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01 Dec - Loading Cargo

RRS James Clark Ross Diary

Noon Position: 56° 35.5 S, 56° 21.8 W)
Distance Travelled since Grimsby: 11500.0 Nautical Miles
Air temperature @ Noon today: 1.8°C
Sea temperature @ Noon today : 1.3°C
Weather: Good, SW, 5-6, 997.0 mb


Loaded up to the gunwhales

Returning to the Falklands Islands after an uneventful passage from Montevideo, we faced 30 keen looking FIDs and a huge amount of cargo waiting for us on FIPASS harbour. The FIDs were all desperate to get going after kicking their heels in Stanley for a week. So much so that we managed to press-gang some of them into giving us a hand with all the cargo that needed to be loaded onboard. Having unloaded the containers we brought with us from Grimsby and various other items after our collision before we left for Montevideo, there was a vast quantity needing to be repackaged back into the holds and onto deck. All hands were needed for loading, checking everything on and lashing it all down so it doesn't get washed overboard in the notoriously rough Drake Passage. The Bonner lab rebuild at Rothera is mainly in or on the JCR at the moment including all the building materials needed for the job. Below are a variety of pictures taken during the cargo loading. Click on the images to enlarge them.

JCR at FIPAS loading the forward hold - Click to enlarge The stern deck is loaded down - Click to enlarge
Loading Cargo - Click to enlarge Dave can't take any more cargo - Click to enlarge

We also have the new decompression chamber to replace the one that was sadly destroyed in last years fire. This was fitted away nicely in No 2 hold after a lot of careful manoeuvring. After being lifted into the hold we needed a forklift to be lifted in after it, to finally squeeze it into position for the journey to it's new home at Rothera. The pictures below show the process - click on them for larger versions.

Colin lifts the new dive chamber onboard - Click to enlarge Dave directs the troops - Click to enlarge The forklift finally does the trick - Click to enlarge

Finally we were ready to sail and we left FIPASS on Saturday lunch time loaded down with as much as we could carry. Below are pictures of the bow and stern covered in containers, diggers, building materials, wire, food, gear etc etc. Click on the images to enlarge them.

Where's our old cricket pitch gone? - Click to enlarge The bow - Click to enlarge

We also had the pleasure of 30 scientists, construction workers and other base personnel jumping on board. We are pretty much full with passengers and the galley is busting it's guts to get enough food out for the hungry lot. So much so we are having two sittings for dinner and getting to the bar can be difficult in the evenings! Leaving Stanley we gave all the crew and newcomers a boat drill to get them up to speed with emergency procedures. We all muster in various places around the ship, fight our way into our lifejackets and climb inside the two lifeboats where we are told what to do if we ever need them. Once we had all got out, the boats were lowered to the sea and raised again a few times to make sure everything is in good working order. With all our keen FIDs the boats have never been so photographed!! For all the families at home here a couple of sample photos you'll be forced to look at next year when your loved ones get home!! Sorry to spoil the surprise....

Does my bum look big in this? - Click to enlarge
Typical, these straps clash horribly with my life jacket - Click to enlarge Where's the duty free? - Click to enlarge A boat goes on a ship - Click to enlarge

So at the moment the good ship is steaming south on the way towards Port Lockroy and Rothera with a few green-looking passengers!!!


James Clark Ross in the Antarctic 1839-42

The diary is continuing a biography of James Clark Ross. This is week 2. To see last week click here

In 1839 James Clark Ross (JCR) was appointed to lead an expedition to the South Magnetic Pole and conduct a series of primarily magnetic experiments and measurements. At the time little was known about the southern polar region. James Cook had circumnavigated the Antarctic at a latitude of 60° S in 1772 but had not seen any land, even as far south as 71°S. Subsequently, sealers had discovered the South Shetland Islands and Trinity Land south of Cape Horn. A Russian, Thaddeus von Bellingshausen had discovered Peter I Island at 69°S but was unable to land during his circumnavigation in 1819-21. Little was known of his voyage outside of Russia at the time. The third circumnavigation had been made in 1830-2 by John Biscoe, a sealing captain, who had discovered land at 67°S and 50°E. The furthest south attained at that time was by James Weddell, who in 1823 reached 74°15'S at a longitude of 34°W and reported open sea but turned back as he was on a commercial sealing voyage and winter was approaching. In 1839, that was all that was known about Antarctica. However, as JCR was preparing his ships, two other expeditions were already underway to the region. A French Admiral, Jules Dumont d'Urville, had sailed in 1837 with the objective of ethnological research but also attempted to beat the 'farthest south' of Weddell. Lieutenant Charles Wilkes of the US Navy had sailed in 1838. At the time nothing was known about these two adventures but the Admiralty were clearly worried about not getting to Antarctica first!

