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19 Aug - Lerwick, Northern Shetland Islands

RRS Ernest Shackleton Diary

Position at 1200: Alongside the Regent Quay, Aberdeen Harbour, ABERDEEN.
Conditions: Wind E'ly x 11 kts; Barometer 1001.0 mb Steady; Air Temperature 14.6°C; Sea Temperature 13.4°C. Overcast with rain throughout. Reduced visibility in mist or fog.

Asset Map

The RRS Ernest Shackleton got busy again this week. Starting the week alongside Regent Quay in Aberdeen, we were afraid we had become 'welded in place' with barnacles and marine growth - we had been there for what seemed like a very long time ! However, after a quiet Monday alongside with no contracts in the offing, Tuesday brought a change of fortunes with word of a 'small contract' for Rockwater. As Tuesday continued, the contract was confirmed and the details came through on the fax machine. The task was to proceed to Lerwick in the Shetland Islands, uplift the relief crew of the Scandi Carla, effect a crew change at sea out on the Beryl Field and then return with the off-going crew to Aberdeen. It was only a short contract but would take all of three days and take us away from the barnacles of Regent Quay. The pilot boarded at 1900 hours on Tuesday evening and by 2000 hours we were passing the Fairway buoy and on out to sea.

On the way out of the harbour, we got an excellent shot of the Haliburton vessel Siesranger, who has been sitting behind us collecting almost as many barnacles as ourselves. This vessel is a dedicated ROV support vessel, doing everything that we are doing in the North Sea, but with a charter period of about 5 years (so it is reported). Indeed, Michael Stuck - one of our Dynamic Positioning Officers for the last 2 months - has now landed a contract as DPO onboard Siesranger. Mike dropped in to see us on the Ernest Shackleton even though he had only departed the ship in the previous week. It is the nature of the DPO's to work long contracts with very little time off during the summer and then have more time off during the winter months when there are not so many vessels at work in the inclement North Sea.

The Siesranger in Aberdeen The Siesranger in Aberdeen

The Siesranger in Aberdeen
Click to enlarge

From the Southern Shetlands to the Northern Shetlands (Lerwick).

Although it will be well into the New Year before the Ernest Shackleton gets the chance to cruise by the South Shetland Islands off the Antarctic Peninsula, she made up for the deficiency by visiting Lerwick in the Northern Shetland Islands this week. It is a chief port and sees daily ferry visitations from the mainland as well as a multitude of cruise ships during the summer months.

Lerwick Harbour Lerwick Harbour

Lerwick Harbour
Click to enlarge

The RRS Ernest Shackleton boarded the Lerwick pilot at 1400 hours on Wednesday afternoon. By 1440 hours, we were fast alongside the Victoria Pier close to the town centre of this small but very pleasant metropolis. No sooner had we arrived but we started to embark the 23 crew members of the Scandi Carla with a view to heading straight out to sea again by 1600 hours. However it was not to be. Some of our passengers had 'baggage troubles'. Primarily from Scandinavia and Poland, some of these people had fallen victim to the airlines and their baggage was - who knows where ? So seizing the opportunity to get ashore, they went into the town to purchase some items of clothing and toiletries as a stop-gap until their baggage was recovered. The final passengers arrived and the gangway was able to be raised by 1800 hours and so we departed the little harbour by 1830 hours.

A Potted History of Lerwick

The earliest established settlement on the Shetland Islands was dated around 600BC when the Bronze Age population built stone houses and fortifications around the little Loch of Clickimin. This is a water feature just on the periphery of today's town of Lerwick. Lerwick town itself derives it's name from the ancient Norwegian 'leir-vik' which means 'mud bay', no doubt owning to the natural harbour that Bressay Sound offered the earliest fishermen. The Shetland Islands has it's roots firmly planted in Norsk heritage as depicted in the annual 'Up-Helly-Aa' celebrations every January. A mock-up Viking Galley is paraded through the Lerwick town centre and burnt after the torch-bearing procession has wended it's way through 'Commercial Street' and the waterfront.

