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08 Dec - Our first ice of the season

Date:  Sunday 08 December 2002
Position @ 1200 (UTC -3): 59° 07'S 044° 39'W - en route to South Georgia
Next destination: King Edward Point, South Georgia
ETA: 10th December 2002 (AM) (weather permitting)
Distance to go: 377.3 NM
Total Distance Sailed this Season: 8153.2 NM

Current Weather: Hazy with blue skies but very blustery
Wind:  W x 52 kts
Barometric pressure:  993.9 mb
Sea state: Very rough from SW direction
Air temperature:  3.0°C.
Sea temperature: -0.5°C.
Click here for ships track

From the Falklands to Signy, South Orkneys
Gavin Francis, Ship’s Doctor

The Ice!

We left the Falklands on Wednesday this week after a marathon cargo loading lasting a little longer than anticipated. This meant that we all had a few more last-minute shopping opportunities in Stanley (it’ll be a while until some of us see shops again) and more chances to visit the Gentoo penguins and the Commerson’s dolphins on Bertha’s beach. (see last week's entry).

The last rope was dropped from the Shackleton at 9am and we headed south. Despite widespread concern over mal-de-mer on the part of those who had just joined the ship, we had surprisingly calm seas. The Scotia Sea can be one of the roughest crossings in the world, but by Wednesday evening we were out on the fo’c’sle watching the sunset and sipping G&T in a style I hadn’t seen since the Tropics. We were rewarded with a school of dolphins in front of the bow, and albatrosses and petrels circling the deck. Most of us eventually admitted that our fingers were numb and the smiles were being frozen onto our faces, and went inside!

G&Ts on the fo'c'sle - Click to enlarge
G&T's on the fo’c’sle
Click to enlarge

We woke up the next day to thick fog. The radar told us that our first icebergs were out there, but we couldn’t see them. A Dartcom Satellite Image showed one berg 43 miles long just north of Coronation Island in the South Orkneys! We had crossed the “Antarctic Convergence” – an area where cold waters coming from the south meet the warm waters from the east coast of Latin America. The resulting mixing of currents produces some of the richest seas in the world, and suddenly there were more seabirds following the ship and our first Wandering Albatross gliding effortlessly back and forwards across the bow. That evening we held the ship’s first “Cheese and Wine” evening of the season. Steve (Comms Officer) had billed this as a “couple’s evening” – but that would be an achievement on a ship with 7 women and 57 men!


After the flood, Noah released all the creatures into the wild, two by two.
'Go forth and multiply', he said to the Elephants.
'Go forth and multiply', he said to the Lions
'Go forth and multiply', he said to the Penguins.
Eventually only a couple of snakes were left onboard.
'Go forth and multiply', he said to the Snakes.
'We Can't', they said.
'We're Adders'...

We apologise for the quality of jokes on this page, but in our defence - they can only get WORSE!/p>


The 'Couples Only' Club on the Shackleton made it's opening debut this week with a Cheese and Wine Grand Opening in the Red Room, and doors opened at 2000 hours (ships time). Anyone who is anyone was there and it was a veritable 'Who's Who' of Antarctica 2002/2003.!!! In this picture we find two couples enjoying a quiet glass and convivial conversation... wait a minute ! Who's the joker trying to pose as a woman ??? Call the Bouncers !

Chees and Wine Evening - Click to enlarge
Couples only - who are you kidding, Dr Gavin?

The Maitre 'D - Click to enlarge
The Maitre 'D

The club comes complete with it's own army of bouncers to keep the trouble-makers at bay, and we are glad to report that the evening passed away with no problems whatsoever. Along with the Bouncers to cater for the 'rowdy' element trying to gate-crash the party, the Club boasts a very High Class clientel such as Sir Neil 'Monkey' Farnell, caught here in conversation with the Clubs very own Maitre 'D, Mr Craig Nicholson. Nicely turned out, Craig.

In the Gaming Room, many - including her Ladyship Rhian Salmon and Lord Shane Rodwell (pictured) - tried their hand at sports such as Backgammon to while away the evening into the wee small hours. Here the picture shows some studious moves on the backgammon board in the gaming room.

Backgammon in the Gaming Room - Click to enlarge

Princess Grace and Admiral Gatti - Click to enlarge

The appeal of the new Club has gone far and wide. Appealing to the higher classes as well as the lower echelons. Did we spot the crowned head of Princess Grace of Monaco there along with Admirals from the Royal Naval Forces ?? The picture shows Princess Grace and Admiral Gatti (Aka Dr Sascha and Chief Officer Antonio).

