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07 Apr - Cargo Operations at Signy

RRS Ernest Shackleton Diary

Position at 1200 (UTC - 3 hours): At Anchor in Borge Bay, Signy Island
Next destination: King Edward Point, South Georgia
ETA: April 10
Distance to go: 557.0 nm
Total Distance Sailed this Season: 22040.4 nm

Current weather: Overcast, fine and clear
Wind: Fresh West-Nor'westerly Force 5 - 6 and freshening
Barometric pressure: 976.2 mb
Sea state: Calm in sheltered waters - slight swell
Air temperature: 8.2°C.
Sea temperature: 0.5°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 ERNEST SHACKLETON departed Mare Harbour a little over a week ago and we were running ahead of the weather on the way to the South Orkney Islands. We remained on a Southeasterly course which meant that the wind was largely behind us, and so made for a reasonably comfortable voyage all the way to Signy. The three days were uneventful and saw many videos being watched and many-a-book being digested by the few FIDs left in the common rooms. The FIDs surfaced from their enforced sabbatical on Tuesday, in time to see Signy Island appear out of the misty haze around 10:30 that morning. From the ice reports of our sister ship RRS James Clark Ross, and confirmed by a recce from the Signy Island base members, the Northern channel around the island - the most direct - was reported to be free of ice. The only other time I have been through the Normanna Channel it was full of ice and we had to 'break' our way through. What a difference to our arrival this morning. The sun started to shine after being 'shy' all week, and lit up the surrounding islands to good effect.

Borge Bay - Click to enlarge Borge Bay - Click to enlarge

Click on the double image to enlarge. Note brilliant sunshine, snow-covered islands and beautiful vistas!!

The arrival at Signy was greeted by a sudden blow from the Northwest, which at Gale 8 or 9, stopped any immediate work at Borge Bay until well into the afternoon. However, the weather moderated nicely so that it was almost flat calm later, and the workboat Tula could be launched around 16:30 to commence operations with the station. The main criteria of our call was to remove all the waste produced by the demolition of the 'Tonsberg' and 'Plastic Palace' buildings that have been a feature of Signy Base for the last 40-50 years.

Under the Antarctic Treaty very definite guidelines about the disposal of any waste south of the 60° South parallel are defined.. Therefore the burning of the combustible waste or the disposal of any other waste is banned at Signy. It all has to be bundled up, bagged or skipped by the station personnel or (given the demolition project of this season), by the contractors - Morrison's personnel. Then it all has to be loaded into the Ernest Shackleton's Cargo Tender Tula and brought out to the ship, hoisted onboard, and stowed in the cargo holds for transport to the Falkland Islands. So is the case with the non-hazardous waste, any other being returned by the ship to the UK where it is disposed of in accordance with UK Regulations.

Tula on the last rotation - Click to enlargeThat evening, Tula managed to uplift about 60 m³ of waste in 4 rotations to the 'beach' before the light started to fail and the work had to stop for the night. RRS Ernest Shackleton spent a quiet time riding at anchor in the Bay. Click on the image to see Tula on the last rotation of the evening in Borge Bay, Signy.

For the next 4 days, work carried on apace with the continued removal of the waste and the intelligent stowage of it all in the small holds of the Ernest Shackleton. Talk about a 'round peg in a square hole'. Many an interesting-shaped bundle was stacked into the 20 x 25 meter rectangular box of the lower hold, right up to the 'gunwales' !! (*)

The Deck Crew - Click to enlargeThe image here shows a view of the hold and the 'square pegs' waiting around for the next Tula-load of cargo to be worked ! Click on the image for a larger version.

Ernie, the fastest dustcart in the West

Above: Ernie, the fastest dustcart in the West !!

The weather was generally kind for Signy and only about 25 percent of the daylight hours of the visit were lost by the Tula being unable to make a safe passage between ship and shore. On day 3 of the 6-day visit, a storm blowing from the Northwest brought storm force winds into the bay, which whipped up the surrounding waters with white horses and spray. Not nice. The Tula was brought back onboard, the cargo work was halted and the Captain started to scrutinize the weather charts and satellite pictures very carefully. Our problem was that our tight schedule required us to depart Signy by Sunday 07 and our remit was to uplift all the Signy cargo in the same time. Unfortunately, the weather would scupper those plans if work was to be delayed too long. At the time of the blow, we had only uplifted as much as 75 percent of the waste leaving a goodly amount left to do. As it was, the blow interrupted operations and stranded the station commander onboard the ship for the night and some ship-based FIDS ended up with a surprise overnight stay on the base because we just could not launch a 'taxi' to bring them back!

(*) Gunwales = Side timber, or wale, covering the timber heads, and to which the breechings of upper deck guns were secured. (Excerpt from Laytons Dictionary of Nautical Words and Terms). Please note : the Shackleton's 'guns' have been removed from the 'gunwales' in accordance to the 1984 Antarctic Treaty !!

Time for Jollies - ( or Trip designed for familiarisation with small craft handling !!)

