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28 Apr - Back to the Falkland Islands

RRS Ernest Shackleton Diary

Position at 1200 (UTC - 3 hours): 46° 54'9 South 054° 56'3 West
Next destination: Grimsby, Lincolnshire, England
ETA: Thursday/Friday, 23rd/24th May 2002
Distance to go: 6574.0 nm
Total Distance Sailed this Season: 24387.3 nm

Current weather: Overcast
Wind: Sou-sou'westerly Force 5 - 6
Barometric pressure: 996.6 mb
Sea state: Long swell on the port quarter, causing gentle rolling
Air temperature: 9.0°C.
Sea temperature: 12.2°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.

Many a Mickel Makes a Mackle !

Don't Pull Your Little Sister's Hair !

When is a Void, Not a Void ??

Don't Go To Sea in a Leaky Sieve. !!!

These are sage precepts to which I happen to subscribe - particularly the last one !! So it is with some trepidation that I have to report the saga that has been foremost on the minds of the crew of the Ernest Shackleton this week !.......

Leaky sieve

It all started a few days ago with water being detected in the forward part of the accommodation by the trimroom/sauna. Initially it was just a damp underfloor where the watertight door was located between the trimroom and the laundry, however this gradually became worse and worse. At first it was mopped up, but latterly, the deck crew were attending the 'leak' and bailing out as much as a bucket every hour. Who it was 'tasted' the colourless liquid I do not know, but it was deemed to be salt-water and therefore 'condensation' of a severe kind was ruled out !. Thus began the investigations in earnest (no 'pun' intended ) to discover the cause of the ingress.

The Captain himself, donned boiler suit and together with the Chief Engineer and even ably assisted by Penny, the Dentist, they started unbolting manhole covers and entering the void spaces to discover the source. (Observing, of course, all the safe working practices associated with Marine Standing Instructions (MSI/GEN/07) for Entry into Enclosed Spaces). But armed with flashlight and gas detector, they boldly went where no-man has boldly gone before (apparently!!).

The Captain prepares to go below - Click to enlarge The Captain in the void spaces - Click to enlarge

Above:The Captain prepares to go below, (L) in the 'rabbit warren' that comprise the ship's void spaces (R). Click on the images to enlarge them.

Panelling and insulation - Click to enlargeFirst attempts tried to determine where the water was coming from below the sauna deck. This failed because the void spaces behind and ahead of the suspect area were not visibly connected. No manhole covers, no rabbit holes, no drips of water ! The only visible access to the suspected leaky void space was a manhole cover on the port and one on the starboard behind lots of panelling and insulation which can be seen in this photo.

The position of the covers can be seen adjacent to the watertight door but when an attempt was made to open each of these in turn, water immediately started to seep out and thus the attempt was abandoned. It was clear that there was a body of water behind each of these manhole covers Port and Starboard.

Outline plan of the problem - Click to enlargeEntering the Fo'c'sle store, the tanks 101 and 102, and void spaces behind the suspected ('x') space all yielded no results and no solutions. All the drawings in the ship failed to indicate where the water could be coming from. Finally, by removing large sections of the furniture and panelling from the forward Red Rooms, pipes were discovered exactly above the flooded void spaces and it was through these 'vent shafts' that water was entering the ship's inner sanctums !! Apparently, the air vents have non-return valves in-line, but these were not (and for some time had apparently not) functioned correctly. Therefore whenever we experienced rough weather (See the diaries for the last 6 weeks !!!) - seawater was able to slop into the pipes, and down into the void spaces until such time as the Ernest Shackleton could take no more. Hence it started to leak out into the visible sauna area - but from where ??? The void spaces are supposed to be water-tight, but we have still to investigate HOW the water got from the void spaces into the public area of the trimroom/sauna. This has now been 'diaried' forward to the next dry-docking !.

The cause of the problem in the Red Room - Click to enlarge The cause of the problem in the Red Room - Click to enlarge

Above:As can be seen, the Redroom furniture and panelling reveals 'sneakily hidden' non-return valves which seems to have been the cause of the problem. Click on the images to enlarge them.

