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RRS Ernest Shackleton Diary - 11 June 2000

Further north sea operations.

Date: Sunday 11 June 2000

Position at 0800 UTC +1
Latitude: 60°56′ North
Longitude: 00°56′ East

745 m from Heather Alpha Platform.

Weather dull and overcast. Sun trying to break through the clouds.

The Heather Alpha Platform, Sunday 11th June from 745m
The Heather Alpha Platform, Sunday 11th June from 745m

Following our afternoon departure from Aberdeen last Sunday RRS Ernest Shackleton headed towards the MacCulloch oil field, a distance of some 120 nautical miles, arriving in the early hours of Monday morning.

Prior to any survey work taking place, the Dynamic Positioning (DP) System has to be fully tested to ensure that it is safe to deploy the ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle). These checks take in the region of two hours to complete, and all systems relating to the operation of the vessel in DP mode have to be tested. This includes communications between the Bridge and Engine Room, ROV Control Room, Survey Room, tests on thrusters, positioning systems, gyros, wind sensors, rudder, propeller, the correct functioning of the computers that control the DP console, plus a myriad of other items that could affect the operation of the system. Further checks are then completed every twelve hours and also immediately prior to entering a 500m zone.

The Dynamic Position (DP) System is designed to keep the vessel in a known position (either stationary or moving) to within about 50 cm in weather conditions of up to Force 8. The DP Console is manned at all times that the vessel is in DP mode, and when working within 500 m or less of a rig there must be two DP operators on the Bridge.

For the purpose of our current charter there are four DP operators onboard, and there are two on watch at any one time, working 12 hour shifts, with one doing 1200–00 or 00–1200 and the other doing 0600–1800 or 1800–0600, thus there is always an operator on who has knowledge of the previous six hours work when there is a shift change.

The initial survey work involved the ROV taking video of two manifolds and one well head, inspecting them for damage or obstructions (often caused by fishing nets etc). Once this was completed the ROV is recovered onboard and special tools are then fitted so that, following very skillful driving by the ROV operator, the valves on the manifolds can be activated and tested.

The flow of oil from the manifold goes to a FPSO (Floating Production Storage Offshore) vessel called The North Sea Producer which has been out in the field for some three years now. The North Sea Producer does not actually store any oil as it is pumped back down a pipeline to shore (affectionately known in the oil industry as the ‘beach’).

The FPSO North Sea Producer on an almost wind free day (notice the burn-off flame).
The FPSO North Sea Producer on an almost wind free day (notice the burn-off flame).

Following completion of the work in the vicinity of the FPSO on Wednesday 7th June, the vessel remained in the vicinity until early afternoon when a helicopter from Aberdeen was due to arrive to uplift four charterer personnel. The helicopter landed at 1348 and left twelve minutes later. Once the Helideck had been cleared and the crane stowed (it normally sits across the Helideck and so has to be moved around to a forward position so as not to obstruct the area) the vessel than headed towards the Ninian Central Platform, arriving at 0345UTC.

As this was a new field, with new clients, a full DP system check was undertaken and also a water profile taken (used to calibrate our transponder positioning system which has to take into account the velocity of sound through water, which can change). Modifications were needed to the ROV for the work to be carried out and these were completed during the remainder of the day, with the pipeline survey starting at 0500 UTC on Friday 9th June.

The initial survey work was to be within the 500m zone of the Ninian Central Platform, and at times RRS Ernest Shackleton was as close as 50m to the structure. The ship seemed very small in comparison!

Working close in to the Ninian Central Platform.
Working close in to the Ninian Central Platform.

With the completion of the close-up work the ROV was recovered onboard and a pipe tracking system installed. This was to be used to follow some 33 km of 16″ oil pipe which runs to the north-west. The ROV follows the pipe, which at times is buried, at a speed of about 1 knot. The DP is set to follow the ROV and adjusts the ship’s speed and heading according to what the ROV is doing some one hundred metres below and forty metres away from the ship’s side.

Preparing the ROV for a dive.
Preparing the ROV for a dive.

Ernest Henry Shackleton — Part 1Ernest Henry Shackleton

Ernest Henry Shackleton was born at Kilkea House, County Kildare, on February 15, 1874.

