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Dec 31 - Happy New Year

Date: Sunday 31st December 2006


Position @ 1200 Local (GMT): 75°17.2 South, 025°59.5 West, - Just at the Halley Base Ice Shelf
Next destination: N9 Near Halley Base, Brunt Ice Shelf.
ETA: This Afternoon, 31st December. Exact time of arrival still dependent upon the remaining Pack Ice.
Distance to go: 4.0 nmiles.
Distance Since Montevideo. : 11179.4 nmiles.
Plus a lot of miles not accounted for as we zig and zag through the Pack Ice.

Current weather:Overcast Skies, but Light, and Clear. Occasional flakes of Snow.
Sea State: Little Sea is Visible. With 8 to 9/10th's Pack Ice.
Wind : NorthEasterly, 18 Knots.
Barometric pressure: 987.1 mmHg
Air temperature: -0.9°C
Sea temperature: -1.9°C

Click to Enlarge.

Up to date position information is available courtesy of ‘ sailwx/info’ taken from our Metrological Observations..

The RRS Ernest Shackleton has spent the last week 'playing' with the Pack Ice off the Stancomb Wills Ice Tongue

Click on Image to Enlarge.

The RRS Ernest Shackleton on Christmas Afternoon with Onlooker and Well-wisher.

The problem, as reported in last week's webpage, was that the SouthWesterly winds had compacted the Weddell Pack Ice up against the Antarctic Ice Shelf and makes it very hard-going for the ship to penetrate. For every mile gained we possibly had to back-track another two ? It was very slow, deliberate work, and eventually Capt.Harper thought better of burning fuel in an attempt to get through. From the Satellite imagery and the weather forecasts we were receiving, the wind was due to change direction in about 3 days which would invariably ease the Pack Conditions in the Weddell Sea.

The 3 days turned into another 3 days turned into another 3 days turned ... as it appeared, the forecast wind change never seemed to appear until late this week when the pack appeared to open a little. The Wind change was not significantly large, but just the reversal of direction was enough to let the current do it's usual movement of the pack and for pools of open water to start to appear in the ice before us.

Our Position on New Years Eve.

The Straight line was the intended Track of the Ship. The Shaky line is the Actual Track of the Ship complete with Absolute reversals at dead ends.

However, the end is in sight and the Ice Cliffs of the Brunt Ice Shelf have been ever-present throughout the week ... so near and yet so far !

The Life and Times of Two Doctors stuck at sea

So the last week has seen the Shackleton move almost nowhere whilst stuck in the pack ice. pending arrival at Halley. To dispel rumours that BAS doctors do no work, I spend my time productively writing this article to disprove this idle gossip.

To set the scene there are presently two doctors aboard the ship. Richard who is heading for Halley, and has sailed all the way from the UK, and myself who boarded 2 weeks ago in South Georgia after my sentence,... sorry job, there had finished. I am not here for the 'jolly'* as some gossip mongers would like to believe!

* Jolly = Antarctic term for a holiday, field trip, or just plain enjoying yourself !

Being 'unethical' to go ‘creating’ patients, we have been occupying ourselves in many other ways….

First aid training is an essential and very useful way of killing hours of FIDS boredom at sea. A full day of revision for some, and new skills for others. The teaching ranged from airway skills, through cold injuries, to the ever useful how to put on a sling. Why is it that no one can ever remember that (even doctors)! ?

And then so the crew didn’t feel left out, a re-run of basic airway and breathing equipment was provided for the stretcher party, and then a pleasant afternoon was spent teaching them to sew back up the defrosted-chicken-legs that Richard had cruelly attacked with a scalpel. We are pleased to inform you that the crew excel in suturing, and it must be all those knots they have to learn ? Unfortunately, some doctors are still struggling to learn sailor's knots…..''how does that bowline go again Richard''?

Click on All Images to Enlarge.

Stevie and Richard suturing

Unfortunately this year there is no dentist on the Shack for first call, so the pair of us decided to practise our dental skills and preaching on the poor unsuspecting new winterers. They all left the surgery with gleaming smiles, but bored expressions after their lectures on the importance of dental hygiene whilst south.

After that we had to stretch our medical skills further…..

Posing : well this was Richards’s idea ! We thought we really should show the other medics in Antarctica how hardy us doctors stuck in the ice, really are.

Richard and Charlotte in scrubs

Reading : a luxury that the busy South Georgia doctor hasn’t had time for in the past year so it is a vital pastime prior to her return to civilisation so she remembers how to use big words again.

