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09 Oct - Drydock

Date: Sunday 09 October 2005
Position @ 1200 Local (GMT+1): 50°48' North, 001°06' West
Next destination: Portland, Dorset
ETA: Thursday 20 October 2005
Distance to go: 58 NM
Distance sailed from UK : Yet to commence this season
Total distance sailed: Nil

Current weather: Fine and clear. High cloud and blue skies
Wind: Light airs
Sea state: Very turbulent waterfall at the north end of the Drydock, otherwise totally calm
Barometric pressure: 1020.8 mmHg
Air temperature: 15.2°C
Sea temperature: 13.8°C

Shackleton in drydock Click to see view of the Shackleton in today’s position.

Apologies.To those avid readers who noticed the last diary’s reference to ‘North Sea Diary No.13’. As you can see, we are no longer in the North Sea Season and can officially call this the start of the Antarctic Season 2005-2006, even though we are still only in refit. So welcome to ‘Diary No.1’ for the forthcoming season.


We arrived at the Portsmouth Refit on Thursday 22nd September after only 2 days demobilization in Grimsby on the Humber. It was goodbye to the Light Taut Wire, goodbye to Stolt Offshore, goodbye to our friendly DPO’s (Dynamic Positioning Officers), goodbye to Helicopter operations, Pipe surveying, and North Sea Work for another year.

The journey around to Portsmouth was uneventful except that it gave our Deck Officers the chance to ‘play’ with the traffic of the English Channel. Heavy traffic is something that we seldom get a chance to encounter when in Antarctica or on passage across the equator. Heavy Icebergs – yes. But heavy shipping – …? The English Channel TSS (Traffic Separation System) is a hive of activity with two-way traffic - similar to a motorway – for those transiting through the English Channel, plus a criss-cross matrix of ferries, fishing vessels, pleasure vessels and small craft cutting across the TSS at 90 degrees – most unlike a motorway ?!!

Talking to the Officers of the Watch, they like this aspect of the job with plenty of concentration, plenty of monitoring, and as they say, ‘the watch just flies by’.

Then the Shackleton sailed up the Solent and to Portsmouth Naval Base where we came to rest in Dock 15 on the Thursday afternoon. It was a long careful job to navigate the Ship through the B Dock, into the No.3 Basin and finally lay her alongside in Dock 15. With blocks below us accurately placed to mirror the ship’s profile, we inched slowly into place and tied fast so as to allow the vessel to settle exactly on the blocks. Then on the Friday morning, they placed the pontoon across the entrance of the dock and started to pump out the water.

Wet Dock! Click on image to enlarge the ‘Wet Dock’.

The dock gate is an ingenious device. It is not a gate as such, but a floating pontoon. Once the vessel is inside the dock, the pontoon is floated into position behind the vessel and across the dock opening. It then nestles into the hole like a cork in a bottle. Once the pumping operation begins and the water is evacuated from the ship-side of the pontoon, the water pressure building up on the opposite side is enough to jam the cork firmly into place. This forms an all-but water-tight seal that keeps us dry in drydock and once the dock is re-flooded (estimated as next Saturday 15th), then the pressure will be relieved and the pontoon will simply be floated away to allow us to depart. Simple, but effective.

The pontoon Click to enlarge the Pontoon.

I have been asked how we managed to keep the water out during refit, and that – in a nutshell – is the explanation. It is not too technical, but one of the more peaceful moments of the refit, is to go to the dock bottoms and take time out to listen to the trickle of water that inevitably manages to get through the cracks and disappear into a drain for pumping back out into the basin. It is reminiscent of the waterfalls found on the hillsides of South Georgia and featured in earlier webpages. Here is a picture taken last February in Ocean Harbour when the Shackleton was on an opportunistic visit. The trickle of cascading water soothes the stress of the refit period and calms the soul in preparation for that long, steep climb back out of the dock bottoms.

Waterfall on South Georgia Click on image to compare.

Access to the dock bottoms is via a set of steps at the rear, starboard quarter of the vessel. There are more sets of steps, but this is the ‘controlled’ set of steps where we can account for people who are working in the dock in an emergency. The steps are steep but they are dry. Initially they were wet and ‘slimy’ but after only a short while and with the amount of traffic climbing up and down each day, they soon dry off and are perfectly safe.