The Shackletons came originally from Yorkshire. The founder of the family was Abraham Shackleton, a Quaker, who moved to Ireland early in the eighteenth century and started a school at Ballitore, near Dublin. Henry Shackleton, Ernest’s father, was Abraham’s direct descendant in the fourth generation. Henry tried to enter the army but his poor health prevented him. Becoming a farmer instead, he settled in the green, fertile, rolling fields of County Kildare at a place called Kilkea. Ernest’s mother, born Henrietta Letitia Sophia Gavan, married Henry in 1872, bringing a touch of Irish blood into an otherwise pure Anglo-Irish lineage. Ernest’s birth happened to coincide with the disastrous potato crop failure, so much a part of Irish history. This meant an agricultural depression and difficult times for farmers. Henry Shackleton was a survivalist and therefore abandoned his farm before it was too late. At the age of 33, Henry left his farm to Trinity College in Dublin and started a new career in medicine. In 1884, Dr. Shackleton crossed the water and settled in England. It was in suburban London that Ernest Shackleton spent the remainder of his boyhood years. Ernest’s mother became mysteriously an invalid and remained so for the last forty years of her life. Dr. Shackleton, with help from his mother-in-law and various female relatives from Ireland, raised Ernest and the other children. Until the age of eleven and a half, Shackleton was educated at home by a governess. He then went to Fir Lodge Preparatory School, down the road from his home, Aberdeen House, in West Hill. In 1887 Ernest left Fir Lodge to go to Dulwich College. Henry desired for his son to enter the medical field but Ernest would have no part of it. Longing for the sea, Ernest left Dulwich at the end of the Lent term in 1890 and on April 19, at the age of sixteen, went to Liverpool and joined the full rigger Hoghton Tower, owned by the North Western Shipping Company of Liverpool. Ernest’s first experience at sea belongs to sailor’s folklore. The Hoghton Tower was bound for Valparaiso round Cape Horn. They reached Cape Horn in the middle of winter and fought against storms for nearly two months before finally rounding the Cape. Battered by the seas, the Hoghton Tower reached Valparaiso in the middle of August. From there she sailed for Iquique, Chile where for six weeks she loaded nitrates. The Hoghton Tower returned to Liverpool at the end of April, 1891, with food and water running out. It was a hard, difficult trip, especially for a sixteen-year-old novice. Shackleton went on to spend five years sailing to and from the Far East and America. In 1896, without much difficulty, Shackleton passed for First Mate. In April 1898, he was certified as Master. At the age of twenty-four he had qualified to command a British ship anywhere on the seven seas.

In the summer of 1897, Shackleton met and became attracted to one of his sisters’ friends, Emily Dorman. Ernest had just returned from a voyage to Japan aboard the Flintshire when he met the tall, dark-haired young woman “with a good figure”. At the end of 1898, the Flintshire ran aground near Middlesbrough which gave him the opportunity to take leave for 24-hours in order to go home for his father’s birthday on January 1. On the way, he stopped and visited The Firs, where Emily lived, and for the first time Ernest was seriously in love. Shackleton had enough of tramping to the East. To improve his standing with Emily and her father, he left the Welsh Shire Line and, early in 1899, took a position with the Union Castle Line.

The Union Castle Line belonged to the elite of the merchant service. The ships were immaculate, from their red and black funnels to their red boot topping. Used to carry mails between England and South Africa, it was the next best thing to the navy. The brass-work glistened as officers paraded in navy blue and gold braid across the decks. As a bonus, the Union Castle Line meant coming home regularly every two months instead of long and undetermined absences aboard a tramper. It was an ideal itinerary: down the Solent from Southampton, round the bulge of Africa, across the Bight of Benin, into the docks at Cape Town and back… six thousand miles each way. By December, promoted to Third Officer, Shackleton was transferred to the Tintagel Castle which was hauling troops to the Cape since, in October 1899, the Boer War had broken out. During the summer of 1900, Shackleton was in London on leave, seeing Emily when he could. Then, on September 13, Shackleton wrote to volunteer for the National Antarctic Expedition (commanded by Robert Falcon Scott), which was in the process of being organized. Four days later he visited the expedition offices in person to press home his desires. A journalist later asked Shackleton where he got the notion to become an explorer and Ernest responded, “I think it came to me during my first voyage… I felt strangely drawn towards the mysterious south… we rounded Cape Horn in the depth of winter. It was one continuous blizzard all the way… Yet many a time, even in the midst of all this discomfort, my thoughts would go out to the southward… But strangely enough, the circumstance which actually determined me to become an explorer was a dream I had when I was twenty-two. We were beating out to New York from Gibraltar, and I dreamt I was standing on the bridge in mid-Atlantic and looking northward. It was a simple dream. I seemed to vow to myself that some day I would go to the region of ice and snow and go on and on till I came to one of the poles of the earth, the end of the axis upon which this great round ball turns”. In March, 1900, Shackleton was on his second trooping voyage to South Africa in the Tintagel Castle when he met Cedric Longstaff, a lieutenant in the East Surrey Regiment. Longstaff’s father, Llewellyn, happened to be the principal benefactor of the National Antarctic Expedition… he had donated £25,000 to make the expedition possible. Shackleton persuaded Cedric Longstaff to give him an introduction to his father.

