Wednesday, 27 December 2006

Antarctic Christmas 2006, 74* 15.4 S, 025* 52.2 W

Wed. 20th dec. With a few days of Ernest in ice breaking mode playing crush with the sea ice, and the probability of many more days to come, i had time to reflect on the midnight sun. It was 12am, clear blue skies and the suns rays were burning brightly. Our course was 190 degrees due south with the sun slightly low ahead of us. We were all quite used to the noise and feeling of "Old Ernest", cracking away on the ice, the scenery moving slowly 1 or 2 knots forward in the portholes, then a similar distance gained going backwards. It wasn't until a quick stroll up to the bridge to have a nose, revealed something more sinister, we were stuck!! The ice had finally laid its icy grasp upon us. To the officers on the bridge, who never admit to being stuck, but always simply stopped, had a concerned expression about them. I don't know if they were concerned that Ernest was stuck or that they got into this situation on their watch, and the thought of telling the "old man" (captain) was far from a relishing prospect. But to my small nautical mind, we were stuck. The bridge had officers scurrying around, deliberating over tactical moves, all while we weren't going forwards and not going backwards - stuck. A huge chuckle rose inside me, stuck in the Antarctic, with all our technology, satelite imagery and boffins, mother nature still out manuvered us. I thought better of out staying my welcome, and so wandered outside to see the enveloping ice aroung Ernest's hull, a quick scout around the cool breezy scenery deemed, the reward of a cuppa.

"Whoops, did i push the wrong ice breaking mode button"?

It was late, early hours, and i nipped outside just before bed, as i always do, a kind of goodnight world routine, when, there they were. The two officers and the crane driver, swinging the 50 tonne crane from side to side, to try and get a rocking momentom. Port to starboard, starboard to port, over and over again, there they were up to the early hours lifting the empty 2 tonne cargo containers rocking Ernest until the ice retreated.

It would be Christmas eve before the decision was made, to sit back and wait. Fresh water was required and we can't make fresh water in ice as it blockes the pipes, and since this was our new priority, we headed out towards some open water within the ice, to fill our tanks. With this in mind what a perfect location and time to have hot mince pies and warm mulled wine with a few chorus's of carols on the fo'c's'le.

Christmas morning 74 degrees 15.4 S, 025 degrees 52.2 W, location - Stancomb - Wills ice stream. Air temp. a cool -5.8 degrees, sea temp. quite a warm -1.9 degrees.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Today was filled with excitement. It was Christmas, Halley was nowhere within our grasp and so a day filled with relaxation and fun was ahead of us. What a place to spend Christmas, the captain found a perfect spot among the ice pack and in front, a magnificent iceberg. After all we were all supposed to be working on relief! If today wasn't exciting enough, a flyby was arranged with a twin otter plane, from Halley, flying close by the ship. With a radio in hand we waited on the monkey island, which direction would the plane appear? The excitement was that of a real plane spotter. When over the radio, news of having Ernest in their sights bought waves of more camera happy tourists back on the monkey island. A kodak opportunity indeed.

An aerial view of Ernest by the twin otter from Halley.

It was Christmas day, and the 1st Christmas day i have ever worked, be it for a couple of hours, it was still work, only just. There was still excitement to be had, a rare opportunity to go ashore onto the iceflow. We would find a spot where the sea ice had frozen then thawed and moved then refrozen again. We were actually going to touch down on a ice flow. I snapped away with my camera as the FRC was unloaded into the sea and the two GA's were taken ashore to check the ice potential, making a boundary not to cross. I gathered my hat, gloves, thick boiler suit, and my boots that looked perfectly normal to someone walking on the moon, apart from the colour, and my camera, donned my life saving suit, crawled down the ladder from the ship onto the FRC, which is like a speed boat, and went to shore. What an experience, the ground was solid in places and in others you could be upto your knees. It was a short step on the ice before we quickly had to evacuate as drift ice was enclosing our escape. But seeing as it was Christmas and our 2nd mate officer on board, Chris, was all up for adventure, and with permission from the "old man",we headed out around the ship in the FRC, wildlife spotting and getting different angles of Ernest in the water. An amazing experience, being on eye level with the sea ice, icebergs and being dwarfed by the ship. After a while on our excursion, a radio conversation with the captain revealed a single Emperor penguin on some drifting ice, standing solitary with a belly full of fish and waddling tracks behind it, made for a great photo.

Touch down, tentative moments, would the icefloe hold? Toddy and Suna our GA's are dispensible and are the 1st to set foot and test the ice.

You can just make out the missing red paint above the water line, having being chipped, scrapped and ground away by the ice.

The Antarctic ice shelf behind the penguin.

