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31 Dec - Christmas 2002

RRS Ernest Shackleton Diary    Tuesday 31st  December  2002

Position at 1200 (UTC - 3):  75°27'S  026°46'W   Creek 2, Halley.
Next destination:  Bird Island, South Georgia.
ETA:    Not until January 13th dependent upon departure from the Brunt Ice Shelf.
Distance to go: Dependent upon route taken due to ice conditions.
Total Distance Sailed this Season:   10788.7 NM
image here  Click on this Image to Enlarge and See the Ship's Progress.

Current weather:  Few Clouds, fine and clear. Good weather and good visibility.
Wind:   SW'ly x 18kts
Barometric pressure: 996.0 mb
Sea state: Calm in our make-shift harbour.
Air temperature: -1.8°C.
Sea temperature: -1.6°C.

Diary of Events on the RRS Ernest Shackleton - Christmas 2002.

Sunday 22nd - and the Ernest Shackleton was still working through 2-3/10th pack ice and open water leads all the way to Halley.  The Halley Training sessions were all complete, bar one, and no training was conducted being a Sunday.
Monday 23rd - Nearing Halley and abeam Neumayer - the German Antarctic Base.  Today we heard Sanae Base (South African) on VHF radio at some 105 nmiles distance - which is exceptional for VHF communications which as a nominal 30-40 mile range.  We passed weather forecasts and pleasantries before Sanae disappeared from our radio as abruptly as it had appeared.  Today was the 'Comms school' on the FID's training schedule whereby they received tuition in proper voice procedure and familiarization with HF and VHF radio communications.  This culminated in a 'treasure hunt' throughout the ship using radio's to help teams track down the prize of a seasonal selection of 'Quality Street' chocolates.!
Tuesday 24th - The new FID's see their first sight of the Brunt Ice Shelf and the 'Ice Cliffs of  Dover'.
image here
The Ice Cliffs of Dover !!
By lunchtime, the Captain had taken the vessel close into N9 at the North End of the Brunt Ice Shelf, to investigate the possibility of working there if need be, but by 1700 hours, the ship had arrived at Creek 2 which had been nominated for this year's relief,  by the Halley Base Commander.  The ramp of Creek 2 was approximately 1nmile away from the edge of the sea ice, but the ice edge was unsuitable for mooring up the ship.  Therefore the ship spent the evening 'working the ice edge' to carve a suitable dock from which to unload the cargo.  Working the ice involved ramming it and breaking off whole lumps until by Christmas morning, there was a veritable harbour for the Shackleton to spend the next 2 weeks.  Tuesday evening also saw the Halley winter personnel arrive, hoisted onboard for a celebratory drink, and as they arrived, the onboard FID's were able to mass, and serenade them with Christmas Carols from the Foc'sle.
image here  Click on Images to Enlarge image here
Wednesday 25th - Merry Christmas! Although the ship had arrived at the ice edge on Christmas Eve, further work was needed ‘working the ice’ in order to create a suitable berth. The Captain worked tirelessly breaking the ice until about 1230 hrs when activity temporarily stopped. Crew members were put down onto the ice and with assistance from Crispin Day and Martin Bell (from the base), began to assess the ice. This included drilling holes with a large petrol driven ice augur to estimate depth of the ice. Shortly afterwards the nod was given and dead-men (mooring posts) were banged home into the ice. At 1352 the ropes were thrown and RRS Ernest Shackleton was safely moored alongside the ice.

After the usual round of phone calls home the crew and remaining FIDS prepared for the onslaught of discharging the ship’s cargo: 1900 hours, and 205 litre barrels of fuel, 150 cubic metres (‘cubes’) of bulk fuel, food, vehicles, radio masts, steel, scientific equipment – in fact just about everything you would need to maintain and build an Antarctic base. The crew and FIDS were immediately put on 12 hour on/off shifts to enable the relief to continue 24/7 without interruption.  The midnight sun provided suitable illumination to allow this to happen without any problems. Operations were overseen by numerous Adelie and Emperor penguins and the occasional Crabeater seal (who incidentally don’t eat crabs).
image here  Click on Image to Enlarge
26/27/28 December - The relief continued at full pace with few hiccups. Barrels and barrels of fuel continued to be craned out of the ship’s hold in fact so many barrels had passed by our eyes that people were beginning to dream about barrels! Sno-cats ploughed up and down the sea ice to the caboose relentlesslessly. These movements were hampered only by the occasional mechanical failure  - various bearings went from time to time, but nothing that wasn’t expected.  Snow-cat K-14 got stuck in the snow/ice at one point but this proved to be only a minor problem and was quickly recovered.

