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06 June - North Sea season begins

Date: Sunday 06 June 2004
Position @ 1200 Local: No.3 Quay, King George Docks, Port Of Hull, England
Next destination: TBA
Distance to go: N/A
Distance sailed this North Sea Season: 0 nmiles
Total distance sailed: 0 nmiles

Current weather: Few clouds, sunny, fine and clear
Sea State: Calm alongside in dock
Wind: Light airs
Barometric pressure:1017.9 mmHg
Air temperature: 20.5°C
Sea temperature: 15.9°C


The Past Weeks on ES

 Firstly, an apology to the readership for the lack of Diaries for the last weeks.  This has purely been down to operational constraints !  Namely ‘NO DOCTOR SUE’. ‘COME BACK, ALL IS FORGIVEN !!!’.  Now that ‘Sparkie Steve’ has taken over the helm of the webpages again, I am afraid they have become low priority in comparison to the plethora (nice word, that) of jobs that have been lined up for the run-up and subsequent start of the North Sea Season 2004.

The end of the Antarctic season came to an end upon completion of discharge of cargo at Immingham Dock, No1 Berth.  Bright and early on Monday morning, the wagons arrived to start the back-loading of all the Antarctic clobber from the holds of the Shackleton for return to Cambridge.  First we had to remove all the Containers from the decks to allow access to the holds and further cargos.  First to be cleared was the Aft Hatch to allow us to access the aft hold and the reefer containers, including the ‘Aquaria’ which had to be on the road by 10.am to reach their destination in time.  The Aquaria houses the live Antarctic specimens as depicted in Dr.Sue’s Diary last week. Once they had been discharged, the Snowcats, Dozers, Tractors, and Generators could then be lifted from the Helideck to the shore.

It was also a notable day on Monday when our cherished Chef, Richie Simpson headed down the gangway for the last time. He is moving on to pastures new, prompted by a desire to be more at home with his young sons, so we wish Richie good luck in all his future pursuits.

Tuesday 25th heralded the arrival of our stores.  Fresh provisions and re-stocking of the storerooms meant we would be ready for any forthcoming North Sea Charter Work.  It was at this time that we heard our first ‘definite rumours’ of forthcoming work for the RRS Ernest Shackleton.  Nothing had been heard from either the BAS office or Riebers till this time which is unusual for this time of year.  In previous years’ we have been working towards and preparing for a definite scope of work, but this year is very quiet indeed.  With many Oil Rigs ‘laid up’ in the North Sea and the employment prospects out there very hard to come by, it is not surprising that the Shackleton too may be without work for some part of the Summer.   However, it was good news that something was on the horizon as we prepared for the DP Trials at the end of the week.  DP Trials ‘prove’ the ship’s Dynamic Positioning Systems and is akin to an ‘MOT’ for our ship !   We conduct these DP Trials every year upon our return to the North Sea arena of work.  


Sparkie Steve has been at it again. With the able assistance of Motorman Richie, and some rather amazing scaffolders who erected this flimsy-looking framework, the highest reaches of the ship were accessed for some more maintenance and repairs.

Above: Click to see the Scaffolding atop the very highest point on the vessel.

Above: Click and see Richie making his way down from the Eerie above.  The Satellite transmitter seen has been isolated so as not to irradiate anybody working aloft.  But with the scaffolding, the normally un-accessible GPS antennas can be serviced.

Above: Click to see Sparkie Steve securely attached to something solid.  Working at this height, the legs are certainly NOT solid.

