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31 Mar - Arrival in Stanley

RRS Ernest Shackleton Diary

Position at 1200 (UTC - 3 hours): 54°33' South 54°53' West
Next destination: Signy, South Orkney Islands
ETA: April 02
Distance to go: 485.2 nm
Total Distance Sailed this Season: 21555.2 nm

Current weather: Clear skies, sunny and warm in brilliant sunshine.
Wind: Fresh Westerly Force 6 and moderating
Barometric pressure: 1008.6 mb
Sea state: Moderate seas with white horses and long period. Very blue in colour.
Air temperature: 6.8°C.
Sea temperature: 7.1°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.

It is the first of the month and as such we should all be counting our latest salaries, opening up the Easter Eggs and enjoying a Bank Holiday back home in Europe. Although we on RRS Ernest Shackleton seem to be a little deplete in chocolate easter eggs, and Bank Holidays, we nevertheless would like to send all our folks back home Holiday Greetings and wish you all a Happy Easter.

Narrative from the Navigator, or our Jollie Boatman !

Trump Island : My first experience of Trump Island was the task of tyring to find it on the chart ! We sometimes use special charts called 'Collectors' - they show the exact route taken by research and ice patrol vessels in polar regions. Other than these trails of actual soundings, (water depths), little other data is included (e.g. placenames) to avoid camouflaging the information we need to navigate these areas safely. So having finally located the island on another chart, it's name was pencilled clearly beside it on the collector. (Trump is about half way up the Western Coast of the Peninsula of Graham Land). Access is via the Pendleton Strait leaving Extension Reef to port, and Mackworth Rock to starboard. We could have come from the south via the Crystal Sound which on the chart is just miles of blank paper - except for a single trail of soundings by RRS Bransfield and a patch surveyed by HMS Endurance. So we stuck with the Pendleton Strait protecting our 'no claims bonus', so to speak.

Trump itself lies just inside an unsurveyed area and naturally there are no landing areas there. So it was up to Chief Mate Antonio and I as to where was the safest area. Whilst the island lay off our starboard side, I was amazed that I just couldn't see it for 'love nor money' ! It was hidden behind the ice - even seen from the height of the Shackleton's main deck. Infact, I recall seeing Antonio with a handheld compass before launching the boats. Not having a compass myself, I equipped myself with a thermos - for the proverbial 'long wait'. The other item I wished I had, was an icebreaking inflatable. Motoring through ice in a rubber boat feels just like cycling through a patch of glass ! The black ice even looks like floating shards of glass ! We motored very carefully on. (As well as taking a deep breath).

The landings went fine - clambering over the bow wasn't exactly a red-carpeted gangway for our passengers, but that's all part of the fun ! The second landing was much less accommodating. Ice accumulated around the shoreline which would have made it difficult for the propellor, so I waited for a gap. When sitting at sea level, even a 'bergy bit' beside you can be a sort of buoyant Mount Everest as you and it are buffeted by the swell. (Not unlike cycling besides a fully laden cement lorry - except that the berg is sitting uncomfortably immersed in ice cold sub-zero water).

An example of the bergs we had to contend with - Click to enlargeAn example of the type of bergs we had to contend with. Click on the image to enlarge a small berg into Mount Everest!!

There was a sea cave near where we landed our scientific personnel. There were most spectacular icicles hanging from the entrance - some were about 3m in length. ( Landing Rule No.1 - always take the Webpage Digi-camera for photo opportunites !!). A couple of months ago, if you had told me that I'd be having coffee and a friendly chat in an inflatable boat surrounded by ice and besides an island that no-one really knows what height it is or what shape it really is....I just wouldn't have believed it myself !

Our other recent landings were at Palmer Station (24th) where we had an all too brief visit hosted by our American friends. It was a revelation seeing at first hand what a spectrum of colour and variety and quantity of life lies in the Antarctic Oceans. ( Palmer has an impressive array of aquaria and a full program of scientific diving ).

The same day we also visited Port Lockroy. The Lockroy base is two black huts with very quaint red-painted window frames. Very picturesque. It is basic inside but full of charm that you won't find anywhere else on earth. It's a real credit to Dave Burkitt, Jo Hardy, and Ken Back who lived there and ran it all Austral Summer. The way it is preserved and the museum exhibits there, show you just what it would have been like half a century ago. We also got to visit the hut at Damoy Point. This bay was full of ice so we landed at the point.

The hut was built 30 years ago as a stop for personnel bound for Rothera and so there was some reminiscing and tales of nights spent there in previous years. Made of coarse materials and functional inside, many visitors have left momento's such as drawings and pictures as a token of their appreciation and to mark their visitation there.