The next action was to remove the quantity of water from each of the tanks. This was accomplished by removing the valves, and sticking a pipe down into the void space. The water was then pumped right back out of the hole through which it came. This took all of Wednesday night and a good portion of Thursday morning to accomplish. That is a lot of water. However, when those manhole covers were attempted again, water was still attempting to escape all over the trimroom/sauna floors, and so further pumping was needed. With permission from the Authorities ashore, the engineers drilled into the manhole covers and placed a valve of their own, and through this the last remnants of the water could be drained, and access finally gained. Below is a photo of the valve and also what was seen inside the void space once opened !!!

Inside the void space
The contents of the void space!!

Once opened, the void spaces were inspected and found covered in a layer of wet rust, but otherwise sound, with apparent no sign of where the leakage occurred into the Sauna area. The spaces were dried and then fastened up once again to maintain the watertight integrity of the vessel. The non-return valves in the vents were 'blocked off' thus preventing any further ingress of water once we were underway again, and finally all the furniture and bulkhead panels were replaced that could be replaced. The ship is now much lighter 'by the head' and ship-shape for sea once again. The final analysis of the void spaces will now be left till dry-dock when hopefully we will be able to better report on the exact cause of wet slippers and soggy feet for those attempting a sauna.

Arrival in Mare Harbour, Falkland Islands

On our last Sunday, we were equally at sea completing the transit from South Georgia to the Falkland Islands. Sunday was our last sea-day which was only noticeable by a gentle rolling motion and an afternoon of whales and white horses, gulls and gales ! The weather was not now too severe and allowed us to arrive back in Mare Harbour on the Monday by 1700 hours Falklands Time ! Due to the Falkland Island Winter time, the Island had put back it's clocks to GMT - 4 hours on the Sunday night, and we followed suit. That meant an extra hour in bed for the most of us, and an extra 20 minutes each on watch for the watch keepers on the bridge !

Our arrival in East Cove was greeted by a pleasant sunset and very calm waters. The residual wind had died down to nothing and as the dusk mounted, the lights of Mare Harbour were switched on to welcome us alongside.

The lights of Mare Harbour - Click to enlarge
The lights of Mare Harbour - Click to enlarge

Above: The lights of Mare Harbour welcomed us alongside. Click on the images for a larger version.

The next 3 days were spent alongside with the Indomitable and Saint Brandon (before she sailed off to the West Falkland Island on Wednesday) Along the East Cove sat the navy patrol vessel HMS Leeds Castle which also sailed out to sea on the Thursday before us. Meanwhile, all the waste cargo in our holds was discharged and a multitude of FID's departed the ship to catch Tuesday's Tri-star flight back to the UK. Having arrived with 59 people onboard, we sailed around to the FIPASS at Port Stanley with only 34 persons remaining - and not even that. Some of the FID's chose to take the bus or hire a landrover and take the scenic overland journey to Stanley whilst a mere crew of 20 were left onboard to sail the Ernest Shackleton around to the Port of her Registry. Peter Milner - ex-Rothera was one of those who chose to do the 'overland tour' and has kindly submitted his account for your approval.

Destitute Sailors Seek Shelter in Seamen's Mission.

Over the years I really think I have lost count of the number of cold, wet, uncomfortable nights I have spent sleeping in car parks, on dock sides and in bus shelters. Certainly the most uncomfortable night ever was spent in a slit trench dug into the mud of the Brecon Beacons after a week on exercise with the army, when it had rained continually for five days. So it was with thoughts of another uncomfortable night that I looked out from the Land Rover, across the dock side, to the empty space where our nice warm ship should have been tied up. It was not there.

Earlier that day Penny the dentist had hired a Land Rover and a whole gang of us set off to explore around the Falkland Islands. Our initial plan was to drive close to Mt Usborne, which I think is the highest point in the Falklands. This plan ground to a halt as we looked at the big ditch across the off-road track we had been following. The opinion of the party was divided. Steve LB, typically, was for getting up a load of speed and just going for it. Others were considering the price of our deposit and the four hour walk to find someone to pull us out, if it all went horribly wrong. Those who had actually paid the deposit were quite persuasive that we should not write off a nearly new Land Rover. Caution won the day and we returned to the main road. Or rather the gravel track that passes for a main road around here. On the previous bit of posh tarmac road we were asked to stop while 6000 sheep crossed. Outside of Stanley, life is more remote and dominated by farming activities.

