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15 Jul - All change please !

RRS Ernest Shackleton Diary

Position @ 1200: 57°22'N 001°23'E.
Conditions: Wind Ewly x 20 kts; Barometer 1012.0 mb; Air Temperature 13.7°C; Sea Temperature 14.5°C. Clear skies and fine. Moderate sea and swell.
Asset Map    (located on the Arbroath Platform, due East of Aberdeen)

Last week,  the RRS Ernest Shackleton was alongside an oilrig 120 nm East of Aberdeen.  Expectations were high for a smooth and expeditious crew change during the week, but meanwhile, the riser and leg inspections were carrying on 24 hours a day from the main deck.  The two Lynx remote vehicles were working well, ably backed-up by the smaller Tiger ROV.  (See Remotely Operated Vehicles by Sean Mahoney, in Shackleton's Webpages of 17 June).

Seizing the new Webpage Digital Camera in my hand, I rushed out onto the deck - in full protective clothing - to test the quality and simplicity-of-use of our new acquisition, in order to capture an image of the new ROVs for you.

The Lynx ROV. Click to enlarge Whoops - Should have been the Tiger ROV !

The Lynx ROV
Click on image to enlarge.

The Tiger ROV. Whoops, I guess I haven't got the hang of the new camera yet ?

At the beginning of the week, one of the contractors onboard heard the distressing news of a family bereavement at home.  Not a happy circumstance for anyone, least of all when you are 120 nmiles away from civilisation and the compassion of loved ones.  But contrary to what you may believe, you are not a 'prisoner' of the rigs and ships when working in the oil industry.  Depending upon the severity of the situation, the oil company will usually 'move mountains' in order to repatriate any 'compassionate case' with their families at such times.  This was no exception.  With the dawning of Monday, the phones were hot with enquiries as to what was available to fly our boy home to the 'beach'.  Unfortunately, there were no scheduled helicopters due in the oilfield where we were working, so relief by helicopter looked dubious.

Viking Supporter to the rescue.  However, 'there is more than one way to skin a cat' as the saying goes, and on Tuesday it was announced that the Offshore Standby Vessel Viking Supporter was due for relief.  A replacement vessel, Viking Viper, was due out to release Supporter from the oil field.  With only a 10 hour journey back to Montrose, Viking Supporter offered to take our 'compassionate' home with them, if all concerned were comfortable with a transfer of personnel by small craft ?  The Captain and Company Man onboard were consulted and all were in agreement that under the present weather conditions such a transfer would be allowed.  The weather at the time was WestNorwesterly winds at 16 kts, few clouds, fine and clear with moderate sea and swell.  Although this was very pleasant weather, it still posed a difficult task to board a small rigid boat from the side of the ship with the aid of the pilot ladder.  The ever-present, new, digital camera was there to capture the moment !

Not very easy! Click to enlarge Steady as she goes! Click to enlarge

....and steady as she goes.
Click on images to enlarge.

Antarctic History

Following the successful publication of the Ernest Shackleton potted history last season, the webpage would now like to turn the limelight upon another Antarctic hero and Polar Medal recipient, Captain John Harper. Captain Harper is about to go on leave this week, but not before the Shackleton Web Pages had a chance to interview him and ask about his charted career with BAS and ships :-At Sea, Man and Boy.

1. WebEditor : The Antarctic Web Explorer, charts the progress of Captain John Harper and his advancement to his present distinguished position from his humble beginnings as a schoolboy in -------------------- which school ?
Capt.John : I'd rather not comment on the number of schools I went to.

2. WebEditor : When you were at school, what did you want to be when you grew up ?
Capt.John : I didn't want to grow up .. And it was YOU that said I went to school.

3. WebEditor : What was your first job when you left school, a million miles away from where you find yourself now ?
Capt.John : I washed dishes in a café. Things have gone downhill ever since.

4. WebEditor : What was the first ship that you joined, and can you tell us a little about your first position ?
Capt.John : M/v Motagua (a Banana Boat). Deck boy, is that 'little' enough for you ?

5. WebEditor : And when did you first realise that you had no future in a career at sea ?
Capt.John : It was written at the bottom of all my reports!

6. WebEditor : You have spent the last 21 years at sea with the British Antarctic Survey. You have been on all the ships, and worked your way up through the ranks. Can you tell me if you have any particular favourites amongst these, and why, if for any reason, you choose this particular favourite ?
Capt.John : Definitely the RRS Bransfield and RRS John Biscoe, because they didn't have Web Pages !

7. WebEditor : As an intrepid Antarctic Explorer, have you any memorable 'brushes with danger' or excitement that you can regale us with now ?
Capt.John : I am sure that you are aware that BAS is a very safety conscious operator - we don't do 'danger and excitement' anymore.

8. WebEditor : Any other highlights in your seagoing career that we ought to know about ?
Capt.John : Certainly nothing that can be printed here.

9. WebEditor : You have seen many of the Antarctic Bases, have you a favourite amongst them ? Or do you prefer home best ?
Capt.John : I'm sorry,.. I thought THIS was my home.

10. WebEditor : It is only this year that you peaked in your seagoing career as Master of the RRS Ernest Shackleton. Can you briefly describe your feelings on your first days as Master of your own vessel ? Elation, trepidation, excitement, concern, or did you just think of the 'film-star wages' ?
Capt.John : Just for the record, the only film star on the same wages as me is 'Lassie'.

11. WebEditor : You are due for some well-earned leave this week. Will you be sad to trade in your Captain's epaulettes for the slippers of a 'family man' instead ?
Capt.John : Certainly not. Slippers are far more comfortable.