The following day was a landing at the Argentine's Jubany Base where we were welcomed by the Base Commander, Alfonso and Biologist, Veronica. Whilst the scientific team of Dave Barnes, Karen Webb, and Fabian Seymour collected vitally important samples from the intertidal zone, (in freezing conditions), 3rd Officer Doug, our boat crew and myself found ourselves with no option other than to concede to our Argentinian friend's offer and visit their lounge, in warm and most hospitable conditions !! Experiences and tales were exchanged and we were later joined by our biologists for a jolly good 'thawing out'. Our scientists discovered that they and the Jubany scientists were researching the same subjects and so had much to discuss. Time, unfortunately, did not allow a longer stay and we were assisted off the beach by a dry-suited swimmer who gave his all to help us safely on our way ! Brrrrr!!!

So ended my week of boating !

Captains' Log

Sunday 24th March and as the last of the Yorkshire puddings disappeared from lunch, the vessel disappeared out of Arthur Harbour and headed on an Easterly course around the Southeastern corner of Anvers Island for our next call. Having just left the hospitality and warm welcome of the US Base, Palmer station, we used a cloudy, dull but pleasant day to make a 2nd call at Port Lockroy. This gave an excellent opportunity for our two Czechoslovakian colleagues, a magnetometer, and AFI teams to go ashore and do some biological studies.

Preparing to launch the rescue craft - Click to enlarge"Thunderbirds Are Go"... click on the image and you can hardly even see the strings!!

"Errr,..Ready t-t-t-to launch Rescue C-c-craft Mr. T-T-Tracy " said Brains.

Also whilst at Port Lockroy, the 2 Humbers, Thunderbirds 1 and 2 (ES1 and ES2) went around the corner to check on the Damoy Facility only about a mile away, and the FRC (Thunderbird 3) ran the ships FIDs ashore for a tour of Port Lockroy. The Damoy facility (a hut and a ski-way) were inspected and found to be in good order. The 2 Humbers then rejoined Thunderbird 3, in the recovery of the tourists ashore in time for tea. By 1830 hours the boats were recovered and thoughts were turned to mealtime.

Port Lockroy was only a short visit. Too short to satisfy everyone's desire to go ashore and explore, but the Ernest Shackleton was on a tight schedule. With a further call to be made at Jubany Station and a hold full of waste cargo, ex-Rothera, we had to be back alongside at Mare Harbour FI, by Thursday 28th in order to 'beat' the Easter holidays. The problem being that like everywhere else on the earth, the cargo handlers would be on holiday on the Good Friday and lateness could have found us sitting alongside with a full hold, and nowhere to discharge it! So by 1830 hours on the Sunday evening amidst a small smattering of snow, the Ernest Shackleton set a Northerly course for King George V Island and Jubany Station, the Argentine base. It was a spectacular sunset as we steamed through the impressive Neumeyer Channel that evening with the sea conditions being perfect with only a scattering of small bergs and ice to impede our progress.

Monday 25th March and the Ernest Shackleton called in at Jubany after lunch. Again it was a snowy day with not much evidence of sunshine about, but a pretty good day was had by all. The intention was to uplift 3 members of the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) from Jubany for return to the Falkland Islands. The three gentlemen in question were German nationals and BAS were helping out AWI by uplifting them at the same time as sending our shore parties ashore for more biology. The Argentinians were very accommodating and those who managed to get ashore in pursuit of their duties were treated to coffee, cakes and convivial company. Glowing reports came back to the ship about the warm welcome and the very beautiful ladies to be found on what is a brightly-coloured orange base.

The Germans, 2 scientists and a carpenter, had spent the summer months with the Argentines on Jubany and were returning to their homes near Bremerhaven in Deutschland. They settled into their cabins, had a safety brief before we set sail from Potter Cove at 1830 hours that evening, and from first impressions, they were very pleased with the ship. Over the next 3 days they became firm friends with those onboard which adds to the illustration of how 'multinational' Antarctica really is. Over the past 2 day period, we have been drinking cups of tea and coffee with the Americans, with the Argentinians, and latterly with the Germans not to mention the 2 Czechs already onboard !

Tuesday 26th March was a sea day. Leaving the shelter of the King George Islands behind, RRS Ernest Shackleton proceeded on a Northerly course for the Falklands. The prevailing wind was coming from the west-sou'west influenced by a 'lurky low' way out to the Northwest of us. The day started off fresh, but sunny and bright, however it deteriorated throughout the day and the seas became even rougher as we passed the halfway point across the passage.