Boxing day bought much the same coordinates 74 degrees 11.112'S, 025 degrees 52.997'W, air temp. -5.6, sea temp. -1.7. We were all know enjoying the holiday, cruise mode that had engulfed the ship. Another day ashore ahead of us, except this time we would be on fast ice. The ship would slowly nudge upto the ice shelf, which is an expanse of ice leading towards the shelf cliffs of Antarctica, from side on and hold the fast ice in place. A certain amount of nudging was required to knock any loose ice off, so the ship would be able to hold the fast ice in place. The ice would crack, break off, until solid ice was struck and be held in place by the shelf on one side and Ernest's force on the other. All perfectly safe? This time we would be hoisted aboard by the War Geordie and set free like dogs being let loose in the fields. It was great, a few kicks playing football, some handstands and pics, made for a very memorable experience. Another great festive treat, thanks to the "old man".

The festivities were far from being over, as on wednesday 27th dec, was the ships Christmas dinner. Me and the 3 other chefs had all been working towards this meal for the past couple of days and know it was time to show the ships crew our worth. With a choice of four courses from smoked trout mousse, beef fillet with red wine berry sauce, lime and ginger duck, monkfish, roast turkey, veal and gammon to Christmas pudding and 'Shackleton' ice flakers. Everything was plated apart from the vegetables and with senior BAS members as the waiters, an exceptional time was had by all. To top it off, a little photo competition was held on the ship and my photo was nominated best of wildlife.

Fiday 29th dec. As time went by, immobile in the ice, with no creeks or channels inwhich to venture forward towards our destination. The "Halley cruise ship", was once again generous in its off loading of cargo onto the ice. A morning of life boat drills of both the port and starboard life boats were successfully hoisted into the water with me, 3rd mate Ralf, and a two AB's (Able Bodied) seaman, Ron and Wavey Davey on board. A chance for me to earn my sailing skills, i competently managed to complete many circles in the small pond inwhich we were stationed. Carefully avoiding any ice, with the not so tough, non icebreaking hull of the life boat.

Further excitement was to be had with the afternoon on the fast ice, by practicing on a skidoo and life saving rope work, which will become all the more important, when we demonstrate our newly learnt skills on the edge of a crevase.

Our journey towards Halley has, at times felt like "Big Brother" is watching us, tracking our every move. Except big brother appears, in many different forms down south.

Soon, very soon. The end is neigh for our Halley cruise. Relief is on its way, except so is new year!

Wednesday, 20 December 2006

Commuting to work

It was business as usual on the Shackleton, routines were well established and our homely floating fortress was cruising as she should be. It was all plain sailing as they say. The excitement was building, when was the ice coming? would there be any ice coming? what would it feel like sailing on ice? All our visions were about to be answered.....GGRRRR...BOOM..BANGGGGRRRR. This was the noise entering our ears, in the early hours of wednesday morning. A noise not to similar to airborne turbulance and grinding metal, whilst being in a lift with grit being fired at you from beneath, mmm very pleasant, but all in all exciting.

A 4000 ton ship laden with 500 tons of cargo, crashing down on the earths coldest ocean, is a very apparent noise. You don't sleep through the bashing and to top it, the sun never sets past the horizon, so its always light. This was it for the duration of our journey within Antarctica's frozen sea. There were moments of freedom from the grinding, banging, turbulant world we had just entered, moments, we all knew were the calm before the ice storm.

12.00 midnight, tue 19dec 06. The lowest the sun will get during the early summerAntarctic months. We had know entered the Antarctic circle 65 degrees 35.7 S, 001 degrees 025.3 W.

Its an amazing sight to see a forever waving tide of sea completly frozen. Then crack underneath you like viennetta ice cream. The ship seems to stumble and glide through the ice, depending on its mood. Sometimes we would slice through it like a flat dew pond, other times it requires Herculian force, rising above the ice, crushing it into the wash with its tonnage. The shades of ice glow and glisten, some are shades of white and grey others are hues of blues and some with orangey, rusty tinges, which is algae. Occassionally a slice of ice with flip over as the ship crashes into it, revealing wriggling krill, hungry for the algae.

A vertical shot of the hull cracking into the ice.

There are also those times when Mother nature gets the better of us! Initializing a term i like to call the triple RRR's, Repeat, Reverse, Ram. This highly evolved technique, requires immense skill (with a push of a button and a stick) and yes it usually comes up trumps, usually??

The ice here is at least 2 metres thick, and spreads out as far as the eye can see, in one clean sheet. As you can see the triple RRR manuvere, doesn't always work. Stopping us in our tracks, making every nut, bolt and weld grimmace at the shunt.

Me within the Antarctic circle.

Cracking our way through the sea ice, avoiding the icebergs.

Cliff edges of the Antarctic ice shelf.

This is for my lovly little one, don't you think he's cute? I'll try and smuggle him back in my bag for you? Happy Christmas. x

If i could ask you too imagine for a moment how large the southern ocean is surrounding Antarctica, what the chances are of seeing a seal? Quite good. The chances on the ship steering a course directly towards a seal basking on the sea ice, propelling the seal into a getaway frenzy, like Tom and Jerry, and smashing the seal into the frozen ocean with the ships hull. What are the chances? Of all the places in Antarctica for the seal to be laying, or of all the courses the ship could have steered, bet the seal never thought a 4000 ton ship would be squashing him?

