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24 Mar - Final Call at Rothera

RRS Ernest Shackleton Diary

Position at 1200 (UTC - 3 hours): Palmer Station, Anvers Island, Antarctic Peninsula.
Next destination: Jubany Station, (Argentine)
ETA: March 25 (approx 1400hrs local)
Distance to go: 180.6 nm
Total Distance Sailed this Season: 20290.2 nm

Current weather: Overcast, but fine. Occasional snow flurries.
Wind: Calm
Barometric pressure: 998.5 mb
Sea state: Calm. Scattered brash and ice in Arthurs Harbour.
Air temperature: 0.8°C.
Sea temperature: 0.8°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.

Firstly, a disclaimer: Despite the recently stated intentions of 'Lloyds list' to refer to ships as ''it'', it is still being questioned as to why if ships are called 'she' are they given guys names ?? RRS Ernest Shackleton is no exception, but we will remain 'she'!

Log of events for the RRS Ernest Shackleton this week

Sunday 17th March saw the Ernest Shackleton rounding Adelaide Island to arrive at Biscoe Wharf, Rothera Station by 2200 hours local time. It was a good night and Dave Molyneaux, the Comms officer on Rothera Base was at hand to take some impressive shots of the Ernest coming alongside on a darkening night.

RRS Ernest Shackleton approaches the Biscoe Wharf on St.Patricks' Day - Click to enlarge RRS Ernest Shackleton approaches the Biscoe Wharf on St.Patricks' Day - Click to enlarge RRS Ernest Shackleton approaches the Biscoe Wharf on St.Patricks' Day - Click to enlarge

RRS Ernest Shackleton approaches the Biscoe Wharf on St.Patricks' Day
Click on images to enlarge

Then it was time to meet old colleagues as the Base personnel took the advantage and came onboard for late night drinks and chats.

Monday 18th March saw the start of cargo work at Rothera. All mail, stores, general cargo and some 370 first installment drums of Avtur fuel went ashore on the first day. The ship's crew were largely working in the hold and the Base personnel handled the shoreside operation until finishing the day as the light started to fail around 1800 hours. It was Monday when the first few flakes of snow started to fall so that by Tuesday morning, there was an icing-sugar coating all over the ship. But the start of the snow did not deter the crew from wandering ashore after work to go visiting the base for investigations, for conversation and for drinks in the bar.

Base hospitality cannot be questioned, as the Rothera personnel showed us around the Base, shared some tall stories of the previous winter, and shared their beer and pool table with those who would partake. It was not late before the ship's personnel returned to the ship and the Base personnel turned-in for the night. It was to be an early start with cargo operations in the morning, and a time for the Base summer-personnel to do some last minute packing. One of the tasks of the Ernest Shackleton this visit was to uplift 35 of the Base members and return them to the Falklands.

Tuesday 19th March began with cargo operations at 0800am directly after breakfast. The fall of snow looked pretty but it made the metal decks of the Ernest pretty slippery underfoot. That day saw the lower cargo hold opened up to discharge more of the 1200 avtur drums that had been loaded back in the UK. These drums were initially intended for the Halley Base, but since it was impossible to deposit them this year, Rothera was to take them instead. Moreover, the ship had intended to deliver Aviation Fuel to Rothera by pumping from the ship's tanks to the hold tanks on the Base. This 'bulk refuelling' is usually effected by our sister ship, RRS James Clark Ross, but with all hoses attached, all procedures observed and men standing by to observe the operation throughout, we delivered 44 metric tonnes to the Base fuel farm.

The day was marked largely by the weather. Dull, grey, cold and very miserable. It was not a cheerful sight to see those in attendance standing on the quayside in the drear conditions punctuated only by an occasional teabreak whence they could come in out of the cold and get warmed. Many a coloured cheek was seen in the mess at dinnertime.

After dinner the Base opened up it's 'store' and invited any ship's company and FIDS to go along and spend some money. It was the first time for some of the members of the ship's company to get to see Rothera Station, as was evident by the number of t-shirts, polo shirts, baseball caps, envelopes and postcards bought and brought back. The shops at some of these Bases are quite extensive and I am more and more assured that the monetary system of Antarctica is 'the t-shirt'. How many t-shirts there are to the pound sterling I cannot say. It fluctuates - as do all the monetary markets of the world !!!