Charlotte reading

Maitre de : Medical school gives you 5 years of cultivating skills you didn’t know you possessed. Fortunately, during my five years I learnt the skills of head-waitressing and corporate hospitality. This gave me ample experience for the important job of Maitre De for the Christmas dinner. I gracefully greeted the guests, made sure they were properly clad for their meal, and kept my 4 waiters under check, to make sure the customers were served promptly and with finesse. I even sided with our ever-persistent purser taking wine orders from the bond.

Skidoo Driving : the Captain, to maintain the sanity of the FID’s onboard, kindly came alongside a stable piece of fast ice. It was deemed 'safe' by our resident GA’s and training was commenced on skidoo handling, and also rope work. As you can see we both look pretty cool on Skidoo’s whether competent or not. Which I guess goes back to posing!

Pictures of Richard and me on skidoo

Vet Skills : See last weeks webpage. The Shackleton races was a busy day what with horses falling frequently at the first fence.

Bread making : An important task for those on night duty at Halley. Izzy, one of the chefs, decided to get in early and do 'bread school' onboard. Richard, along with Thomas and Neil turned out a lovely batch of loaves.

Bread making

Tea drinking : having spent 15 months south already I am well practised in the art of tea drinking which is an essential BAS requirement. BAS also require that you never go longer than 2 hours without something mysteriously called ‘smoko’. Now this is a strange concept to busy hospital doctors like Richard and myself, who are normally lucky to get lunch in between clinics and ward rounds. I found this a difficult requirement to get used to and thus I importantly spend large amounts of time handing this over to Richard.

Picture of us drinking tea

Writing for the Shackleton web diary : Obviously a highly important task and you will note this to be my second entry in 2 weeks!

On Christmas day Dr Vicky Mottram the present Halley doctor got so concerned that we were run off our feet that she persuaded the BAS air unit to fly over the ship just to check we were OK. Fortunately, she took our waving as a good sign, and postponed her emergency parachute drop onto the ship. We have since reassured her that we are just about coping!

Twin otter

So there you have it. Who said that BAS doctors do nothing, we are in fact very busy doing lots of very important things!

Authoress : the Busy Shackleton Charlotte !!!

Wavey Davey’s Weekly Wit Spot.

Wavey Davey asks 'What do you call a line of 20 rabbits, going backwards... ???'

'A receding hare-line'.

Enough of the Jokes. Wavey Davey has been inspired by the poem last week ( Ron's Mum ) to have a go himself. While he is far from our next Poet Laureate... maybe he has promise ? I don't know ... what do YOU think ?

It was Christmas Day In the Pack Ice.
The ship was all a shudder,
The Captain turned the Rudder,
But the Ice it turned to butter.

The Ship stuck fast.
The Ice grew vast.
With Ralph up the mast
The seals slid past.

The Ice it cracked,
The Pack, it parted.
The Ship, it started
Onwards through the Ice we charted.

Our Track we Plotted (see above)
The Base we spotted,
The FID's rejoiced, jobs allotted.
The Relief was started
Then from the Base, we departed !

( The last verse is a premonition methinks - Ed. ).

Well done Wavey Davey Laureate.

The Continuing Adventures of PP.

by Wavey Davey

Postman Pat Part Five. ( will be published Next Week )...

To be continued..

Ralph’s Journal

Christmas on Ice

Photos and text by Ralph Stevens, 3rd Officer, RRS Ernest Shackleton

After many years of waiting, in fact since 1985 for me, a white Christmas is finally here. I just had to travel a little to find it. It was a most unique Christmas.

  A British Antarctic Survey Twin Otter making a Christmas Day Flyby

The last fortnight has been extremely interesting. After spending so much of my career avoiding hitting things, it is somewhat a shock to the system to be ramming through ice. The ice has a strange sound to it. I can only describe it as a scraping noise as it passes down the side of the vessel combined with the occasional crunch and shudder as we hit a thicker piece. At times you can feel the vessel ride up and drop down as the weight of the vessel cracks the ice under the bow.

Myself Driving. Photo taken by Chris Martin

Glacial & Continental Ice

This is a colour photo of Sunshine Glacier on Signy Island.