The road we had taken headed for San Carlos, so we drove off there. I did feel a little ghoulish as we headed for another cemetery. But these are important historical sites and worth a visit. San Carlos and Ajax Bay are where the main landings of the Military Task Force took place, almost 20 years ago to the day. A stone circle has been built on the grass slope below the farm buildings. It looks out across the water and the Union Jack flies behind it. This small place is immaculate. Carefully tended and deeply moving. There are the graves of the soldiers who rest here and the names of those of died here but rest elsewhere. Everyone walked around in silence, struck by the inscriptions on the graves. They represent the final resting place for a complete cross section of the armed forces. Several lads just nineteen years of age and also senior officers. Here the famous paratrooper 'H' Jones VC rests. One thing that struck me particularly was the fact that the graves are laid out by regiment not by rank. Officers lie alongside men, much as they worked.

I signed the small visitors book "P. J. Milner, British Antarctic Survey, Ex 1st Glosters, RIP". Two organizations I am incredibly proud to have served. During the Falklands war I was on the regular reserve having left the army some years before. Hence my earlier comment about uncomfortable nights in slit trenches. Here the ground is peat over rock and must have been exceptionally difficult to dig a shelter into. We walked around the coast line for a short while and returned to the Land Rover to eat our sandwiches. There is a small well organized museum here, which is well worth a visit if you happen to be passing. It contains artefacts from the history of farming in this area and of course many items from the war. As we came out two RAF jet fighters flew low over the water. One climbed vertically in a noisy display of afterburners, screaming up into the clouds. With all our thoughts about the war it seemed somehow appropriate that the noise of warplanes and helicopters broke the calm of our peacefully sunny day.

Halley FIDS will be pleased to know that "Golly's Folly" has found a home, safe and well, beside the road to San Carlos. We stopped and took photos. The next destination today was to be Goose Green. Scene of another of the Falklands battles. You have to remember that most of us are now only used to driving a ski-doo or a sno-cat. Penny was used to driving other vehicles, but in the back I thought it was all way too fast. She was driving safely, it's just we are not used to this sort of transport and we quietly asked her to slow down. It must be funny to watch us lads adjusting to the world outside the Antarctic. We arrived at Goose Green as the sun was beginning to sink. Low light lit up the village beautifully against a background of dark black clouds. On the road into town is another memorial marking the spot where 'H' Jones was killed. The only other visible reminder of the conflict are the letters 'POW' still visible on a large black shed. Unfortunately we had no time to visit Darwin.

In the failing light we set off on the drive back to the ship, which turned out not to be there. This was as planned of course, because the Shackleton was due to move around to Stanley today. The drive around to Stanley takes about an hour. We arrived on the dockside and again no ship. Had they decided to spend the night at sea? My thoughts of uncomfortable nights were surfacing again. We retired, homeless, to the Seamen's Mission for tea and cakes. There is a little Macaroni penguin molting on the front door step, which is now roped off and we have to use the side entrance. Poor little chap is looking really miserable but stood sentinel outside on the concrete step in the cold and rain, waiting for his feathers to drop off before he can go back to sea. Fortunately we only had to wait an hour or so before the Shackleton appeared and we could find our comfortable beds.


It was a miserable, dark, drizzly night when we finally pulled into Stanley Harbour. All that could be seen of the town was twinkling lights on a hillside, and a dark silhouette of the distant 'tumble downs' on the horizon. Not the most welcoming sight but no sooner had the ship tied up, put down the gangway and 'finished with engines', than the liberty bus pulled alongside and crew-members went ashore to the town to have a meal and say hello to familiar old haunts. The 'Brasserie' restaurant for an evening meal was a favourite destination not to mention the Upland Goose, the Globe Hotel and a handful of other favourite watering holes ! Our arrival was marked by listening to the broadcasts of the Falkland Islands Radio (FIBS) and Myriam Booth's weekly Country and Western offering 'Pot Luck'.

