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The Antarctic Peninsula And Back…

Radio Officer Patrick and the Crew got off the Mighty Ernest Shackleton in Stanley, Falkland Islands in Mid-March. Pat told me he was doing a monthly blog and would I continue with some of my own entries and so apologies for not posting this a little earlier. But we returned to Stanley expecting to do a 3-1/2 month trip onboard the vessel, and upon joining alongside at FIPASS ( the fisheries processing and storage facility ), it was confirmed we were only onboard for 2 short months !

That means we have lots of work to do and lots of places to go all in a much shorter-than-expected period onboard, so it has been busy busy busy ever since. Not that I am complaining, but it equally makes for a very short leave for Capt Marshall and his crew this time.

JBM Crew depart in Stanley FI

Alongside at Stanley FIPASS

It was a cloudy, drizzling day when the Shackleton crews changed over, but it was all blue and sunny skies for those heading homeward for their leave after 4 long months of service onboard. The oncoming crew had time to absorb their handover notes, unpack their baggage and cases and then go down to the ‘cages’ ( the ship’s storage) to retrieve their cold weather and wet weather work attire. Here’s a picture of the Shackleton alongside at FIPASS.

Having joined on the 15th March, we had 4 days to enjoy the hospitality of Stanley before the vessel headed out of the Narrows with a practically empty ship of passengers and then set forth for the Antarctic Peninsula.

Mr. John Hall of BAS Operations and 2 other passengers were the only exception to a ship filled only with crew. Our compliment is usually 21 persons. John, Andy and Bruce were joined by our additional crewmember, the Dentist Burjor Langdana an our resident Doctor Susanna Gaynor. Andy’Mac’ of Halley was also travelling onwards with us as he was contracted to do several metal fabrication jobs for the vessel on the Northbound journey.

The ship’s company totalled 29 as we set sail across a choppy Drakes’ passage.

The first of the disasters that befell the writing of blogs onboard the Shackleton, was the ever-threatening weather, and it was not kind to us. The 3 day crossing of the Drake Passage to the first islands of the Peninsula, was dogged by head winds , heavy swells and vomitous motion of the oceans ! Urghhh.

Our first port of call ( if you can call it a port ) was Deception Island which is an old volcano that is now flooded. With a narrow entrance for the ships to the east, Deception Island forms a large crescent island and natural sheltered harbour. The ship enters through the narrow ‘Neptunes Bellows’ and once inside, there are 3 Antarctic stations to be found. The Spanish and the Argentinean Bases are still occupied during the Antarctic Summer months, but the British Base is long since abandoned, having been covered over by a mudslide way back in the 50′s. It was from Deception Island that the Shackleton managed to rescue an old ‘single engined Otter’ aircraft in April 2004. But this year we were not to be so lucky. Although the sea inside the crescent of the Island is sheltered, the ‘bellows’ are subject to the forces of nature and the stormy seas had not abated by the time the Shackleton arrived. It was a shame to sail on by without a visit to this peculiar Volcanic island, but at least the seas were getting smoother as we progressed South and towards the inside passages of the Peninsula.

Archive Photo of Shackleton Inside the Crescent Island 2004

Archive Photo of Shackleton Inside the Crescent-shaped Deception Island 2004

Once into the shelter of the Peninsula, the ship settled down and everyone could get things accomplished once more. Papers and cups could be left on surfaces without finding them travelling off at speed for the nearest deck ! Sitting at a computer in a stormy sea is particularly difficult. One second you are hunched over the keyboard and the next you are sliding away on your chair to the opposite side of the office !
The Voyage Down the Peninsula

The Voyage Down the Peninsula

Before long, the rough seas and sickness feelings were all forgotten as we saw the beautiful vistas and relative calm that is the Antarctic Peninsula. Icebergs, penguins, whales, seals, Petrels, Squawas and all things typical of the area were to be seen. The weather also now started to be kind to us and allow a few ‘landings’ at selected spots on the journey.
First there was some sightseeing to be done through the Lamaire Channel, historically known as the ‘Kodak Crack’. It was so named because every time a ship would transit through the narrow channel between Antarctic islands, Kodak would make a fortune from the expended camera film that was used ! The Weather wasn’t good enough to allow Kodak to make a fortune this day, but the towering bastions of rock and Ice towering upwards until they disappeared into low cloud and ‘mank’ gave you the impression of it all. The following photo wasn’t taken on the day of our transit unfortunately, but it gives you the idea of how impressive it can be on a nice day in the Kodak Crack !
Kodak Crack on a Nice Day

Kodak Crack on a Nice Day

Leaving the Lamaire Channel behind, we navigated through the twisting, turning inside passage taken by the touring Cruise Liners to thrill their passengers. Our own passengers were no less impressed. Even those who had travelled down to Rothera by ship before had time for reflection and appreciation. Then came Port Lockroy.
Port Lockroy is an old British Base from the days of Operation Tabarin ( 1947 ) and is now a living museum under the management of the Antarctic Heritage Trust. Port Lockroy is a most-visited spot for Passenger Ships and an excellent example of what it must have been like in the earlier days of the Antarctic Service.
The wooden huts are maintained in the same condition they would have been in when they were occupied as a scientific station for the Falklands Islands Dependancies. (Later BAS).
We stopped at Port Lockroy and allowed the crew to go ashore and stretch their legs on the small penguin island colony for the morning of Tuesday 23rd !
After Lunch, the Captain moved the vessel around the promentory of land to Dorian Bay and another old British established camp ‘Damoy’. Again, it is no longer regularly used but is still there as a refuge.
The Hut at Damoy