Wednesday 20th March. Cargo operations all day saw the final discharge of everything intended for Rothera. By lunch the hold was empty and a multitude of bundles on the quayside started to be back-loaded onto the ship. Waste, waste and more waste of all shapes and sizes were brought onboard. Work for the day ceased around 1800 hours - just in time for yet another prolonged fall of snow. As someone on the bridge commented - it was very seasonal - if the season were still Christmas !! But the day was not without some form of celebration. It was the evening for the 'Winterer's Dinner' onboard. All those Base members who could, attended a dinner held in their honour before 20 of them settle down to a winter of isolation and powdered eggs !!! Not all the fresh provisions disappear over winter, but fresh salad, fresh vegetables and fresh eggs would become a rarity and a luxury. Not so on Wednesday night as Mike the Chef, ably attended by Simon the 2nd Chef, Mark the Chief Steward and Butcher Tom, (actually a Doctor, but using a less-subtle bedside manner on the potatoes and veggies!) made a meal to be reckoned with.

Glasses for wine, napkins and the best silver (well, the ONLY cutlery actually) was set out in good style to accompany the following bill of fayre :-


Chicken & Vegetable Soup
Prawn Avocado  Scottish Roulade
Marie Rose Sauce
* * * * * * *
Stuffed Aubergines Salmon Fishcakes
Tomato & Basil Sauce.
* * * * * * *
Beef Wellington & Peppercorn sauce
Swiss Baked Potatoes
Glazed Carrot Batons
Onion Rings
* * * * * * *
Rum Ba Ba
Chocolate & Hazelnut Sponge Cake
With Chocolate Sauce
* * * * * * *
Cheese Board

Don't forget to tip the Chefs with beer or fine Malt Whiskey!!

Thursday 21st March. What a day!! Unlike the preceding days, Thursday was an absolute 'peach'. Blue skies, very few fluffy white clouds, no breath of wind, and sunshine to spare. It was a definite 'feel-good' day. In my brief experience in Antarctica I don't think I've seen a day to equal it. Today was special for the handful of people who got the opportunity to go skiing up the ramp as arranged by the Base manager. At 0900 a party of 2 from Port Lockroy, 2 deck officers, 2 Czechoslovakians, 2 Doctors (well, a dentist) and a handful of G.A's ('general assistants', or 'mountaineers') drove the 20 minutes by Sno-cat to get to the ski site, the 'Vals'. And here to tell you all about the glorious day is none other than the skiing dentist herself - Penny.

On the Piste - Naturally!

Penny the dentistAdopting the 'crouched' position of the gold medal winning entrants of Salt Lake City this year, Penny the dentist shows off her new 'hover skiis.

The morning dawned clear and blue as only the'morning after' can do in the Antarctic. Two days of dull, claggy weather followed by RRS Ernest Shackleton hosting a sumptuous evening of wonderful food, the finest wines of all humanity and a very convivial atmosphere for all personnel from the base and those aboard. The cigars, brandy and tall tales carried on until the wee small hours - the weather gods had been appeased and we were guaranteed a pristine day!

Those on the ship were privileged enough to be taken out for a day, skiing by the GA's and the Doc. Was he there to supervise the splinting of possible broken limbs? -I hoped not! Our two Czech scientists Zdenek and Joeseph along with the Port Lockroy "seven and a half thousand tourists" guardians, Jo Hardy and Dave Burkitt, the second and third officers Alan and Dougie and myself (Penny the Evil Dentist) were all raring to go! Jim the Doc, Andy Chapman and Adam "drive fast" Hunt were our guides for the day. Doctor Tom showed a rarely seen conscientious streak and stayed home to do his annual report!?!? Transport to the slope was via skidoo and Sno-cat; however Jo and I scorned such noisy transport.

We skinned up under the most perfect azure blue skies, the fresh snowfall beneath our skis squeaking away and enjoyed the gentle upward slope of the ramp onto the glacier. We passed Reptile Ridge to our left and lamented the loss of the fresh tracks when it dawned that the best way to get there was also the slowest. Skins fit on to the bottom of skis and have a velvet like nap, thereby allowing the skier to "skin" uphill easily with skis on. By far the most perfect way to immerse yourself in the wild beauty and silence of the Antarctic. The silence of the place is difficult to describe when you are so used to generators, engines, chitchat and ice scraping along a metal hull. The silence is total and all pervasive, no insects, no birdsong, no wind, no background noise just silence, pure and absolute.

