Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Leaving Monte

Leaving harbour was a lot easier than arriving – we were facing the right way for a start. At 16:00 the chief engineer ordered both main engines started and all thrusters tested. Fids lined all external decks as smoke bellowed from the stack and the murky water of Monte harbour was churned from side to side. Half an hour later, the local pilot squeezed through the crowd to the bridge, giving Captain Harper the all-clear to weigh anchor.

The harbour was quiet as the Shackleton passed the National Armada and steamed into open sea. As we neared the final breakwater, the bright orange launch which had followed us from our berth drew neatly alongside, the helmsman’s hands dancing on the wheel and throttles to keep her steady while the pilot lowered himself down the bosun’s ladder to re-join his boat. The moment the pilot’s feet touched deck, the launch cut away, its crew waving as they opened up the twin V8s and sped home. We were at sea again. Posted by Picasa

Monday, November 27, 2006

Two days in Punta Del Este

One thing Antarctica lacks is golden sandy beaches, but luckily there’s an abundance only two hours from Monte Video. Punta Del Este is a purpose built resort aimed at wealthy holiday makers from Uruguay and Argentina. The main season had yet to start, so when Rob, Andy and I arrived there was something of a ghost-town feel to the place. Not put off, we booked into a cheap but immaculate hotel and spent two days acting like we were on a gap-year. I was hoping to get a final surf, but a strong on-shore blew out a promising looking right. Instead we borrowed old Schwin cruiser bikes and explored the peninsular, getting completely and utterly lost among enormous houses of the Uruguay’s rich and famous. Click for photos.

Returning to Monte, it was like boarding a different ship. 30 more Fids had come aboard and all bar four of the crew had changed. Sailing to the Falklands will be a whole new experience. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, November 26, 2006


We woke early, with heavy heads thanks to a late night in the bar saying fair-well to our out-going crew, who are heading home after their 4 month shift. As we edged towards Montevideo, a pilot came aboard to guide us through busy shipping lanes and into port. We passed everything from tiny fishing boats to an enormous Dutch cruise-ship, before Captain Marshall took the helm to personally ease the Shackleton alongside Saga Sea, a long range Norwegian factory trawler. We tied up, stern-to the wharf and lowered the gangplank to allow the local customs officials aboard. Bottles of single malt changed hands to ‘ease’ the paperwork and by 12:00 we collected our dollars and shore pass and were ready to hit the town.

The Meat Market is the first building that comes into view on leaving the port gate. Not a dire night club, the market is an old railway station housing some of the best eateries in Monte. The crew guided us straight to Ottonello’s, a large quadrangle bar surrounding a giant wood fuelled barbeque on which every type of cut and fillet imaginable was sizzling.

Filled with excellent steak, we headed into the faded colonial streets of Montevideo. My only previous experience of a non-European country was Tanzania, three years ago. Travelling by myself, I had found the constant bothering from touts and pushers a nuisance that took a couple of weeks to get used to. Thankfully Uruguay is a lot more developed and we were free to roam the streets and markets with no hassle at all.

Later that evening, we headed back into town to sample the pubs and bars. Despite finishing his tour in a wheelchair, Andy was still keen to party and guided us expertly through the grid-form city. We grabbed a pizza in a local café and joined other crew members at a terrace bar on the street. Monte looks towards Italy for a lot of its cultural influence, so as the evening progressed the bars became livelier with bands playing and people dancing. Our party reeled from one bar to the next until we parted company at about 3am, the Fids returning to ship and the crew heading to ‘houses of excellent repute’.

Monte was fun.

Click here for more photos. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A Day In The Life

Two days from Monte, I’ve been at sea for nearly a month and have completely failed to tell you how a typical day goes by. Well, FID fans, this is what a good day looks like. When I have a bad one, I’ll write that up too.

08:00 - Get up, shower and down to the galley for porridge and toast for breakfast.
09:00 - Report to Bosun or 2nd Engineer for the day’s jobs.
09:00 – 12:00 - Work time. For the last few days I’ve been trouble shooting the fuel-oil pump control system. Other tasks include painting under the strict eye of Chris the bosun who is incredibly house proud. In his words, “she’s not just a place of work, she’s our home too”. On which‑ever job, there’s a half-hour ‘smoko’ at 10:00 to chew the fat and swap rugby related banter.
12:00 – 13:00 – Lunch in the galley. I try and eat a healthy salad, but there’s often a roast.
13:00 – 15:00 – Afternoon work, typically more of the same. When it’s sunny, I really wish I was on the top deck getting a tan. We normally sunbathe and lounge about after work.
16:00ish – Go to the gym. The running machine is hard work in heavy seas and really tests my balance.
17:30ish – Dinner in the galley. Keith and Danny will have prepared more excellent food, and lots of it.
Evening – Sun-downers on the fo’csle, drinks in the bar or a film in the cinema.
22:00 exactly – Pop up to the bridge and make a meteorological observation, before a cheeky whisky and off to bed. Although sometimes, for no real reason, everyone sits in the bar talking and drinking late into the night…

The Red Room bar in full swing Posted by Picasa

Monday, November 20, 2006

Drinks with the neighbours

Popping out on to the fo'scle for our usual sun-downer, Tams and Rob were comparing whale and dolphin sightings as I whinged about spending the last few days in the engine room and having missed all the action. As if on que, a school of about twenty bottle noses (I think, leave a post if I'm wrong!) charged out of the setting sun and began playing in our bow waves. Sights like this are more than fair compensation for the last few bumpy and sleepless nights.

