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20 June - Alongside

Date: Sunday 20th June 2004
Position @ 1200 Local :  No.3 Quay, King George Docks, Port Of Hull, England.
Next destination:  To Be Advised. (TBA)
Distance to go: n/app
Distance sailed this North Sea Season : 160 Metres
Total distance sailed: 160 Metres

Current weather: Cloudy with promise of Rain Later.
Sea State: Calm alongside in Dock.
Wind: West Nor’westerly Force 3.
Barometric pressure: 1004.0 mmHg
Air temperature: 14.4°C
Sea temperature: 17.4°C

 Still alongside.

A Quiet Past Week on ES


Welcome to another week spent alongside the No.3 Quay at Hull’s King George Dock.  Still no Charter work for the RRS Ernest Shackleton, and so we remain on a constant 24 hour’s notice to sail. 

There was a ‘near miss’ on Friday (18th) when Riebers of Norway informed us they were going to a meeting to discuss a possible Charter and could we please be ready to sail that day ?  Of course we turned on the Radio Equipment, and ran-up the Radars.  The engines were primed ready to go and we even obtained clearance from the Port Authorities to clear the lock gates and go to sea.  However, that we are still sitting here alongside on a cloudy Sunday afternoon must bear testament to the fact that we are still waiting for a charter to materialize.  The start of another week tomorrow heralds the expectation that at any time we could be heading out to sea again.

The weekend has brought a reward all of it’s own for some lucky crewmembers onboard, who were able to take advantage of the weekend stay to slip away at Saturday lunchtime and make a swift journey home by train or hire car for an unexpected but much appreciated sabbatical.  Glasgow was perhaps the farthest afield that any of the crew managed to get this weekend, but Mick the Purser felt it was worth the effort to catch up on a sample of homelife in preparation for our ‘paying off day’ which is firming up to be around the 19th July for Capt’s Chapman’s crew.  Of course, with the appearance of a North Sea charter, this could change at any time.

Work-wise, the maintenance program goes on and the ship is looking very slick indeed.  Even my V-sat dome got a thorough washing down this week.  Being up there near to the engine exhausts on the ‘funnel tops’ it is inclined to get a little grimy at times, so the boys did a welcome job of putting a shine back on the big white mushroom that is our Satellite Radome.

Some of the Mates on the bridge are starting to search for jobs to do, so perhaps it is time they were back at sea before the threat of boredom looms, but in the Engineering Departments, there is always enough to be done.

We all hope to be back at sea again by this time next week, so … watch this space !!!



Wavey Davey's Wit Spot


A man went up to Davey in town this week.  He had obviously heard of Wavey’s notoriety and said,

‘Haven’t I seen your face somewhere else’ ?

‘No’ said Davey.  ‘It’s always been here between my ears !!!’

Unfortunately, I cannot tell you Wavey’s other offering this week, which is totally ‘politically incorrect’ and cannot possibly be published....

A Scotsman appears at the Pearly Gates and is met by Saint Peter.

‘Can I come in’ ? says the Scotsman.

‘No’ says St.Peter, ‘You have to go below to the other place’.

‘Why’ says the Scotsman, ‘I’ve been good all my life’.

‘If you think I’m going to make porridge for 1’, said St Peter, ‘You are very much mistaken’

...but of course, I couldn’t possibly print anything of the sort here !





I have been asked (thank you Vreni) ‘what is a Radio Officer, and what does he do ?’.

So I shall take the opportunity of a ‘quiet week’ of web-reporting to enlighten you all.

As web-editor, I don’t like to feature myself too much in these pages, but I am now going to indulge myself and feature ‘Sparkie Steve’ as the ‘crewman of the week’.   So if you’re sitting comfortably, … I’ll begin.

The Ernest Shackleton is peculiar in that she still carries a Radio Officer.  Officially, the title is ETO Comms, (Electro-Technical Officer – Communications), but what’s in a name ?  I qualified in the early 80’s as a Radio Officer, and still consider myself as such even today.  However, very few vessels now carry a Radio Officer with the Shackleton and the James Clark Ross being two obvious exceptions.  How this comes to be, is simply because we still use Radio as a means of communications when down South in Antarctica and daily schedules on HF (High Frequency Radio) and MF (Medium Frequency) are common occurrences.

The duties of communications officer are ably carried out on most ships by the ‘ticketed’ Officers of the Watch (O.O.W), but since the navigational duties of ice navigation and ice-berg dodging are so arduous in Antarctica, the Radio Officer is a welcome addition to the team when the navigation becomes paramount.

