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14 Jul - Helicopters on deck

Date:� Sunday 14 July� 2002.
Position @ 1200 (UTC): 57°12.6 North, 001°31.1 East. The ETAP Field.
Next destination: Port of Aberdeen for BAS Crewchange.
ETA: Wednesday 24 July

Current weather:� Fine, sunny and clear
Wind:� Light airs
Barometric pressure:� 1027.2 mb and steady
Sea state: Calm
Air temperature:� 16.9°C.
Sea temperature: 15.1°C.

No Position Reports are available during our stay in the North Sea since we cease doing meteorological observations.

Map of North Sea - Click to enlargeClick on map to magnify detail.

Helicopter prepares to land

'Ernest Shackleton, This is Golf,-Sierra,Echo for Deck Clearance?' crackles the VHF aeronautical radio.

'Golf - Sierra,Echo, the Helideck is clear. You are clear to land'

'Golf-Sierra, Echo'. Silence.

But this scenario starts long before the big 'whirly bird' approaches and lands upon the deck. It all starts hours before the helicopter is due to take off. On the ship, there is a hive of activity as the medic and the Radio Officer compare notes and try to determine who is coming out, who is going in, what baggage and freight is involved, what time this should all happen, and if - indeed - it WILL happen. Plans are always very 'tentative' to begin with, but as the day wears on, the plans firm up and an action plan materializes. This can all happen during the course of the day, or it could happen the very last thing at night in time for the early morning flight. The early morning flight can fly as early as 0600 am so things start to happen on the ship by 0500 in the morning !.

One hour before the flight takes off on the 'beach', the medic must collect together any baggage weights and details and get them to the Radio Officer to fax into the heliport, along with a 'heli-weather' usually compiled by the Captain or Chief Officer. On our vessel, it is the Captain (presently) who is the acting H.L.O or Helicopter Landing Officer. So there is a brief lull in the activity on the bridge between sending in the details and an hour later when the flight is expected to have 'lifted' and be on it's way. Down below however, the passengers and the medic are preparing for the flight with a 'pre-flight briefing' which comprises of a helicopter safety video and a reminder of all those things we learnt on our 'offshore survival course'. Donning lifejackets, donning 're-breathers', donning the all-in-one survival suit that makes you look akin to a large sausage! It may be 'routine'. It may be a 'pain'. It may be monotonous for those boys who regularly fly to and from the rigs and ships, but in the event of an emergency, it could mean the difference between life and death !

I am always reminded at this point, of that gorgeous skit by Billy Connolley, who - as a small child - was taken to the seaside for his holidays, and that 'seaside' was Aberdeen. As a thin, spindly, very blue child he was made to strip down to his shorts and jump - practically naked - into the North Sea. 50 miles out at sea the Tannoys announce to the whole that 'You will wear your survival suit at all times. Without your survival suit you would not last more than 3 minutes !!!' Back on the beach, the small child is being chided by his mother ... 'Get yer'sel' in ye Big Jesse !!!'

No Big Jesse's on this ship. Adequately covered from top to toe, our passengers are called to below the helideck some twenty minutes before the helicopter is about to arrive. On the top of the helideck, the deck crew are busy about their business. Don't be fooled by the momentary 'lull' in the activity displayed below - underneath the fireman's outfits, they are coiled springs ready to jump into action !

The helideck crew - Click to enlarge The HLO - Click to enlarge

Above: Left - the helideck crew before the arrival of the helicopter. Right - the Helicopter Landing Officer (HLO). Click the images for larger versions.

The Helideck Crew check all the equipment and are ready to handle any emergencies that may occur during the course of the helicopter operations. The HLO (Helicopter Landing Officer) is in charge and ensures that all are prepared to receive the chopper. No obstructions on the deck. The helideck netting is taut, the cranes are safely stowed well away from the arena of operations, and his men are ready to man the fire-fighting monitors and the Fast Rescue Boat nearby. All the members of the teams have undergone helideck and FRC training courses in previous months during their leave periods, and these duties are a break from their normal daily routine. It is to their credit that although for the most part they are working down in the ice and amongst the penguins, they still manage to perform a slick operation when working in the relatively 'alien' operations involved in these North Sea Operations.

