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!