Along with the High and the Low, the appeal was also International. Here we find a representation from two other countries, Japan and France. Engaged in conversation (in English) is Akinori Takahashi and Genevieve Littot, both Ambassadors from their respective countries.

Mixed Nations - Click to enlarge

Bacchus pays homage to the grape - Click to enlarge

High and Low and International were also joined at the Grand Opening by the odd Deity. A very ODD Deity indeed. Here we see Bacchus, the Greek God of Wine imbibing whilst being waited on by the Hand Maidens of Olympus.

Thursday 05th December was a very pleasant evening onboard and bodes well for the future of the Club. It is hoped that many more evenings can be arranged at the Club over the Festive Season and into the New Year.

...and now, back to the storyline....
Gavin Francis, Ship’s Doctor continues...

It was a late night for some, and not too many made it up for breakfast.  If they had been up and about, they would have seen icebergs begin to loom through the mist.

The first sighting of an iceberg - Click to enlarge
Our first iceberg is sighted in the mist
Click to enlarge

We were south of 60° and into the territory bounded by the Antarctic Treaty. Joining the Wandering Albatrosses there were now Sooty Albatrosses circling the ship. These regions have held the popular imagination since Captain Cook first described the great ice-fields of the South, and wrote that he suspected a great frozen continent lay behind them. Samuel Taylor Coleridge never actually travelled these waters, but the idea of the frozen South appealed to him through the writings of his time, and his poem “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner” draws heavily on those popular ideas:

“And now there came both mist and snow,
And it grew wondrous cold:
And Ice, mast high, came floating by,
As green as emerald.

And through the drifts the snowy clifts
Did send a dismal sheen:
Nor shapes of men nor beasts we ken –
The ice was all between

The ice was here, the ice was there,
The ice was all around:
It cracked and growled, and roared and howled,
Like noises in a swound!

At length did cross an Albatross
Through the fog it came;
As if it had been a Christian soul,
We hailed it in God’s name.

It ate the food it ne’er had eat,
And round and round it flew.
The ice did split with a thunder-fit;
The helmsmans steered us through!

And a good south wind sprung up behind;
The Albatross did follow,
And every day, for food or play,
Came to the mariners’ hollo!

In mist or cloud, on mast or shroud,
It perched for vespers nine;
Whiles all the night, through fog-smoke white,
Glimmered the white moon-shine.”

God save thee, ancient Mariner!
From the fiends that plague thee thus!-
“Why look’st thou so?” – “With my crossbow
I shot the ALBATROSS.”

(Part I vs 51-82).

View west of Signy - Click to enlarge
Water, sky and ice on the horizon west of Signy
Click to enlarge

That the mariner shot the Albatross brought great misfortune upon himself (the “Polar Spirits” followed him and strung the dead Albatross around his neck) and his crew-mates (two hundred of them, who all drop dead cursing him). The ship was eventually whisked magically back to Europe where the Mariner became cursed, and wandered from place to place condemned to tell everyone he meets of his misfortunes “I pass, like night, from land to land / I have strange power of speech / That moment that his face I see / I know the man that must hear me / To him my tale I teach.”

Bruce Chatwin’s book “In Patagonia” describes how Nathaniel Hawthorne, on reading Coleridge’s poem, found the whole thing ridiculous. The idea that a Wandering Albatross, with its 2 metre wingspan could be hung around the Mariner’s neck was, to him, just another absurdity of the poem. But the Albatross was likely to have been a sooty albatross, a much smaller bird. This is because Coleridge’s poem was probably inspired by the description of a voyage by one Captain Shelvocke first published in 1726, a popular book in its day and well known by the time Coleridge wrote his poem in 1797.