Signy was not all work, work, work. Indeed, the time-consuming aspect of the operation was waiting for the single crane to pick up bundles, or the Tula workboat to traverse from shore to ship, or the correct loading of the cargo in the holds. Manpower was never really the issue. The few FIDs that we carried onboard along with those on Signy Base were rotated on a timetable and thus took it in turns to work a morning or an afternoon on the ship's deck, on the Tula workboat, or on the jetty at the Base. Even such small numbers allowed time enough for tea-breaks, chatting, and partaking of the 'boat training' that the Captain organised on Wednesday. Due to the busy nature of work ashore, Base visits and Signy walks had to be restricted to the first day of arrival only, and so boat training was an excellent opportunity for some off-duty individuals to jump in the boat and see what was a lurking up and down the coastline !

One such individual was Dr.Jenny who jumped into the Humber with Second Officer Alan, and Fids Chris and Ian. Here is what they saw on their run out to the north end of the island, - the North Point.......

The Wildlife at Signy:

"I have decided that I really like Signy. It has so much wildlife, in abundance and close up to see. From the ship, or Tula, Cape Petrels can be seen soaring around in their hundreds and these can also be seen and heard on their nest sites amongst the rocky cliffs. The small dainty Wilson's Petrels are often amongst them as well as the contrastingly large Giant Petrels. For the first time, I have seen here the white morphs of these normally brown giant birds. The former are pure white with black specks on them. It was also a great surprise to come across a colony of Giant Petrels with adult-sized chicks in the process of fledging and stretching their wings in preparation for their first flight. This was at the North Point of the island, where there is also a colony of Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins. As always, it's a pleasure to watch the comical behaviour of these little birds.

A lot of people don't like them, probably because they can be a little vicious and they smell, but I can sit and watch the fur seals for hours. Their behaviour is not dissimilar to dogs in their playful and sometimes aggressive behaviour. Even the sounds they make are all growls and whines. The elephant seals different again, being enormous in comparison and not at all so animated. They just lie there as close up against each other as possible with their unpleasant smell and sounds, but for some reason are extremely photogenic in an obscure sort of way. To top it all, all this can be seen against the most stunning backdrops of rocky cliffs, glaciers and blue sea dotted with huge icebergs. This is just a summary of the wildlife we saw too, but there is more that visit Signy at other times, including adélie penguins and Antarctic prions that nest right under the main building, sounding like little gremlins in the night apparently."

Author: Dr Jenny Dean

Dr Jenny on the beach - Click to enlarge Landing at North Point - Click to enlarge

Above: Dr Jenny inspects a couple of Signy Island Creatures ! (L) and the landing at North Point of Signy Island (R). Click on the images to enlarge them.

While touring the Peninsula, we have been pleased to have 2 Czechs onboard from the Czech Antarctic Service. Zdenek alighted on the Falkland Islands last call, but his colleague Josef is still onboard and enjoying the opportunity to discover the South Orkneys and South Georgia later in the trip. On the first day, Josef managed to jump into one of the Humber rigid inflatables to check out Signy Island.

Dr Elster in the Humber - Click to enlargeClick on the image to see Dr Elster and his new friend on a Signy Survey Trip

Project of the Czech station in Antarctica

"At the time when the eastern political block started to collapse, the end of eighties, the Czech scientists started to work in polar science. The Masaryk University in Brno and the former Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences organized a few research expeditions to the Arctic Svalbard. Later, after our 'Velvet Revolution' the possibilities to participate on various international research projects quickly increased. For example, we followed the research project in the Canadian Arctic at Ellesmere Island, in South Shetlands, etc. At the present time, several research projects are performed in the Arctic and Antarctica. Our research covers a wide spectrum of scientific disciplines focused mainly on terrestrial, freshwater ecology and biology, bioclimatology and meteorology. During this time our research team grew up. We educated a few young, very enthusiastic researchers. All those people have left in polar ice their legs if not their hearts.

During our research project at the Polish station H. Arctowski, South Shetland Islands, King George Island, Admiralty Bay we started to discuss the possibility to establish our national research station in Antarctica. Because we have become familiar with the environment of South Shetlands we propose to build up the Czech research station at Turret Point, the north-east part of King George Island. The Czech government via the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports started to sponsor the Czech Research Station construction in the Antarctic in 2000. Professor Pavel Prosek of Masaryk University at Brno is head of the project. We introduced this project at the Antarctic Treaty Meeting held at St. Petersburg, Russia last year. There was a wide discussion concerning this purpose. However, some countries of the Antarctic Treaty did not recommend building the station at Turret Point because at King George Island many stations are managed already at present. The British and Ukraine delegations kindly offered us to help in discovering various locations around the Antarctic Peninsula as possible place for the station's establishment.

In October 2001 we were invited by the BAS representatives to visit Cambridge and discuss this purpose. Several locations where BAS have performed research in past have been offered. Danco Station (Danco Island in the vicinity of Anvers Island and Gerlache Strait) was the most proposed because of possible logistic cooperation.