The bomb vessels, Erebus and Terror (340 tons), were appointed for the expedition. Bomb vessels were heavily built and very strong to withstand the recoil from the mortars that they normally carried and therefore ideal for working in ice. They were refitted in Chatham, further strengthened and heating systems installed. JCR chose his officers for the expedition and picked men with previous ice experience. JCR was to command Erebus and Francis Crozier to lead Terror who had been on 3 of Parry's expeditions with JCR. Edward Bird and Archibald McMurdo were the first lieutenants while the post of surgeon was taken by Robert McCormick who had previously sailed with a naturalist called Charles Darwin. The assistant surgeon on the Erebus was Joseph Hooker, who had just completed medical school and was a keen biologist. The construction of the ships, equipment and stores were based on 20 years of Arctic exploration and it was crewed with men of proven experience. It was one of the best organized expeditions ever to leave Britain. For a map click here

The two ships sailed on 30 September 1839 via Madeira, Canaries, Cape Verdes and then to St Helena. Magnetic studies were conducted with particular interest in the line of least magnetic intensity that circles the globe close to the equator. Magnetic observatories were set up on St Helena, where they stayed for 9 days. Next, passage was made to the Cape, arriving on 16 March 1840 where they again set up observatories for several weeks. The ships then sailed onwards towards Kerguelen but became separated in bad weather. Ross, in Erebus, passed close to Prince Edward Island and reached the Crozet Islands (not at the expected chart position) where he paused for 5 days before making a rapid passage to Kerguelen Island. Terror, arrived at Kerguelen the same day and they both entered Christmas Harbour on 12 May 1840. Two observatories were constructed and both captains stayed ashore for two months taking measurements of both magnetic and astronomical significance. During a stay of 68 days there was a gale blowing on 45 and there was only three with no rain or snow! The Island of Desolation was well named by James Cook!

The Erebus and Terror sailed eastwards but were again separated. Erebus, had the boatswain swept overboard and despite losing all her sails in a storm reached Hobart in Tasmania. They were warmly welcomed by the Governor, Sir John Franklin, a fellow Arctic explorer (we will hear more of him next week). Again observatories were set up and readings taken. News was heard for the first time of the French and American expeditions to the Antarctic. D'Urville, had discovered land at the level of the Antarctic circle and 136-42°E but had to return north due to the poor state of his ships and men. Wilkes expedition was officially a secret, but he sent JCR a friendly letter and chart showing discovery of land between 96-165°E. That other expeditions had already seen land and got close to the South Magnetic Pole made JCR upset at the thought that Britain was 'to follow in the footsteps of any other nation'. He then decided to sail south on a more easterly longitude into unexplored territory. Ross sailed from Hobart on 12 November 1840 to the Auckland Islands and observations made for a month including the discovery of 56 new species of plant and the first description of the nesting habits of the wandering albatross. Next, was a short stop at the Campbell Islands. After 15 months passage the expedition finally turned south, much to the relief and joy of everyone onboard!

By 27 December icebergs were seen and noted to be totally different from the ones seen in the Arctic. On 31 December, an iceblink was seen and the following morning, New Years Day 1841, Erebus and Terror, came up to the edge of the pack ice. After several days observing the ice and waiting for the right conditions, JCR steered the Erebus into the ice. For the first time an ice strengthened ship penetrated the Antarctic pack ice and soon found they could navigate easily in the loose floes. Many penguins were seen and a new type of seal, named Ross's seal, which is the rarest of Antarctic seals. Following a storm they found themselves in open water and headed south. They were the first ships ever to enter the Antarctic pack ice and there was no ship in the southern hemisphere able to pass through the ice to search for them so they were completely isolated in the pack, which all previous explorers had regarded as certain death. The open water was later named the Ross Sea.

