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17 Mar - The Fellowring of the Ship!!

RRS Ernest Shackleton Diary

Position at 1200 (UTC - 3 hours): 66°47'S  069°19'W - just northwest of Adelaide Island.
Next destination: Rothera Station, Adelaide Island
ETA: March 17 (today - approx 2000hrs local)
Distance to go: 112 nm
Total Distance Sailed this Season: 19803.4 nm

Current weather: Overcast but bright
Wind: Northeasterly, Force 3
Barometric pressure: 1016.2 mb
Sea state: Calm
Air temperature: 0.6°C.
Sea temperature: -0.2°C.

Current, frequent weather observations reported back to BAS Headquarters in Cambridge is used to plot the ship's current position and recent track. Meteorological data are also available from this page. The callsign of RRS Ernest Shackleton is ZDLS1.

The Lord Of The Rings
by J.R.R.S. Ernest Tolkein
The Fellowring of the Ship

Nine was the number who set forth and they were known as the 'Fellowring of the Ship'. It was a cold, hard, grey and crisp day when the 9 departed the Rivendell of 'Heathrow Airport' on a quest to rid the world of evil and an amount of aeroplane food along the way. The number of the fellowship was made up the folks from all around the Middle Earth.

From the Shires came the 4 halfwits (er, sorry,) the halflings. Frodo Buxton (Beverley), Samwise Bobweston (Preston), Merryweather Forward (Manchester), and Perrigrin Mathieson (Hartlepool). Frodo Buxton was the 'Ringbearer' as he had just gotten married in February and his burden lay heavy on his finger !!!

For the wizards went Gandalf Lawrence, older than the memory of men, silver bearded, and wise beyond all telling.

Captain 'Gandalf' Lawrence

Captain 'Gandalf' Lawrence.

For men, Strider Leask from the northlands and Boromir Richiecoe from the deep, deep South (Africa). For the Elves and Little People came Legolas Newman (Ireland). Last but not least there was Bob "Gimli" Roullier for the Dwarfs. (Sorry, Bob, I am not saying you are 'vertically challenged', but refer to this diary page - July 22 2001).

Bob 'Gimli' Roullier - Click to enlargeBob "Gimli" Roullier, Son of Gloin for the Dwarves. Click on the image to enlarge - but being 'dwarfish', it will not get much bigger !!!

Their adventures were to take the 9 on a very circuitous route in order to avoid the 'all seeing eye' (BAS HQ). They flew from Heathrow on Thursday March 7 (by Shire reckoning) to Frankfurt, Buenos Aires, and on to Santiago, Chile. There they rested. It was here that a decision had to made as to whether to continue with their quest or break up the fellowship and follow Captain Gandalf's luggage to the four corners of the realm !!

It was decided to press on at all costs together, so the very next morning before dawn, the company packed what little belongings they had left and continued ever southward towards Mount Doom (aka Mount Pleasant) and the end of their quest. Few of the 'Enemies' servants were seen on their travels over the next days and even fewer in-flight movies too (as Lan Chile don't seem to consider in-flight entertainment necessary for their 6-hour journeys across the Andes Mountains and the Southern Continent ).

From here the 9 set out; joined by an additional companion who had been dogging their tracks all the way to Santiago. This was the creature Antonio "Gollum" Gatti, who was to play a major part in the story of the Lord Of The Rings, but not even the wise could say what part he would play - for good or ill. Gollum was known to the company who were aware of his presence, but they let him follow all the way to very foot of the Mount Doom/Pleasant... ...but I am getting ahead of myself in the story.

From Santiago they flew, pursued by untold adversaries (and the Captain's luggage) to Puerto Mont and onwards to the wastelands of Punta Arenas. Onwards, ever onwards they went - to the south they pushed, towards that place which is unmentionable in the tongues of men and only the language of the ancients or Elves could pronounce the name of that southernmost airport that we touched briefly upon. Not even this call in 'Rio Gallegos', Argentina in the far south lands could halt their progress.

