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12 Jan - En route to South Georgia

Date:  Sunday 12 January 2002
Position @ 1200 (UTC -3): 54° 29'S 035° 06'W - en route to South Georgia
Next destination: King Edward Point and Bird Island, South Georgia
ETA: Sunday 13th January, 1500 local
Distance to go: 43.0 NM
Total Distance Sailed this Season: 12812.7 NM

Current Weather: Overcast and grey. Foggy with 1 NM visibility
Wind:  WNW x 10 kts
Barometric pressure:  995.8 mb
Sea state: Slight seas
Air temperature:  3.6°C.
Sea temperature: 1.9°C.
Click here for ships track

And What Did Santa Bring You This Year, Little Boy???

With a Halley Relief to account for, space enough has not been set aside to report on Christmas gifts received onboard. Indeed, for the crew and Fids on the Shackleton, Christmas down South is a very 'uneventful event' possibly due to the vast amount of distance between Santa in the North Pole and the ship in the South. But here is a heartwarming story of one unexpected christmas gift that materialised this December! Happy Christmas!

After the demise of the 'Vietnamese Flyer' a while ago in the North Sea Period, (see diary 14, Aug 2001), Sparky Steve (ETO Comms) was in need of a replacement bicycle. Having a 'spare' at home, Steve ensured that it was onboard the Shackleton before she set sail from England in October! It is a blue ladies racing cycle, but it's a cycle nevertheless!

The last thing on his Christmas Shopping List, was a new bike as a result, but Sparky Steve received a gift all the way from the Workshops of the North Pole on Christamas morning. Judge the surprise on the face of the ETO when he found a DHL package on the bridge from Santa, who was unable to make the journey all the way from The North Pole himself!

Present - Click to enlarge
A surprise package...
Click to enlarge

Inside the long cylindrical package, was a bubble-wrapped implement and a covering letter which reads :-


Dear Mr Buxton,

It has been brought to our attention that you have recently been seen riding a girl's bike. Checking our records has shown that we have indeed made a clerical error - and in fact you are registered with us as being STEPHANIE BUXTON. Obviously this problem has gone on unresolved for some time and we would like to apologise for the many years when you have received dolls and dresses as Xmas time.

Back to the issue of the girl's bike - delivered, we believe last December 25th. Please find enclosed one cross-bar conversion kit (delivered free of charge) in, what we are told, is your favourite colour (blush pink). Should you experience any problems in fitting this accessory, then please seek the assistance of a fully qualified engineer.

Hoping that this unfortunate error has not affected your life too dramatically.

Yours truly

Mr F. Christmas - Head of Toy Distribution

Before the conversion - Click to enlarge After the conversion - Click to enlarge

Above: The Crossbar Conversion. Now click on the images to see the New Flyer BEFORE and AFTER Santa's little conversion!

The 'Surgical' Report. Dr Peter gives us the 'low down' on a quiet week of steaming on the Shackleton.

A quiet week on board RRS Ernest Shackleton. After the frenetic and concerted activity of the Halley relief during the ‘holiday period’ the crew have been focussed on getting us to South Georgia in a business-like way. The steam up through the ice was largely uneventful with one night blighted by poor visibility and numerous bergy-bits and growlers. Progress was understandably cautious and slow. On coming out of the ice the ship was immediately confronted by a heavy and well-organised swell running out of the North onto our starboard-beam slightly on our bow. With the up-and-down movement of the ship pitching, there was a similar up-and-down motion set up in your humble narrarator’s stomach. From this there could only be one outcome –‘mal de mer’. Over the following days the bosun, Charlie Chalk was consulted regarding the size of the swell – ‘nothing special’ he said. I could not disagree with his appraisal – indeed, I had felt far from special!

Bye, bye Antarctica – for a short time only.

On the 6th of January we cruised through fairly light pack ice northwards and out of the Antarctic circle (66 degrees South and a bit!). This meant that the sun was seen to sink below the horizon for the first time since December 21st ! We all witnessed a big orange glow as the sun descended through the clouds and below the horizon. The next day saw an even more impressive sunset with wonderful orange and pink colours radiating from the sun and a watery blue sky above laced with beautiful cirrostratus clouds. The nights will get longer now as we continue north.

Sunset - Click to enlarge Sunset - Click to enlarge

Fire! Fire!

In keeping with The Survey’s proactive and firm commitment to Health and Safety, and good Merchant Navy practice, RRS Ernest Shackleton is rigorously and meticulously maintained, whilst at sea and also during its annual hauling-out in dry dock. Essential equipment and instrumentation often exists in duplicate or triplicate and is checked frequently. Part of the process of safety at sea also includes regular emergency drills and exercises. At 1030 on 06 January Chief Officer Antonio Gatti orchestrated a major exercise involving all staff.