Reptile Ridge rises up above the glacier in stark contrast to its icy neighbour. The ridge formed of granite which was later intruded by younger granitic and volcanic rocks, forming veins and dykes leading to the broken almost fractured appearance. Extending for two kilometres it does appear to be the spiny exposed backbone of some prehistoric lifeform. *(see photograph below). Blue skies, white snow and grey rock shot with silver, the perfect colour co-ordination. The glacier rolled off uninterrupted down into North Bay, the area of the steep downward turn into the sea splitting and cracking the ice into tortured crevasses. The three rounded forms of Stork Ridge looked gentle and inviting when viewed in conjunction with their jagged, snow capped distant mountain neighbours Stokes Peaks. Orca stood out black, like a huge dorsal fin in a sea of snow and ice. All adding to the illusion that someone has come along and sawed the top off of the Alps and gently placed it in a sea full of icebergs.

As expected we missed first tracks at Val's, but it only took a short traverse before we stood at the top of our own bit of pristine slope, the light, fresh powdery snow beckoning us down. Those first turns were sweet; made all the sweeter knowing that we had worked to get there! The snow twinkled in the sunlight as the prism like snow crystals refracted the light into a myriad of dancing rainbows. The view below was breathtakingly stunning, although, seeing the sea only a few kilometres away still seemed more than a little incongruous.

All ski styles were on view. Dave's learned from Glenshee in the early sixties put us all to shame, the Czechs with perfect balance and grace, Andy's "never let technique get in the way of speed", Jim on a strange contraption resembling two skis welded together and Dougie. Dougie who has now lost his skiing cherry to the Antarctic (way to go!!). All too soon Captain Lawrence cut short our experience and passing 'we are going to be late back to the ship' excuses on the radio, our magical days skiing at Rothera was drawing to a close.....but, not before one last run!! Had a wonderful trip back to base being towed behind a skidoo with a very wonderful pause to admire the view, on the way.

I would like to say a warm thank you and fond farewell to my faithful friends who fell overboard this afternoon. 'Bye-bye Oakley sunglasses', you know how I felt! Apologies for those who laughed.

Penelope Granger

Skiing near Reptile Ridge

Alan - Click to enlarge Zdenek - Click to enlarge Doug - Click to enlarge

Note the blue skies, white snow, rosy cheeks, and shiny sno-cat !
Click on images to enlarge

Apres Ski - or at least by 1500 hours in the afternoon, everyone who was anyone had to be back onboard the Ernest. All Base leavers were coming onboard the ship to stay and so a steady exodus of bodies, baggages and buddies came down from the Base. The afternoon involved reading the 'in flight' or at least 'in cabin' safety instructions, and a safety brief from Bob the Purser/Catering Officer about the procedures onboard the ship and to announce the departure in the morning and the subsequent safety drills that would be carried out shortly after leaving.

By dinner time, all ex-Base personnel were settled into their cabins and comfy in the common rooms watching videos and reading magazines. Meanwhile, work outside had continued steadily all day long to complete the backloading of the Rothera cargo. Although it was usual to close the hatches and cease work with the failing light, the boys worked on into the evening to complete all the tasks to hand. By 2100 hours the quayside was cleared and the hatches onboard were secured. Compared to the celebrations of the night before, it was a very quiet night on the ship - and on the Base by all accounts with only 20 remaining members.

Friday 22nd March. It was an early start again in the morning as the departure time was set for 0830 hours. By the time we slipped the moorings from Biscoe Wharf and used thrusters to pull off, there was a multitude (probably all 20) of the Base personnel to cast off the lines and wave their summer colleagues 'goodbye'. The day was not as glorious as the previous day, but it was bright and did not snow or rain. This allowed a pretty impressive display of pyrotechnics in a parting gesture to answer the goodbye ship's whistle from the Captain on the bridge. I am always minded of the fact that some of our 'passengers' were now seeing Rothera for the last time after spending as much as 33 months living there. Don't you just hate moving home ??? The remainder of the day was spent in a leisurely steam around the south of Adelaide Island and back out to sea. Then northwards towards the first of our calls on the return up the Peninsula.