Up on the Bridge, the Aeronautical radios are tuned into the field frequency and the Radio Officer is standing by. Although in touch with the heliport by telephone, often, the first sign of the impending flight is the initial radio call. 'Ernest Shackleton, this is G-BTNC'. Lots of 'radio-speak' ensues between the helicopter and ship which involves the passing of details back and forth over the radio. What passengers are to be exchanged on the helideck, what time the chopper will arrive, what height, track, fuel, endurance, souls-on-board, and estimated time of arrival at the vessel are all passed. And then of course the 'all important' request for refreshments for two !. It amazes me how slim some of these pilots are under the barrage of 'helicopter meals' that they receive from the ships and rigs ! A helicopter flight will usually involve more than one stop offshore, and in the case of the 'shuttles' that act like a 'bus service' between installations, they can land on upward of twenty different helidecks. But in our case, we just consider the one deck - that of RRS Ernest Shackleton. The letters are emblazoned bold on our green helideck in statutory sized lettering.

Then the radio communications shift from the ship's radio room, directly to the HLO on the Helideck and that's when 'deck clearance' is requested. That is when 'deck clearance is passed' and minutes later the 'paraffin budgie' pops out of the blue sky - as if from nowhere - and noisily lands on the deck bringing parts, parcels and passengers.

The Dauphine helicopter - Click to enlarge The Sikorsky helicopter - Click to enlarge The Super Puma helicopter - Click to enlarge

Above: Left to right: The Dauphin, the Sikorsky 76 and the Super Puma. Click on the images to enlarge them.

After a short while on the deck, the passengers, baggage and freight are exchanged, and the Helicopter disappears back into the sky where he came from - rapidly fading into a mere speck in the sky.

This week, the 'Ernest Shackleton International Airport' has been busy with numerous helicopters. This is a far cry from the occasional visitation from the BAS Twin Otters when we are working down South. The Ernest Shackleton Hilton Hotel has been even busier with a constant 'comings' and 'goings' of personnel arriving on these helicopters. Just to make it sound 'more impressive', I'll include the helicopter we had last Saturday too, but far from one crew-change helicopter every 4 weeks to crew-change the Stolt personnel, the Airport Runway (helideck) has seen this constant stream of traffic.


Aircraft Callsign

Time on Deck


Saturday 6th July


08.05 Morning

Humberside Airport

Monday 8th July


16.14 Afternoon

Humberside Airport

Tuesday 9th July


18.11 Evening

Humberside Airport

Wednesday 10th July


09.06 Morning

Humberside Airport

Wednesday 10th July


10.25 Morning

Humberside Airport

Thursday 11th July


18.27 Evening

Aberdeen Heliport

Saturday 12th July


15.58 Afternoon

Aberdeen Heliport

Moreover, it is anticipated in the next day or so, we will be seeing another helicopter arriving on the Shackleton Helideck.

Wavey Davey's Rig - Click to enlargeWavey-Davey's Weekly Whit-spot Oh, no. And this is 'no joke'. Look where we were this week ... Davey's own rig !

Davey Says :- ' What did the chick say when it saw it's mother laying an orange ??? '
Answer :- 'Look what Mama-laid ?'.

(Thanks Davey. That's terrible and well worthy of your title as the purveyor of really awful jokes !)

Chief Officer Dave explains what we get up to while the whole world is fast asleep.

Last night we finished calibrating our acoustic array on the seabed and departed the area, just as Seaway Eagle arrived to place the manifold in position on the seabed itself. Hence the need for an acoustic array to be there, and accurate, for positioning!

From there we set a course North East at a speed of 0.50 metres/second. This is the approx speed that the ROV surveys at. From here we have 30 km of trench to survey prior to an umbilical being laid in it. A busy part of the North Sea at the moment as the photos demonstrate.

A busy North Sea - Click to enlarge A busy North Sea - Click to enlarge A busy North Sea - Click to enlarge

In the early hours of a beautiful calm morning we passed 100 metres down the side of the sistership, Seaway Falcon. This vessel is currently laying the pipeline that will be connected to the previously mentioned manifold. The impressive bit is the speed she does this at (30 metres in 5 minutes approx, plus a bit of time for welding the next piece on) and the bend you can achieve in a steel pipe. Just one look at the curved run of the pipe up and over the stern will confirm what we mean. (See center image above.)

