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August 12 - The Handover

Date: Sunday 12th August 2007

Position @ 1200 Local (GMT): 56°16.6 North, 003°23.6 East. Alongside the Valhall Platform. Norwegian Sector
Next destination: Tananger, near Stavanger in Norway.
ETA: Tuesday 14th August 2007.
Distance to go: 175.1 nmiles.
Distance This North Sea Season. : Undetermined.

Current weather: Sunny, Bright and Clear.
Sea State: Slight Seas, Slight Swell
Wind: Southerly, 14 Knots.
Barometric pressure: 1005.7 Hpa
Air temperature: +17.4°C
Sea temperature: +15.5°C

Click to enlarge
Click to Enlarge.

Up to date position information is available courtesy of ‘sailwx/info’ taken from our Metrological Observations..

Hello ? We're Back !

But where have we been ?? Did you even know we had Gone ?
If you are confused at this time as to which crew is manning the RRS Ernest Shackleton, then you are in good company. Join the club ? We hardly know ourselves !

Capt Harper's Team are now truly back on board, and apologies for not getting right back to the webpage when we returned last week. The new 1 month on / 1 month off rotation that sounded so well at the start of the season has some drawbacks. One of those drawbacks is 'the Handover'.

The Handover involves 3 or 4 hours (for the Officers) to pass on all pertinent points and information regarding their last tour of duty onboard the vessel. 'That bit is inoperative', 'That publication is up-to-date', 'The latest Notice to Mariners has just arrived onboard', etc etc etc.
After the handover period, the off-going crew go down the gangway and wave Goodbye, but for the on-coming crew, the handover has just begun !

The first thing is that the damned elusive password which was in existence since time immemorial - has changed ! Those tools which always lived in that drawer are now missing. The Notice to Mariners may be onboard, but where did they get stowed ??? Coupled with all the other things involved in 'picking up the pieces' and you can see that rejoining a ship is not always an easy operation.

We have just had a period of leave and all have returned refreshed and ready to take up the reins once more, but the avalanche of work involved in getting up-to-speed certainly 'throws you back in the deep end'. Instead of undergoing this transition period twice a year, our new rotation has doubled the amount of times we do 'the Handover'.

After a week onboard, I think I am safe in announcing that we are all well and truly back in the driving seat ! We departed from the Crew change port of Aberdeen on Tuesday 31st June.

Heading out to Sea Once Again
Heading out to Sea Once Again.

Click on all Images to Enlarge.

Back to 4 Months On and 4 Months Off

The usual rotation routine for the crew is 4 months on and 4 months off and with the departure of Capt Marshall's Team, there are only 6 weeks remaining of the North Sea Charter Period. Therefore Capt Harper's Crew will now remain onboard for the duration and then take the ship into the refit period. Once outside the Charter Period, the crews can revert to their normal rotations which means the present crew will remain onboard now until Cape Town in December and the start of our next Antarctic Season.

So what now do we think of the North Sea 1 on / 1 off ???

'Short vacations' !

I remember as a youngster that the 6 week Summer Holidays from school would last the age of a Bible. Not that I was particularly studious, nor that I particularly wanted to get back to school, but wow,... they were long vacations. In comparison, as an adult (my wife would probably dispute that...) our 4 week vacations simply fly by. At home, people must consider 4 weeks to be a very long 'weekend' to have away from work, but please bear in mind that our 'working week' had lasted 4 weeks preceding it !

I am often envied for my usual 4-month leave period. How wonderful to have a vacation that lasts 4 months. But when viewed in perspective, it is never long enough. During the 4 month voyage away, life goes on at home. Pipes still leak at home. The Garden shed doesn't stop deteriorating for the want of a coat of paint. The toys don't get made and the car doesn't postpone it's servicing date ! When returning home there are 4 months worth of chores to get through to add to the next 4 months worth of chores that will come along too. That's 8 months worth of living to do in only 4 months and find the time to have a two-week break to the Costa Del Sol to boot ! So as you can see, the lot of a Merchant Naval Seafarer, is a busy one !

I hope I don't give a negative impression of life at sea ? On the contrary, it's the profession we have chosen and it beat's the socks off the daily commute to work that most people must endure. My idea of 'Rush Hour Traffic' is meeting someone coming down the stairs as I am going up the stairs on my way to the Bridge ! Oh yes,... there are definite advantages to being back at sea !

For anyone wishing to apply, please write to .....

 An Oil Platform An Oil Platform. And an Oil Rig. an Oil Rig

.. So as I was saying, We're Back.

