The JCR trip..

The JCR trip. Part one. Well the only part really, I’m not gonna drag this out this time!

The journey from Rothera to Punta Arenas was a seven day cruise on the R.S.S. James Clark Ross – the other research vessel operated by BAS.  A journey that would see us travel up the Antarctic peninsula and across the Drake passage up to the tip of South America. You know, that bit of ocean that is often described as the roughest in the world. Now without it actually getting too insane it didn’t disappoint, with quite a big swell for most of the trip.

From the duck-pond flatness and shelter of the bay at Rothera we hit open sea in what could be called a bit of a storm and I ended up spending an hour of my time emptying my stomach off the side of the ship. Breathing in the nice sea air aside it’s not exactly the best way to enjoy your morning. However, apart from that unpleasantness, I proper love being at sea, even when it is a little bouncy. I’ve not really been seasick before and I wasn’t expecting it this time but hey, you’ve got to enjoy it at some point I suppose? I was only really rough for a morning or so and once I’d got my sea-legs back I was able to wander round relatively free of the urge to chunder. Still, even though I was now none too rough the sea itself was still pretty excitable.  Staring out of the windows you could see only sky one minute and then a wall of ocean the next as the ship smashed its way through the towering swell.  Sleeping at night was only to be accomplished once you’d packed and wedged yourself into your bunk with pillows and folded bits of mattress with your bed going from flat to what sometimes felt like ninety degrees in a matter of seconds. This is of particular importance when you’re in a top bunk  for obvious reasons. Still for me though, even in stormy weather the best place to be is outside on the deck. Trying, and sometimes succeeding, to take pictures of the ocean faring wildlife and quite often just staring out to sea like some philosophical old sea-dog.

First of the things to see are the giant Albatrosses, Royal, Wandering and Black Browed.  Apart from the Black Browed with their distinctive eyes they can be a bit hard to identify sometimes – juveniles have different plumage from the older more mature birds and I’m not exactly an expert!

Before seeing these magnificent birds I was under the impression that they would just glide, high up in the air on their huge wings like some sort of kite. The truth is much better though. whilst they have definitely got the hang of keeping any exertion to a minimum they are much more aerobatic than a glider. Swooping up and down and over across the waves, at times skimming the surface with precision and then gaining incredible speed without any form of propulsion other than their mastery of the air currents rising up from the waves. You can watch them fly in from a kilometre away, circle the boat a few times and then rush past at speed without a single wing beat. Good thing about this of course is that you can get a nice piccy.

wandering albatross

wandering albatross

wandering albatross

It’s difficult to get across how big these buggers are but when you see them head on, with their three metre plus wingspan it’s quite an impressive sight.

Having seen albatrosses looking ungainly on land trying to take off I was always curious as to how they fed whilst at sea – or more accurately how they managed to get themselves air-born again after feeding. As it happens though, they make it look easy. I presume this is down to the faster moving air currents whilst at sea but a few skips across the waves and they are up!

wandering albatross

 

 

 

 

 

wandering albatross

wandering albatross

 

 

 

 

 

The other large sea-going birdys out in the southern oceans are the petrels. Biggest of which are the giant petrels, also known as geeps . These huge birds fly with almost the same skill as the Albatrosses but look a little less majestic and a little more rough and ready. Occasionally described as ugly I reckon they are just a little more pre-historic looking.

giant petrelgiant petrelNot too bad out at sea I suppose but they can look a bit gruesome when covered in blood after burying themselves up to the neck in seal guts! (have a google)

Prettier little birds are the Pintados that were always zipping around the ship when I came down from Capetown on the Shack. Again there were flocks of these little fellas flying all around the ship, occasionally resting in the wake of the ship and then taking off and catching us up again.

pintado

pintado

pintado

The waters in southern oceans are teeming with life.  Out on deck, in the middle of nowhere you can see hundreds, maybe thousands of birds riding the air currents and searching for food. Underneath the waves there are plenty of things looking for a meal too, from the gigantic (more on this later) to the small and furry.

fur seals

I think these were southern fur seals. There were quite a lot out at sea and then even more as we approached Tierra del Fuego, leaping out of the sea all over the place – though most of the time much too quickly to get a picture.

southern fur seal

Occasionally I’d get lucky though!

I wasn’t lucky enough to catch any of the Porpoises that came along side but I did have better luck than last time getting some whale pics.

minke whale

minke whale

Still have to catch the killer shot of a Humpback launching itself out of the water but in the mean time some more Minkes will have to do. Maybe next time eh?

A few days out of Punta as we were sailing through Tierra del Fuego and the straits of Magellan the number of birds flying all round went nuts. gulls, ducks, cormorants and petrels all knocking about flying and also fishing.

Tierra del Fuego sea birds

Tierra del Fuego sea birds

Tierra del Fuego sea birds

DSC_0160And of course, no post with pictures of birds in would be complete on this blog without penguins. So here are some Magellanic Penguins.

Tierra del Fuego sea birds

Tierra del Fuego sea birds

Tierra del Fuego sea birds

Yay penguins. I miss penguins!

Holiday Down by the Sea….

After being stuck in the ice just around the corner from us the R.S.S. Ernest Shackleton finally arrived down at the creeks near Halley. this meant the relief could begin and we could get all the food, materials, fuel and people for the next year up on station. Relief is the busiest time of year down here and we were going to do it twenty four hours a day in two twelve hour shifts. I was on the night shift and, as a welcome change, was down at the ship helping unload cargo.