Having now passed her, which took over half an hour, we are continuing with the rest of the trench survey. The ROV dictating the speed of the ship in the "Follow Sub" mode. Wherever the ROV wants to go, we (well the computer) just follows.

Author : Ch.Off David Gooberman.

All week, RRS Ernest Shackleton has been working uninterrupted on the Gas and Oilfields
of the Central North Sea which is rather pleasing after the delays and interruptions of the past weeks. However, as the Port Call on 24th July looms near, the thoughts of the BAS Crew onboard turn now towards other matters. Handover notes have been started (and finished) and arrangements are already being made for the crew-change in Aberdeen. But after nearly 4½ months of working onboard the vessel, how are the crew of the Shackleton planning to spend their leave periods ? I have been accusing myself lately of NOT reporting too much about the individuals that man the ship and keep her running on a day-to-day basis, so by way of vindicating myself, here is an example of the good things in store for the Crew of the Ernest Shackleton.

Notwithstanding Capt. Stuart who got off in May before the North Sea period, or Ch.Officer Antonio Gatti who broke his arm on the way back from visiting the Cambridge office around the same time, and Bob Roullier and Bob Weston who both departed for home early during the month of June, the rest of us are looking forward to what 'getting off day' has in store for us. Of those I managed to track down, here are their plans !

Capt John Marshall : Capt Marshall was on one of those helicopters that came out to the ship this week. He has returned to the vessel early to cover for the absence of Capt Gatti, and so Capt John will stay onboard for the duration of the next rotation when his crew joins this month. So no leave just yet for Capt Marshall !!

Ch.Officer David Gooberman : Dave has nothing much planned for this leave - unless you count becoming father to TWINS !!. Because his wife is heavily pregnant and expecting twins in November, it restricts Dave and the family and dictates their movements in the forthcoming months. Not that Dave won't get to do a little windsurfing, mountain biking and some other outdoor pursuits around his Isle of Man home, but Kirree will be decidedly restricted in joining him. No bungee-jumping for her! Oh, and Dave gets to do a lot of chauffeuring the family around too.

2nd Officer Alan 'Navs' Newman : Once a sailor, always a sailor. Another one who is off on a yacht for a sailing holiday but this time it's around Kinsale in Ireland. He boasts a 'long weekend in Belgium' before he heads off for a most 'Tranquillo' time on the Grande Canal. 'Grande Canal, Venice' says I ??? 'No, the Grand Canal County Offlay in Ireland' says Alan. Oh well, not quite as cosmopolitan, but with a good sprinkling of pubs along the way, it should be the making of a good leave all the same. And one other task calls to Alan - taxing the car. Once he has paid the car parking for the last 4 months, perhaps there'll be a little left over to afford the road tax and get the car back on the road!!!

3rd Officer Dougie Leask : Will be very busy this leave. Living in the Isle of Fell, in the Shetlands, he tells me he has sheep to clip and dip, his beloved Xtraneous to get back in the water ready for the Orkney Island Regattas in August, and he will also be taking in the Southampton Boat Show in September. Apart from a handful of North Sea and Offshore courses that he needs to do for BAS this time, it looks like he will be looking forward to rejoining the vessel in November - for a REST !!!. One additional break on the horizon will be a dash over to Barcelona in Spain for a normal 'sun and fun' vacation with his girlfriend.

Radio Officer Steve Buxton : His passion is flying, and apart from the fact that he got married in February and has only spent 2 weeks of his 5-month marriage at home in Germany with his German wife (?) he is very much looking forward to getting re-acquainted with his aeroplanes and his 'missus' this month. He is not admitting to which he is wanting to see more !?!

3rd Engineer Mike Jones : Poor Mike, he is looking at going to 'college' for his months off. Finishing his house extension and doing his Engineer's ticket at college is all that can draw Mike away from the pleasures of the North Sea and the ship. Mind you, he DOES have a college course in Southampton, so a day at the seaside cannot entirely be ruled out !!!