For all those animal lovers, no our captain isn't an exwhaler or seal clubber, the seal immediately swam under the ship once the hull cracked its exit.

Thursday, 14 December 2006

Next stop Halley

We departed South Georgia on 13th dec, with clear blue skies and the wind on our backs, the waves were gentle, almost certainly passive.

Well this is it, no more jaunts or island hopping, our next stop is Halley Research Station, Brunt Ice Shelf, Antarctica, 75*35'S, 26*37'W. (* = degrees).

We have a very changeable time of when we will arrive, sea ice pending, but approx. 10 days of pure sailing from KEP - Halley.

The ship hit its 1st storm in the early hours of saturday morning 16th december, which lasted until early evening, same day. Its was quite amazing, i thought i would brave it. So there i was, tablets digesting away in my stomach and my camera firmly in my grasp. I trundled towards the back of the ship (whatever that maybe called, yes i know i should know this, but i dont, so tuff). What a spectacle, you could see the whole ship riding the waves, pitching up and down, with the ocassional roll from side to side, and because we were in a storm that was apparently going faster than the ship, the waves were coming in on the lower deck. I participated in a quick snap, before making my way back inside. I climbed the next deck up, and 'wow', waves were coming in on this deck too. I slowly made my way to the galley to have a cuppa, when the portholes had the resemblance of a washing machine door, we were in effect under water!! No need to panic, we are safe and well for know.

The portholes submerged.

After my efforts of not spilling my cuppa paying off, i went up onto the bridge, where i could see 360* views of this beastly storm. A quick chat with the officer on duty, revealed we were being overtaken by a force 10 storm, with waves lashing up to 8metres high and a wind speed of over 50 knots. For those of you who don't understand or have any idea of wind speed or storm force, a hurricane is force 12. Our only saving grace was that the storm was out pacing us, however i did have to retire to my pitt, along with most of the ships company, later on. The onslaught was just constant, no letting up, your body aches and shakes whenever the waves pummell, the ship. I imagine you could get a similar experience with a never ending bungy rope and a bouncy castle that crashes you about for a day or so in constant motion. I lay in my bed nursing my dizzyness, trying to keep as still as possible. I have never felt so weightless and so heavy just laying down. I'd find myself rolling, sliding and continually rocking, without doing a thing. When the ship peaks on the crest of the wave, you feel in limbo, almost levitating, until CCCRRRRAAAASSSSSHHHHHHHH, shudder, shudder, shudder, your sucked back down into your bed, as you would be in experiencing G-force.

The shackleton at its best or worst?

Arriving at Bird Island & KEP, South Georgia

Once again another chapter in my itinerary is about to start.
We arrived at Bird island which is on the tip of South Georgia, the weather was fresh, with puffy clouds mingleing with heavy rain clouds. The whole scenery could have easily been part of the Jurassic era. Huge mountains rising from the sea with their peaks cut off by clouds, monster Albatrosses gliding in the chilli thermals, swooping down upon the ship. Thousands of seals gliding through the cool waters, like awkwardly mobile torpedos. There was no mistake this was jurassic territory.

After loading tula for supplies and getting her in the sea, we sped ashore to Bird island. We were welcomed brilliantly by the locals, some cuddlier than others, who were patrolling the jetty and beach as if their lives depended on it, maybe not their lives but certainly their credability among themselves.

Hiding amongst the locals was a single foreigner, standing proud, probably thinking if i dont move, they won't notice i'm different. (Not me, the other foreigner below)

Bird island was a quick excursion on land, making polite chit chat with ever so noisy, smelly and ready for a ruck locals. They just looked soooo peeved to be there while they were awake, yet so relaxed and contented when their big black eyes were shut. Happy snoring, belching and farting with every breath they took.

We departed Bird island on the same day (11th dec 06) for a night sail to KEP (King Edward Point) , a whaling station, which now lay as a skelenton island littered with steel wrecks and whale bones. This was such a nice place to see, snow peaked mountains, waterfalls, seals, penguins galore and the final resting place, of whom the ship was named after - Ernest Shackleton.
This is probably the ony time i will ever take a photo in a cemetary, Ernest Shackleton's resting place.

Grytviken, the whaling station. This is where all whales nightmares began. The once scutlled whaling ships, one with still an unused harpon in its grasp, rest, rotting in the shore line. The whale bone saw, gives an idea of how much devastation man was willing to inflict, on the whaling community. A community that lived like sheep in wolves clothing, the natural beauty of their little cove, soon changed to the bloody butchery of a genocide.

Amongst the natural pleasantness of Grytviken, was streams, mountain peaks and fanastic views out towards distant bays, like Maivyken.

Almost every part of the world has a history of war, South Georgia is no exception. The wreckage of a well gunned down Argentinian helicopter, from the Falklands war rests over looking the entrance to Grytviken bay. No doubt the survivors, (if there were any), would have felt they'd come out of hell and litterally fallen into paradise?
........and so after much scribbing, i'll take my time in pondering about a scratch then a nap.......?

........yep, i think i've ern't one.....!