As they grew weary and their burdens started to take their toll (as did the airline coffee) the final leg of journey brought them at last to the very steps of Mount Doom. The skies were heavy and black, the clouds were full. It was as if the full vengeance of the evil one was bent upon them, and the Falkland Islands rain beat upon them hard from the East (Cove). It was then only a few short steps (on a bus!) from the Mount to the very brink of the place where it lay....

One ship to rule them all, One ship to guide them. One ship to embark upon and in Antarctica find them

And so it was, that on the Saturday March 09 by Shire reckoning, the full compliment of the company arrived at the 'Minas Tirith' of Middle Earth - Mare Harbour. Here to join with the men of Gone-or (going). Here the Stuart Lawrence' crew finally completed their epic journey and came to relieve the off-going crew of John Marshall.

Here they rested once again in anticipation of the oncoming tide of war. Orcs were reported to be massing around the gates to the black kingdom (Brize Norton) and with all the fury at his disposal, the All-seeing-eye unleased his minions upon the allies in the west. Down they flew from the North and from the East. Orcs of every size and description. Bosuns, Bosun's mates, cooks, crew, and Fids all lay seige to Mare harbour on Monday March 11 by Shire reckoning. The outcome of the encounter can be read in the continuation novel, 'The Two Twotters' to be published later this season !

The years of the Third Age in the reckoning of the Elves and the Dunedain may be found by adding 1600 to the dates of Shire-reckoning. It falls to me to chronicle their passage in song and rhyme so that it might live on in the memories of Elves and Men for all the ages to come.

Frodo Buxton

Having arrived in Mare Harbour, Falkland Islands on Saturday, we had the weekend to complete the handover from one crew to the other. The ship was destined to sail on the Tuesday morning for a very hectic itinerary down the Antarctic Peninsula, and the off-going crew had aeroplanes to catch to onward destinations off the islands. The handover period is the time allotted for the off going crew to highlight any malfunctions, outstanding work or orders that need attention. NOT that there are ever any malfunctions, outstanding works or orders ! But we did have 3 new officers joining the Ernest Shackleton crew and it is this period that is used for familiarisation and training.

Alan the Second Officer - Click to enlarge Doug the Third Officer - Click to enlarge

Alan the 2nd and Doug the 3rd Officers
Click on images to enlarge

The new arrivals on the Ernest Shackleton are Alan Newman - 2nd Officer, Douglas Leask - 3rd Officer and Robert Mathieson - 4th Engineer. These chaps replace our previous colleagues who have transferred over to other ships, gone to college for training, or just plain had enough of the Ernest Shackleton webpage and been driven away! To Robin and Andy, - you'll be sadly missed. But their replacements are here, and although it is a daunting prospect to join a new vessel anywhere in the world, taking up the reins of power on a strange ship, destined for the isolated wastes of Antarctic waters, must be a prospect indeed. Here is what Alan and Doug have to say about life onboard the 'Antarctic Polar Roller' so far :-

First Impressions (by Alan Newman, Second Officer)

Alan, Navigating Officer plays with the boats

Alan, the Hunchback - the Navigating Officer plays with the boats

My first view of the ice was in the Gerlache Strait. It was spectacular, and actually being amongst the ice was surreal. It is one of those sights you never really expect to see. We passed through the amazing Neumayer Channel that afternoon where we had a Southern Wright Whale for company, which was my first navigation in the ice. RRS Ernest Shackleton is a very agile ship and having the benefit of Captain Lawrence's 35 years to call on, made it a fantastic experience. Also seeing the ship manoeuvring in the close confines of Port Lockroy is very absorbing.

The next thing that comes to mind was on the night of the 16th, whilst trying to sleep. Unbeknown to me the Shackleton had encountered light pack ice. Being a small ship, you can hear and feel everything the ship is doing. Likewise for ice encounters. Imagine being towed along sitting in a steel drum through coarse, wet, concrete and occasionally bumping into the occasional boulder - that's what moving through the pack appears to be like. This noise I found quite unsettling, since in my last ship, such a sound would mean direct contact with the planet Earth itself, and would therefore indicate ones' P45 was already in the post !!!