4th Engineer Rob Mathieson : Rob is intending to get his backpack and go hiking for a few weeks around Thailand. (that is assuming he manages to tear himself away from his local pub !! (his words, not mine)). Rob has a couple of courses to be back in the UK for, one in Cambridge and one in Dartford somewhere. We'll discover if he has given into the lure of Bangkok depending on whether we see him at the other end in the Falklands !

Bosun Charlie Chalk : Mr.Chalk is heading for the hills - literally. Charlie, who is an avid walker has plans to go hiking over the highlands of Scotland. He has 3 weeks planned with a companion and a tent, up the Cape Trail around Ullapool, Sullivan, Catsnip and Loch Inver. As far away from the sea as you can get.

A/B Wavey Davey Taylor : Apart from telling a whole host more jokes to unsuspecting listeners, Davey has a passion for chasing down sites of historical interest and particularly anything connected with the World War II. So you might find Davey delving into a WWII bunker or congregating around the stones on a moor this leave. Other than that, Davey will take the odd coach trip, visit Walshingham one of his favourite haunts, and generally go in search of Peace and Quiet and Tranquillity But Davey, isn't that what you have on the Shackleton ???

A/B Murdo Nicholson : Is another 'crofter'. Living out in the periphery of the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, Murdo will have to look after the croft including removing and replacing 400 metres of fencing ! When asked why he is doing it ? he said 'not for money', and 'definitely NOT for fun' ! 'Slave labour' says Murdo ! But unlike Dougie Leask, at least he doesn't have any courses to attend this leave so his time will all be his own. 'Will he be going in search of Sun, Sand, Sea, and Surf, this leave' ?? ... 'Will he....'*^*&$^^£%!!!..  Murdo is not a sun-follower and if not Antarctica as his ideal holiday destination, he is hoping to join his brother possibly on a trip to Iceland!

A/B John MacLeod : Like many of us, John has a garden which has no respect for the owners absence. So for the first week or so, John will be whipping the old homestead into some semblance of order. Again, the courses are intruding on the leave period with a 1 week course sometime in August, but after that, John will be going in search of the sun with a last minute holiday booked in some country that is warm.....Portugal or Malta, here he comes !

Ch.Cook Micky Quinn : Is having a real leave this time. He has 3 destinations in mind. One will be Newquay with the wife, where he has taken his children many times before and really enjoys. He is interested in checking out 'Eden Project' down there which was designed and built for the Millennium and which appeals to the horticulturalist in him. Cyprus is another destination. Mike says that he will search out the local speciality 'starlings' to see how they taste ! Maybe we can look forward to Starlings al la Shackleton next trip ??? Finally Mike would like to visit Las Vegas just before he is 'due' to rejoin the ship in November. With any luck, maybe we WON'T be trying the speciality Starlings al la Shackleton afterall !!

2nd Cook Willie Hyslop : Willie is looking forward to visiting Holland and his girlfriend over there. The Domes of the Eden Project is also somewhere where he wants to go this time off - maybe he'll bump into Micky Quinn while he's there ? Apart from that, Willie has a Latvian friend to show around the sights of Britain and if he has the time he would also like to dash over to another of his favourite haunts - Thailand. 4 months sometime just isn't long enough !

Ch.Steward Mark Jones : Nothing much planned for Mark this leave. He will, of course break out his beloved motorbike and get it MOT'd, taxed and back on the road, but has no big 'touring plans' with it this time. Unless you count the commute back and forth to Hull for a Lifeboat Course that he will have to do this leave ? But Debbie, his girlfriend has got her eyes on a holiday somewhere hot, so Mark will be heading off to work on his tan somewhere. Fear not, Murdo, you will not be seeing Mark in Iceland !!!

One thing is for sure, wherever the team go throughout the four corners of the globe, they will come together in 4 months' time in the Falkland Islands with tales of where they've been, what they've done, and how short a time it all was !!

Forthcoming events: Complete the workscope on the trench survey to the Marnock Platform and then do surveys around the Platform and survey an onward section out from the Platform to the Mirran Underwater Manifold in this area.

Contributors this week : Many Thanks to Wavey-Davey and Ch.Off David 'Goobes' for his narrative on the work.

Diary 8 will be written on 21st July 2002 and for publication on 22th July 2002

Steve B