A fictitious fire had broken out in the second hold near the aft of the ship. Hot spots were detected by the ship’s fire detection mechanisms and emergency procedures were initiated. The ship’s compliment assembled quickly at the designated muster stations – unfortunately one person was unaccounted for. The two fire-fighting teams with full breathing apparatus (BA sets) were swiftly engaged in searching for the missing soul. The fire in the hold became too intense and the alarm was sounded to flood the hold with foam. The BA teams quickly retreated. Eventually the missing person was located on one of the ‘tween deck alleyways and 'for exercise purposes only'.....was transported unconscious into the mess area. He got immediate attention from the first aid party, was given oxygen and transferred to a stretcher. Unfortunately the fire had progressed and the command was made to 'abandon ship'. We all then donned lifejackets and made way to the lifeboats – including the casualty who was still on the stretcher!

Thereafter the exercise was terminated and we all accumulated on the bridge for debrief. Everything had gone well; the BA teams had the opportunity to use the BA sets in a smoky environment (yes, the holds were filled with simulated smoke) and the first aid party had the experience of what it might be like taking to lifeboat with a casualty. As ever the recipe for success in life is good communication and this exercise demonstrated that very clearly. Much was learned by all.

James Baker in BA kit - Click to enlarge
Fireteam member James Baker looking like Darth Vader!
Click to enlarge

Fire and boat drills are a regular feature aboard the Shackleton: major exercises like this one are less frequent but make a major contribution to safety at sea. Thanks to Tony for all his hard work.

Black Berg !!

At 0400 a mystery black iceberg passed by our starboard side. Yes, it really was completely black! Contrasted against the pure white ‘bergs close by it looked even more unusual – if that were possible. The only reasonable explanation for this bizarre phenomenon was that it was a ‘berg that had incorporated large amounts of volcanic ash/debris during its formation. This explanation is particularly appealing as at the time we were in the vicinity of the South Sandwich Islands, a chain of volcanoes (many active), which comprise the ‘Scotia Arc’. No doubt further explanations will be offered by BAS glaciologists and vulcanologists in due course. We welcome their opinion.

A black iceberg - Click to enlarge
A black iceberg!
Click to enlarge


During the morning of 11 January RRS Ernest Shackleton steamed through heavily ‘berg infested waters between the islands of Visokoi and Zavodovski, in the South Sandwich group of islands. These islands were first discovered during a Russian expedition led by Fabian Von Bellingshausen between 1819 and 1821.

Earlier in the morning one could just make out the volcanic cones of Saunders and Candlemas islands on the horizon. Unfortunately the upper slopes of Visokoi were obscured by cloud, however Zavodovski Island, on account of its lower height was visible to the summit.

View of the island - Click to enlarge
View of the island - Click to enlarge View of the island - Click to enlarge

Above: Morning Photo's of the 'Tom Hanks, Castaway' Island?!? Click the images to enlarge them.

As we neared Zavodovski numerous Chinstrap penguins were seen ‘porpoising’ around the ship. Closer inspection of the lower slopes of the southern aspect of this volcanic island showed it to be covered in thousands of tiny black dots – soon it dawned upon us that what we were looking at was an enormous colony of Chinstrap penguins numbering many tens of thousands. They covered every conceivable space on the island. As we continued around the southwestern flank of the island the crater came into view. There were numerous yellow steaks suggestive of sulphur deposition and steam rising from within and around the crater.

(Editor's note : Imagine Tom Hanks being Castaway on this island - as in the name of the movie - he just wouldn't have a space to stand up in !!)

By lunch we had cleared the islands and were headed onwards towards King Edward Point (KEP) in calm seas to pick up personnel and take on board drums of waste.

Dr Peter


Wavey Davey returns in fine style with this double offering !

I asked Wavey what he got for his belated Christmas Present this year ?
'An Empty Box' he replied.
'An Empty Box ?' I asked, 'But I thought you wanted an Action Man' ???
'I did', said Davey,... 'they sent me the 'Army Deserter Action Man' !!!

And did you know that love means nothing to a Tennis Player !!!  Ahem.

THE BRITISH ANTARCTIC SURVEY is in the business of science.....right??? Reading the multitude of pages on the BAS website will confirm this, but what science is done on RRS Ernest Shackleton ??? Our primary role is that of 'logistics and support', but it is still gratifying to note that we onboard can be contributing to the 'bread and butter' of the Antarctic Survey in some small measure.

Firstly, we have the STCM (3 component magnetometer), which is logging away everyday that we are sea (see diary 05 May 2001).

Then we have the XBT's ('Expendable Bathythermographs)' which we do when we are in the Weddell Sea (see diary 10 Dec 1999).

And more recently, we have onboard Prof Jo Arendt who is conducting Sleep Analysis science. (see THIS webpage, as follows......)