So 'Hello Vreni'. 'Hello Karen'. 'Hello the rest of the Readership'. It's been a very infrequent webpage of late, but hopefully it will settle back into the weekly fun-packed information fix that you know and love. ? I shall certainly attempt to get a weekly offering posted and with the advent of the 'new look Antarctic Website', there are even plans afoot for a 'Blog' style Diary coming shortly. That will simplify the process of getting the pages posted in goodly time every week.

While this crew was away over the month of July, Capt.Marshall's crew were busy working every day in the North Sea, and largely in the Southern Gas Fields off Humberside and Norfolk. According to the other crewmembers during the handover, there were few problems during there brief time onboard, and subsequently, they managed to work most days during the Charter period in the month of July.

The Southern Gas fields are notorious for strong currents and wave motion. This is because they are in shallower waters than the Northern rigs and more susceptible to tide movements. But when the weather started to pick up in their last days onboard, the vessel had to concede defeat and 'wait on weather'. This is where it becomes too rough to safely deploy the ROV's (remote operated vehicles) over the side. This is why Capt.Marshall agreed to return to port a few days earlier than scheduled to effect a crew change rather than wait around in the North Sea.

I have no pictures of the rough weather (not being onboard myself), but upon arriving on location on the Tuesday evening, we were greeted by a rather spooky residual mist and fog which made the platforms look very eerie as they disappeared into the mire.

Spot the 'Flare boom Flame' on the Misty Platform Spot the 'Flare boom Flame' on the Misty Platform. Spot the 'Flare boom Flame' on the Misty Platform

Even the flame could not entirely penetrate the murk at times !

Back on Location

Once out in the North Sea, the vessel was no longer impeded by the weather and we went directly back to work on the General Visual Inspection of the Legs and Risers of the Offshore Installations. Initially we were offshore Scotland as we worked the Forties Field, but for the last week we have worked 'over the border' in the Norwegian Sector amongst Platforms with such Viking names as 'Hod' and 'Valhall'. Others in the fields include such names as Valdemar, Tyra, Svend, Ekofisk, Ula and Halfdan. It sounds like the mythical heroes of some Norsk legends or Lord of the Rings trilogy !

I have to report that the work out on these Oil fields is very repetitive and dull. There is not so much to report as the ROV's constantly go over the side to continue their structural inspections, and the vessel changes on-shift personnel every 12 hours ad infinitum. But repetitive and dull is GOOD. We like to eschew 'adventure' and excitement, especially when up alongside giant oil rigs at close quarters. Dull is VERY good. But I do have some photographs to show that despite the 'dull' we can still amuse ourselves with the business of the day !

Charlie Chalk the Bosun gets to deploy the Light Taut Wire in the Sunshine.
Charlie Chalk the Bosun gets to deploy the Light Taut Wire in the Sunshine.

Chip, chip, chip in the sunshine.  Is Ron the A/b sculpting the vessel anew, or just removing some of that old paint ?
Chip, chip, chip in the sunshine. Is Ron the A/b sculpting the vessel anew, or just removing some of that old paint ?

Hello to 'Mrs Ron' at home from the guys onboard.

07 - Thumb - And more Sunshine.  Here is Gary the Lecky showing how to get an all-over North Sea Suntan !
And more Sunshine. Here is Gary the Lecky showing how to get an all-over North Sea Suntan ! This PPE (personal protective clothing) is guaranteed to give a protective sun-factor rating of 1,030,327.00 !!!


We have a Port Call and crew change for the Charters due this week, so perhaps I'll be back with something a little more interesting to report next week, but finally, here is a glimpse of the future. I always think the RRS Ernest Shackleton looks too modern compared to the classic lines of our sister-ship, the James Clark Ross, but what we see alongside the Valhall this week makes even the Shackleton look pretty normal. Introducing the rig support vessel, the 'Bourbon Monsoon'.


the particular shape of the ship's bow of the future
Click to see the particular shape of the ship's bow of the future.

I shall never complain again about how the Ernest Shackleton is lacking in the Focs'le department ! Not a lot of room to run anchors on the bow of the Bourbon !

Forthcoming Events: Continue with work on the Valhall platform until time to depart for the port, and to 'make water' along the way. The vessel has a full ship and consumes an amount of water each day. The journey to port will allow the engineers to produce fresh water to fill the Fresh Water Tanks.

Contributions This Week : Thanks to anyone who was unlucky enough to be 'snapped' in front of the web camera this week.

North Sea Diary No.4 should be produced on Sunday 19th August - operations permitting. To be Published on Monday 20th.

Stevie B
Radio Officer.