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12 May - The Equator

RRS Ernest Shackleton Diary

Position at 1200 (UTC - 2 hours): 14° 50'6 South 030° 36'7 West
Next destination: Grimsby, Lincolnshire, England
ETA: Wednesday, 22nd May 2002
Distance to go: 2610.0 nm
Total Distance Sailed this Season: 28351.3 nm

Current weather: Bright and sunny but windy, so cool on decks.
Wind: Northerly, Force 7
Barometric pressure: 1013.0 mb and steady
Sea state: Moderate
Air temperature: 25.2°C.
Sea temperature: 23.9°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.

A postcard from the Shackleton

The Week started out as all Bank Holidays SHOULD start out.....with rain. Monday was rainy, rainy, rainy. Tropical rain. The sort that never lets up and just keeps coming and coming. However, with the temperatures well into the high twenties, it was still pleasantly refreshing to have a drop of rain to take the 'stickiness' out of the air.

This meant that the painting program was put on hold outside and gave the FID's the chance they needed for a break, for a lay-in in the morning and a chance to nurse those late-night blues that the preceding evening had brought on. It was a Bank Holiday in the world, afterall. The previous evening - Sunday evening - had seen the first of the infamous Shackleton BBQ's on the helideck. It was a pretty sedate affair with a little light music, a little light lighting and a little light food - heavily burnt - on the BBQ. The BBQ as always was provided by the modified fuel drums - cut in half with back splash-guards and room for a grill on the top, and charcoal/wood fuel in the bottom. This simple, but effective means of incinerating the meat provided everyone with ample to eat after being 'flashed up' about 1600 hours and conversations around the 'dry' helideck going on well into the early morning.

The BBQ - Click to enlarge The BBQ - Click to enlarge
The BBQ - Click to enlarge

Above: Images from the BBQ on the helideck. Click on the images to enlarge them.

So Monday 6th was a quiet day on board with FID's sleeping late and then the indoor pursuits were much in evidence in the late afternoon and evening. Scrabble, Chess, Some-game-that-I've-never-seen-before, and Bridge were all being played quietly in the Red Room. It is quite a nice ambience when groups are congregated in a silent room with nought but the click click of playing pieces on playing boards, or shuffle of cards being played out on the table. Restful. Better than Videos !!

But like all good Bank Holidays, they are over too soon, and the FID's were all industriously back at work on Tuesday morning , painting the railings, painting the superstructure, painting themselves, and covering the decks. A notable paint-job was that of Dr.Jenny who developed a nice ochre tan during the hours she was outside painting, but then when the layers of 'splashed paint' were removed, she revealed blotches of white all over her arms!!


The week then progressed apace, with nothing much to break the monotony of one day to the next, with the exception of a proliferation of fishing vessels on Tuesday, some diving 'Boobies' on Wednesday, and some inclement weather for periods again on Thursday. Other than that we progress in a northerly direction at best speed for the Grimsby tides on Wednesday 22nd. But operationally, the long journey home is giving us time to train in other aspects of the ship ready for the North Sea. On Thursday this week, we tested out the DP (Dynamic Positioning) Desk at the aft of the wheelhouse. During our Antarctic period, all the 'driving' is done from the front end of the bridge, as you would expect. But once on DP, the DP desk and all it's associated wizardry is located at the rear of the wheelhouse. So we had the chance to practice controlling the ship from the rear desk and lower the 'Azimuth' thruster and revolve around on all thrusters generally. There were snags at first but these will be ironed out by this time next month, and we will be using the Dynamic Positioning in earnest on Ernest !

Likewise, we do not receive too many visitations from helicopters when down in the Antarctic regions. So we started practising our 'helicopter' drills with an Helicopter Fire Incident Exercise on Friday afternoon. This is where the boys got the chance to dress up in the heavy protective gear of a Helicopter Fire-fighting team, and then use hoses and foam to 'put out' the pretend fire on the crashed helicopter on our decks. A crashed helicopter was hard to find at such short notice, so the make-shift swimming pool was drafted in as the 'stunt double' for the helicopter. All went swimmingly well - I say swimmingly, because Murdo on the highest mounted fire monitor (water gun), managed to give everybody a 'right good dousing' ! I do not know if the pretend helicopter was extinguished, but the fire crews certainly were!!

Dousing the helicopter - Click to enlarge
Dousing the helicopter - Click to enlarge Dousing the helicopter - Click to enlarge

Above: The team attack, the deck gets 'foamy' and one very wet 'paraffin budgie'.....but at least the swimming pool is filled!! Click on the images to "douse the helicopter".

Wavey-Davey's Weekly Wit-spot

For days, now, Wavey-Davey has been wracking his brain to come up with this weeks offering. However, since he has been 'put under pressure' to come up with the goods now - his natural ability to rattle of inane jokes seems to have dried. He is hard pressed to come out with the classics now that they are expected of him ! Most of the funny ones - I am afraid - are 'unprintable'..... but I did like the one about the guy who went to the fancy dress party and......

