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18 Sep - Dingle Days

Date: Sunday 18th September 2005
Position @ 1200 Local (GMT +1): 54°01' North 001°04' East. Approaching the Ravenspurn North.
Next destination: Grimsby, Humberside.
ETA: Monday 19th September 2005 – Approximately 0700am alongside.
Distance to go:  Not known at this time.
Distance sailed from Immingham and Crew Change :  Not Available due to various courses and manoeuvring.
Total distance sailed : Not Known.

Current weather: Fine and Clear.  High Cloud and Blue Skies.
Sea State:   Slight Sea with Moderate Swell.
Wind :  Easterly breeze, 04 knots
Barometric pressure: 1025.2 mmHg
Air temperature: 16.6°C
Sea temperature:14.1°C

  Click to See Chart view of the Shackleton in today’s position.

The Ernest Shackleton is presently enjoying the nicest of weather (unlike our snow-bedecked sister ship The James Clark Ross who is currently up in the Arctic).  But for us the weather is ‘dingle’.  So how surprising that we have dingle weather on Sunday and were ‘hove to’ and waiting on the weather to improve on the Saturday?.  In short, it’s been a ‘mixed bag’ this week.


For all my flying buddies out there, this article is for you.

For a small Antarctic Survey vessel making it’s brief annual sojourn into the North Sea for summer operations, we believe we do very well to adapt to the demands of the North Sea Industry.  As Antarctic Officers used to crunching through 9/10ths pack ice and picking their way through ice floes, what a contrast to be operating the Dynamic Positioning Desk and nestling up close to Offshore rigs and installations.

Another arena of operations is the advent of Helicopter flights to and from the ship.  Helicopters are used like buses in the industry and it is not unusual to redirect a helicopter to an installation to pick up or deposit just one passenger, and the Ernest Shackleton has seen it’s fair share of flights coming by this week.

 Click on image.

" Spongebird 131 Heavy, you are No.2 to the Sikorsky S76 currently on short final and ahead of the 747 behind you" - Yes, it’s been like Shackleton International Airport this week with flights expected daily.

Four days out of Peterhead, and our first Helicopter, G-REDL called by with a Geologist required for an important job onboard. After the Helicopter on the 11th, another Helicopter G-SSSD flew in to deposit 2 more passengers on the 14th.   Helicopter G-BTEU then visited on the 15th to collect the Geologist and return him from whence he came. On the 16th the ‘Airport’ was closed to traffic.  But on the 17th we anticipated another flight.  The 17th was the day when the seas were choppy and the Helideck was bouncing all over the place, so we were unable to open the ‘Airport’ once again, and anticipated helicopters were cancelled.  But today, the 18th, the weather had significantly improved, allowing us to once again open for business and Helicopter G-SSSD called by to collect one passenger and further helicopter operations are not anticipated before our return to Grimsby in the morning.


The Helideck Limits.

Why was the Helideck closed for business on Saturday 17th ? - For any of you budding pilots out there, you will know how challenging it is to ‘hit’ the runway when it is a big, long, strip of concrete firmly cemented to the ground and going nowhere.  However for those remarkable helicopter pilots who land on vessels, that big, long, tarmac strip, is no longer 'big', is no longer 'long', and is trying with determination NOT to remain in one place.  This is due to HEAVE. ROLL. and PITCH.

 Heave (Z), Pitch (X) and Roll (Y).

A vessel not only moves in the FORE and AFT direction -not only in the PORT and STARBOARD direction, - but a vessel also has a component of UP and DOWN about it.  Luckily, we have instrumentation (Motion Reference Units) designed to monitor and measure these axis and the Helicopter Operators have set limitations to what are safe parameters for trying to land a helicopter on a 'moving targe'. 

( screen snapshot courtesy of SCC Simrad software ).

Historically you could read the ‘bubbles’ going backwards and forwards in an inclinometer, but today we are more sophisticated with a dedicated computer screen that does all the number crunching and gives a very good representation of movement on the display at the DP Desk.

  Click on screen to enlarge the Display.