Wednesday 27th March. The Drake passage is reputed to be a rough piece of sea, and even though it could have been worse, the prevailing wind was 'beam on' which resulted in the ship rolling from side to side. The vessel is equipped with 2 'anti-roll' tanks which essentially use the offset inertia of water in the tanks to counter-balance the effects of the roll. These 'tanks' had been filled prior to the crossing of the Drake Passage and were working well...... The only 'hiccup' in this passage was when transferring fuel prior to bunkering in the Falkland Islands, the vessel adopted an 'alarming' 10° list. Soon corrected by Chief Officer Antonio, our Salt Water Ballast King.

Not surprisingly, the Bridge filled up with 'interested' passengers all wishing to know 'how far over could the vessel list before she wouldn't come upright again ???' 'A lot further, but we don't intend to show you !' was the Captain's swift response.

On an angle? - Click to enlargeThe 'Fiddery' (*) - normally a hive of conversation and life - is a stark difference from the time when the ship is empty of FIDs. At the time of the 'listing Shackleton', the room was full, but the congregation were noticeably silent. WHAT is going through the minds of Ernie Duston, Neil Farnell, Ian Martin and Chris Hall as they sit there ruminating on the strange angle adopted by the Ernest Shackleton in the red room that morning ?????
(*) Fiddery - place of congregation of a 'gaggle' of FIDs. (scientists, ga's, base personnel etc.).

Thursday 28th March. The Ernest Shackleton returned to her 'Home Port' of Mare Harbour. It says 'Stanley' on the aft sides of the ship, but I am sure that it's a spelling mistake ! Mare Harbour seems to be home for her and even the shoreside connection for the telephone has our name on it !! By 0630, the 'sunken ship' was approaching East Cove on a pleasant morning with much improved weather and the stormy episodes of the day before truly forgotten (except by the webpage). By 0830, the vessel was secure alongside the Main Jetty and we had a full day of work ahead of us.

The first task of the day was to discharge the waste cargo from the hold and to invite the bunkering vessel Seabulk Condor alongside the Port Side to deliver to us 450m³ of fuel. All this took the best part of the day and all hands were on deck to help with the operations which included the arrival of fresh provisions for use on the ship, King Edward Point, South Georgia and Bird Island. There were more peppers, lettuce, potatoes and dry goods than you could shake a stick at. The work continued throughout the day and only ceased around 1800 hours when the shore stevedores ceased work at the start of their holidays.

A day out on the bikes - Click to enlargeFor two of the crew, the holiday started early as there was the opportunity to get ashore in the late afternoon for a quick sojourn over to the MPA (Mount Pleasant Airport) complex. It is only about 10 minutes by coach, but the Chief Engineer was kind enough to offer his own two-wheeled transport to the 2nd Officer who in company with the ETO Comms, ventured forth with their 'trusty steeds' to cycle approximately 6 miles to the MPA, to the NAFFI shop and to tea, cakes and sandwiches.....All very healthy! There was even a discovery to be made on the way, as the roadsign below reveals.

Roadsign at MPA - Click to enlarge


Having the German AWI members onboard offered me an opportunity to practice my very suspect Deutsche, and a typical conversation went something like this...

"Guten Morgan"
"Guten Morgen, Wie gehts dir ?"
<Overdubbed soundtrack>
"I'm fine thank you Herr Richard"
"Excuse me, is that it ??  Is that Mare Harbour ???"
"Yes. It is.  It's no Bremerhaven, is it ???"
" Ja wohl !!"

It had not occurred to me before, but the first sight of the sea port of Mare Harbour with it's half a dozen sheds, 2 jetties and a handful of flags flowing in the wind outside the Port Operations building, must have appeared to be frightfully small to the first-time visitor ! It amused me even more when Herr Richard asked the question, - 'How far exactly is it to go to the city of Stanley' ?? City ??? Stanley ??? It was not the metropolis he had expected but I believe Herr Richard still enjoyed all that the fair hamlet of Stanley had to offer.

As stated, it was not everybody that was heading for the 'bright lights' of the 'city' 1½ hours bus-ride away. There were those staying onboard that evening and there were those who travelled away from the city in the opposite direction to join the Officers and guests onboard RRS Ernest Shackleton for a soiree.

(Following on from last weeks' skiing special 'On the Piste', the Shackleton webpage now takes you to the 'Cocktail Special'...)
'On the List.'
The invitation list to the RPC Evening onboard RRS Ernest Shackleton

Thursday evening, with the deck lights scintillating following a glorious sunset, found the Captain Stuart and Duty Officer Alan, in best uniforms at the gangway. The reason for this rapidly became apparent as a coach followed by several camouflaged Land Rovers arrived alongside and disgorged many males of military bearing with some accompanying partners.