Click here to see more. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, November 18, 2006

New Links

I've had a little fiddle and added some links:

Tamsin and Rob are BAS colleagues. They are both meteorologists, Tamsin joining me on Halley and Rob heading to Rothera.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Rain stops work

We're just off the east coast of Brazil. A steady force 7 is blowing from the south-south-east making the ship roll to the extent that water pours through the scuppers and on to the back deck. But after nearly three weeks aboard, the rolling doesn't bother anyone's stomachs anymore. All painting work is cancelled, leaving a welcome afternoon to catch up on a few personal projects. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Rum, Sodomy and The Lash: Crossing the Line

"...Stand up, and be counted, for what you are about to receive..."

AC/DC boomed from my laptop as we put the final touches to our Rocky headwear. Today we crossed the equator, a key point in any mariner's career.

When 'crossing the line', a first-timer is required to pay homage to King Nepture and appear before his court. While the court was set up, we Fids were given 15 minutes to hide. We ran for the monkey island, the highest deck of the ship, where we had water bombs and flour bombs ready.

A quater of a hour later, Neptune's police force came searching. The Fids gave a good middle range battle, the eggs and flour being particulary effective, before the cops over-ran the deck and attempted to make arrests. A general scrum followed, which, after a half time beer break, ended in one cadet tied up by the cops and two cops half duck-taped by the fids. Everyone was battered, bruised and covered in flour, and one crew suffered a broken ankle.

Having surrendered, we were brought before the court to face our charges. Naturally, we were all found guilty and were punished with eating chilli source and the kitchen slops being poured on our head.

It all ended in good humor and a long queue for the washing machines. Posted by Picasa

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Best Sunset in the World... Probably

Ah yes, this is the life. Cruising through the Cape Verde Isles with an ice cold beer. This is the last piece of land we'll see till we pick up the coast of Brazil, which we'll follow down to Montevideo.

I've also found some more practical information. If you'd like to write to me, or send me something (compilation CDs are always welcome), you can do so at:
Halley Research Station
c/o British Antarctic Survey
Falkland Islands
South Atlantic

Not as cool as
The Evil Lair, The South Pole, but if you post stuff between now and February, it should arrive pronto. After March, we have to wait till the following August, or whenever the planes can get back in.

You can also keep an eye on where we are using this slighty worrying ship tracking website. I'm still not convinced this isn't all a setup for some crazy postgrad version of Big Brother. Right, I'm off to check the bathroom for hidden webcams... Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

New Photos

Had emails saying the bbq photos weren't working for some reason.

Click here to try again.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

First week at sea

It’s been a good first week at sea, all in all. After the initial bad weather and rough seas, things have now settled down and the ship is a comfortable place to be. The crew are all in good spirits, as their four month shift ends in Montevideo. There are some excellent characters on board, who all have spectacular tails to tell. Most of the lads have worked all over the world, but it was really interesting chatting to the bosun about his early career at the Merchant Navy’s Indefatigable training centre, in Llanfairpwll. Indi, and the training ship HMS Conwy, featured in many photo’s on the wall of my old local pub in Bangor you see…

Saturday night is something of an occasion aboard the Shackleton. This week the wind-down spirits were in full swing as we held a barbeque on the back deck, drinking gin and tonics whilst cruising past the lights of Santa Carlo and Madeira. Not something I thought I’d do till well into my retirement, but very pleasant all the same. (Photos here).

The Met Obs have been getting more interesting too. As I climbed onto the bridge at 05:30 Friday morning, an unknown ship had appeared on the radar directly in our path. But, as the moon set, we couldn’t see her. The officer of the watch took manual control as I scanned the sea with binoculars. Eventually I spotted a small yellow yacht, with her sails lowered and no lights. We cut circles around her, shining the massive Night Sun searchlight onto her decks. After ten minutes of circling, nobody appeared in distress and as everything looked neat and tidy, we continued on our way. Strange things happen on the high seas. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, November 02, 2006

An introduction to ship-life

My fifth day at sea starts early, 05:45, to take metrological readings from the bridge. As I clambered up the steep stairs, the lights of Vigo, Spain, are twinkling on the horizon. This will only be a quick call to drop off two engineers who’ve been equipment testing with us on the run from Immingham.

The ship is much more settled in these coast waters than the heavy sea we battled through yesterday. The Shackleton has an unusual motion through the water; she almost corkscrews along, pitching and rolling in unison, her bow smashing so deep into oncoming waves that green water fills the bar port-holes (Pic). But despite her best efforts, no-one’s been seasick yet.

Over the last few days we’ve been tidying up, taking inventories and generally getting on with tasks that wont be easy when the ship is full of people. Today, I’m on ‘Gash rota’, helping the chef, wiping tables and washing up. Just when I was starting to enjoy this holiday! Posted by Picasa