At the bottom right of the screen are the ‘traffic lights’.  Traffic Lights, because they turn Yellow when conditions are marginal, or Red when out of limits.  At the time of the screenshot, all three components were Green and therefore we could accept a helicopter. However, even though the seas are flat against the horizon, and the sun is shining, and the gulls are squawking, the dreaded ‘Red Traffic Light’ can appear if the swell is causing the vessel to pitch like a  rocking horse.  Saturday 17th was such a day.  The inclement weather had passed, but it took time for the residual swell to die down and so the computer dictated whether we could have a helicopter or not.

This Helicopter Monitoring System is just one of the many clever devices employed by the vessel in the North Sea Mode.

Continuing Operations At The DP Desk.

  Click to Enlarge Image.

For four months in the North Sea, the DPO’s have sat at the DP Desk maintaining their 24 hour-a-day vigil, while taking 1 hour spells of duty throughout their 12 hour shift.  Meanwhile in the background the Master, Graham Chapman, or Chief Officer, Alan Newman, look on, and oversee operations.  The DP Desk demands constant attention, so there are no distractions when sitting in the ‘hot seat’.  However, one hour can be a long time on watch with nothing to do but watch the ROV camera’s following a sub-sea pipeline.  Therefore, you have to make your own amusement.  Do you think we have caught DPO John Green off-guard as he sings his way through the duty hour on the desk ?   Do you think Capt.Graham is looking impressed in the background ?  Do you think John will be encouraged NOT to give an encore ???

It’s been a busy Summer for the Ernest Shackleton.  Compared to last Summer when we were fast alongside in the Port of Hull for the best part of the Summer, but 2005 has seen us working every day of our 120 day charter period.  It’s good news for Reibers who own the vessel and operate the Summer STC Contracts.  It’s good news for Stolt who contract the vessel for these Annual Surveys of Pipeline and Subsea structures. It’s also good news for BAS who get a good reputation in the North Sea and a foot in the commercial world !.  The only drawback with such an extended period of work is the wear and tear it is putting upon the plant and machinery onboard – but the refit period is following directly after, where we can carry out the maintenance and any repairs necessary.

Tonight – Sunday 19th  - we will finish the work on the Central North Sea Gas fields of the Ravenspur, Cleeton and Rough Gas fields – and then we will proceed to the pilot station of the Humber Estuary to embark a pilot.  The Pilot will guide us into Grimsby Docks on the high tide and by 07.00am we should be fast alongside and demobilizing the North Sea Spread .  This will all be sent by road transport and mobilized on other vessels for continued operations elsewhere, whilst the Shackleton will don the guise of an Antarctic Vessel once again and arrange to take our Cargo Tender Tula back onboard.  These annual transformations are becoming quite routine now and within the space of 24 hours, we anticipate being able to say Goodbye to a very successful North Sea Season and turn our thoughts once again to the South, and Antarctica.  Micky Quinn, the Purser, has already been in contact with the wintering Base members to request their requirements for the next season.  The Ernest Shackleton will be their ‘mobile shop’ and deliver lots of ‘bonded stores’ to them when we arrive in the run up to Christmas.

So it only remains to say ‘Adieu’ to all our DPO’s (Dynamic Positioning Officers) who have sailed throughout the Summer.  We lose Maarten, John, Dave and Stuart tomorrow, but we offer our thanks to all the Shackleton DPO’s for the service and good companionship that they have brought with them to the Shackleton this year.  We oftentimes see a return of the same faces from year to year, and whilst some of these chaps may not be available next year due to other commitments, we like to think that this is not so much ‘Goodbye’ as ‘See you later’.

Bon Voyage to all the DPO’s from the Officers and Crew of the Shackleton.

Forthcoming Events:  Complete the last jobs of work on the Pipeline and Subsea structures on the Ravenspurn and Cleeton Gas Fields, and journey back to Grimsby overnight Sunday. 

Contributors this week: Thanks to all the helicopters that have visited us this week.   Thanks to Stolt Offshore for keeping us all gainly employed and hard at work this Summer in the North Sea.   I would like to acknowledge Seatex for the Computer Screen Pictures featured this week.

North Sea Diary No.13 should be written on Sunday 24th September for publication on Monday 25th September, from Refit.

Stevie B

Radio Officer.