Ice navigation is a subject that has always interested me. At the moment we are amongst sea ice. Although on the way down from the Falklands the majority of ice we encountered was glacial ice. As the snow falls on land, it builds up and is compacted by the weight of the new snow falling above it. This ice is fresh water ice and has plastic properties in that it actually flows like a very viscous liquid. As the snow is compacted air is trapped and small bubbles form in the ice. This air is under some pressure. If you put glacial ice in your gin, it will crackle and pop as the air bubbles are released. The air is squeezed out of the very compacted ice. This ice does not appear white but has a colour varying from a blue tinge to neon blue. Generally, the deeper the blue, the harder the ice/the less air it contains. The air bubbles introduce weaknesses into the ice. If the vessel hits a small piece of the blue, super dense ice, it makes a loud bang, whereas the softer, whiter ice would not be heard. Where they are denser, the blue bits float lower in the water. They are the hardest to see and the most dangerous.

A Blue Berg.

These glaciers calve where they meet the water and icebergs are released.There are many words used to describe icebergs but we generally use five descriptions more than the others:

Brash Ice : Small, floating ice fragments.

Growler :This is a bit of ice that has broken off a glacier or iceberg and is up to the size of a family car.We keep a careful lookout to avoid hitting these. At night the vessel has forward facing searchlights and we proceed at a reduced speed. They generally do not show up on radar, but may do so if they are large and the water is flat calm.

Bergy Bit : This is again a bit of ice that has broken off a glacier or iceberg but is up to the size of a large house.They generally show up on radar, but radar detection depends upon the shape of the bit and weather conditions.

Iceberg : Anything larger than a Bergy Bit.

Tabular Berg : A flat topped iceberg that has broken of an Ice Tongue/Ice Shelf.These can be many tens of miles long.

A Tabular Berg with a broken back.

Once of the most interesting things is that icebergs are not always clean.In fact they can be black.This can be due to the debris picked up at the glacial flow stage or due to deposition such as volcanic ash.The Antarctic region is quite active.Often the iceberg may be part black with a distinct boundary where it turns absolutely white.

A partly black iceberg.

The boundary between black and white on this berg was very abrupt.

Often there can be bacterial or diatomaceous growth on the bergs. Some of the bacterial growth can be vivid red in colour.Diatoms appear as a yellow/brown stain around the waterline.

Red Bacterial growth on a Glacier Face at Signy

Regarding Continental Ice, I am referring to ice that falls as snow on the Antarctic continent and is compressed by the weight of the snow above it.It is similar to a glacier as the whole Antarctic ice shelf continually flows outwards.The edge of the shelf is marked by ice cliffs.These cliffs calve off depositing icebergs, bergy bits and growlers.An Ice Tongue refers to an area where the flow of the continental ice is faster.This area protrudes out to sea in the form of a tongue.It is from ice tongue that the majority of the vast tabular bergs are produced, some are many tens or even hundreds of miles long.

Sea Ice

Ice Floes Seen from the Conning Tower.

Sea Ice forms from the freezing of seawater.Sea water freezes at a lower temperature than freshwater, approximately –1.5°C. Water that is around this temperature contains little plates of ice a few millimetres across called spicules. It is hard to tell this until you pick up a bucketful.There are four stages in sea ice formation:

New Ice :This is when the first ice is visible on the surface of the sea.It’s types include Grease Ice, Shuga, Frazil Ice, and Slush.Grease Ice is particularly interesting.It seems to form on calm water and gives the impression of an oil sheen on the water.

Young Ice :This is the name given to the stage at which a crust forms and begins to thicken.Nilas and Ice Rind are the names given to this initial crust formation.Once this thickens it becomes known as Grey or Grey/White Ice.

First Year Ice :The majority of ice we encounter and break through is first year ice.It varies between approximately 30-200cm thick, and is described as being thin, medium or thick first year ice.A large amount of this ice will melt away during the Antarctic Summer each year.

Multi Year Ice :This is what remains of the first year ice following the summer melting.This is thicker than first year ice but does not normally grow more than 3.5m as the summer melting balances out with the winter accretion.After a couple of years this ice is fresh enough to be drunk.Over time the salt content of the ice leeches out.The fresher the ice becomes, the harder it becomes as any pooling of brine is removed.

I have read, but not seen, that multi year ice sometimes shows diatomaceous banding which shows the age much like tree rings.Sea ice forms from the bottom, as is grows diatoms are trapped in the ice.When you break through an ice flow it releases what looks like dirty yellow/brown ice.This is the diatoms being released.

Diatoms in Ice.

A view of diatoms being freed in ice freshly broken by the ship.

There is also fast ice.This is an area of sea ice that is attached to the ice cliffs.The term also covers sea ice that is attached to land.

