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10 Nov - Into the Tropics

Date:  Sunday 10 November 2002
Position @ 1200 (UTC): 16° 00'N 024° 10'W - passing through the Cape Verde Islands
Next destination: Montevideo
ETA: 23rd November 2002 at 2100z
Distance to go: 3638.6 NM
Total Distance Sailed this Season: 2687.2 NM

Wind:  ENE x Force 5-6
Barometric pressure:  1016.6 mb
Sea state: Moderate
Air temperature:  26.8°C.
Sea temperature: 25.6°C.

This week the web page has been written by the doctor onboard, who is heading to Halley for a winter and it covers events up to Saturday.

Sunday saw personnel onboard gathering on the Foc'sle to remember those lost during the World Wars and more recent times. Instead of the usual minutes silence, Craig Paice read out a poem dedicated to the firefighters lost in New York on September 11th 2001. This was then followed by a traditional toast of rum to those lost over the years in conflict.

Sunday morning also saw the Ernest Shackleton passing the Cape Verde Islands, with the Ilha de São Nicolau in view through the haze from about 0900 to 1000. All being well we should get to see Fogo during the evening.

Finally, I have to thank the Engineering team, especially Tom Balfe, for their efforts with repairing the mechanical parts of one of the ships searchlights, as seen below.

Tom and Craig at work - Click to enlarge
Tom Balfe and Craig Paice working on the gearbox for a searchlight
Click to enlarge

Into the Tropics! - by Gavin Francis (Doctor)

Gavin Francis - Click to enlarge
Gavin Francis
Click to enlarge

Last week’s diary left us struggling through the Bay of Biscay in rough seas. It was reassuring that even some of the crew were suffering on the crossing, as those of us who’re new to a life at sea were beginning to worry that this was going to be the norm for the next 2 months on this ship! A confirmed land-lubber, I never realised just how much gravity and momentum can combine to make you feel absolutely terrible. Meal-times in those conditions are hilarious; trying to catch rolling peas on the plate, the sound of falling pots in the galley, cheers of success from the bar as people dive to catch sliding beer bottles. And soup is just an impossibility......but that’s all over now – we’re coasting smoothly into the Tropics and the first flying fish, shark and even a turtle have already been sighted.

By Monday we were over the worst, and were sailing south off the coast of Spain and Portugal. After a long refit and a delay in Immingham, everyone was settling back into the routine. There’s plenty on board to keep busy with. There’s always something needs painting, and for me there’s a whole new surgery with a year’s pharmacy supply to get to grips with. Along with checking and stocking all the emergency boxes around the ship I’ve also been hunting down unwary crew members to up-date all their vaccinations – only on the ship for a week and people are hiding from me already!

By Wednesday we reached Madeira, and proving that nowadays you’re always in touch, people were rushing out on deck to use their mobile phones! The archipelago is very impressive – a series of volcanic islands with sheer cliffs and jagged peaks. The sun was setting behind Porto Santo as we passed it, and backlit along the silhouette of the island you could see the outline of trees. It was dark by the time we passed Madeira itself, but we could see the lights of the port climbing up into the hills. William Bruce, on his way to Antarctica on the very successful Scotia Expedition of 1902 (The Royal Scottish Geographical Society is celebrating its centenary this year) stopped in Madeira on his way south. He commented that the local wine was among the worst he had ever tasted, and left most of his crew violently ill.....none of that for us, though, we were continuing south, due to pass the Canaries the next day.

There were quite a few birds appearing on deck which are native to West Africa or the Canaries, and while out painting I’ve noticed a few bugs which definitely didn’t leave Humberside with us. Nowadays we know exactly where we are with GPS and sophisticated navigation – strange to think that it wasn’t so long ago that mariners (such as the Vikings) decided where they were by identifying which birds were appearing in the rigging!

Unfortunately it was much too hazy to see anything of the Canaries the next day, and there’ll be no sight of land now until the Cape Verdes. We’re sailing off the coast of Mauretania now, and soon will be off Senegal. The temperature’s hotting up outside, and the humidity is climbing all the time. This has led to the launching of two new vessels: the Mercy Rose and the Vital Spark. The Vital Spark is currently a long way from home at the West Kirby Sailing Club. (Craig and Rags on their maiden voyage).

Cooling off - Click to enlarge
The boat race about to start!!
Click to enlarge

The sun’s getting higher and higher every day, and I’ve started handing out the factor 30 sunblock. We should get to the equator by Thursday, and then some of us on board will be brought before King Neptune’s court to pay our respects, but more about that next week....

Hello to everyone who knows me, and Happy Birthday Esa!!!!


....and finally.....

One of the toys that we have onboard the Ernest Shackleton is a WorldSpace radio receiver. This is designed to receive digital radio from a satellite located over Africa and is primarily intended to cover Europe, Africa and Asia. During the refit period the antenna was mounted on the Conning Tower, giving it a clear field of view, and it has proved to work very well indeed.

Several days ago, whilst checking the channels that were available, I came across Radio Caroline (now legalised I hasten to add!) and this has been the station of choice since, with the BBC World Service via the same receiver for the sport on Saturday afternoon. The quality of the signal is digital stereo FM and so ideal for all to listen to onboard. Gone are the crackles, fading in and out of signal and all the other associated problems with our normal option of listening to short wave stations.

As the signal was proving so good, considering that we are technically outside the intended beams, an e-mail was sent to Radio Caroline telling them of the ships position and what we were up to. It was nice this morning to hear the Ernest Shackleton mentioned on the radio. At the time of reading the message the presenter thought that we were in an exotic location, although I am not sure if he was referring to the ship itself, or being in the middle of the Atlantic! This then prompted the question of who else out in radio land considered themselves to be in an exotic location and a flurry of e-mails headed towards Radio Caroline with locations to be considered.

From a technical point, I suspect that we win hands down!!

All being well we hope to maintain the link to Radio Caroline for a while longer, and when it does start to drop out (as we move further away from the satellite) I have the option to install a high gain antenna, but this will be offset by the fact that it is more directional and so the ships movement will affect the signal (unless anyone out there has a spare Mini-M dish that they would like to donate??). So, if you want to send a request to anyone on the ship, find out where Caroline is on the web and drop them an e-mail!

10th November 2002