So in an effort to print a little something more respectable :-

Davey says - "Did you hear about the cat who lost his coat, one morning the bald cat jumped on a bus ???"

"Oiy !" said the driver. " What about your fare ??? "

The biggest occasion, this week must have been the 'crossing of the line' in the early hours of Friday morning. It is customary for King Neptune of the Seven Seas to put in an appearance, (see 'Crossing the Equator' by Mike Gloistein, Oct'99), but I guess that due to the early hour and the fact that it was the weekend, he was late ! We did get the visitation, but not until the following day when on Saturday 11th May, the Public Address System broke into life to announce the arrival onboard of some rather important visitors !

The true and rightful monarch of all the oceans and of the creatures that dwell within, our King Neptune looked resplendent in his robes of finest squid, spun gossamer, his white beard and hair flowing behind him as if still moving under the influence of the mighty sea from whence he came. At his side the stunning Queen Clodapous still retained her water nymph grace upon the deck of the magnificent ship RRS Ernest Shackleton, although every step she took caused her exquisite pain - the price all mermaids pay when they trade their scaly tails for legs whilst out of the water.

Bit bloody small for going to the Antarctic in! Neptune mumbled under his breath, into the shell like ear of his Queen, who smiled in suppliance. With the vessel now in the NE Trade Winds, she bounces about like a child on "Charlie Chalk's" bouncing castle. The High Heed Yin of the ship, Captain Stuart Lawrence greeted Neptune with great warmth and affection as they had met several times during Stuart's illustrious time at sea. The Captain was captivated by the unearthly beauty of the Queen and could barely drag his eyes from her glowing features and gracious curves, for the remainder of the afternoon or was it that of King Neptune ???.

King Neptune's Court - Click to enlarge King Neptune's Court - Click to enlarge

Neptune and his Court were here to have allegiance sworn to them by those who have never crossed by sea, that line - the Equator, which divides our hemispheres, and thereby to be allowed free passage for those he found truly pleasing.

Present at the Court were their Majesties Neptune and Queen Clodapous, the Judge to proclaim sentence, the Prosecutor, the Doctor to administer the medicine, the Barber-dentist for unprintable tortures and the merry band of policemen - whose vocation it was to seek out and find stowaways on the ship who had yet to swear allegiance to Neptune and be granted the freedom to pass, without hindrance, upon the Seven Seas and Five Oceans of our Planet. The large heavy cudgels and batons carried by these burly gents were used merely to 'tickle' their prisoners, until they may laugh....and laugh they did, both when it was their turn to appear before the court, and afterwards !

Jenny "say ahh" Dean was the first brought from her hiding place (under a pile of clothes in the hospital) to be presented before the Court. After prostrating herself in front of their Majesties, Jenny begged to kiss the right foot of Queen Clodapous, which by some cantraip sleight bore an uncanny resemblance to a kipper. Meanwhile, Mike P the policeman covered Jenny in squirty cream - a sight never seen before under the public's gaze. Forthwith, Jenny was ordered to the dock where her crimes both real and imaginary were read aloud. Such crimes as - not breathing on her stethoscope before use, having the blotchiest suntan on the ship when she should know better, and having an unhealthy interest in inventories and indents! Of course, she was found 'guilty' by the judge who banged his gavel loudly on the table, before passing the maximum penalty. A somewhat dejected prisoner was led from the docks, after surprisingly offering no defence whatsoever, to the chair.

Here the real Doctor was waiting to administer a very large syringe of pink blancmange in appearance, type-medicine. Where-upon, Jenny's face flushed with gustatory delight (oral being the preferred route of administration, in this instance) as the glutinous, gurnardesque gunk hit her tongue, firing off every chilli receptor in her brain. Several large ladlefuls of fermenting, textured brown gloop were then deposited over her head and into her lap to the raucous applause of the Court.

The prisoners debt paid and allegiance sworn to Neptune, Jenny was then invited to join the other noble and gallant mariners in the small green secret tradition, known only to those worthy of Neptune's secret. If I tell you, I'd have to.....

The Justice of King Neptune - Click to enlarge The Justice of King Neptune - Click to enlarge The Justice of King Neptune - Click to enlarge

Above: Justice is a dish best served cold - like an old kipper ! Click on the images for a larger and more gruesome view!!

All too soon all ten stowaways had been discovered in their fetid little hiding spots, brought gently before the Court to be fairly tried and found 'guilty'. The prosecutor executing a wonderful performance in his curled wig, winged collar and cuffs (matching, I may add) large spectacles; despite his red suspenders and obvious orthodontic problems, orated magnificently.

Like the rainbows lovely form, vanishing amid the storm King Neptune, Queen Clodopous and his Court slipped over the wall and disappeared beneath the boiling green waves of the Atlantic swell, deep down into their watery Kingdom.

