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08 Feb - Furthest South!

Date: Sunday 8 February 2004
Position @ 1200 Local (GMT -3): 77° 30' South 034° 31' West.
Currently at: Fuel depot at Bluefields
Distance sailed from Halley: 160 nmiles
Total distance sailed: 18089 nmiles

Current weather: Nearly overcast and clear
Sea State: N/A
Wind: SSW force 2
Barometric pressure: 998.8 mmHg
Air temperature: -7.0°C
Sea temperature: -1.7°C
We are here... Click to see position map.

As the final touches were being put to this web diary on Sunday afternoon, one of the Lynx helicopters crashed near the Bluefields depot site. There were 5 personnel on board, all of them from HMS Endurance. Three people received serious but not life threatening injuries and have been evacuated by BAS Twin Otter and Dash 7 aircraft via Halley and Rothera to hospitals in South America from where the military evacuation procedure has taken over.

We were involved in the medical treatment of the casualties and everyone on the ship was ready to give whatever assistance they could. All involved here, whether on HMS Endurance, Ernest Shackleton or from the depot team, played their part in what was a complicated and obviously stressful situation.

All of us wish the personnel involved a quick and straightforward recovery.

This Week on ES

Furthest South!

At the moment we are at the furthest position south (77° 30' S) that the RRS Ernest Shackleton has ever been as a BAS ship. We are working with HMS Endurance and the BAS Air Unit to transport drums of fuel into a depot for use in the field. More on this later...

Back to Halley V

We reached N9 on Monday evening. N9 is an ice ramp about 30 miles from Halley which is often suitable for doing relief - its only drawback being its distance from Halley. When we arrived in the vicinity of N9 back in December there was extensive fast ice at N9 but now it is just about perfect - very picturesque with seals and penguins lying around.

Even in these remote areas there is plenty of activity, and that evening we were visited by a BAS Twin Otter aircraft and an Argentinean helicopter flying over the ship. The helicopter was from the Argentinean icebreaker Almirante Irizar which was on its way to the Argentinean base at Belgrano II some way south of Halley (see chart later).

On reaching Halley early the next morning, we picked up Kathy Hayes and Doug Willis for the night. Doug was needed to sort out some computer problems on the ship and Kathy had some work to do collecting moorings. These had been put in place to monitor temperature at certain depths and were supposed to release at a signal from Kathy and float to the surface where they would be collected for analysis. Unfortunately it didn't all go to plan, as the release mechanism didn't work and none of the three moorings was recovered.

Onto the ice Personnel leaving the ship to go back to Halley - click to see image

John Dudeney (BAS Deputy Director) and Fiona Brazil (Head of Personnel) visited the ship the following day, and went back with Doug and Kathy to Halley after lunch. The rest of the day was spent at the edge of the fast ice waiting for HMS Endurance to arrive. The low sun gave us some spectacular views - at this latitude it doesn't set at this time of year.

Low sun over the ice Low sun over the ice at Halley - click to see image

Shackleton and Endurance in the Weddell Sea

No, not a re-enactment of Shackleton's 1914-16 heroics, but nearly 90 years later here we are in the Weddell sea facing similar problems to the great explorer and his ship. Shackleton was attempting to find a place to land his expedition for his proposed great trans-Antarctic trip, and we were trying to find an appropriate place to depot fuel drums for use in field operations. The main problem here is that with often rapidly changing weather conditions there is a lot of movement of the ice floes and bergs in the Weddell sea, and therefore it is possible to get a ship trapped in the ice and unable to extricate itself. Shackleton had the misfortune in 1914 to get trapped by the ice but we have the benefit of satellite images, aerial surveys, accurate weather forecasts, improved navigation techniques and technology, and officers and crew who have many years of experience working in the ice. However, it is still a tricky business.

We met up with HMS Endurance on Thursday and during the morning they brought some patients aboard for dental treatment.

HMSE nosing the ice HMSE Endurance bow-on to the ice with Adelie penguins looking on - click to see image

Ladies and gentlemen, may I welcome you aboard the Ernest Shackleton? Personnel from HMS Endurance come aboard for dental treatment - click to see image

At midday we set off along the coast in a southerly direction, with HMS Endurance following close behind. Due to unfavourable ice conditions the convoy stopped for the night and on Friday morning our Captain was taken up in an Endurance Lynx helicopter (with Navs 1 from Endurance) for an ice recce. They looked for a clear way through the ice floes and took some photographs of possible routes. In particular, there is a relatively shallow area of coast called Bedlam which acts as a bottleneck for ice floes and bergs - once past Bedlam it appeared that there would be more open water and easier going. However, the weather forecast showed a strong possibility of winds from a northerly direction which could blow the ice nearer to the coast and trap us in.

Captain Marshall Captain Marshall trying on his flight gear - click to see image

Lynx coming in to land A Lynx helicopter from HMS Endurance coming to collect our Captain - click to see image

A berg extending deeply Typical view of our route through the ice Aerial view of our good ship

Above are some photos the Captain took whilst ice-spotting - click on images to see them.

The photo below was taken just after the Captain had returned from his flight, and shows ETO Comms Steve Mee (known to BAS Cambridge as "Mike"), Captain Marshall, Chief Officer John Harper and 3rd Officer Chris Handy looking at the charts and aerial and satellite photographs to decide on the best course of action.

