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21 Mar - Leaving Rothera

Date: Sunday 21 March 2004
Position @ 1200 Local (GMT -3): 62° 23' South 058° 13' West.
Currently at: Jubany
Distance sailed from Vernadsky: 304 nmiles
Total distance sailed: 22219 nmiles

Current weather: Cloudy/overcast, clear. Snow earlier.
Sea State: Moderate seas
Wind: E x S Force 5/6
Barometric pressure: 998.2mmHg
Air temperature: -2.7°C
Sea temperature: 1.0°C
 We are here. Click to see position map.

This Week on ES

Four days at Rothera

At the end of last week we had just arrived at Rothera. We spent the next four days alongside Biscoe Wharf (apart from a period in the early hours of Tuesday when we had to leave the jetty as we were being attacked by icebergs) before leaving the winterers to their own devices on Thursday morning. During these four days we had a lot of sunshine and some wonderful sunrises and sunsets, with alpenglow on the surrounding snowy peaks making early morning rising a must.

 The Shack at Biscoe Wharf The Ernest Shackleton moored at Biscoe Wharf, Rothera - click to see image

On Tuesday, those of us walking round the base and Rothera Point were slightly surprised to look up and see a vapour trail - not something you expect to see way down South amongst the snow and ice. Further inquiry revealed that we were having an overhead visit from a NASA DC-8 which was making overflights of known points around the Antarctic in order to calibrate satellite imagery.

 Jet over Rothera The NASA DC-8 flying over Rothera - click to see image

All through the four days we spent at Rothera, the ship's crew and teams of base personnel were working hard to unload cargo for the base, and to load cargo and waste bound for the Falklands and the UK. One of the most important and fragile loads was a portable aquarium which will stay on the ship until we arrive back in the UK in May. This contains valuable scientific specimens, or, as we know them, fish. Believe it or not, the inhabitants of the aquarium are unlucky enough to suffer from seasickness, but they do get their own special nurse - Lucy Conway - who is a BAS scientist responsible for taking care of the fish on their journey north.

The unloading and loading of cargo took the whole of the four days, with people working late into the evenings in order to complete the cargo work. However, some members of the Ernest Shackleton crew found a bit of free time to go up to the base, to walk round Rothera Point (dodging icy patches, Adelie penguins and fur seals) or for other recreational activities. Chris Handy, Dolly, Tim and Andy went sledging on an improvised sledge and, as you can see from the photo below, had a great time.

 Cargo work in the hold Waste being stored in the Shackleton hold - click to see image

 Tim and Andy on the ice Tim and Andy out sledging - click to see image

On Tuesday evening a volleyball match between the ship's crew and the folks on base was played in the aircraft hangar. After an appalling first set, the Ernest Shackleton team (Pete Brigden, Ben the Dentist, Paicey, Hef, Chris Handy and John Shears) pulled back to eventually win 3 sets to 1. It was a good match, however, and the fun continued after the main event with the teams mixing up for further volleyball bouts.

 A shot from Net Cam Paicey saving a point for the Shack - click to see image

Base R - Rothera Research Station

67° 34' S 068° 08' W

Rothera is a relatively new station - it was established in October 1975 as a replacement for Adelaide (Base T) where the skiway (ice runway for planes) had deteriorated. There was a good harbour and access to a skiway at Rothera. Initially a camp, the first buildings (Phases I, II and III) were erected between 1976 and 1979. Phase IV was constructed in 1985-7 as an extension to Phase II and was named Bransfield House in 2001, after the retiring and much loved BAS ship RRS Bransfield. Biscoe Wharf (named after RRS John Biscoe, the predecessor of the current BAS research ship RRS James Clark Ross) and the gravel runway (the most southerly in the world) were both constructed in 1991/2, then the transit accommodation block (Giants House) and the first Bonner Laboratory became operational in 1997. The Bonner Lab was named after Nigel Bonner who was a biologist and Deputy Director of BAS. A new accommodation building, Admirals House, was built between 1999/2001. Both Giants and Admirals were named after Rothera dog teams from former years. In September 2001, the Bonner Laboratory was destroyed by fire, and so a new laboratory (also called the Bonner Lab) was built during the 2002/3 season and became operational this season.