On the invitation of Professor Chris Rapley, Director BAS, the Captain and Officers of RRS Ernest Shackleton were hosting a RPC in the Yellow Room. Supporting the ships' officers were Brian Newham, Mark Clivered, David Barnes, David Burkitt, Jo Hardy, Jeanette Parkin and Myriam Booth.

The Guest of Honour was Commodore Richard Ibbotson RN and Mrs. Ibbotson, Commander British Forces Falkland Islands, with his Chief of Staff Group Captain Mike Barnes RAF. Also present were Officers and wives from the Joint Operations Centre (JOC) MPA, the C.O. 'HMS Leeds Castle', and 3 of his Officers, and the Masters of the Seabulk Condor and the Indomitable.

With all assembled the Captain gave a welcome and introductory address in which he briefly described the BAS strategic plan and details of the Air Unit and the Ship's support of the Antarctic Operation, plus details of RRS Ernest Shackleton. He then went on to explain the BAS interface with the military and thanked all those members of the JOC for their support.

To close, the Captain singled out Captain Ian Moncrief and his Naval staff on HMS Endurance for special thanks on their excellent support to the BAS Geological Parties this season and a personal vote of thanks to Terry Ward (STO(N)FI) for his liaison between the JOC, BAS Stanley, and the ship.

All guest were invited to tour the bridge and the majority made the most of their opportunity during the evening.

Many thanks to Bob, Mick, Simon, and Mark for their help and the 'mountains of nibbles'. Feedback to date from the JOC indicates that the evening went very well with all those present suitably impressed with the Ernest Shackleton.

Author : Cocktail Correspondent.

Friday 29th March. Was a holiday ! No waste ! There was little evidence of work on the quayside as only a small amount of cargo was left to discharge and little to load for Bird Island and King Edward Point. Otherwise it was 'housework' onboard. The holds were reconfigured to allow the best loading of the waste that we would handle on the next leg of our journey. Today we also welcomed onboard 'fresh' from the UK, our replacement 2nd and 3rd Engineers, Phillip and Mike. It was also the last night onboard for the multitude of FIDS who had opted to fly home and not avail themselves of the return journey to the UK by RRS Ernest Shackleton cruises.

As such, a final night was arranged in Stanley and the coach came to collect them around 1800 hours. Peter Milner was one such 'taker' but first he gives us an insight to his feelings as he is released back into a world without year-round ice and snow. :o)

British Antarctic Survey Rocks Port Stanley

After we had sailed past Elephant Island some of us decided to watch the Kenneth Branagh film 'Shackleton'. Seemed like the right part of the world to be watching it, especially as the waves smashing against the porthole of the TV room were part of the famous southern ocean. Anyway I thought it was cool. Until, that is my cabin mate, Dave Burkitt, revealed that he had actually visited Elephant Island, done the first ascent of all the mountains there and camped for three days on the old Shackleton expedition site. Also he had met Pierce Blackborrow's grandson at Port Lockroy this year. The trouble with this job is that just as you think you might have done something interesting, you meet other lads who have done far more.

Pretty soon we were anchored in Mare Harbour on the Falkland Islands. That was a strange experience. I woke and looked out of the port hole to see a green landscape. After docking we could see new buildings, strangers, trucks, Land rovers and grass. There was even some sheep, amazing. They had organized a coach to take us into Port Stanley. All of us were looking out of the windows at the green mountainsides. After two winters and three summers living at Rothera Station the landscape of the Falklands is incredibly different. I was wide eyed, looking at everything at once. Probably the most amazing sight was a couple of wild horses grazing by the roadside. Then into town and new buildings, traffic, shops, bars, people. I managed to get around town without being run over and seem to have coped with the new idea of paying cash for things in shops. We were free to wander around as we liked. The sea has no icebergs unfortunately and it was raining. The most odd thing to me though was just how warm the wind was. Normally a wind like that would cut you through with cold. Here it was pleasant on the face. Believe it or not it was actually as hot as 13°C and I mean outside. We walked around with a light fleece and wind-proof when everyone else has their biggest coats on. Warm wind, yes that was definitely the strangest thing.