The convoy of vehicles and sledges set off down to the coast to be greeted by the sight of the Shack, moored up against the remaining sea ice about a kilometre from the shelf edge.

RSS Ernest Shcakleton against the sea ice

The cargo was unloaded onto waiting sledges and then taken up to the ice shelf where the sledges were hooked together in trains and the pulled back to base.

Despite it being nighttime the sun was well up in the sky so the night shift aspect wasn’t actually to bad. Though shifting one thousand and seven hundred drums of fuel out of the ship for twelve hours was a bit full on.

IMG_0378-001

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fuel Drums. Thousands of em…

IMG_0382-001

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flip em over….

IMG_0383-001

 

 

 

 

 

Then sling em up and crane em out.

Anyway, despite the long hours and hard work it was great being down at the ship. Showers you could stay in for longer than five minutes, lots of fresh food and a a different view outside were all good. The ships crew were cool too.

adelie penguin

We got plenty of little visitors hanging around near the ship too.

Just before leaving the remaining 2014 winter team came down to the ship for a meal together and then we got ready to jump ship and wave the Shack off. However, just as we were set to leave the sea ice that had seemed so solid when we were loading eight tonne sledges onto it now began to break up. Pretty cool watching it all snap off. Although you know you are not really at the coast but rather just on the ice it still felt like it. When the ice began to break up it quickly began to feel like where we actually were – above deep dark ocean rather than at the seaside!

sea ice breaking up

 

 

 

 

 

antarctic sea ice breaking up

 

 

 

 

 

It was pretty freaky watching chunks of ice that still had your footprints on just disappear!

To actually get back onto the ice shelf the Shack had reverse out to sea and then ram, back into the sea ice, finding a spot that was solid enough not to break off. This took quite a few goes. We eventually got back to stable ice and the were hoisted off the deck and down onto the ice on the wor geordie – no idea how to spell that but it’s big donut with cargo netting attached that is hoisted up by the ships crane (with you hanging onto it). That was a pretty odd end to my stay on the ship.

Oh yeah – we also saw a Leopard Seal basking down on the ice. quite a rare visitor down at Halley.

Right now I’m back up on base and the place is busier than ever – and I’m still adjusting to that!

Winter is Coming!

Excuse the Game of Thrones reference but winter is really coming for us here at Halley. (Actually it’s here now but as ever I’m posting stuff that happened a week or more ago)

This morning we went down to the mooring point at the coast to wave the RSS Ernest Shackleton off, along with its passengers – the folk we have spent the summer season with, working and living together. It was a strange moment. Waving goodbye to the friends you have made. Some of whom you may not see again, others you will see next season.  It’s sad – there’s quite a few of them I’m going to really miss, but at the same time it’s also exciting (not to mention worrying) to know that you are now left alone with your winter team, to live and work together for the next year, isolated on the Brunt ice shelf at Halley 6.

Getting ready for the off

Getting ready for the off

Lifting the Gangway

Lifting the Gangway

Going...

Going…

Going...

Going…

Gone!

Gone!

Photos by Kevin Hallam.

We drove down at 6am in a snow-cat for the 3 hour drive to the coast, managed to get a few goodbye hugs and then watched, waved and let off some flares as the ship pulled away and sailed off into the distance.  I hope that everyone on board has a great journey back to the Falklands and finally the U.K, U.S. and other home destinations.  About half an hour later and we began another bouncy and uncomfortable drive back up to base to begin getting ready for the long winter. Closing down the summer accommodation, scrubbing out the modules and generally cleaning the house before the weather turns colder.

There are a few more planes due to come and go from Halley over the next few weeks but watching the Shack disappear was a big moment. Well worth the 6 hour drive!

British Antractic Survey: The Ships

As well as posting about what I’m getting up to I’d also like to write about my employers the British Antarctic Survey or BAS, who they are and what they do. I’m going to try to write about them as much as I can before I head South because my updates will be a little bit more limited when I’m on the ice. The internet down there is a little slower than it is here in the UK and lots of it will be taken up by the science research that will going on, though hopefully there’ll be enough for me to post pictures of penguins!

The RSS Ernest Shackleton

When I travel South I’ll be flying from London Heathrow to Capetown in South Africa and from there I will take the  RSS Ernest Shackleton, one of BAS’s research ships. The Shack, as it is known, is named after the Famous polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton and was built in 1995, she was acquired by BAS in 1999.  As well as carrying out scientific research the Shack also takes supplies and people out to the Antarctic bases.

Sir Ernest Shackleton

Sir Ernest Shackleton

I will be traveling on the shack from Capetown and should arrive at the sea ice near Halley on Christmas eve this year. I am told that sea-sickness is almost a certainty for those on board for the first time!

The Shack sails some of the roughest seas in the world and is strengthened to deal with the ice on its journeys to and from Antarctica, I’ll be posting more about the ship when my long voyage starts, with some pictures and video of the ship breaking through the ice.

The Shack

My home for a short while on my journey to Antarctica

The RSS James Clark Ross

The other ship in the BAS fleet is the RSS James Clark Ross, The JCR was built in the UK and launched by H.M. the Queen in 1990 and is named after the explorer James Clark Ross.

Sir James Clark Ross

Sir James Clark Ross

Like the Ernest Shackleton the James Clark Ross is a reasearch vessel that also serves as a logistics ship. It can steam through ice 1 metre thick and is designed to make very little noise as it travels to limit interference with the sensitive acoustic equipment it deploys.

The JCR

The James Clark Ross at Rothera

You can find out more about the two ships by visiting the British Antarctic Survey website here