They sailed directly towards the South Pole but on 11 January 1841, sighted land. This may be 'the only spectacular discovery of any continent' and they had the amazing sight of mountains they called the 'Admiralty Range'. They were still 500 miles from the Pole and steered southwest. Coming across two islands they took possession for Queen Victoria on 'Possession Island'. McCormick wrote of the scene:

"The margin or ice-foot on which we at last effected a landing took us upon a nearly level surface, a guano-bed in fact, formed by a colony of penguins for ages past. It had attained such a depth as to give an elastic sensation under the feet, resembling a dried-up peat bog. The penguins indeed, with their young all covered with down, formed such a rookery here that the whole place and sea around seemed alive with them, in such countless myriads were they congregated....These sturdy, bold birds, standing erect on their tails, with the horny feathers of both head and neck ruffled in anger, their flipper-like wings extended from their sides, looked altogether the most ludicrous and grotesque objects imaginable...The perfume arising from this colony was certainly not of an Arabian sweetness, for even before the boat reached the shore the scent wafting upon the waters was all but stifling. The population of this colony might be estimated by millions."

Ross could find no harbour to shelter the ships and continued south passing Weddell's 74°15" on 27th. Soon, to their amazement, they discovered a 12,400 ft high volcano belching flame and smoke into the air. Ross named it Mt Erebus with it's extinct partner named Mt Terror. Feeling very humble at nature's power and their helplessness they carried on south only to discover another incredible sight.

"As we approached the land under all studding sails, we perceived a low white line extending from its eastern extreme point as far as the eye could discern to the eastward. It presented an extraordinary appearance, gradually increasing in height as we got nearer to it, and proving at length to be a perpendicular cliff of ice, between one hundred and fifty and two hundred feet above the level of the sea, perfectly flat and level at the top, and with out any fissures or promontories on its even seaward face."

Ross tried for several days to find an end to the 'barrier' which was in fact the edge of the ice shelf that would later bear his name. No one had previously seen such a scene and he followed it for 150 miles. Backtracking, Ross found McMurdo Bay, the point of entry of later Scott and Shackleton expeditions. No place could be found to harbour for the winter and so the expedition was forced to head northwards and through the pack ice again. After a very close escape, by a fortuitous change in the weather, from some huge bergs they continued northwards, disappointed not to be over wintering. The 'line of no deviation' was crossed twice on the way back to Hobart, arriving on 7 April 1841. During a 3 month refit in Hobart, the metal removed from the ships was carefully replaced in exactly the same position. Despite such care, the compass deviations onboard, had changed considerably from the beginning of the refit. These observations laid the foundations for the theory of compass correction on ships. Erebus and Terror sailed to Sydney in July then onto the Bay of Islands in New Zealand and made 3 months of magnetic observations. On 23 November, they headed south for the second time and crossed the Antarctic Circle on New Year's Day 1842 instigating a two day party on an icefloe! A violent storm then ripped the rudders from both ships and they were so close that their rigging touched as the ships rolled. New rudders were made and after 47 days they made it through the pack ice into open sea. They soon ran into the ice shelf again but reached their furthest south on 23 February 1842. It was the furthest south anyone had been and JCR now had the distinction of being the furthest north and south of any man. They reached 78° 9'30" S at 161° 27'W and this 'furthest south' stood for another 50 years. The season was fast running out and the ships then set a course due east for Cape Horn.

On 12 March, disaster struck. Shortly before midnight, with the ships running under full sail, Terror, saw an iceberg off her port side and turned to starboard. At the same time, Erebus, seeing another part of the large berg turned to starboard. The two ships violently collided and become entangled by their rigging. Fortunately they separated but Erebus was left completely disabled with the berg bearing down on her. Terror, now saw another berg in front of her and Crozier using all his skill guided the ship through the narrow gap between the two and in to the lee of the bergs. Erebus, however lying in a crippled state next to one of the berg with her yard arms touching the berg when she rolled, was helpless and only the undertow from the berg stopped her being dashed to pieces against it. Ross then performed one of the most extraordinary manoeuvres carried out by a sailing ship. The only chance of clearing the berg was to set the sails to drive the ship astern. After 45 minutes setting the sails, the ship gathered stern way and moved away from the berg, plunging backwards dangerously into the rough sea. Highly skilled seamanship was needed to turn the ship and get her forward through the narrow gap between the two icebergs and join the awaiting Terror. Such an event left both ships damaged and they finally limped into Port Louis, East Falkland on 5 April, the first time they had seen land in 136 days. Observatories were set up and the ships hauled out of the water and repaired. A brief visit to Cape Horn allowed them to set up observatories there before before heading for the South Shetland Islands.

