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Nov 09 - The Surgery at Signy

Date: 9th November 2003

Noon Position: Noon position lat 56° 39.0S long 40° 13.3W
Distance Travelled since Immingham: 11129 NM
Air temperature: 1.6° C
Sea temperature: 1.6° C

The JCR This Week

Monday morning saw the first early start of a week of early starts. This was another job for POL (Proudman Oceanography Lab) and involved recovering MYRTLE. MYRTLE stands for Multi Year Return Tide Level Experiment and was deployed by the JCR back in November 1999. One of the floats popped up after eighteen months automatically and sent its data back by satellite. The aim was then to collect each of the other floats at regular intervals. This did not quite go according to plan so the whole instrument was recovered on this occasion. The pictures below show the operation taking place. The left hand one shows Steve Mack and Geoff Hargreaves watching the display that shows the buoy returning to the surface. The middle and right-hand one shows MYRTLE on the surface and George Stewart (Bosun) dropping another rope down to the buoy to assist in its recovery.

Steve Mack & Geoff Hardgreaves waiting for Myrtle. Click To Enlarge Myrtle surfaces. Click To Enlarge George Stewart(Bosun) dropping the grapple for Myrtle. Click To Enlarge

Once the buoy was safely onboard it was full speed for Signy Research Station, well it should have been. That is if the fog hadn't descended. This reduced our speed as the bridge team picked a path for the ship through a mass of icebergs. Despite this we still arrived at our destination by late Monday afternoon. At this point the fog lifted, typically, so the launch was sent in with the base staff to check out conditions ashore. This can be seen in the picture below left, while the right-hand one shows the station just emerging from its winter hibernation. Click to enlarge.

'Sooty' the launch carrying the base staff ashore. Click To Enlarge Signy station about to be opened for the season. Click To Enlarge

We should have stayed only a couple of days to standby while the station's services were recommissioned and everyone settled in. Unfortunately this year the electrical alternators caused some problems and one in particular was determined not to work correctly. This problem involved a major team effort by ship and base staff to install the spare alternator and check out everything else before the base could be declared fully functional and ready for the season.

This achieved the JCR headed off to do some testing of the science winches. We are now making our way to Bird Island and South Georgia.

Doctor's Jollies!

This week's stay at Signy gave me an ideal opportunity for an overhaul of the surgery at Signy. As there is no doctor based on the island, the station personnel are trained to a high level in first aid and the base is well stocked with all the medications they may need during the season. The medical unit try to predict the types of injuries or illnesses that may be encountered and plan accordingly. I made full use of the opportunity to see what was on base, make sure it was up to date and remove any excesses, as there is limited space in the cupboard, sorry surgery.

Signy surgery. Click To Enlarge Signy surgery. Click To Enlarge
Signy surgery: before and after the clear-out (and the switching-on of the heating). Click To Enlarge

There are many aspects to the doctor's role. On this occasion it was as health and safety representative, ensuring everyone was adequately protected from the sun, and that no-one lifted more than the regulation 25kg. This made life a little tricky when we had to move a 0.5 tonne alternator. Lateral thinking won the day, and we simply found 20 people to share the job.

Anyone for sun cream? Click To Enlarge Sarah Robinson and Judith Dickson demonstrate adequate sun cream application. Click To Enlarge

Two six heave. Click To Enlarge All hands helping to shift the heavy spare alternator into the generator shed. Click To Enlarge


Cargo tender unloading. Click To Enlarge Many hands etc.... Click To Enlarge
Restocking the emergency relief hut. Click to enlarge.

It has been a tiring relief and everyone, whether from the ship, the base, Cambridge headquarters, visiting scientists or passengers in transit, was involved. The pictures above show the cargo tender discharging boxes of food onto the rocks at Berntsen Point. The boxes were then man-handled up the shore and into the base's emergency hut. This would provide all eight base personnel with adequate food, clothing, fuel and shelter for six months should anything happen to the base. The whole relief was only achieved through superb teamwork and congratulations should go to all for such an excellent job.

