for those who wanted to go ashore to explore the base and the island to do so, this giving many the chance to see their first seals and penguins. One comment from a first timer here was how well disguised the fur seals are, no doubt this from having suddenly come across one who would be none to happy at the intrusion.

Nice ice......!Once the fog had lifted the icebergs came into view and from our anchorage in Borge Bay it was possible to see large numbers of them in the surrounding area. The bay itself was completey clear of ice, thus making our lives much easier, and there was no threat from any of the bergs. Factory Cove, where the base is located, did have a few very small and photogenic pieces of ice, as seen here.

The plan, (for there always is one), was that Sunday would be another chance for those that wanted to go ashore to the base to do so, but alas Mother Nature had different ideas about this and during the course of Saturday night and Sunday morning the wind picked up. At 0500 on Sunday there were gusts of 72 knots recorded on the anemometer, with a constant 48 knots (Storm Force). All we can do now is wait for the weather to improve so that we can collect the personnel that are joining the ship for the next leg of our journey to South Georgia.

Signy Island, by Cynan Ellis-Evans

Signy Island is one of the South Orkney Islands which lie at the northern edge of the Antarctic Treaty Area at 60S, 45W. It was discovered in 1912-13 by Captain Petr Sorlle, a Norwegian sealer, who named it after his wife, Signe. Several islets around Signy are named after his daughters. Signe died only a few years ago and Signy Station has maintained contact with her family over the years. The island is very small (5 miles by 3 Miles), broadly triangular-shaped and much of it is ice-covered. However, the coastal areas are well vegetated with extensive moss carpets and colourful lichen-encrusted rocks revealed when the snow melts each summer. A number of small lakes and numerous pools are significant features around the island. Weather is mild by Antarctic standards with summer temperatures around zero, but frequent high winds and heavy cloud cover are characteristic of the South Orkney's.

The islands central location attracts both Antarctic and sub-Antarctic species and has therefore made it a popular site for biological research for 50 years. At each corner of the island substantial penguin rookeries occur, mainly Adelie and Chinstrap species, but Gentoo and a few Macaroni's also breed and there are occasional visits by King, Emperor and Rockhopper penguins. The ridges and cliffs are home to thousands of sea-birds ranging from the Giant Petrel to the tiny Wilson's Petrel. About 2000 elephant seals, some breeding, haul out around the island, and from January to March up to 20,000 fur seals arrive from South Georgia and take over the island whilst moulting. Other seals include Weddells and Crabeaters as well as Leopard seals that prowl around the rookeries hunting penguins.

There has been a BAS wintering station at Signy Island since 1947 where inshore marine, terrestrial and freshwater lake research was undertaken. The station had a reputation as the SCUBA diving centre of Antarctica with hundreds of dives (many under-ice) made each year. In 1995 the marine and terrestrial research moved to Rothera and a new summer-only (November - March) station was built to accommodate the freshwater research and penguin monitoring programmes. The Station is situated in Factory Cove - once the site for a short-lived whaling operation - and the main building, Sorlle House, can accommodate up to eight personnel with modern laboratories, computers and satellite communications. Inflatable boats provide a means to move around Signy and visit other islands but most travel on the island is on foot as the terrain is unsuitable for vehicles in summer.

Forthcoming events: Complete tasks at Signy Island and then head for Bird Island and South Georgia.

The next update will be written on Sunday 25 November and should be published on Monday 26 November

Mike Gloistein