Listed below are those to whom the freedom of the seas has been bestowed.

Ian "love child of Chris Evans" Martin
Peter "kelpologist" Milner
Steve "ginger-beer" le Breton
Tobias "2 beers" Garstecki
Mark "booties" Jessop
Keith "two out of three aint bad dolly" Walker
Dafyd "twitcher" Roberts
Chris "aye man" Hall
Lucy "fishy" Conway
Jenny "say ahhhh" Dean

That's all folks, Reuters.


We'd heard the rumours, been wound up by our comrades, and scared into hiding by the mere mention of the word "equator", but now it was time to face the music for real.

An announcement had been made that King Neptune and his lovely wife were onboard ready to put to trial some criminals who had sneaked across this imaginary line.

After listening to the football on the radio in my cabin (more worried about Sunderland's fate than mine), myself and Keith (ex Rothera chef) were having a few beers watching the clock in a scene reminiscent to High Noon waiting for the door to go in, both of us mortified with the thought of losing our hair.....something we've nurtured over an Antarctic winter (or two!!!).

Tap, tap, tap on the door and the police waded in, batons an'all, we put up a fight, spilling out into the alleyway but we were no match for the beer bellied bobbies, they dragged us up to the Court of King Neptune.

Jenny Doctor had already been "sentenced" and Mark Jessop was in the chair receiving some medicine, which clearly wasn't doing him any good at all. Keith went next into the dock beaten to the floor and forced to kiss the kipper, then up to the pulpit to have his crimes read out ( I had to agree to the charge of his listening to country music...a heinous crime indeed). Keith was led to the chair and I'm thinking "it's me next".

The gavel crashed down and I'm up in front of the King getting whacked from all directions, forced down on to my knees to kiss some rotting fish on the foot of Neptune's wife.

The criminal - Click to enlargeMy crime, - no sir I'm innocent,- but never-the-less I was branded a small time opportunist criminal and guilty of six offences and one of those for simply being a "Mackem". So to the chair, if the old wives tale is true about the more horrid the medicine the better it is, then I'll never be ill ever again....... chundersville!!!!! Time for the slops bucket, litres of it being poured over my head, I could feel my eyes stinging as the chilli powder worked its way in. Finally a good dowsing with the fire hose and that was it I could have a beer and be part of the jury watching the rest of the petty crooks being brought to justice, for crimes such as: wearing a baseball cap (Pete Milner), being an arsonist (Ian Martin), smiling too much (Steve L B), keeping fish locked up in a container instead of eating them (Lucy), an inability to spell (Daffyd), and for being....... German (Tobias) who was incidently found hiding in the courtroom, very clever.

Three people never brought to trial were Casson, Papa and Powell ( the Antarctic equivalent of Compo, Foggy and Clegg), they deserve a mention for all serving extra long Antarctic sentences, they've seen it all before many times. And who could forget poor Alan the second officer, well he got it anyway.

Chris Hall (Rothera 2000-2002) a sentence in it's own right!!

The evening, saw many of the FID's and Crew 'spent' after their exertions of the day. It's tiring work chasing runaway FID's to the four corners of the ship. So the planned BBQ that evening was a very sombre and sober affair with everybody just content to sit and eat their BBQ food, drink their drinks and watch the sun go down giving way to a very pleasant dusk and dark evening. It was overcast, so no moon or stars were evident, and many were just well-satisfied to stare into their beer glasses/bottles and contemplate the world at length.

Scientific update....The Intelligent Fish

Other important events not withstanding, science has once more significantly progressed on our research vessel this week. Recent work has focused on the discovery of a hitherto completely unknown degree of Intellectual Ambition (hereafter IA) in an individual of common flying fish (Cypselurus heterurus). This individual shown here was found reading Norman Mailers "History of Europe" on the Monkey Island of the ship, on May 12, 2002 at 13:30 local time. The exceptional degree of IA displayed by this individual is underlined by the facts that (1) it had to overcome a height difference of almost 15 m in order to reach the monkey island, and that (2) it was prepared to pay with its life for the relatively small knowledge gain afforded by the title page of the above mentioned book. The fact that it started reading the book from the title, however, shows an equally unexpected competence with written material which generally calls into question established views on cultural heritage in flying fish. Although admittedly anecdotal, the reported IA phenomenon clearly deserves further attention. Further results will be published elsewhere!

Forthcoming events: Journey onwards to Grimsby. N.B, An Azores 'high' is becoming an Azores 'low' but more on that next week when our resident weather router may be able to explain the sudden presence of Madeira Wine onboard !!! Watch this space.

Contributors this week : Many thanks to King Neptune and Queen Clodapous for their kind visit, to Penny 'Reuters' Granger for her on-the-spot account, and Chris Hall for admitting to his crimes. Also to Tobias Garstecki, for his brief encounter with an intelligent flying fish !

Diary 31 will be written on 19th May 2002 and should be published on 20th May 2002

Steve B