One tired electrician. Click To Enlarge The end of a very long day's work on the generator. Click To Enlarge

It has not quite been all work and no play. A lucky few were treated to a half day and walked over the island to the Gourlay peninsula, the site of a large penguin colony and where a lot of the Signy science is carried out. Penguinologist Mike Dunn will spend much of his time living in a small hut on the edge of the colony, from where he will follow the birds through the whole season. The penguins, mainly Adelies and Chinstraps, come to the island to breed and raise their chicks. They arrive in early spring and leave again in the autumn to feed and prepare for the next breeding season. The Adelies spend their winters in the Weddell Sea amongst the pack ice, while the Chinstraps return to waters further north. Penguins are good navigators and return year after year to the same spot to build their nests, out of stones. Watching them cheekily steal stones from the neighbouring nests and then become irate when they discover the same thing happening to them is hugely entertaining.

Adelie penguins. Click To Enlarge A posing chinstrap. Click To Enlarge
The penguins at Gourlay. Click to enlarge.

The smell and noise of the colony are its most remarkable features. The noise is the gentle clacking of stone collecting interspersed with the squawks and yells of the constant squabbles. The smell is probably best left undescribed (although the penguin experts actually like it!). It is still early in the season however, and there are many more penguins still to return. Within a few weeks the peninsula will be teeming with penguins and seals.

We left Mike in his hut, with GA Simon Herniman, to set up for the forth-coming season's work.

Leaving Mike and Simon. Click To Enlarge Leaving Mike and Simon at the "Hunting Lodge", arguably the smelliest hut in Antarctica. Click To Enlarge

The Engineering Team

Following on from our Deck department feature of last week, the focus has switched to the more daylight starved areas of the ship where the most of the engineering department occupy themselves.

Chief Engineer

Dave Cutting - The 'Chief'. Click To Enlarge Dave Cutting, better known as the "Chief", is the man in charge of the engineers. Normally desk-bound this week he was back at the "coal face", so to speak, helping to lead the attack on Signy's alternators and winning!

The JCR operates what is known as an UMS (Unmanned Machinery Space) engine room. So the second, third and fourth engineers take it in turns to be duty engineer for a period of twenty-four hours. This requires them to take all the readings from the running machines to write up the engine room log book which records all that happens in the engine room each day. Their duties also include doing all the routine "housekeeping" jobs like topping tanks up and checking everything is running OK. Then, come five o'clock when everyone else knocks off they turn the alarms over to their cabins. This means that should anything happen, out of hours, they will be called by the alarm system to come and sort it out.

Second Engineer

Gerry Armour is "the second" for this trip and acts as the working boss organising the engine room team. Gerry Armor - The 'Second'. Click To Enlarge

Third Engineer

Tony Pool - 3rd Engineer. Click To Enlarge Tony Poole is our third and his special areas of responsibility are the main alternators.

Fourth Engineer

Steve Eadie the fourth has the purifiers and air compressors. The purifiers keep the lubricating and fuel oil for the engines nice and clean. Steve is also our Mr Fixit of almost anything. Steve Eadie - 4th Engineer. Click To Enlarge

Electrical Officer (ETO)

Nick Dunbar - Electrical Officier. Click To Enlarge Nick Dunbar was our hero for the week when it came to the Signy power plant, which he described as a "jolly" as it was off the ship! Normally he deals with all things electrical from the main propulsion motors to the kettle.

Deck Engineer

Simon Wright is the deck engineer who deals with the cranes, gantries and boats around the decks. He also assists the scientists when required in what ever way requires. Simon Wright - Deck Engineer. Click To Enlarge

Engineer Officer Cadet

Liam Beaton - Deck Cadet. Click To Enlarge Liam Beaton is sailing onboard as an Engineer Officer Cadet to learn the ways of the engineering department, before heading back to college and exams.


Charlie Smith - Motorman. Click To Enlarge Mark Robinshaw - Motorman. Click To Enlarge
Charlie Smith and Mark Robinshaw our the two motormen who assist throughout the department with whatever is required. They also keep the place clean and specialise in waste management. Charlie also prides himself on his painting and is never happier than when he has a needle gun in one hand and a paint brush in the other.

A final thought until next week...

We must thank Robert Paterson for the picture below taken during his early morning watch whilst anchored off Signy.

Signy Dawn. Click To Enlarge Signy Dawn. Click to enlarge

So now it's off to Bird Island, King Edward Point on South Georgia and maybe even a little more science in the coming week. Tune in next week to check it out.