British Antarctic Survey Ships as Models for Marine Shift Systems
Antarctic Funding Initiative Project No. CGS4/09



The major problems of night shift work are an increased accident rate, poor sleep and an increased risk of a number of diseases including chronic sleep disorder and cardiovascular disease. Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Bhopal were all night shift accidents. In general sleeping out of ‘phase’ for example in the morning after night work, leads to shorter sleep of poorer quality than that taken at the appropriate time. Adjusting the body clock to night work will alleviate this problem, and this does not usually happen, at least onshore. The amount of light experienced at different times of the day has a major influence on adaptation to night work and back to day work. We have found on the North Sea rigs that some 12h on 12h off schedules are better than others for adapting the body clock to night shift (HSE study). 18h-06h is good, 24h-12h is not and light exposure times are probably the reason for these differences.....

We think that the 4h on 8h off used on the BAS ships is a good schedule, but we need to show that this is true when compared to others. We expect fixed watches to adapt (faster further South with more light at night). We cannot predict yet what happens to rotating watch keepers in the different light conditions. However we can compare fixed and rotating watch keepers with dayworkers in the same conditions over long periods of time, partly in a unique environment-24h light.

Previous studies of watch keeping on merchant vessels have concluded that all watch keepers had sleep problems and that different schedules should be tried. No record of personal light exposure or objective assessments of activity/sleep were made (the equipment only became available a few years ago). No-one has compared night watch in 24h daylight (which occurs in polar regions) with darkness at night.


Now it is possible to record wrist activity (which is closely related to how well we sleep) and light exposure, continuously, using small, non-intrusive wrist monitors (AWLs, kindly lent to us by Cambridge Neurotechnology Ltd). The marker we use to measure the timing of the body clock is the product of the hormone melatonin in urine- this a better measure than anything used so far. Melatonin is sometimes called the hormone of darkness. It can be used to treat some sleep problems, e.g. jetlag. Our body clock usually makes melatonin at night. We sleep better and stay more alert if we sleep during the time when melatonin is made. If we work or drive during the time that melatonin is made, after insufficient sleep, we may have similar problems (for instance difficulty concentrating), as when over the limit for alcohol. If our internal clock adapts to night watch melatonin is made during daytime sleep. So we will sleep better during the day and be more awake during night work.....

This project has been tasking place on RRS Ernest Shackleton since 1st November 2002 (in fact two crew wore the watches during the drydock period in Portsmouth as well). So far 22 crew have taken part, with participation of both Captain Marshall's crew on the way from Immingham to Montevideo and Captain Chapman’s crew from Montevideo to Halley and back to Stanley. 4 supernumeraries 3 of whom were working during the day on the ship have also been included. They have all done a fantastic job, keeping daily sleep diaries, wearing the activity monitors and collecting urine samples over 48h periods once per week (except during relief at Halley) and there is a very large amount of data to analyse. One of the pleasures of working with friends is to be able to provide feedback on their efforts and each volunteer has been given a print out of their daily personal activity each time the watches are downloaded. It is easy visually to pick out party nights, poor sleep, and to have a visible record of the huge increase in activity during relief. The urine will be transported back to the UK frozen for analysis of 6-sulphatoxymelatonin- this will give us the timing of individual body clocks during the different shifts.

A quick preliminary comparison of the activity/sleep of night workers versus dayworkers during Halley relief in 24h daylight shows clearly that poor sleep during the first 2-3 nights of night work (2000h-0800h) quickly resolves to be comparable to the sleep of dayworkers (0800-2000h).

The Acti-watch - Click to enlarge
The 'Acti-watch'. Many crew are being seen around the vessel sporting 'two watches' on the one arm !
Click to enlarge

Data records - Click to enlarge
The detail used to compare actual sleep patterns recorded onboard, to date.
Click to enlarge

There is only one study in the literature which uses melatonin as a marker in marine watch keepers. This was on US submarine personnel doing 6h on and 12h off . These subjects desynchronised completely from the 24h day as this schedule is way beyond the range of periods to which the internal clock can synchronise. A Seafarers International Research Centre report (authors Smith A, Lane T and Bloor M, Cardiff University), concerning fatigue on offshore oil rigs and North Sea oil rig standby ships, published last year, concludes that little has been done to evaluate fatigue at sea since 1989.

There is increasing concern with the possible health and other problems of working out of hours and this is part of an effort to help define the best conditions. Our overall BAS programme is called ‘Health in a 24h Society’

Prof Jo Arendt.

Thought of the Day :Apathy Rules...So what ???

Forthcoming events:A Call at Bird Island. Drop off Maggie Annat and collect Sascha Hooker and Andy Cope. Then proceed at best speed to the Falkland Islands and a welcome return to Port Stanley.

Contributors this week : Many thanks once again to Dr Peter Riou for excellent narration and pictures. Thanks also to Jo Arendt for the excellent précis of her work to date onboard. No thanks at all go to Wavey Davey unless he comes up with some better offerings in the near future !!!? Also one VERY BIG THANK YOU to 'Santa's Little Helpers (aka the boys in the Engine Room) who are suspected as being the Christmas Fairies in the Incident with the Bicycle Crossbar Conversion Kit. Thanks boys.

Diary 17 will be written on 19 January 2003 for publication on the website by 20 January 2003.

Stevie B