I consider myself very fortunate indeed to be able to exercise this dying art of ‘radio communicating’ which is more and more resting with the Amateur Radio Enthusiasts out there that steadfastly hold onto this aging method of communication and keep it alive.  I personally love getting ‘on air’ and trying all the various frequencies (which can sometimes be very ‘hit and miss’) in order to expedite clear communications and pass interesting and sometimes valuable information.

But it is not purely as ‘radio operator’ that the ETO justifies his position onboard.  The ETO’s of the British Antarctic are fully qualified Electronic Engineers working on an amazing variety of equipment onboard.  To begin with, working in an A4 Area ( outside the normal area of commercial shipping ), there is all that communication equipment to maintain and repair as necessary.  We carry ‘duplication of equipment’ as required by the regulations, so that is double the amount of equipment to keep in working order.  The inclement and extremes of weather encountered in our arena of operations can oftentimes reduce a piece of advanced electronic circuitry to so much corrosion and scrap metal, so it is a constant battle to keep the Antennas, tuning units and stabilized dishes cleaned, greased, water-tight and operational.

 Keeping the SatComm operational.  Regular checks aloft.

On the bridge, the increasing complexity and diversity of equipment provides plenty of scope for electronic repair plus a full program of planned maintenance and testing every month.  From checking the radar performance every month to checking all the computers associated with the Dynamic Positioning Desk.  Nothing escapes the scrutiny of the Radio Off.  From the Hi-Fi’s and TV’s onboard, to the Lights and Lamps around the decks, the Satellite antennas on the very top of the vessel to the Fire Detectors in the very bottom.  Here we see a repair on a the HRPT Weather Satellite Imagery Equipment.  Click on the photo to enlarge.

Then everything today is ‘Computers’ !  From the Radars to the Dynamic Positioning equipment, everything has a computer attached to it.

We have a full LAN (Local Access Network) on the Shackleton and that means crewmembers can plug their laptops into the sockets in their cabins.  Setting up the communications for these machines, and allocating ‘onboard accounts’ for all those emails falls to the ETO and computers being computers, they are not without their fare share of problems and hitches !  Daily tape backups of the computer network information has to be made and even our ‘Daily Newspaper’ comes over the Satellite and out via a computer printer !  The printing of the Daily Blurb is one of my more favoured tasks.  The papers are a way of keeping us ‘in touch’ when we are down south and out of the range of normal BBC WorldService reception !

Then there are the Bases too.  The Southern-most Bases carry their own Communication’s Managers but the others, Signy, Bird Island and King Edward Point, rely on the visits of the vessels so that the Radio Officers can inspect and do any remedial work on their comms equipment.  This is done by whichever of the ships are passing by, but between the 4 radio officers and occasional transiting FID Comms Mangers, the Bases are ably supported.  This does not detract from the sterling efforts of the Scientists/Operators who operate the equipment daily, and manage some excellent first-line fault-finding, but usually it is the expertise and ready amount of spares carried by the ships that can resolve those particularly awkward faults.  Here is a picture of me working ashore at South Georgia and inspecting the long-line HF Antenna arrays. Click on the image to enlarge.

 Steve fighting his way to the Antenna Array.


These past weeks have been busy for the Radio Department.  No shortage of work alongside for me.

Upon arrival in the UK, the spares arrived onboard and allowed me to repair items that had been waiting for spares and access (see last week’s work on the Scaffolding) to remedy.  The Port Side Radar screen, the Bridge DGPS receiver, the DP Console DGPS receiver, a new Universal Automated Information System repair, removal of a unit from the Vsat Dome, the Starboard Side HF/MF transceiver, installing an additional Flame Detector in the Funnel, repair of a BA Helmet Radio Headset, Helideck light faults, CCTV monitor renewal, Galley Hotplate faults, Ships telephone problems, re-connecting the ship’s Cellular phones, Main Computer Server Fault, Security Camera repair, Radar Magnetron replacement, Aldis Morse Lamp battery renewals, installation and repair of the North sea Light Taut Wire, Mast Head Light replacement, and replacement of the Emergency Generator Batteries, to name but a few.  Coupled with the continuing ‘planned maintenance’ that revolves around every month, you can see it is an amusing amount of work to keep one man busy.

But I complain not.  It is far better to be fully occupied alongside and it makes the remaining time on this rotation go swiftly by. So when asked, ‘what do I do’ ? I can happily reply … ‘ I write the webpages !’

‘Sparkie’ Steve

Forthcoming Events: Continuing to wait work in the North Sea or elsewhere in the world.


Contributors this week:. Sparkie Steve and the Comms Department.

Diary 04 should be written by Sunday 27th and available for publishing on Monday 28th.  

Stevie B

Radio Officer.