Sunday 29th December - Finally we reached a seminal point in the relief operation. The day crew saw the final three barrels of ‘AVTUR’ fuel craned out of the lower deck of hatch 1 with smiles all around! Following this there were some tricky bits of steel and radio masts to be moved and then the unloading process would be over. At 1932 hours, Crispin Day and the infamous K-14 departed shipside headed to the caboose with the last sledge load of cargo. Everyone was delighted with the progress that had been made.
image here  Click on Images to Enlarge image here
Monday 30th December - Back-loading. Although the ship’s cargo had been off-loaded there was the small issue of 3000 empty barrels to be loaded back in to the holds. These were to be accompanied by numerous barrels of waste which had accumulated at Halley over the past two years. However after the physical challenge of full barrels of fuel the empty barrels were moved quickly and easily using cargo nets to haul them aboard. In no time at all over 1000 empties had been stowed and lashed down safely for the voyage back to East Cove.

Tuesday 31st December - Progress with the back-loading had proceeded at such a pace that the Captain decided to abandon the night shift work and go back on to the normal day shifts. Work stopped early at 1900 hours and everyone prepared for the New Year’s Eve celebrations. Most of the FIDS packed small overnight bags and climbed on the sledge behind K-16 for the trip to Halley to witness the beginning of 2003.

FIDS Maggie Annat, Paul Cousens and Peter Riou remained aboard the ship to see the New Year in. The mood was buoyant and at 12 midnight we ascended onto the monkey island at the top of the ship. The ship’s bell was rung and the horn sounded. Beer bottles were chinked and  the passing of 2002 was saluted.


It is two years since the 'Halley Board Game' was played on the RRS Ernest Shackleton.  With the ship having failed to get to the 'creeks' last year, the 'Halley Game Board' has remained untouched and dusty until this week.  It was on Tuesday 24th December that the ship finally arrived off Creek 2 on the Brunt Ice Shelf and started working cargo on Christmas Day.   That is when the Board Game was broken out and the playing pieces put in pride of place upon the board.
image here  Click on image to Enlarge the Game.
All during the summer, the ETO Steve had been on the 'lookout' for model Sno-Cats and Skidoos for the board game.  In England, in Germany, in the USA, even in Montevideo, he had no success in finding new 'playing pieces' for the game.  So it was with much delight that - having tasked Prof Jo Arendt - she reported having found something suitable in the Falkland Islands General Store.  Several of these were purchased and Rick Millar (new Halley Comms Manager) repainted the 'green tractors' with a suitable covering of 'lifeboat orange'.  Once repainted, suitably numbered and into 'play', it is almost impossible to tell the 'toys' from the real thing ?
image here Click on Images to Enlarge. image here
K14, Maggie Annat's Sea-Ice Cat, and K14, Model Cat complete with trailer !  But which is which ???

Radio contact is kept with all the Sno-cats in operation to ensure safety and control the constant 'to-ing and fro-ing' as sledges full of general cargo and drums or waste are sent to and from the base.  Thus the 'control centre' on the bridge of the ship can monitor where each of the vehicles are at any time.  Just like a World War II Operations Control Room, the Shackleton Control Centre even has a 'pushing / pulling' stick, kindly made up by the Engine Room !!!

Okay, okay, I know this has appeared in the Diaries once before, but I think it explains the Halley Relief perfectly which is more than most of us onboard could do.

image here
from all onboard the RRS Ernest Shackleton, and more from us in 2003.

Forthcoming events:   Continue working cargo and receive all Base Waste and 3000 empty Avtur Drums for return to the Falkland Islands in January.  New Year will see the completion of the 12-hour shift system, and cargo operations will be continued by day-work until completion,  There should be time for festive celebrations to mark New Year 2003 before we then depart Halley for Bird Island some time in the first week of January 2003.

Contributors this week : Many thanks to Dr Peter Riou for his part of the narrative, and for some excellent photos, and then to Antarctica for giving us excellent conditions for getting through the ice to Halley on time.

Diary 15 will be written on 06th  January 2003 for publication on the website by 07th January 2003.

Stevie B