Rothera has been host to many science disciplines over the years - survey work, glaciology, geology, geophysics and biology. The main science programmes today are biological but Rothera is also the main centre for BAS field operations. During the summer, a Dash-7 aircraft makes regular runs to and from Stanley in the Falklands, and Twin Otter aircraft make forays into the field to deposit and service field parties. Small boats are used to support the diving programme, to monitor water temperature and salinity, and for recreational trips. There is also a hyperbaric chamber in the new Bonner Lab. Approximately 130 scientists and support workers can be housed at Rothera during the Antarctic summer, and 23 are wintering there during 2004.

Dave Bailey - Cook and Surveyor

Our Purser Dave Bailey who was the cook at Rothera between 1993 and 1996 (when he joined the RRS Bransfield as 2nd Cook/Baker) has some Antarctic places named after him. Click here for the story of Bailey Point - Dave's account of how this came about.

 Have you seen this man...? Dave Bailey back in 1995 - click to see image

Leaving Rothera

Well, it was great fun at Rothera, but eventually we had to leave. Traditionally, on the night before sailing the ship holds a Winterers' Dinner for all people due to winter at Rothera, while the outgoing winterers and the summer team enjoy their last night on base. This year we decided to have the ship's gash team waiting on tables, so Ben, Dave Wattam, Rick "that's my tip" Atkinson and I dressed up in our best clothes, donned aprons, and carried notebooks in which to take orders. Julia made the mess room look pretty, and Keith and Ash pulled out all the stops and produced a delicious meal.

 The plates look small, but that's because Keith is a big man Chief Cook Keith plating out steaks - click to see image

To start with, there was either garlic mushrooms, bean soup or fruit cocktail. Following this was a choice between fillet steak (with a further choice between three sauces) and seafood ragout, and to end the meal the winterers had a forest fruits pavlova. Rick was a very professional wine waiter and the rest of us made passable waiters/waitresses even if we did have a tendency to remove empty plates while people were still eating.

 Back: Rick, Dave, Jules, Ben. Front: Keith, Sue, Ash. The waiters, waitress, Maitre Double D, and chefs - click to see image

The following morning, we made sure that the right people were in the right place at the right time and once we were happy that we hadn't left anyone behind who wasn't supposed to be there, we let go the lines and pulled away from the jetty. The Rothera winterers who were staying on base pelted the people on deck with snowballs and waved until we had gone then no doubt turned and went in to check what practical jokes had been left behind for them.

 Leaving Rothera Leaving the winterers at Rothera - click to see image

The 34 ex-Rothera folks who had joined the ship watched the wharf recede amid mixed emotions, especially for the outgoing wintering team leaving after a difficult and busy year on base.

St Patrick's night. Summer at Rothera was coming to an end and winter was due to start. Those remaining for the winter came on board the Ernest Shackleton for a 'winterer's meal'. The remainder of us enjoyed our 'last supper' at Rothera. It was then time to say farewell to Rothera base and to go aboard the ship. Departure time was set for 0900h the following morning. Farewells were said in the ship's bar before all retired to bed - new winterers back to the base, and those departing to their new 'cabins' on board.
I woke up early the next morning, determined to watch the ship leave the wharf. Everyone was there including Cyril, the new Rothera chef, gleaning a few extra goodies to sustain his crew through the long dark months ahead…. People were up and down the gangway saying final farewells. Six winterers from my winter were staying on so our close group was finally disbanding. The division was eventually made by the removal of the gangway. Ropes were untied and engines started. Then slowly, almost imperceptibly, the ship started to move away from the wharf. Rothera, that place I had lived for 18 months; people I had spent some incredible times with; all started to drift out of view. It is hard to describe what emotions I was feeling. A little vulnerable, a little sad and a little excited all mixed together.
Goodbye Rothera and good luck to the 2004 winterers!