JCR attempted to penetrate down the east side of the Antarctic peninsula but found his was blocked by impenetrable ice. He saw huge bergs and presumed they had broken off an ice shelf. He was right as unknown to him, he was only 50 miles from the Larsen Ice Shelf where they almost certainly had come from. They gave up heading south and made passage to the east looking for the Weddell Sea. Finding open water they headed south again and penetrated the pack ice again. After following leads for 27 miles and with the leads starting to freeze over they made a hasty retreat and were lucky to make it out of the pack ice before a violent storm. They had reached 71° 30'S on 5 March, only 45 miles from Queen Maud Land (discover in 1932!) and had found the only practical approach to the Weddell Sea.

The ships turned for home and via St Helena, Ascension and Rio de Janeiro arrived at Folkestone on 4 September after 4 years and 5 months away.

James Clark Ross received a knighthood on return to London but the expedition didn't seem to capture the imagination of the public in the same way as the Arctic voyages. On 18 October JCR married Anne Coulman at Wadworth, with Crozier as best man.

The expedition had achieved many things. Huge quantities of data was collected on terrestrial magnetism and was slowly analysed and published over a period of 25 years. It was hailed as 'the greatest work of the kind ever performed'. He had reached within 200 hundred miles of the South Magnetic Pole but was disappointed not to have wintered in McMurdo Sound, planning to climb Mt Erebus and travel to the pole. (The South Magnetic Pole was only reached by T.W.E. David on Shackleton's 1907-9 expedition after a 1,260 mile man-hauling sledge expedition!). Geographically he discovered new lands, 'the Great Icy Barrier' (the Ross Ice Shelf) but was unconvinced by the existence of a southern continent. His ships were the first and last to navigate in the Ross Sea under sail alone. The expedition contributed to oceanography by increasing the accuracy of depth soundings and performing the first ever soundings in water over 2,000 fathoms deep. Joseph Hooker (the young assistant surgeon) produced a series of volumes describing 5,000 species of plants of which 1,500 were collected by him. The geographical distribution of these specimens helped Charles Darwin (a friend of Hooker) to develop the theory of evolution. Robert Falcon Scott (the leader of the next major British expedition to Antarctica 60 years later) summed up Ross's expedition:

"When the extent of our knowledge before and after it is considered, all must concede that is deserves to rank among the most brilliant and famous that have been made. After all the preceding experiences and adventures in the Southern Seas, few things could have looked more hopeless than an attack upon that great ice-bound region which lay within the Antarctic Circle; yet out of this desolate prospect wrested an open sea, a vast mountain range, a smoking volcano, and a hundred problems of great interest to the geographer; in this unique region he carried out scientific research in every possible department, and by unremitted labour succeeded in collecting material which until lately constituted almost the exclusive source of magnetic conditions in the higher southern latitudes. It might be said of that is was James Cook who defined the Antarctic Region, and James Ross who discovered it."

Roald Amundsen, who first reached the South Pole seventy years later, held Ross in the highest regard:

"Few people of the present day are capable of rightly appreciating this heroic deed, this brilliant proof of human courage and energy. With two ponderous craft - regular 'tubs' according to our ideas - these men sailed right into the heart of the pack, which all previous explorers had regarded as certain death. It is not merely difficult to grasp; it is simply impossible - to us, who with the motion of the hand can set the screw going, and wriggle out of the first difficulty we encounter. These men were heroes - heroes in the highest sense of the word."

Next Week - James Clark Ross returns to the Arctic.


Thankyou this week: To all the FIDs who gave us a hand with the cargo

Coming up next week: Ice and bases (the later depending on the former)

Alex Ramsden