The Hut at Damoy

Damoy, the description

Damoy, the description

The afternoon of Tuesday was therefore spent ashore at Damoy for more investigating and playing in the snow.
The persons going ashore were all dressed in orange. The usual attire for going ashore in the small boats is a survival ‘boat’ suit complete with inflatable lifejacket and an array of hats, gloves, boots and heavy weather warmers… Looking at the accompanying weather, you can see the clothing was particularly needed.
The temperatures were only a cool -1.7 degrees, but with a chill breeze still blowing it felt decidedly cooler !
Damoy was particularly interesting this season because it was being visited – if not occupied – by an Argentinean yachtsman who was going to over-winter at damoy. He grounded his yacht and secured it for the forthcoming period and was most welcoming to the British Vistors to the point.
I am afraid I have no further details as I did not go ashore here myself.
It was not until the following day, Wednesday 24th that I got chance to venture ashore, and that was at Rothera Station on Adelaide Island. It was our job this year to uplife the last of the Summer personnel and transfer them back to their flights home at the Falklands. A last call also means that we deposit the last cargo and provisions that the Base will see this Season until the James Clark Ross calls again at the end of the year. Once all the cargo was landed ashore we could then backload all the containers, trash, old drums and recycleables. By the end of our short 3 day visit, we left the base deplete of rubbish for one more year.
But it was not all work. The cargo continued apace from 0800 in the morning until sometimes as late as 2000 hours, but there were opportunities to go ashore and see the base and surrounding area. I myself got ashore on the first evening and attempted a nighttime shot of the Shackleton alongside the Biscoe Wharf. Note that it was snowing at the time of my walk …
Alongside at Biscoe Wharf.

Alongside at Biscoe Wharf.

The following morning I got a couple of photographes more on the Ship’s camera to prove we were indeed back in Antarctica ! It had been 13 months since this crew had last seen Antarctica.
Snow, snow, everywhere.

Snow, snow, everywhere.

Work on the Wharfside

Work on the Wharfside

But apart from walks around the point and looking at the plethora of penguins and seals and marine birds, there was a special offer for the visiting crew this season – cravassing !
In the 13 years of working with British Antarctic Survey as ship’s crew, that was the first time I had been offered the chance to go cravassing – which is something that every Base member gets to do as part of their prepartory training… but in 3 groups of about 4 persons, the Base GA’s ( General Assistants, ( or mountaineers )) organized our day out in the Glacial Cravass known as ‘Show Cravass’ !
My own group of 4 met up at the kitting out room on the base, and we proceeded to get all the paraphanalia we would need to walk on ice and keep us safe. The GA in charge ( Richard ) was particularly knowledgeable and kind to us total novices.
Kitting Up ...

Kitting Up ...

We had a harness to sit in, hard hats to protect the head, waterproof trousers for sitting in the melt ice, carabinas for attaching to ropes, and croutons ???
I guess they were for the soup ???
Of course, I am only jesting, because the crampons went over the boots and being spikey, allowed you to tread securely – however slippery the soup may be ??
Once kitted up and comfortable, we could proceed up the ramp towards the Glacier and the cravass.
Hauling up the ramp and away from Base.

Hauling up the ramp and away from Base.

I apologies to all those ‘narly Antarctic Heros’ that do this kind of thing every day, but to use ‘newbies’, this was a totally exciting new experience.
The very small ice hole in the snow gave way to a drop of some metres down a secure rope into an Ice Cave beneath … it was breath-taking. I am sure there have been superlatives enough used to describe the beauty of twisted and ingenious formations of icicles and ice, but I’ll just sum it up with .. ‘ Kool ‘
Cool it was not, particularly. On the surface, a fresh breeze kept nipping at your cheeks and exposed fingers, but once inside the cravass, the temperature remained a cool -1 degrees or so and the sound was muffled so there was only the cheery banter of our expedition to break the silence !
The Small Entry Hole..

The Small Entry Hole..

Making an ascent ( or was it a descent ) in the cave...

Making an ascent ( or was it a descent ) in the cave...

Apart from the athletics of hauling yourself through small holes and between towering walls of blue ice, there was time to reflect on the awesome beauty of nature that lies just under the surface of the Glacial Ice. Beautiful ?,… yes. But deadly. Cravasses open up to capture the unwary Glacial traverser and hence this kind of training is an absolute essential for those staying for any time on the base and the relatively dangerous neighbourhood of the bases.
However, I am pleased to report that my group, like those who followed us later in the day, all surfaced without incident, full of smiles and rosy cheeks and a sense of accomplishment. A small notch on the bedpost of experience, but one which I feel blessed to have finally added and which everyone should experience.
Cargo finished, visitations completed and leavers happily accommodated onboard, we were ready for departure from Rothera by Saturday lunchtime ( 27th March ). The farewells were spoken and we pulled away with many-a-wave, a tooted tune on the ship’s two horns and even the occasional pyrotechnic display. Again, it is always a bitter-sweet experience for those who had made Rothera their home. After 4 months, 6 months, 18 months or even 33 months living on Adelaide Island, it must have been a nice feeling to be going home, but sad to be leaving friends and surroundings that some may never visit again ?
Letting Go the Ropes for Departure.

Letting Go the Ropes for Departure.

Finally for this report, we headed back up towards the Falkland Islands, but we were not going to be going in a straight line.
Our Itinerary would consist of calls to places on the way back up the Antarctic Peninsula, to Signy Base on the South Shetland Islands, to King Edward Point and Bird Island at South Georgia and finally back to the Falklands in time for April 13th Flights home. But that is for next time. Until we send more home from the RRS Ernest Shackleton, we bid you smooth sailing.
Stevie B – Radio Officer.
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