I then reminded myself of the Ernest Shackleton's 50mm steel hull (10 times more than a normal ship), cross flooding valves and double skin and water-tight doors.....but still turned the music up a couple of notches to cover the sound.

Another pleasant aspect of life on RRS Ernest Shackleton is the variety of characters and additional people we need onboard, such as Doctor, Dentist, and Radio Officers !!. As well as the staff in transit to the bases such as Dave Burkitt, Ken Back and Jo Hardy whom we collected from Port Lockroy yesterday (Saturday 16th).

A glance at RRS Ernest Shackleton's bridge is all anyone needs, to see that she is quite a sophisticated ship. Combine that with nice accommodation, and the leather suites of the 'red room' and you have the sailors version of a Porsche, I thought, and was well impressed. She is even red in Colour !!!

My previous job was on very large tankers, so there was some finding of sea legs to be done in the heavy weather on the way down south. Working at the chart table was quite odd - I spent half the time just trying to stay where I was.....and I still felt like I was on roller skates at times.

All in all I made the right decision to join this ship! (Thumbs up from Alan).

Second Impressions (by Douglas Leask, Third Officer)

When I first saw RRS Ernest Shackleton she was alongside at Mare Harbour and she really stood out from everything else. (Editor:- this is hardly surprising, since she is RED and everything else is camouflaged!!). Once we had boarded her the ship continued to impress with excellent accommodation and superb facilities and equipment.

After we sailed, the weather was a little 'bumpy' on the way down to Port Lockroy, but once we were down there, WOW !! Words are not enough to describe this. You could write a million words but it could never come close to experiencing this first hand.

Log of events for RRS Ernest Shackleton this week :

Sunday 10th March - Continuing with the handover, the offgoing crew continued to brief the oncoming. Alongside at Mare Harbour the weather continued to be cool and rainy but that did not deter the Doctor and Dentist ashore from taking walks and discovering the Falkland Islands. Dr Tom and Penny the Dentist were taking advantage of the time ashore to do their 'own thing' respectively including a walk/run/jog down to the legendary 'Bertha's Beach'to see the Gentoo penguins.

Monday 11th March - Still alongside Mare Harbour, all was 'put on hold' awaiting the arrival of the rest of the on-coming crew flying in on the RAF Tri-star from Brize Norton, England. It was anticipated at 1400 hours but the ever-watchful eyes on the Ernest Shackleton bridge saw no evidence of it's arrival. However it did arrive and by 1600 hours the familiar faces of the Bosun, the Chefs, the A/b's all arrived up the gangway with baggage in tow. Note : it was with the arrival of our crew that Captain Lawrence's luggage finally caught up with him. Where it had been to, nobody knows ??? As the crew arrived on the Falkland Islands Tours and Adventures coach, the off-going personnel all piled onto the coach for the onward movements to Stanley to await their flights off the Falklands. Cheerio to Captain Marshall and his crew.

Tuesday 12th March - This was 'departure day'. However, the weather throughout Monday had been terrible and showed little sign of abating during Tuesday. With new men on the crew and lifeboat drills to carry out, the intention was to pull off into the East Cove and launch the boats for training and familiarisation. Tuesday morning's weather precluded this so the Captain obtained permission from Port Op's to stay alongside the main jetty until after lunch. At 1300 hours, the telephone cable and lines were slipped and the vessel pulled off to start boat operations. The weather not only improved by lunchtime, but it got positively pleasant. So all afternoon was spent exercising the boats and doing some beneficial practice with Doug and Alan. The boating continued throughout the afternoon and by 1900 hours the last of the boats were hauled back onboard in preparation for sailing towards the Peninsula.

The Captain deemed it unnecessary to depart that evening since an evening departure would mean an evening arrival 3 days later at our first port of call, Port Lockroy. So it was decided to stay at anchor overnight in the relative shelter of East Cove and depart with the light of morning. A quiet night was had onboard at anchor.