Norse Galley. Click to enlarge Another testimony to the Norwegian flavour is the 'Dim Riv', an imaginative reconstruction of an old Norse Galley, which does trips around the harbour during the summer. One final mention of the Scandinavian connection is the word 'lodberry' which comes from the old Norse 'Hladberg', meaning a place where boats could be brought alongside for unloading or loading. The simplest 'lodberry' was a suitable flat rock, but these developed through the centuries into jetties, stores and wharfs ! In later years, (the building of) Lerwick's new Esplanade destroyed many lodberries, but the wharves created landing space. While these latter developments brought progress, they closed a part of Lerwick's history.

It was the Dutch fishing vessels who first settled the Shetlands with any seriousness. Going ashore, they brought trade to Lerwick port in the 16th Century. The initial scattering of huts along the shore grew apace. Above the winding shoreline track which became 'Commercial Street', development was tightly packed into a patchwork of narrow lanes. In the 19th Century, new docks were created to accommodate the fishing fleet to the north of the town. But Commercial Street is the heart of the town, and small streets winding between tall stone buildings gives a unique character to one of the finest small town centres in Britain. Today these 'Lanes' have been renamed from their original 'Lons' and 'Klosses' and rescued from earlier dereliction as the development of Lerwick has gone through ups and downs.

Fort Charlotte, is also central. As early as 1652, Oliver Cromwell was reputed to have started a fortification on the coastal shore of Lerwick, but it was in 1665 that a fort was built in the reign of King Charles II, and named after Queen Charlotte, the consort of a later monarch, King George III. Like Lerwick itself, the fort went through changes of fortune in it's development. It was constructed for the protection of the strategic safe-haven which has always been vulnerable to attack, and has been garrisoned in wars against the Dutch, the French and latterly in the two World Wars. Even today it is home to the Territorial Army and Army Cadet Force, but has enjoyed a much more peaceful role since the 1940's as a museum and home to 'Historic Scotland' who are responsible for the upkeep of the fort and many other historic sites in the Shetlands.

The advent of the North Sea Oil Industry's development in the 1970's brought a revival of the island's fortunes which had suffered with the regression of the traditional fishing industry. An Oil Refinery on the Northwest coast, and the addition of Sumbrugh International Airport and Holmsgarth berths (roll-on/roll-off ferry terminal) have opened up the Island to tourism too.

On a personal note, Lerwick looked well-developed, was not raining too much, and had the requisite shops for newspapers, fresh milk and chocolate and is therefore 'okay by me'.


Captain Antonio at the joystick. Click to enlarge It was Capt Antonio who took command of the joystick to ease us out of the Victoria Pier and out into the Bressay Sound. Here we can see that he is finally disporting his uniform - a rare sight. Since coming into the North Sea operations, the British Antarctic Survey ship has taken on a new 'rugged' North Sea face. Under normal (Antarctic) circumstances, the officers onboard wear uniform on duty - fewer and fewer vessels at sea are following this tradition. In the North Sea Oil and Gas industry however, there is no requirement for uniforms to be worn. Indeed, the offshore uniform invariably consists of boiler suit, hard hat and glasses ! (See 'Shackleton Factor 355 Sun Protection' !!) Consequently, the possibility of catching the new Capt.Gatti or Ch.officer Kilroy in all their regalia is as rare as seeing a polar bear in Antarctica or a penguin at the North Pole !!! Luckily, port visits are one occasion when polar bears and penguins swap places and here is a piccy of the Captain, to prove it !

Robin 'Capt Kilroy' is still being illusive, but watch these pages in future !!!

