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03 December 2000 - Arrival at Rothera

RRS James Clark Ross Diary

Noon Position : Biscoe Wharf, Rothera.
Distance travelled since Grimsby: 12,347 nautical miles
Air temperature @ noon: 1.8 degrees Celsius
Sea temperature @ noon: 2.3 degrees Celsius

Elephant Island - click on image to enlarge

Elephant Island - click on image to enlarge

After an incredibly benign crossing of Drake Passage, we found ourselves close to Elephant Island, now famed for its involvement in the escape and rescue of the 28 men of Sir Ernest Shackletons' 1914 failed Trans-Antarctic Expedition.

The expeditions' ship Endurance was beset by ice in the Weddell Sea, just a days sail from their intended point of departure for the continental crossing, and after an enforced winter on board, the ship was eventually crushed by the ice and sank.  Shackleton and his men, after rescuing vital supplies from the doomed ship, including the three lifeboats, camped on the ice as it was drawn westwards and northwards by the wind and current, until they were able to launch the boats, and make for land.  They eventually reached Elephant island, and after some rest from their ordeal, Shackleton and five others took to the 22 foot lifeboat James Caird to make the 800 mile crossing of the Southern Ocean to the whaling stations of South Georgia, which offered the nearest help.  After an incredible feat of navigation to make the island, the prevailing weather conditions saw the party land on the unoccupied, empty side of the South Georgia, from where Shackleton and two others were forced to traverse the mountain range and glaciers that divide South Georgia, before descending to the whaling station of Stromness. From here, his marooned men on Elephant Island were eventually rescued. And so, two years later, without a man lost, although the expedition failed in itself, this miraculous story of survival against all odds, goes down in the annals of exploration, as a testament to the courage, fortitude and resilience of men, under the natural leadership of a great man.

On board we have Iain Vassie and Pete Foden from NERC's Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory (POL), Birkenhead. They have a series of buoys on the seabed at various locations in the Antarctic recording sea levels for varying periods of time. On our way south we had to recover three of these instruments which had been recording data for a year.

Calling the buoy Buoy at the surface The buoy back on deck

Calling the buoy


Back on deck

Click on images to enlarge.

Recovery involves bringing the ship close to the buoys position, placing a hydrophone in the water and then "talking" to it. This is always a very tense moment as the buoy had been sitting on the seabed for the year. Once it had been detected a signal was sent instructing it to release, and then the fun and games start as we try to locate it on the surface after its hour long ascent.


On board we have Jim Fox and Ken Back who are to spend the summer at Port Lockroy.

Approaching Port Lockroy - click on image to enlargeApproaching Port Lockroy - click on image to enlarge. Port Lockroy is the site of an old British Base which was built on Goudier Island in February 1944 during the Second World War. The first wintering party carried out scientific research and mapped the surrounding islands. At the end of the war, the base passed into the hands of the newly formed Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey (FIDS), which coordinated the British scientific research programme in the Antarctic (FIDS became BAS in 1962). The base was occupied almost continuously until 1962, when the scientific work, which included some of the early research on the ozone layer, moved to the nearby Argentine Islands, and the base was closed.

After 1962, it was occasionally visited by BAS ships, tourist vessels and yachts, but there was a considerable amount of waste left behind and the years without maintenance took their toll on the base buildings. In 1996, after a conservation survey, the site was designated a historic site and a team set about cleaning up the base and island, and repairing the buildings.

Nowadays, Port Lockroy is the most visited site in Antarctica, with over 5700 people coming each season, attracted by the spectacular mountain scenery, abundant wildlife and historical interest. The restored base is run by a two person team who guide visitors around the site and operate a small shop and Post Office.

Port Lockroy and the resident penguins Lockroy Lads - Jim and Ken

Port Lockroy and the resident penguins

Lockroy Lads - Jim and Ken

Click on images to enlarge

Jim and Ken will be living in the restored base, which is mainly laid out as a museum. The living accomodation is extremely basic, they sleep, cook and eat in one room and there are certainly no luxuries like a bathroom, so as you can imagine they get quite excited when a ship is in and there's the opportunity for a hot shower.

Vernadsky Station is a Ukranian research base, and has been since the British Antarctic Survey handed it over to them in 1995, it being called Faraday Station under B.A.S.  Our visit this year was to enable the POL scientists to check on their tide gauges, and as usual, our hosts were most welcoming, we being their first visitors for eight months.  The traditional exchanges took place - the odd glass of Russian vodka from base staff, and additions to their collection of brassieres from un-named members of the ships contingent!

Vernadsky Station British Legacy - The Bar!

Vernadsky Station

British Legacy - The Bar!

Click on images to enlarge

RRS James Clark Ross alongside Biscoe Wharf, Rothera - click on image to enlargeRRS James Clark Ross alongside Biscoe Wharf, Rothera - click on image to enlarge. After leaving Vernadsky we were on our way to Rothera Station on Adelaide Island. This part of the trip is extremely unpredictable as we are at the mercy of the sea ice and despite satellite estimations of ice and observations by the BAS aircraft we never really know what we are going to come across. However this year, luck was with us, and we managed to sail straight in encountering only a small amount of pack ice on the route - this compares with last year when the same journey took the ship almost a month!

We will have more on Rothera next week, but as can be seen by the photos we have yet again been treated to the most spectacular weather making it tough to spend hours down in the cargo hold getting the relief work done rather than getting out and about, but who knows if all goes to plan maybe there will be a chance for the latter.

View from Rothera Point - click on image to enlarge

View from Rothera Point - click on image to enlarge

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