Myriam finished the show by about 2000hours so it was surprising to see her come onboard the Ernest Shackleton half an hour later wearing her British Antarctic Survey Agent's Cap ! One minute she was spinning the discs in the town and the next she was spinning around the bridge and Captain's cabin with business affairs. Thanks Myriam. During our stay at Stanley, many members got to view Myriam's new offices at Ross Road. These are impressive new office spaces that BAS have recently acquired. Myriam is ever-present all the year round and is responsible for getting us to and from our flights on the Island, for arranging provisions and stores during our calls to the Falkland Islands and assisting the bases down South with all their needs.

Friday was a day of work on the decks with the remains of the cargo to be offloaded, and all UK-bound containers loaded and secured on the decks for the journey home. It was also a day for last-minute jollies around the Island. The Falklands has lots to offer for those who know where to look. Ask Penny and Lucy ! -

Diving in the Falklands

When considering prime diving sites in the world, the Falkland Islands doesn't immediately spring to mind to a warm water (soft) diver like me, but never being one to miss an opportunity to get into some neoprene, the sign on the door saying "Dive trips organized had not failed to catch my eye on a previous visit to Stanley. Lucy, our Antarctic Marine Biologist was looking forward to, what must have been to her, a positively tropical dive in the Falklands water.

Lucy's fish had been fed and watered and I'd 'dentisted' - it was time for a visit ashore! The morning of the dive was a little blustery with the wind gusting up to thirty knots, white horses racing across Stanley Harbour, the sky overcast. As Dave Eynan our dive organizer, had forecast, it brightened up by lunchtime and the wind dropped to leave us with fairly perfect boat diving conditions. After begging, borrowing and stealing (sorry Tricia !) a variety of dive gear we were off in the Humber through the Narrows into Port William and East along Cape Pembroke. The pristine white sandy beaches of Cape Yorke looking inviting. We moored the boat near Kelly Rocks the site of the wreck The Kelly which lies directly West of Tussac Islands.

Lucy, Dave and Pauline were kitting up for the first dive when the dolphins appeared. The call must have gone out amongst the local dolphins that there were about to be divers in the water, as they 'porpoised' closer and closer to the boat. They always seem to be close enough to touch, their exhalations surprisingly loud at such a close proximity. It was amazing watching how close they were to the divers as they began their ascent, swooping and circling around before reappearing for a spectacular jump. The water glistening on their velvet smooth skin. Later a Rockhopper penguin came swimming along to check out what was happening in his waters. Richard and I had mostly kitted up by the time Lucy surfaced with a huge grin on her face, apparently unperturbed by the water temperature.

Getting ready to dive - Click to enlarge Getting ready to dive - Click to enlarge
Dive in the water - Click to enlarge

Above: Dave and Lucy prepare to Dive - and Diver in the Water. Kool.!

Diving in colder waters requires a vast amount of warm gear to be worn leaving you feeling ungainly and cumbersome out of the water. Two layers of thermals, three pairs of socks, a zip-up all in one fleece woolly bear a neoprene 5mm dry-suit with tight rubber neck and ankle seals, equally thick hood and gloves. Add to this a mask, a STAB jacket, a tank and a demand valve and it is very obvious that as a race we are most definitely out of our natural environment underwater. In stark contrast to our mammalian friends the dolphins, whom I suspect had come only to laugh! Despite the water being a mere 6°C, you stay remarkably cozy and dry underwater, apart from the few centimetres of face that are uncovered but fortunately no ice-cream headaches. The wooden wreck is lying in about 12 metres of water, in a forest of kelp, it's hull mostly intact. Personally I am more interested in the sea-life living around the wrecks rather than the barque itself. However, I was quite unprepared for the richness and diversity of life underwater in the Falklands and the amazing vibrancy of the colours. The wooden hull was encrusted with a pale blue, hard algae with anemones clinging on waving their pink fronds in the search for food. The kelp trees grow up from the seabed with their pale nicotine yellow root structures a tangled mass very firmly attached to whatever is down there. The Antarctic cod showed no fear as they swam up into the torchbeam, their large mouths gaping open - their front bottom teeth looking a little worrisome. Dull and grey looking until the light catches them revealing them to be deep blues and purples underwater. The brittle-stars curled up with their spindly orange legs, which moved remarkably quickly when disturbed, reminded me of a story of one of those legs surviving without the benefit of a body for several days after falling off. The striped blue shrimp proved rather elusive but we did find a large wandering hermit crab walking along the anchor chain. Their were several varieties of starfish down there (see Lucy for technical names) a very impressive one of 30cm diameter, shocking blue with chunky looking legs hiding in a corner amongst the empty clam and scallop shells. Wherever I looked was alive with underwater life.