Shelvocke describes how his “2nd Captain” Hatley, shot a “disconsolate Black albitross” in these same waters:

'Though we were pretty much advanced in the summer season and had the days very long, we were nevertheless subject to continuous squalls of sleet, snow and rain, and the heavens were perpetually hidden from us by gloomy, dismal clouds. In short, one would think it impossible that anything living could subsist in so frigid a climate, and indeed we all observed that we had not had the sight of one fish of any kind since we were come to the Southward of the Straits of Le Maire; nor one sea-bird excepting a disconsolate Black Albitross [sic], who accompanied us for several days, hovering about us as if he had lost himself, till Hatley (my second captain) observing, in one of his melancholy fits, that this bird was always hovering near us, imagined, from his colour, that it might be some ill omen. That which, I suppose, induced him the more to encourage his superstition, was the continued series of contrary tempestuous winds, which had oppressed us ever since we had got into this sea. But be that as it would, he, after some fruitless attempts, at length shot the Albatross, not doubting (perhaps) that we should have fair wind after that. I must own, that this navigation is truly melancholy, and was the more so to us, who were by ourselves without a companion, which would have somewhat diverted our thoughts from the reflection of being in such a remote part of the world, and, as it were, separated from the rest of mankind to struggle with the dangers of a stormy climate, far distant from any port to have recourse to, in case of the loss of masts, or any other accident; nor any chance of receiving assistance from any other ship. These considerations were enough to deject our spirits'.

(A Voyage round the world, Captain George Shelvocke 1726
Seafarers library edition, 1928, p40-44).

Chatwin concluded: “Albatrosses and penguins are the last birds I’d want to murder.

Fortunately for us, we’re not dependent on the winds which troubled Shelvocke, and we had the “port” of Signy, a summer-only British Antarctic Survey base in the South Orkneys, to look forward to.

On Saturday morning we started breaking the sea-ice which surrounded Signy island. The sound and feeling of the ship riding up over the ice and cracking down through it (metres thick in places) is unforgettable. Adélie Penguins and Crabeater seals dotted the ice-floes and a gang of FIDs chose to miss breakfast rather than miss watching and listening to the ice.

Breaking a path through the ice - Click to enlarge
The ship splitting the ice
Click to enlarge

The ice around Signy has started to break up because of unusually high temperatures (up to 10°C earlier this week!) and so we weren’t able to load cargo to the base with snowmobiles (because the ice was too thin) and we weren’t able to go ashore because of the risk the ice would break up. A limited relief of Signy was undertaken man-hauling small batches of cargo (most importantly the mail and the fresh vegetables) on skis. The personnel on Signy have been there since RRS James Clark Ross cracked through the ice to open their summer season seven weeks ago.

Andy manhauling cargo to the base - Click to enlarge
Andy Whittaker hauling cargo to the base
Click to enlarge

It was a pity not to go ashore, but magnificent to see Signy still surrounded by ice and watch the penguins walk right up to the ship, “porpoising” like dolphins through the leads in the ice, and clambering on the icebergs still locked in the bay.

Adelie penguins at Signy - Click to enlarge Penguins at Signy - Click to enlarge

But the relief was over by evening, and some work on the communications masts and sea-ice camera will need to wait until later in the season when the ice has gone completely and people can travel from the ship to the base by boat. We reversed out of the bay, and started cracking our way back out towards open water, startling a few more penguins in the process.

I was hoping to catch a glimpse of Laurie Island, one of the South Orkney archipelago and the place where Bruce’s expedition wintered in 1903. The state of the ice around Laurie Island is still unknown, but we know that the sea to the West is clear. The seas were still calm. They’re not always so......

“March 25th 1903"
The gale continued through the early morning hours, accompanied with snow and light fog....owing to the difficulty of steering with the temporary arrangements rigged up for that purpose, we were badly thumped and squeezed by the ice....
We reached the Orkneys about 1 pm, after which the Captain and several others left in the gig to look for a harbour, but without success. Fortunately, continuing our course up a large bay in the south side of Laurie Island, we found a suitable and well-protected anchorage near its head, with ten fathoms of water.”

(The Voyage of the Scotia).

The swell is picking up now we’re back out into the Scotia Sea, headed across the waters crossed by Sir Ernest Shackleton in his famous boat journey, in comfort he could only dream of. We should be arriving in South Georgia by Monday evening.


Thought of the Day : If a word in the Dictionary is spelt wrongly,..how would we know ???

Forthcoming events: Make for King Edward Point to uplift 1 person and make for Bird Island for cargo work near the end of the week. Bird Island relief work is very weather dependant. There we intend to drop off more personnel, uplift 1 more person, and leave behind us a wealth of cargo and a particularly virilant strain of cold or flu which is presently doing the rounds on the ship (sniff, sniff). We do not believe in keeping these things to ourselves in BAS. Why not share it around !?

Contributors this week : Many thanks as always to Dr Gavin for his efforts, for dispensing the flu remedies this week, and showing us his KILT !

Diary 12 will be written on 13 December 2002 and should be published on 14 December 2002.

Stevie B