Friday was my day to take a long walk and stretch my legs after being stuck on board ship for a few days. I wandered off to one of the beaches local to our port. It was a windy day and the surf was up, plenty of kelp on the beach blown in by storms. This area was pretty safe as far as the mine fields were concerned, but you still keep an eye open just in case. On the road into Port Stanley you pass the worlds most weird road sign. It's the normal red warning triangle but now contains a skull and crossbones with a notice underneath that says "Slow Minefield". How bizarre is that? Does slowing down make any difference? Why do we always drive past it? Anyway the best view of the day was a pod of dolphins playing in the surf just a few yards off shore.

We were due to sail on Saturday, so Friday night was the last night in town. Also the last night for all the summer crew who flew home on the RAF Tri-Star. The Rothera Station band had been booked to play at the 'Globe Hotel'. Truly an international tour raising money for S.A.M.A. (South Atlantic Medal Association). At first I did not really want to go, as I felt unsure about crowded, smoky pubs. It turned out to be a great night. One of the local bands started with a few songs, but the evening really started to rock when the Antarctic lads got on stage. We've all done long tours in the Antarctic, we know how to party. Chris 'Tommo' Thompson in shades as lead singer, Don the Met on guitar, Ian Martin - guitar, Dr Fabian Seymour - guitar, Jason the painter - guitar, Big Robbie George the saint - drums and guitar, plus of course 'Crazy' Chris Hall on drums. Not all at once you understand but swapping around between songs. A great 90 minute set. I've no idea what the locals thought of it, as all the BAS team were up front leaping about. I suspect it's the best party that has hit Port Stanley in a while. Life tends to liven up when the British Antarctic Survey pass by.

Saturday 30th March. A good night was had by all on Friday and when they returned to the ship in Mare Harbour at the late hour of 0100am, it was already Saturday morning. There were final drinks with those members of the crew and guests who had stayed onboard and were still up and awake. It should also be noted that Herr Richard (Steinmetz) started his 40th Birthday at midnight. 'Prost'!

The morning broke grey and even rainy at times. The hold was opened up at 0800am and the waste discharge was resumed until completed later in the morning. This was also the day that the RAF Tri-star flew out of MPA with 35 of our passengers saying 'goodbye' to everyone staying behind onboard the Ernest Shackleton and departing to homeward flights. The first coach arrived a trifle late at 08.45 hours which resulted in a whole bunch of people milling around, hands in pockets, fighting back the eager anticipation to be finally 'under way' on their onward journeys home.

This allowed full time for the ship's staff to bid a 'hero's farewell' to our off-going 3rd Engineer, Roger Jones on his final departure from a BAS vessel, at the start of his retirement. We ALL (from both the vessels) wish him every happiness.

But by 1500 hours the last coach with our AWI friends, had departed and a quiet stillness ruled once more onboard the Ernest Shackleton.

At 1600 hours, the shore gang released the lines and the vessel slipped out into East Cove to conduct trials on the Tula Workboat and a STCM magnetometer calibration swing, and then she set course for Signy in the South Orkney Islands. The previous day the compliment onboard had totalled 66 persons. Now there were only 35 compliment onboard as the ship sailed out to sea on a pleasant evening with excellent weather.

Sunday 31st March. The Ernest Shackleton continued on a southerly course as the waves grew bigger, the swell increased and the ship moved ahead of another of those 'lurky lows' that seem to dominate the Southern Atlantic at this time of year. The forecast was for slightly rougher weather ahead, but spirits were high, the Sunday lunch was excellent (fresh fish caught in the Falklands by chef 'Big' Mick Quinn) and the passage remained relatively smooth.

Not a Good Week

This very week has seen the demise of several celebrities of our world. We have read in the newspapers and heard on the Falkland Islands re-broadcast radio of the sad loss of entertainment's Dudley Moore, Billy Wilder, Barry Took and the Royal personage of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. Whilst removed from the 'normal world' by several thousands of miles, we are nevertheless touched by the sense of loss felt by the rest of our readership at the sad passing of these famous names. We would just like to add our own note of condolence in tribute, and to accompany the lowered flags of the Royal Naval vessel as we departed Mare Harbour.

We would also like to apologise to Capt Stuart Lawrence, Master of RRS Ernest Shackleton. But if he didn't give us so many adventures every week, he wouldn't have so much webpage to have to proof-read !!

Forthcoming events: Arrive Signy Base on Tuesday with the intention of 4 days working waste cargo and closing down the Base for the winter months.

Contributors this week : Many thanks to the Cocktail Correspondent, to Pete Milner and 2nd Officer Alan Newman for excellent narratives of the happenings onboard this week. AND of course to April Fewl for her introductory headlines.

Diary 25 will be written on 07th April 2002 and should be published on 08th April 2002

Steve B