It was at this time that Marconi descended upon us to give us a Port State Radio Inspection.  These ‘spot checks’ are designed to check vessels that come into port and ensure that they are maintaining the conditions of their license to operate a radio station onboard.  The inspection consisted of checks and tests on all the radio equipment onboard.   Even though the Shackleton is only rather small in the world of Shipping, she boasts an impressive array of communications and electronic equipment.  ‘Duplication of Equipment’ is one way of ensuring that the vessel is adequately covered in times of emergency.  This means that we carry at least 2 VHF radios with associated DSC (automatic watch-keeping receivers listening for distress signals).   2 MF/HF Transmitters and again, associated DSC equipment.  Teleprinters, Satellite Communicators, Satellite Beacons and Radar Transponders (beacons that can be picked up by ship’s radars), all have to be tested and passed as working and up-to-date.  Batteries have to be checked for expiry dates, and all antennas checked to see that they are still radiating correctly and efficiently. It is quite an involved test and the worst-case-scenario, is that if we ‘fail’ the check, the ship can be prevented from putting to sea.

I am happy to report that we passed with flying colours !   The RRS Ernest Shackleton has a healthy Radio Department. !

Above: Click on the Image to see the Main Radio Station.

Wavey Davey's Wit Spot

Considering we are entering our North Sea period, here is a topical joke from your master of mirth, Wavey Davey.

He used to work on the oil rigs, but he was fired for throwing bread to the helicopters !

The DP Trials
Complete with Archive Pictures of Shackleton in North Sea Mode !

Before departing to Sea Trials off the East Coast of England, we had to complete the pre-North Sea preparations which included removing the Tula cargo tender from Immingham to it’s summer storage in Grimsby along the river.  3rd Officer Mike Golding took command of the little vessel to journey through the lock gates on Tuesday and navigate down to Grimsby and take the less-nautical choice of a return to Immingham by taxi ! (after having an all-in Fish and Chip lunch at ‘Alexandra’s’ Fish Bar) !

Above: Tula in the water last season.

We also had a visit from the MCA, the Authority responsible for authorizing certification for the vessel, and they reviewed our newly installed Ship’s Security Plan.   As from July 01st of this year, all vessels of certain size and tonnage must display adequate ‘security measures’ in the aftermath of the September 11th and heightened terrorist threat.  I am happy to report that on Wednesday 26th, the ship satisfied the MCA that we had adequate measures already in place.  We now await the anticipated Issue of a Ship’s Security Certificate.

Above: Click to see the Light Taut Wire complete with bright new paint job.

So on Friday morning (28th) we departed the Immingham dock and travelled the 5 hours out to sea off Flamborough Head.  Then at 1400, we commenced the 2004 DPVOA trails for the Ernest Shackleton.   These tests are very thorough tests of the DP System.  Dynamic Positioning is the ability of the ship (through computer technology) to monitor the ships position (from GPS, the Light Taut Wire reference, Hydroacoustic references, Laser-beams) and also sense the forces acting to move the vessel from that position.  This is wind, tide and current.  However, all this technology has to be reliable in order to achieve control of the vessel without human intervention.  We test the reliability by failing certain parts of the system and ensure that what remains has the ability to remain ‘on station’.

In essence, we spent the next 20 hours trying to ‘break’ the ship we had just spent the week fixing.   On the 29th, we took a break from 0230-0600 hours for some sleep but at the end of the period by 0930 hours, we had completed some very thorough testing, we had finished our work of Flamborough head, and … we had broken the ship !

Not necessarily ‘broken the ship’, but the Trials highlighted some areas that needed modifying to ensure the vessel was truly ready to go onto location in the North Sea as a DP2 vessel.  We returned to port on Saturday to make the necessary alterations, only to find that IT WAS A BANK HOLIDAY in England.

There was nothing to be done.   We had to call in outside contractors to accomplish the workscope and the outside contractors were all on holiday until the following Tuesday.  It was frustrating.  It was a long weekend.  It was keeping the vessel alongside in port, but what was to be done ?

In short, we managed to achieve even more ‘good work’ over the weekend and the ship is looking very clean and tidy with some very impressive paint jobs being completed, but it was the end of the Bank Holiday before we were able to contact people and start making the necessary arrangements.