12. WebEditor : In hindsight, now that you have attained a Captaincy, can you disclose what you would rather have been if not a seafarer ? Any regrets about not being an accountant ?
Capt.John : See the answer to question 3.

13. WebEditor : Finally, have you enjoyed your work in the North Sea ?
Capt.John : People don't work in the North Sea for enjoyment. They do it for money,.. See answer to question 10.

WebEditor : The Shackleton Times would like to thank you for your kind co-operation in answering our questions, and giving all those budding 'Antarctic Skippers' in our readership guidelines on how best to become Master of an Antarctic Icebreaker.

Captain in DP Mode. Click to enlarge Captain in Hands in Pockets Mode. Click to enlarge

The Captain in action : both in DP Mode and Hands in Pockets Mode!!
Click on images to enlarge.

By 1830 hours, on Wednesday evening, the ship had completed it's present task and so recovered the ROVs and 'reference systems' used to keep the vessel in position in 'DP Mode'. Then it was 'full speed ahead' for Aberdeen and the crew change in 12 hours time. So 'Auf Wiedersehen' to the Montrose Platform with it's illuminating flare boom pictured here.

The Flare - Montrose Platform

The new digital camera shows it's versatility in the evening dusk. Clever eh ???

Not that it worked out as planned. By 0600 hours on the Thursday morning the vessel had covered the required distance and was located near the fairway buoy outside the Aberdeen harbour, and just awaiting the arrival of the pilot on board. By 0700 hours we were still waiting. People anxious to be carrying their bags down the gangway appeared on the bridge to enquire into the delay. Unfortunately, the berth we were due to occupy for the day was not free. The vessel Seaway Commander was alongside and should have departed for the field. However, having started her engines, it was discovered that she could not engage them and consequently the knock-on effect was keeping us bobbing about in view of - but not in reach of - the harbour. Oh dear, the time was ticking away and our 12 hours in port was slowly slipping away before us and encroaching upon our 'handover time'. Capt. John was hot on the phone to the agent and arranging an alternative berth for the vessel for the eventuality that the Seaway Commander was not going to resolve her problems. By 0900 it was confirmed that the pilot was on his way out and an alternative quay had been allocated for our stay that day. And so it was 1000 hours before we finally made fast alongside the Pacific Wharf, Aberdeen in a light drizzle and gloomy sky.

There were a multitude of hire cars and a coach awaiting our arrival alongside, and directly the gangway was in place, the newly-joining crew were hauling their baggage onto the ship and a few rushed leavers were dashing down the gangway the other way in order to make their flights at Aberdeen International Airport with little enough time to spare. Service engineers were amongst those joining the 'oncoming traffic' on the gangway so the ships gyros and the ROVs all received a little Tender Loving Care that day.

The day remained wet and drizzly throughout, but it still afforded some of us a run ashore for a quick shopping trip before the ship was due to sail. Capt. John Harper handed over the command of the ship to Capt. John Marshall once again on board after only a short four week sabbatical at home. Since the rain ceased to fall around 1600 hours, and the sun made a small effort to show itself before giving up entirely and retiring for the night, Capt. Marshall arranged a belated departure from Aberdeen and so allowed us the chance to stay ashore, if necessary, until 2100 hours. There was little enough need for most crew members to go shopping since this was the first day of their four months onboard, but the ship's video collection swelled it's ranks by some dozen video titles, courtesy of the Aberdeen video stores. With those purchased throughout the summer and these few additional offerings, the crew would be well entertained during the forthcoming months and especially the Atlantic Crossing to Montevideo in October. We have to think well ahead on the Ernest Shackleton !

Thursday evening at 2118 hours, the ship slipped her lines and sailed from Aberdeen harbour for a 12 hour steam back to the oil fields and the Arbroath Platform 135 nm away. The weather forecast for the week had promised higher winds and seas during the midweek period. We certainly got the midweek drizzle, but by the time we left Aberdeen the weather was improving and we had a very comfortable passage back out to the oil fields. We arrived in good time the following morning and were instantly ready to go to work with more inspections and surveys.

Since our arrival back on the field and alongside the Arbroath Platform, the work has gone on apace with the only notable problem being the loss of the V-Sat telephone/fax/communications systems onboard. We have a big 'mushroom' on the top of the funnel area - see the sepia picture above - and this is responsible for capturing the satellite signals from some 23,000 miles up in space. However, it is really inconvenient when you place a big piece of metal between the mushroom and the satellite in space - the system doesn't like it. That is what happened when the Arbroath Oil Platform became a big piece of metal over the weekend. It 'shadowed' the satellite signals from the ship and so the line of communications - on the one mushroom - was cut. I say 'the one system' because the ship has other mushrooms and the topmost satellite antenna must have been able to look over the obstruction and we were able to keep our primary means of email in operation. Technology is a great thing, but it does have it's limitations !

Finally, on Sunday lunchtime, 15 July, we completed the ROV surveys at the Arbroath location and were able to move the ship and head off for our next task some 115 nmiles north at the Harding Platform. Everyone on board is in good spirits, the work is progressing nicely, and the food from the galley continues to be consumed at a rate of knots !

Forthcoming events: Proceed to the Harding field 115 nm north of Arbroath and continue with the program of ROV tasks. There is a big probability of a helicopter visit on Friday to change out the present Company Man on board.

Contributors this week : Captain John Harper for a precisé of his career at sea to date.

North Sea Diary 10 will be written on 22nd July 2001 and should be published on Monday 23rd July 2001.