Jane Nash, Doctor

After leaving Rothera with our new batch of FIDs on board, the ship spent the day steaming past Adelaide Island and headed off to our next stop - Vernadsky.

Base F - Argentine Islands/Faraday

65° 15' S 064° 16' W

 Base F Base F: Argentine Islands/Faraday (Wordie House) - click to see image

Base F was known as Argentine Islands until August 1977 then was renamed Faraday (after Michael Faraday, the English chemist and physicist who discovered electro-magnetic induction) until its handover from BAS to the Ukrainian Antarctic Programme in February 1996, when it was renamed Akademik Vernadsky. The original base was built on Winter Island (where the hut from the British Graham Land Expedition of 1935-6 had been sited). The main building was known as Wordie House after Sir James Wordie who had been a member of Shackleton's ill-fated Endurance expedition (the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition 1914-16) and also served as a scientific advisor to Operation Tabarin and FIDS (see last week's diary). In 1954 Base F was transferred a short way to Galindez Island where a new set of buildings had been built. The main building was named Coronation House after Queen Elizabeth II's coronation a year earlier.

Wordie House is now designated Historic Site No. 62 under the Antarctic Treaty. The last BAS personnel wintered at Faraday in 1995, and after a joint period of occupation the station was formally handed over to the Ukrainians on 6 February 1996. The Ukrainians have continued the scientific programmes in geophysics, meteorology and ionospherics which had been started and carried out for many years by BAS, and have added some of their own programmes such as diving.

Faraday/Vernadsky, along with Halley, has made the longest continuous record of ozone levels in the Antarctic, and the Dobson spectrophotometer at Vernadsky which is used to analyse ozone levels is now maintained and operated on base by the Ukrainians. This particular machine was previously based at Halley and was the one which led to the discovery of the ozone hole in 1985 by Joe Farman, Brian Gardiner and Jonathan Shanklin.

A Visit to Vernadsky

Eight of us were lucky enough to go to Vernadsky for a few hours - Jon Shanklin of ozone fame, John Shears, the film crew of Saritha Wilkinson and Luke Winsbury, Rich Burt, Steve Marshall, Andy Barker and me. After a brief introduction the first named five were taken to see Wordie House in one of the base Zodiac boats while Steve, Andy and myself were taken on a base tour and shown some underwater footage of the sea creatures found round the Vernadsky area, which had been filmed by a diver this season.

The Faraday bar is quite famous in Antarctic circles as it was built over a season by two chippies (carpenters) who were supposed to be building a new generator shed but instead turned their hand to making the best bar in the Antarctic. BAS understandably took a dim view of this and sacked the offenders only to realise that there was no easy way to replace them, so they were reinstated. There's certainly no denying that with its intricate carvings and curves, its ceiling beams and its graceful arches, the bar is a real attraction. It is very light and airy and has wonderful views of the surrounding scenery too. The Faraday base members started a tradition of collecting underwear from any passing ladies and the Ukrainians at Vernadsky have kept this up admirably - there is a spectacular array of brassieres displayed behind the bar. I added to this collection with a pair of my own knickers which the Base Commander Viktor accepted with glee amid a flurry of flash-bulbs.

 Viktor and Sue - note Una's Bra in the background (read on...) Doc Sue presenting her pants to the Vernadsky Base Commander Viktor Lukyashenko - click to see image

The main purposes of our visit were to inspect Wordie House (see report below) and for our BAS scientist Jonathan Shanklin to take some photos of a particular area to demonstrate climate change, to inspect the Dobson spectrophotometer and to give some tips and guidance to the scientists operating it at Vernadsky. The Rockhopper TV crew was filming Jon and the Wordie House visit as part of their project.

After we had finished the official business, and while we were waiting to be picked up, the Ukrainians laid on a buffet and plenty of vodka and some of us played a Ukrainian version of pool on the station's pool table. The opponent (pictured below) is the grandson of Anton Omelchenko, who was the "pony lad" in Captain Scott's last expedition of 1910-13.