Did you know that a ship works 365 days a year, 7 days a week, and 24 hours every day ???   Bank Holidays ???   We have never heard of Bank Holidays on a ship !!  So while all those at home were sitting in their Bank Holiday Monday Traffic Jams on the M25, the Shackleton crew were taking bunkers (fuel oil) alongside the No.11 berth in King George Dock in Hull where we had returned to.

At last Tuesday arrived, the Sparkie had said ‘White Rabbits’ for the 1st of the month, but unfortunately it brought disappointing news. We discovered that the technical expertise we required was not going to be available until the end of the week.  A whole other week sitting alongside in port !  More frustration.  The one advantage to all of this was the good weather for painting and maintaining and for getting ashore to visit the joys of HULL.

Above: Click on a picture of the empty decks.  No Tula, No Rigid Inflatables, No Containers … No Crewmen ?

Above: and Click on the this picture to see a sunny, and newly painted deck.  Still no Crewmen !!!

HULL on the North bank of the River Humber on the East Coast of England is a city that boasts numerous Hostelries, Eateries, Museums, Cinemas, Bowling Alleys, and all the shopping in the world you could want.   Everybody has taken the opportunity to make the 2 mile journey into the city centre and stretch their legs otherwise there is always the daily ‘comings and goings’ of the North Sea Ferries that sail to Rotterdam and Zeebrugge.  As a former resident of Hull, I speak with authority when I say that Hull is the ‘Gateway to Europe’ as the sign on Willerby Road boasts to those arriving by car from all points in England. However as a current resident of Europe, I should like to add that NOBODY IN EUROPE SEEMS TO KNOW OF HULL ???

Spares, Repairs and Continuing to Wait.

Above: A ship parked up.

The Vessel has been moored alongside No.11 berth initially and then moved to No.3 berth in King George  Dock, HULL after arriving back from Trials on Saturday 29th.   We are still here, but meanwhile, we finally  arranged for the necessary technicians to visit the ship and aid the onboard ETO’s and Engineers to rectify all problems related to the DP Trials. The ship has now got a clean bill of health and is just awaiting work.  We are on 24 hours notice to mobilize and only await the word. Expectations onboard, of getting back to sea, are high.   Everybody is anxious to be working now.  However the initial contract that we heard about on our return came to naught, and our only other hint of work is not destined to start until later in the month.   But life continues onboard with a full program of maintenance.  The ship is like the painting of the ‘Forth Road Bridge’. It is never-ending.  Once one job is completed and written up in the onboard computer system, then another job presents itself.  For a small vessel with only 20 crew, there is never a shortage of tasks to perform.  Coupled with a round-the-clock security watch that the crew maintain on the top of the gangway, everybody has something to do everyday, and stolen moments ashore are valued.



Senior ETO (Electro Technical Officer) Robert ‘Bob’ Roullier is departing the fair Shackleton after 5 years service upon her.  Bob is going into retirement where he intends to spend his time .. fixing things !   Well, no change there, Bob.   Bob was on the Bransfield prior to transferring to the Shackleton and was 22 years at sea with the Royal Fleet Auxillary before that.  We wish you well in your retirement Bob, and may you never run out of 10p’s for your electric meter at home !!!

Bob fully intends to spend a stress-free retirement at home in the Isle of Wight, although he admits that he will miss the ship and the camaraderie of his shipmates.

WANTED : Electro Technical Officer for the RRS Ernest Shackleton.  Must be 5 foot nothing, have a good sense of humour and eat Chocolate Biscuits !!!

Forthcoming Events: Continue to wait for the word to slip away from Dock and mobilize for work in the North Sea or elsewhere in the world.

Contributors this week: All the crew and contractors that have performed their magic once again and transformed the vessel from an Antarctic Logistic and Research Vessel to a ‘North Sea Rig Pig’ Offshore Support Vessel.  Lots of work and lots of hours have gone into accomplishing this annual task.

Diary 02 should be written by Sunday 13th and available for publishing on Monday 14th (operations permitting).  

Stevie B
Radio Officer.