It certainly felt like the fastest forty-five minutes of diving I've ever done purely for the number of different species of animal and plant life down there. Now all I have to do is find out what everything was called. Maybe this cold water diving has something in it!

Author - Dentist Diver Penny G

As Penny has already said I was very fortunate to be in the first group to get in the water with the Peel's dolphins that appeared soon after the boat engine was switched off. If my previous experience was anything to go by, I expected the group to be frightened off as soon as we got close to them but I couldn't have been more wrong! They weren't in the least bit nervous of us and as we sank beneath the surface they were swimming all round, close enough to touch (not that you could be fast enough!) Even my dry suit slowly filling with water (yes, I picked the wrong one!) did not detract from the experience of sinking into 12 m high kelp fronds as dolphins encircled me.

Once we reached the wreck the dolphins seemed to have had enough and we were left on our own. When diving in kelp areas in the UK you know what species you are expecting to see so for me this was all very new (so sorry no technical names supplied!) I was also surprised at the variety of animals that we saw and was particularly impressed by the blue coralline algae, that Penny mentioned, which formed huge plate-like structures on rocks and the wreck. Everywhere we looked were different species of starfish, anemones, sea squirts, crabs, snails and sea slugs. I also found a couple of the blue shrimps we had been told to look out for. There were surprisingly few fish, a couple of the Antarctic cod and some small brown and white gobies. Dave and I had both taken our cameras so began the hunt for suitable subjects. The visibility was quite good but it was easy to stir up the sediment and I spent a lot of time extracting my camera from the kelp! Unfortunately I also managed to miss the sea lion that came to investigate us as I had my head buried in a hole.

The time passed all too quickly and it was impossible to take in everything we saw. This is definitely a place I would love to explore further, a photographer's paradise! For those of you interested in the marine life of the Falklands Dave Eynan is thinking about setting up an aquarium in his shop (The Boat House) so you will be able to see a selection of the things we saw.....without getting cold and wet!

Author Lucy Conway

At last, with all work completed, all the leaks 'bunged up', all the containers secured and all the crew and Fids onboard that were intending to be onboard for the north-bound journey, RRS Ernest Shackleton departed Stanley Harbour at 0900am on a freshening and blustery Saturday morning. The previous evening had allowed extra time for last minute preparations for sea and last minute meals and drinks ashore. But as the wind was getting up, the Captain 'reversed' the ship into the Harbour and abeam the entrance to Port William Bay, and then simply slipped out with assumed disregard for the strength of the gale force winds now blowing from the West. A fishing vessel similarly followed the Shackleton from the FIPASS, but was seen to be making heavier weather of the manoeuver and was seen to heel over considerably on the turn into Port William. Ever since, the Captain has adopted a northerly course and a speed which initially was prone to rolling but which subsequently had the Ernest Shackleton making a very comfortable passage northwards. It was not many hours into the course of our journey that the anti-collision radar started to beep furiously at the Officer on watch. There was no danger involved, but the radar had detected that the Shackleton was surrounded by no less than 7 fishing vessels as we traversed their 'fishing ground'. At the risk of repeating myself this week,.. Did I hear the Captain on the bridge declare:

Achtung, Convoy Ahead. Prepare to Dive. Flood All Forward Tanks (again ?) '

'D I V E, D I V E, D I V E.


Forthcoming events: Journey onwards to Grimsby.

Contributors this week: Many thanks to Pete Milner for his revelations into nights spent in uncomfortable places, to Penny Granger and Lucy Conway for their accounts of diving with dolphins, and to Captain Lawrence for letting us feature him in front of the camera this week as he crawls through the void spaces of the ship.

Diary 29 will be written on 05th May 2002 and should be published on 06th May 2002

Steve B