 Jon the Hustler Jon Shanklin playing a Ukrainian version of pool - click to see image

The base itself is immaculate, and the Ukrainians have done an excellent job of maintaining it. It still retains much of the character it had in its days as Faraday (to the extent that there is still a poster of the Lake District on the wall of the dining area) but the Ukrainians have made their own mark on it too. One thing which has certainly changed since the Faraday days is the number of tourists visiting the base - the Vernadsky radio operator Pavel Budanov estimated that they had had 4000 visitors this season, an amazing and very disruptive figure for a working research station.

Full of vodka, smoked salmon and sausage, we boarded the Humbers and set off back to the ship at about 17:00, with virtually the whole of the base complement waving us off at the jetty.

 Goodbye, and thanks for all the vodka! The men of the Vernadsky IX Wintering Expedition waving us off - click to see image

Astounding fact of the week: Jon Shanklin has never been awarded a Polar Medal, but he does have a Blue Peter Badge.

Wordie House

After introductions with the Ukrainian team at Vernadsky, we were ferried across to Wordie House for a quick inspection. Wordie, named after a member of Shackleton's team, was the original hut for the British base F, Faraday, before it was handed over to the Ukraine and renamed Vernadsky. The hut was in excellent condition and a real time-capsule of Antarctic exploration. It also struck me that it was also a time-capsule more generally, since 1940's household items which in the UK would have been binned such as food tins, loo roll and magazines were still there intact. The hut is basically a large wooden bungalow, unaltered and perfectly preserved, and indeed perfectly inhabitable. It has a radio room, workshop, bunkroom/lounge, toilet and science room with old instruments for atmospheric research. It was a far cry from the size and modernity of Rothera, our last port of call. After visiting the hut John Shears carried out a removal of an equally old 'British Crown Land' sign near the hut, for preservation and scientific sampling back in Cambridge. The sign will ultimately make its way south again for display at Port Lockroy.

Luke Winsbury, BBC TV

 The British Crown Land sign on Winter Island The British Crown Land sign on Winter Island, with Wordie House in the background - click to see image

Dave's Petermann Diary

Meanwhile, a party of five had set of on an intrepid expedition to install a plaque on nearby Petermann Island.

 Click here to read Dave Wattam's account of their exploits.

While they were up installing the Charcot plaque, the boat crews of John Harper, Chris Handy, Dolly and Nelly were exploring the Argentine hut on Petermann. Much to everyone's surprise, there was a bowl of fresh lemons on the table - left by a recent ship visit. The four of them lit a Tilley lamp, boiled a kettle, and spent the time playing cards. They also visited the cross erected in memory of three Faraday men who died on the sea ice whilst trying to return to Faraday from Petermann in 1982.

 Cross on Petermann Island The memorial cross on Petermann - click to see image

The plaque at the foot of the cross reads:


Through the Lemaire Channel

The Lemaire Channel boasts some of the most picturesque scenery on the Antarctic Peninsula. It is a narrow channel between Booth Island and Graham Coast which was first sighted in 1874 by the German Antarctic Expedition of 1873-4. It was first navigated on February 12 1898 by the Belgian Antarctic Expedition of 1897-9 and named Chenal Lemaire after Captain Charles Lemaire, a Belgian explorer of the Congo, who had helped with the expedition's organisation.

"On 12 February we rounded the magnificent Cape Renard, a notable headland marking the point where the strait debouches into the Pacific, and made our twentieth and last shore landing. Then we turned into the Lemaire Channel separating Danco Land from the Danebrog Islands, named in honour of the assistance afforded the expedition in Denmark. This channel is about three-quarters of a mile wide, free of ice and bordered by sheer cliffs with, here and there, small flat glaciers at their feet. The channel is clear of obstructions, but at its southern end, where it joins the Pacific, there are numerous reefs over which the ocean swell was breaking with some ferocity, and which we were obliged to thread our way through in order to gain the open sea."