Ice Floes refer to more or less flat, floating pieces of ice that are more than 20 metres across, anything less than this is known as Ice Cake.They can be many tens of miles across in size.Ice floes can be heavily consolidated when they are forced together in storms.This sometimes results in a confused and jagged mass of broken ice atop the floe.

Sea Ice.

The results of ice floes being forced together in a storm.

Other Phenomenon over the past two weeks

An interesting effect is how the presence of a darker colour melts ice.Darker colours absorb more solar radiation and get hotter quicker than whiter colours.This can be seen quite often on the sea ice where animal faeces begins to “burrow” small holes into the ice.While it was snowing over Christmas I saw this effect on the top of our lifeboats.

Notice how the snow has melted away over the black letters but it remains on the white markings and orange background.

In areas where ice and water exist, they make a noticeable difference in the colour of the clouds above them.Above ice, the light reflects and causes the underside of the clouds to appear a white or slightly yellowish.This is known as Ice Blink.Above the sea, there is less reflected light and it takes the darker colour of the sea.We call this Water Sky.I saw a good example of this while we were mooring alongside the ice for the Halley relief.

Ice Blink.

This photo was taken with the ice shelf on the left and sea beyond the field of view to the right.

Both Ice Blink and Water Sky can be seen.

I saw an interesting effect surrounding ice floes as we approached Halley.I don’t know too much about it.As far as I can make out it is due to re-freezing around the edges of the floes.

Floe Edge.

An interesting ice pattern around floe edges.

I hope to have many more interesting experiences for my next journal entry in two weeks time.

Author 3rd Officer Ralph.

Onboard the RRS Ernest Shackleton, the webpages conveniently coincided with Christmas last week and New Year's this week. With Christmas Eve occurring just the last webpage went to press, the reports of the Christmas Dinner failed to make the publication date. But for the first time since I have travelled South to Halley, we spent Christmas day at sea, and not alongside working the 24-hours-a-day routines.

Christmas day actually came and went with little celebration, but instead, the Christmas dinner was arranged for the Wednesday afternoon. That is not to say that the Catering staff had not been making preparations for days before. And so it was on Wednesday at 1300 hours, the whole ship's company took the time to get into something smart and congregate for pre-Xmas Dinner drinkies in the Red Room. The Maitre'D (Charlotte) was tasked by Micky (never-misses-an-opportunity) Quinn to allocate a fine of 1 case of beer for any individual failing to meet the stringent dress code of Christmas !!!

Christmas Dinner.

The Gathered

And Special Guests !!! ( Hey Postman Pat shouldn't be appearing till NEXT week ???).

The Mess Room was neatly attired too, and everyone seemed to have a wonderful meal. Good company, good food, and good 'banter' too.

We even had an unexpected guest who showed up to imbibe some of the Christmas spirit !

Click to Enlarge the Menu...

The Bill of Fayre was fantastic as usual and I for one left the Mess room wishing I hadn't had ALL the courses after all - but how could you resist ?

Then with all these folks in the Mess room stuffing their faces like it was their last meal - including those volunteers who served everybody else between courses - who do you think was guarding the ship ?? That - of course - fell to the able talents of Captain Harper. But it's Christmas ? How could we leave the Master out of all the festivities ??? The answer to that is ' We didn't '.

Again the Catering Department came to the rescue with a 'Table for One' on the bridge where the Captain could enjoy his festive meal whilst in full command of the ship and all alarms and the only thing missing was the Crackers and the Party Hat ... but then again, enlarge the picture !?

Click to enlarge 'Billy-no-mates !'

AND FINALLY, We will be arriving alongside at Halley's Creek N9 shortly. It is about 60km's removed from the Base on the Ice Shelf, but the Sea Ice around the usual Creeks some 15km's from the Base, is so poor that transportation across it would be impossible. And so we will be doing the longer runs to Halley across the 'Bondu' and hope to be able to report that next week.

It only remains for all onboard to wish our readership the most Prosperous and Wondrous 2007 and hope it brings all you would wish yourselves,... including a whole other year of Wavey Davey's Jokes ???

Forthcoming Events: Start a whole New Year. !

Complete the passage through the Sea Ice to the Creeks of Halley and start the 2006/2007 Halley Relief.

Contributions This Week : Thanks to Dr.Charlotte Routh and 3rd Officer Ralph Stevens. And to Wavey Davey as always. Also a special mention to all my crewmates onboard who let me purloin their photos to illustrate this rather sizeable offering this week.

Diary No.7 will be prepared on Sunday 06th January 2007 for publication on or around 07th January.

Happy 2007

Stevie B

Radio Officer.