Wednesday 13th March - It was an early start for the crew as RRS Ernest Shackleton slipped out of East Cove at 0630 on a cloudy but fine Wednesday morning. With 4/8th's of cloud cover, there were patches of blue sky to be seen to cheer the scene, but once clear of land, the slow southerly swell came into play and the famous Ernest Shackleton movement was felt. Whilst it was a lovely day, the movement onboard laid several members of the crew low with seasickness. Four months at home had allowed our 'sea legs' to disappear. But the weather forecast ahead looked bright and we were making good speed towards the Antarctic Peninsula.

Thursday 14th March - A sea day. The weather had NOT abated as was expected and indeed the motion of the vessel became progressively worse - prolonging the seasick feelings onboard. Radio contact was made with both Rothera and Port Lockroy, so they were appraised of our expected time of arrival at the weekend.

Friday 15th March - The seas finally started to ease as did the motion of the vessel. When steaming straight into an oncoming sea, the ship has a tendency to dip and plunge into the waves sending spray high over the prow of the ship and the bridge windscreen wipers were busy well into the afternoon. Friday evening brought a quiet night onboard. The ship's video selection was being aired in the common rooms.

Saturday 16th March - All onboard woke up to 'dingle day' with blue skies and flat calm seas as the ship came finally into the lee of Graham Land and the islands of the Northern Peninsula. It must have been a terrific feeling for the new crew members who were ever on the lookout for their first sighting of an iceberg. Instead they were treated to the sights of majestic Antarctic landscapes, sea ice, pack ice and snowy-topped mountains either side of the inside passage past Brabant Island and down to Anvers Island. The Neumayer Channel between Anvers and Wiencke Islands was particularly impressive with occasional sunbeams bouncing of the white snows and glaciers on the nearby land. This is the arena of the Antarctic cruise vessels and it is easy to see how the cruise lines can sell such cruises when there are such wonders to behold.

An Iceberg at Port Lockroy

Some of the beautiful scenery to be enjoyed around Port Lockroy

By 1400 hours the ship had navigated the narrow channels all the way to Port Lockroy and we arrived to a beautiful sunny scene and still waters. Launching the Rigid inflatable and Tula workboat was no problem and with only the occasional small berg floating by the ship, it took only 4 hours to uplift the 3 base personnel, close the base for the winter and deposit 1½ tonnes of coal for the base fuel supply for next year. The transfer took only one run of the Tula to complete, and by 1800 hours, Tula was back on deck, RRS Ernest Shackleton was heading for Rothera and Adelaide Island, and the Port Lockroy personnel were all under a hot shower !!

The little base of Port Lockroy apparently is lacking in the niceties and luxuries of hot showers, video, tv, and laundry facilities !!! David, Ken and Joanne had been ashore for a 3½ month summer and have been busy all season with the various ships and vessels that frequent the area. Once again we were on the radios to inform Rothera that Port Lockroy had been closed down successfully and appraise them of our arrival time for the next day.

Satellite image showing Antarctic Peninsula - Click to enlargeSt.Patrick's Day - Sunday was cloudy and overcast all day. But who can complain after the blue skies and amazing vistas of Port Lockroy the day before. The weather was dull but fine and the seas were calm allowing a good 13 knots progression through the water to bring us to Rothera by 2200 hours on Sunday evening. St.Patricks' day passed uneventfully and largely at sea as we took an outside passage around Adelaide Island and to the south of Rothera. Ice observations and satellite photography passed to the vessel showed that the inside passage of the Barlas Channel was not clear of ice and so precluded a transit to Rothera by the more direct route. Rothera would be the farthest point south that the ship would go this season as we then head back to the Falklands, to the South Orkney Islands and eventually north to the Atlantic for the end of the 2001/2002 Antarctic season.

Forthcoming events: Arrive at Rothera Station and spend up to 4 days working cargo, loading Base waste and uplifting 35 Summer base members for return to the Falkland Islands. Also make opportunistic calls on the way north to recce various sites of interest to our Czechoslovakian colleagues onboard and a programme of work at various bases north-bound.

Contributors this week : Many thanks to Navigator Alan Newman and 3rd Officer Douglas Leask

Thanks to Unicorn press for the one line plagiarized from Tolkien's novel.

Diary 23 will be written on March 24 2002 and should be published on March 25 2002.

Steve B