Adrien de Gerlache, Commander, Belgian Antarctic Expedition 1897-9

 The start of the Lemaire Channel Heading into the Lemaire Channel - click to see image

During most of Friday the Lemaire Channel had a substantial amount of ice in its waters and the weather was a bit iffy, but luckily for us it cleared enough for the Ernest Shackleton to sail through the channel at about six o'clock that evening. A bunch of FIDs climbed up to the Monkey Island for a chilly but spectacular view of the towering peaks and glaciers as we passed between them - whales were also in abundance (especially when my back was turned!).

The first thing you see when passing through the channel from north to south (so for us going the other way, the last thing we saw) is Cape Renard, which boasts a couple of peaks known unofficially as The Needles.

 Peaks at Cape Renard The Needles (Cape Renard) draped in mist - click to see image

Next stop - the Argentine station Jubany on King George Island at the north end of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Crewmen of the Week

This week we return to the Engine Room to complete our overview of the lads and lasses who keep the ship going - our Chief Engineer, ETO (Elect) and Motorman.

 Peter, Craig and Big Tom Peter Brigden (ChEng), Craig Paice (Motorman) and Tom Waller (ETO Elect) in the ship's control room - click to see image

Pete Brigden is our Chief Engineer. He joined BAS as 2nd Engineer back in September 1992. Like the ship's master he is a car freak, owning a 1972 Triumph TR6 and a 1968 drop-head Triumph Vitesse 2 litre which at the moment is still in a few boxes awaiting completion. His daughter Isabelle (IzzA) is eagerly awaiting completion of the Vitesse as she will be 17 in two years time!

Electrician Tom Waller has worked on the Ernest Shackleton in the North Sea before but this is his first trip to the Antarctic. He is a huge fan of Shania Twain. Tom says: I am from Fyvie Aberdeenshire, Age 54 and a Born again Single Person. Being a great fan of Sandra Bullock, I would wish for World Peace and say hi to Vic, Kate, Rose and Joe back home looking after my affairs and a special Hi to my Girlfriend Mary Ellen who is teaching in Guatemala City right now.

Craig Paice (Paicey), our Motorman, has worked on BAS ships since 1998. Craig is originally from New Zealand (and says hello to his NZ fan club, his mum and dad - apologies for the rather bad photo of Craig above!) but now lives in Stanley with his girlfriend Corrinne.

Birthdays this week: Chris Hindley and David Lee

Forthcoming Events: Returning to Stanley for a crew change then back down to pick up the Danco team.

Contributors this week: Dave Bailey for his tales of surveying at Fossil Bluff, Jane Nash for her words about leaving Rothera, Luke Winsbury for the description of Wordie House, and Dave Wattam for his great account of the Petermann expedition.

Petermann plaque photos by Ben. Sledging and Petermann cross photos by Chris Handy. Wordie photos by Rich Burt.

Useful suggestions by Captain Marshall, Jon Shanklin, and Keith Walker.


BAS Scientific Reports No.113: The History of Place Names in the British Antarctic Territory (G. Hattersley-Smith) 1991 Edition

Research Stations and Refuges of the British Antarctic Survey and its Predecessors (M.A. Martin/J. Rae) Edition 4, 2001

The Voyage of the Pourquoi Pas? - The Journal of the Second French South Polar Expedition, 1908-1910 by Jean Charcot (ISBN 0-903983-75-3)

Voyage of the Belgica: Fifteen Months in the Antarctic by Adrien de Gerlache de Gomery (ISBN 1-85297-054-5)

Diary 26 should be available soon.

Many thanks to all those on board who made contributions to what has turned out to be a real bumper issue this week.

A big thank you to the Ukrainians at Vernadsky, especially the Base Commander Viktor and the English speakers Pavel and Anton. And hi to our American friends at Palmer Station, sorry we didn't have time to visit you all!

Regular HF radio scheds have been taking place with the Abandoned Bases team at Danco and they are all safe, well, working hard and by all accounts enjoying themselves.

Bye for now, Sue D.