The summer of 1900 was filled with uncertainty. Ernest’s brother, Frank, was commissioned in the Royal Irish Fusiliers, bound for South Africa to take part in the final days, so it seemed, of the war. But front-page news was Carsten Borchgrevink, recently returned from the Antarctic where he was the first man to winter on the Antarctic continent. Shackleton’s romantic imagination ran wild as he went down to Wimbledon to meet Llewellyn Longstaff. Like Shackleton, Mr. Longstaff was a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society and, besides, would always welcome anyone who had recently seen his son. He was overwhelmed by Shackleton’s personality. When Shackleton asked his help in joining the expedition, Longstaff could hardly refuse. As Shackleton returned to sea, Longstaff made it clear to Sir Clements Markham that he wanted Shackleton accepted for the expedition. Sir Clements told Scott who promptly passed the matter on to Albert Armitage as he simply “had no time to attend to it”. Early in March 1901, Shackleton returned to Southampton on the Carisbrook Castle to find himself part of the National Antarctic Expedition. Shackleton would depart with Scott on the historic Discovery expedition to Antarctica later that summer.

(NOTE: the story of the National Antarctic Expedition is written, in detail, under the chapter devoted to Robert Falcon Scott). Shackleton became seriously ill on Scott’s southern sledge journey, midway through the expedition, and had to be invalided home aboard the relief ship Morning. As Bernacchi, with Scott’s Discovery expedition noted, Shackleton was “deeply disappointed & would give anything to remain. Although everyone is so anxious to return this year with the Discovery few are so poor spirited as to wish to return in the Morning”. On June 12,1903, after convalescing in New Zealand, Shackleton landed in England. A huge scandal had broken out about the affairs of the Discovery expedition. It seems everyone was upset about Scott remaining for a second winter in the Antarctic. The organizers had explicitly said that under no circumstances was Scott to stay for a second year… it would be considered professional incompetence to allow the Discovery to be frozen in, risking being crushed by the ice. Sir Clements sent a telegram to Shackleton: “The Admiralty will undertake rescue of Discovery. Committee appointed. Come to me. I wish to consult you”. The expedition organizers wanted Shackleton to sail out as chief officer on the Terra Nova to assist the Morning, if necessary, to get Scott and his men back home. Shackleton declined as, according to Armitage, “he meant to return and prove to Scott ‘that he---Shackleton---was a better man than Scott’ ”. Besides, Emily had now agreed to marry him. Meanwhile, early in October Shackleton visited Sir Clements Markham, in Markhams’ words, with “full plans for another expedition”. Sir Clements discouraged him and Shackleton went on to join the staff of Royal Magazine as a journalist. On January 11, 1904, after a long and nerve-racking wait, Shackleton found himself elected to the desired post of secretary to the Royal Scottish Geographical Society. He now had a full-time job and, as he wrote to Emily, “I am so happy dearest thinking about all the times which are to be in the future… we do want to settle down and have our own house at last after all these years of waiting”. In London, on April 9, Ernest Shackleton and Emily Dorman were married at Christchurch, Westminster. A week before the wedding the Discovery returned to New Zealand after her second season in the ice. The record southing, in which Shackleton had participated, was still intact. When Shackleton walked up the aisle with Emily he was still one of the men who had reached the Furthest South… no finer wedding present could have been given.

Shackleton discovered a new-found gift: public speaking. He made many acquaintances as secretary and was soon asked to run for Parliament. On November 16, 1904, the Dundee Courier announced that Shackleton “is to uphold the Unionist cause in the next election”. On February 2, 1905, Emily gave birth to their first child, a boy. This was exciting but, unfortunately, he had no income… in mid-January he had resigned his position at the RSGS to further his political career. He subsequently finished in fourth place in the election. A time of uncertainty would prevail until early in 1907. On Monday, February 11, Shackleton was in London at the RGS. In the same room stood Roald Amundsen and Fridtjof Nansen… it was an extraordinary scene. Shackleton had come to ask for the support of the RGS and the patronage of the King… he planned on spending the next winter in Antarctica and he only had six months to prepare.

With special thanks to Gary Pierson, Webmaster of South-Pole.com for allowing me to use this information from his site. More to follow in the coming weeks.

Forthcoming events: Further survey work throughout the North Sea. Port call to Aberdeen on Wednesday 14th (work/weather dependent).

All being well I will write a further update next weekend which I would hope to have completed for Monday 12th June 2000.

June 11, 2000