Saturday 23rd March. After a smooth cruise north, the ship's first call was Trump Island about 200 nmiles away from Rothera. This took till 0900 hours in the morning to arrive at our destination. Time then for some bird spotting along the way......

The Ornithological Bit

At sea and approaching Trump Island, the ship began to be bombarded by a multitude of birds. ('Flocks' of birds to those in the know). The weather was dull, but clear, so identifying each of the species was quite a simple task. NOT being an authority on the subjects of wild and marine birdlife, it is left to me to best describe what I saw as I left the bridge on Saturday morning.

Ornithological Identification ChartTo begin with, there were several species which all pretty well resembled each other in size, shape and colour. As can be seen from the identification chart below, they comprised of the following. Each specimen had a wing on the left side, and a wing on the right side. There was a head at the top and a tail at the bottom end. In the middle was the fat bit - the 'body'. That pretty accurately describes those that were observed.

Trump Island is a small promontory of rock amongst many other similar Antarctic islands and is not very big at all. The ship had installed a magnetometer on the island last year and it is a routine visit to collect the data from it and to check out it's operation and condition. Several of the scientists onboard were still employed in data collection and scientific studies on the way north while other colleagues studied the contents of our video cabinets. The call at Trump Island was only a short call lasting 4 hours. This was even longer than expected as there was a problem with the magnetometer which had to be recovered onboard and attacked with a soldering iron. Happily we can report that the problem was resolved and the instrument left behind upon our departure and is merrily collecting data again about the magnetic fields and fluxes and all that good stuff.

Dawn near Palmer Station

Sunday's dawning day nearing Anvers Island, Palmer Station.

Sunday 24th March. The Ernest Shackleton had slow-cruised all night through light sea ice and brash to arrive in the early morning at Arthur's Harbour by 0600 hours. Here is Palmer Station (U.S). We envisaged the whole morning at Palmer to collect data and do studies and moreover, visit the Base. 'American dollars only' were accepted at this US Base, but there was enough 'greenback' currency around to secure a collection of postcards, baseball caps and t-shirts. Oh no.....NOT the t-shirts again !! I took the opportunity to send ashore some British chocolate bars (maker's name withheld for diplomatic reasons - and because I am not getting paid for advertising), and the Americans were kind enough to return some confectionery of American gender ! (see below). All too soon the boats had to be recovered back on board and by 1300 hours the Ernest Shackleton said goodbye to Palmer station after a very good public relations exercise in Anglo-American relations, and we departed for our next call at Port Lockroy, only 30 nmiles away. The consensus was that it was a pretty good morning but as always, the time allotted for such a 'jolly' was far too short.

Palmer Station Logo

The Americans Do It Again

First, it was the Model T Ford. They put the steering wheel on the wrong side of the car.

Then it was the Television set. We use a PAL (Phase Amplitude Limited) system in the UK and Europe. The 'Yanks' opted for the NTSC2 (Never The Same Colour Twice) system.

Next was the Cellular phone and the DVD equipment. I'm not sure that even the Americans know for certain what the industry standard is for these equipments in the U.S, but they certainly are not the same as those in the rest of the World.

The final insult must be the Chocolate !!! The American Mars Bar is actually what we would call a 'Milky Way'. I found this out to my horror when on my first vacation to the States and had a craving for caramel centered confectionery. Or should I say 'caramel-centred' as my American-spell-checker insists !! The Milky Way in America is actually our 'Mars Bar'. The Snickers Bar was our 'Marathon' - as was. And our 'Bounty Bar' defied description as a 'Bounce' Bar.....?? How can England be seen as the 52nd State of America when we cannot agree on such essentials as these ?

On a happier note, it's Thanks to Palmer Station because the M&M's, Hershey Reese's, and Snicker's Bars are all going down very well on the bridge !!!

Vive La Chocolate - regardless of nationality.

Author - a chocoholic

Forthcoming events: Arrive at Jubany Station and uplift 3 scientists. Continue to Mare Harbour, Falkland Islands and offload 40 FIDS.

Contributors this week : Many thanks to Dave Molyneaux (Rothera Comms) for the excellent photos of Ernest at night, and Olympic Downhill Dentist/skier, Penny Granger. Also the Chocoholic.

Diary 24 will be written on 31st March 2002 and should be published on 01st April 2002

Steve B