The bridge team plotting a way through Bedlam The officers planning a route through the ice at Bedlam - click to see image

After considering the aerial ice survey, the available satellite and aerial photos and the weather forecasts, it was decided to proceed south through Bedlam where there was expected to be open water.

Bedlam and Beyond

We sailed through ice ranging from grease ice (newly forming ice) to floes about 2 metres thick with Endurance following behind, and after a few hours of sailing and icebreaking we got through the worst concentration of ice and to the other side of Bedlam. From here it was easy sailing with lots of photographic opportunities - ice in many forms, a few seals and penguins, and the occasional minke whale.

Below is a section of chart showing our current position (red smiley face) relative to Halley (red star) and the Argentinean station Belgrano II (green star). Bedlam can also be seen on the chart. Next to it is a good example of the satellite images available to us - this is a Dartcom image of the Weddell sea. The red dashed square indicates the approximate position of the section of chart. Quite often cloud obscures the satellite images but this particular one was taken on a sunny day! The dark parts are open water and the ice is mostly yellow. There is a huge ice floe lurking around the Bedlam bottleneck area.

Eastern Weddell Chart showing our position - click to see image Dartcom satellite image chart area Dartcom image showing the ice - click to see image

On Friday evening we passed the Argentinean icebreaker Almirante Irizar which was returning north after visiting the Argentine station Belgrano II (see chart above). She is a good deal larger than either us or HMS Endurance, and quite an impressive sight. Many of her passengers were on deck waving and we returned the greeting, although there was a comedy moment when in reply to her three horn blasts our horn gave a parp and a phut after freezing up! There can't be too many times when three red ships are seen together south of 76°.

Parp! Phut!!! Argentinean icebreaker Almirante Irizar - click to see image

The next morning we had reached our current position at Bluefields - a suitable site for the fuel drum depot. During the day a camp was set up by BAS field teams from Halley and Rothera, and throughout the day there were BAS Twin Otter aircraft flying in and out of the camp. The orange pyramid tents of the Bluefields camp are visible from the Shackleton bridge through binoculars. Endurance sent nine personnel over to stay with us for the duration of the depot work - they coordinated the helicopter operations and directed the Lynx helicopters on the heli deck.

During Saturday there were a few helicopter flights to input skidoos, equipment and personnel into the field camp. Our deck crews were busy moving cargo from the hold to the heli deck, from where the Endurance flight teams hooked it onto the helicopter as it hovered over the heli deck. On the occasions when the helicopter landed on our heli deck, the Shackleton fire crew had to be in attendance in their fire retardant gear in case of any incidents on landing.

Chopper work HMSE Lynx coming in to collect a skidoo - click to see image

Craig, Ray and Malcolm The fire crew relaxing between landings - click to see image

Sunday morning dawned cold, fine and clear (well, actually it didn't dawn as the sun didn't set...), with rime and hoar frost on exposed areas of the ship and frost smoke rising from the cold surface of the sea. The helicopters, flight teams, depot personnel, deck crews, bridge teams and everyone else swung into action and the helicopters are currently transferring approximately 60 Avtur fuel drums per hour up the rise to the Bluefields depot. Each helicopter is taking between three and five drums per journey, depending on how much of its own fuel is on board. With a total of 250 fuel drums due to be cached, the work is going very well.

Rime on the ship Rime on the ship, with Endurance moored in the distance - click to see image

Life afloat

This week the surgery has been used as a hair salon - the engineers all had their hair chopped last week and now other people have made appointments for their coiffeurs to be trimmed. Ben is adding hairdressing to his ever expanding list of new skills, and I have to admit that he is getting some decent results.

Anything for the weekend, sir? The Shackleton Surgery Salon: Ben "Nicky Clarke" Molyneux cuts Andy Campbell's shiny locks - click to see image

The engineers have set up the badminton net in the hold, and whereas they were previously often seen in the bar after work, they are now to be found throwing themselves after shuttlecocks in the hold. Contrary to appearances, the short and cuddly team of Tom B and Mally always seem to beat Craig and Kev, and currently hold the Shackleton badminton crown...

Tom, Mally and Paicey The Engineers playing badminton in the hold - click to see image

Crewman of the Week

2nd Officer Noel Lynam is our Crewman of the Week. Noel is from Dublin and lives on his boat "Lady be Good" on the Shannon.

He has worked on the BAS ships for three years and during that time met his girlfriend Kathy Hayes (the aforementioned Halley glaciologist) - so with her visit this week he has been loved up and smiling!

Noel owns two motorbikes and a banjo, and the sound of strumming can often be heard coming from his cabin. His message to his family is "the cheque's in the post" but I'm sure he sends his love as well!

Leave that banjo alone... Second mate Noel Lynam - click to see image

Birthdays this week: 3rd Officer Chris Handy, 23 on the 4th February

Forthcoming Events: We are now waiting for the accident investigation to be completed by HMS Endurance before proceeding to Halley for final call.

Contributors this week: Photos from Chris Handy, the Captain and Dartcom.

Diary 20 should be available around the 16th February

Well, it has been an eventful week here in the Weddell sea and everyone has worked very hard before, during and after the helicopter incident. Everyone on both ships and up on the ice can be extremely proud of their efforts.

Bye for now, Sue D.