Prof P. Prosek (head of the project) and Ing A. Suchanek (chief engineer) visited this island with a Ukrainian vessel at the beginning of 2002. It has been concluded that these islands together with the southern part of the peninsula do not fit very well into our research proposal. Only a very limited de-glaciated area is available there.

Dr Z. Venera and Dr J. Elster kindly welcomed the BAS invitation to participate in the Ernest Shackleton research cruise from Falkland Islands to Rothera station and back. During the trip they discussed the purpose of the Czech station establishment with Captain Stuart Lawrence and the other crew and Rothera station members. They also studied various maps and literature in Rothera and the ship's library. Finally, James Ross Island, on the north-east part of the peninsula was proposed as a suitable locality for the Czech Antarctic research station. Large areas of this island are de-glaciated. Here, also wide spectrums of various freshwater and terrestrial habitats occur. In James Ross Island many BAS' geology research has been performed during last years. No permanent research station is situated there. In the Brandy Bay area, which has been proposed for the station's construction, there exists Argentinean Refugio. However, because of our vessel has been in a hurry to be back in the Falkland Islands, timewise, we cannot visit James Ross Island.

Because of need to have the second (reserve) locality for station construction we kindly asked the BAS representatives if J. Elster's stay on the board of the Ernest Shackleton could be extended for South Orkney (Signy Island) and South Georgia trip. Again the geography and nature of South Orkney, especially Signy Island was discussed with Captain Lawrence, simultaneously various literature was studied. After the visit of Signy Island the locality of Stygian Cove (northeast part of island) has been proposed as the second locality for station's construction. The scientific spirit of Signy station has been specially appreciated. Signy Island is a 'mecca' of biological and ecological research in the Antarctic. Czech scientists would very much welcome close cooperation with research performed at Signy Island

From our trip on the vessel, we learned a lot about the cold and special environment of Antarctic Peninsula, sub-Antarctic islands, about management of research stations and research vessels. Especially important for us, was to see the BAS waste material management. We really admire how this important part of the Antarctica environmental protection is organized.

We would like to offer thanks to Professor Chris Rapley, (Director) and Dr. John Dudeney, (Deputy Director) and the other managers of BAS who allowed us to participate on the Ernest Shackleton research cruise. We also appreciate the help and advice given by Captain Lawrence and his team. They gave us a lot of successful important information. Lastly, we also thank to Rothera and Signy teams. We learned from them what is spirit of the Antarctic expeditions and what we can learn from the Antarctic environment and social friendship.

We would appreciate if the British and Czech research and management teams continue to cooperate in the discovery of the Antarctic in the future."

Ernest Shackleton Research Vessel, April 8, 2002
Josef Elster & Zdenek Venera
(Academy of Sciences and Ministry of Environment of the Czech Republic)


In the course of the week, and whilst at anchor in Borge Bay, we saw several vessels other than our Tula workboat. The first vessel to come into our neighbourhood was the Korean trawler IN SUNG HO - but judging from the state of the paintwork on this hard-working Atlantic trawler, it might well have been called UNSUNG HERO but the letters had started flaking off ! It is common practice, for trawlers to come into sheltered waters to off-load their catch to larger vessels (REEFERS*) so they can then continue fishing with empty holds ready to refill. Unsung Hero arrived on Thursday afternoon and anchored close to the Ernest Shackleton. But there was no radio traffic between ourselves and the trawler - largely because the level of Korean spoken onboard is sadly lacking. Then the reefer ship arrived on Friday. This was a much larger vessel called the ATMODO (which is an anagram of Mad Too!) The two ships anchored side by side and the derricks could be seen transferring loads from one ship to the other. All they would have seen of our operation, was a continual 'coming' and 'going' of the little Tula workboat which departed from the ship and disappeared out of sight behind the headland every trip. The Mad Too and the Unsung Hero stayed with us in the bay throughout the rest of the week and we were later joined by another Reefer - the Japanese Katah - on Saturday morning. The Katah was not part of the Korean operation, but similarly came to anchor in the sheltered anchorage of the bay. With a scattering of very big bergs around, our radar screens onboard looked very 'busy' indeed.

(*Reefer - Cargo ship fitted with refrigerating apparatus, but capable also of carrying cargo other than refrigerated.)

Job Application spotted on the Base notice board ?

Job Advert?
The Atmoda in Borge Bay

Forthcoming events: Depart from Borge Bay Signy upon completion of cargo work and make best speed to King Edward Point, South Georgia, where we have to land Phil Porter - who is with us to effect a repair to the King Edward Point seismograph, - and to give the station some fuel for their winter.

Contributors this week : Many thanks to Dr Jenny Dean for her confrontation with the 'animals' of Signy Island.. Thanks also to Dr Josef Elster for his informative report on his efforts on behalf of the Czech Antarctic Institution. We would like to acknowledge 'Laytons Dictionary of Nautical Words and Terms' for the explanations of some words in the text this week.

Diary 26 will be written on 14 April 2002 and should be published on 15 April 2002

Steve B