It was 0530 hours, on a drizzly and dull Thursday morning when the Ernest Shackleton arrived, uneventfully, on the Beryl field. On arrival, through the reduced visibility of darkness and mist, we could see the Scandi Carla at work alongside the Beryl Alpha Platform, and the Rockwater One standing by. These vessels are busy on a contract which precludes them from going into Lerwick themselves to effect a crew change. That is where the Ernest Shackleton came in. Standing off in DP mode at some suitable distance, a small and rather pretty tug the RT Magic acted as 'shuttle bus' to transfer four people to ourselves on arrival and take half the compliment of relief crew across in exchange.

Scandi Carla at work near Beryl Alpha Platform Scandi Carla at work near Beryl Alpha Platform

Scandi Carla at work near the Beryl Alpha Platform
Click to enlarge

RT Magic alongside We started transferring passengers about 0640 hours and by 1100 that morning, all the crew changes were complete. It took 5 trips for the RT Magic to complete the task, but no sooner had he passed the last persons up the 'pilot ladder', then we went out of DP and into 'full steam ahead' mode, for Aberdeen. The transfers were otherwise uneventful and with 23 leaving the ship and 32 joining us for the return journey, there were no shortage of punters in the video rooms to watch videos, and no shortage of beds to change for Markie-Mark the steward ! For the two day journey to Lerwick and back to Aberdeen via the oil fields, Mark had to make up, change, and launder the linen from 55 beds ! And he still had time to do the regular crew linen change at the same time. Well done Mark !

Finally, ABERDEEN, By a Man on a Bicycle. !!!

OR, ABERDEEN - it really is a tough town !

Arriving back in Aberdeen by 01.30 hours on the morning of August 17, the ship tied up again in the same position as before, Quay 4 Regent Quay. Once alongside, everyone went to bed and woke again at 07.00 in order to ensure that the off-going passengers made it to the airport for their 09.20 onward flights. That left the remaining 22 crew members alongside, becalmed, and ready to enjoy another weekend alongside in Aberdeen harbour.

One such crew member was the Radio Officer Steve who reached 'infamy' with his attempts to cycle across the wilds of Antarctica last February. (See Halley relief by a man on a bicycle ). Never one to miss out on an opportunity to take the Vietnamese Flyer out and about, Steve mounted his noble steed at the foot of the gangway and went off in search of movies, scenery and a respite from life onboard the ship !. When I say 'Aberdeen really is a tough town' I do not wish to cast aspersions upon the good people of this city, but tough it is ! Leastways, it was too tough for the Vietnamese Flyer which I am sad to relate has finally succumbed, and is no more. The cobbled lanes, the traffic, the hills, and moreover, the 'give way' at the bottom of those hills was just too much for the blessed bicycle. In the space of a short weekend's cycling around the town centre, the poor thing lost a pedal, broke a brake caliper, broke a chain, got a puncture, wore out a tyre, bent the wheel, broke the gears and generally rusted by a factor of 150 percent !!!

Wrecked!! So in spite of managing to foray across the uncharted and vast terrain of the inhospitable bondu of Antarctica, the Radio Officer's bicycle was no match for the 'ruggedness' of the streets of Aberdeen. To my friend Clive, who has long been recommending that the bike should be 'put out of it's misery' - he can rest assured that the Vietnamese Flyer has 'had it's day'. May it rest in peace !

Forthcoming events : Again awaiting word from Polar Ship Management about any forthcoming contracts out in the North Sea. Standing by with engines at 1 hours' notice.
(Also bury the Vietnamese Flyer !)

Contributors this week : Many thanks indeed to the Lerwick Tourist Board and Lerwick Libraries for their information handouts and permission to plagiarise the details therein.

North Sea Diary 15 will be written on 26th August 2001 and should be published on Monday 27th August 2001.

NOTE : SteveB is leaving the vessel for a period at college, and until the return of Mike Gloistein to the webpages in October, Vince Jones ETO, will keep you updated on the future movements of the RRS Ernest Shackleton. We wish Vince every success in his ventures into the trials, tribulations and rewards of compiling a web page !