Drydock Drydock Drydock

Click on all images above to enlarge.

Here are a selection of shots showing the way down to the underside of the ship here at Portsmouth. In order, we have the dock walls, pressure washing the propeller, and some idiot Radio Officer trying to ‘hold up’ the weight of the Shackleton. Doesn’t he know it’s perfectly safe to ‘let go’ ?

Wavey Davey’s Weekly Wit Spot

Yes, he’s back. Wavey has finished his week of night shift and is back with the regular hours of watch. That means he is around to plague us all with his inane humour and constant barrage of witty-isms !

But Wavey wasn’t always destined to be an Antarctic Seafarer. His Mum wanted him to be a Doctor. Unfortunately, Wavey just didn’t have the patience !

Meanwhile, Davey has a keen interest in all things military. It is obvious when you see his camouflaged notebook, his camouflaged pen, his camouflaged knife and camouflaged cup. The trouble is that he just can’t find any of them ??

Amongst the many tasks occurring here in refit, the tanks have all been cleaned (seawater ballast tanks, fresh water tanks, sludge tanks and diesel fuel tanks), the Azimuth thrusters has been removed for refurbishment, the tunnel thrusters have been attended to, a main engine has been totally stripped down and rebuilt, and the anchor windlasses have been repaired with new parts. We are having a whole new ship’s Telephone System installed and a new Echo Sounder to fit, some bathrooms are having their floors reshaped and re-tiled, and the ship has had a total strip down and repaint, and is starting to look very spruce !

When we first arrived, the bottom of the ship was covered in marine growth and crustaceans that have since been cleaned off, but before we started, 2nd Officer Mike Golding was tasked with the job of taking some samples, preserving them in Gin and then despatching them off to HQ Cambridge for analysis and all that good science.

Mike collecting specimens Click to enlarge Mike collecting specimens.

A biological question has arisen about transfer of organisms across the world, transported across the globe by vessels. The scientists are now testing these little attachments and hoping to study the filtered water of our ballast tanks to see what environmental impact it might have on the ecosystems of differing regions. Consider if you will the current concern about the spread of Bird Flu by migrating wild fowl and you have a similar scenario – albeit not as life-threatening to man !

Once cleared of any foreign bodies, the ship is now ready for a coat of anti-fouling paint and a shiny new top coat. All the sensors and transducers on the keel are covered to protect them from being coated in paint and these will be removed before the final inspection this week. Then we re-flood the dry dock.

New life rafts. New certification. New surveys. New fire extinguishers. New upholstery. New crane wires. As you can see, this ‘MOT’ for a ship is pretty expensive, and covers a multitude of areas from the bow to the stern and from the Crows Nest to the keel. You wouldn’t want to have to put your car through such a thorough workover every year, let me tell you.

However, as I type this in Day 18 of the drydock, we have only another 5 days left before we finish here and float free to a wet berth and complete preparations for sea. We intend to sail overnight on the 19th to Portland where we will load our Antarctic Cargo this year and plan to be there for about 8 days. Then we all put on our Tropical rig and head for the warmer climes of the Equator and South America.  Yeeha. Of course there is a little thing called ‘the Biscay’ to undergo first ? But that will be reported nearer the time.

And finally here are two unusual views of the vessel that we don’t always see. Looking up at the Stern of the ship, we can see a fish-eye’s view of the aft gantry crane and the shiny propeller.

Stern of the ship Stern of the ship

Click images above to enlarge them.

Forthcoming Events: Complete the work in Dry Dock and re-float on Saturday 15th. Move to a wet berth here at Portsmouth and prepare to sail for Portland on Wednesday 19th.

Contributors this week: Thanks to Fleet Services Ltd (FSL) for putting us up on blocks, ripping the guts out of the ship, and giving us the opportunity to photograph the underside of RRS Ernest Shackleton.

Diary No.2 will hopefully be written on during the next two weeks for publication in before the end of October.

Stevie B
Radio Officer