skip to primary navigation skip to content

Captain's Letter no. 1

Captain's Letter no. 1

Dear Friends of SPRI,


One of my first engagements as the new commanding officer of this fine warship was to welcome onboard the Friends of SPRI in July. I confess that, although I read avidly matters Antarctic prior to joining, I'd never heard of your organisation. The importance of your role was however soon apparent as David Wilson kindly explained your philosophy and the manner in which you support the Institute; while I described the role and capability of Endurance. It was obvious that we have much in common and, judging from the enthusiasm of our lovely visitors, the will to work together is there so I look forward to developing a long term relationship.

Stepping back a pace or two - my name is Nick Lambert, I've been in the Navy for 28 years, I'm a warfare officer and Endurance is my third command. She's a unique platform, with a unique role for operations in a unique environment; an environment that I find singularly fascinating. I can't claim to have been to the ice before, only South Georgia, and I'm told that doesn't count. On the other hand I am a Durham University geography graduate who attended a module on Antarctic politics in my final year. Hence I was very enthusiastic when my appointer (Navyspeak for HR manager) mentioned Endurance. I'm absolutely delighted to be her captain; there is no other opportunity like her in the Navy or, indeed, many other navies. I'm also in no doubt as to the importance of the ship's role in the context of UK foreign policy in the Polar Regions, or the contribution that she makes to the scientific output of the British Antarctic Survey and the UK Hydrographic Office.


Following the Friends' visit, Julian Dowdeswell and David Wilson very kindly invited me to join them in Cambridge early in September. By then I'd read more effectively, had a much better idea of what you do and was intrigued by all that I saw at the Institute. We had very useful discussions and many ideas about developing our relationship including regular contributions to Polar Bytes (hence this letter), website links, presentations, more visits by the Friends and so on. It is also clear that Endurance might be able to coordinate some scientific work with that of the Institute.


Your museum and artefacts are very special: Worsley's chronometers, the only remaining spar from Shackleton's Endurance and Oates' sleeping bag particularly moved me. They chime with a couple we have the privilege to display onboard: Shackleton's 1886 picture (above right) of St Paul's Cathedral from the Thames (the picture was in his cabin in Nimrod and Endurance) and a page from the nautical almanac (left) used by Worsley for navigating James Caird from Elephant Island to South Georgia.


I'm typing this in my cabin alongside in Devonport where Endurance is undergoing Operational Sea Training in preparation for the next season's deployment. OST, as it is colloquially known, is designed to confirm that we are safe to proceed south for operations in the Antarctic. The ten day training package looks at every aspect of our business - our administration in intimate detail, our ability to fight flood, fire and damage, our competence to assist in a crisis such as a stricken tourist ship and our physical preparations of stores, equipment and personnel. Amid myriad tasks we clean the ship from top to bottom, navigate in fog, lose our engines, tow another ship, recover men overboard, deal with ditched helicopters, treat numerous casualties and talk to the media. We're inspected by a fifty strong team of OST staff officers and the Ship's Company works very long hours to rectify the many pick up points that they make. By 30 September we will be back in Portsmouth, qualified to head south and ready to make our final preparations as well as take a couple of weeks leave in lieu of the Christmas holiday.


Endurance sails from Portsmouth on 31 October making short visits to Madeira and Salvador before arriving in the Falkland Islands in early December. There we will undergo a final major exercise (again based on the stricken liner) before proceeding for our first work package in South Georgia until the New Year. Work in South Georgia will consist of hydrographic surveys to the south west of the island using our new Multi Beam Echo Sounder, boat camps for inshore surveys and a lot of tasking in support of BAS scientific programme. We will also land a ten strong team from the British Schools Expedition Society, while our Royal Marine Detachment will walk the Shackleton Route; albeit with modern equipment (they declined my suggestion that they should do the boat journey first). We plan to have our Christmas service in the chapel at Grytviken and I hope that we will be able to support the South Georgia Heritage Trust.


In January we will undertake a two week work package in the Trinity Peninsula focused primarily on BAS requirements in the Antarctic Strait, James Ross, Seymour, Snow Hill and Joinville Islands. Surveying work will be conducted in the Bransfield Strait and to the south-west of Paulet Island, and we have been asked to assist David Mearns in locating the wreck of Nordenskjold's Antarctic believed to have been lost in that vicinity in 1904. The final work package of the season in February will see us working down the Peninsula through the Bransfield and Gerlache Straits, the Lemaire and Grenadier Channels, Rothera and Marguerite Bay. In addition to BAS and UK Hydrographic Office requirements we will also be a vehicle for international inspections of tourist sites in the Bransfield and Gerlache Straits under the auspices of the Foreign Office.

As the season closes we will head north for the UK carrying out defence diplomacy work in the Falklands, Argentina, Tristan Da Cunha, South Africa, Ascension Island and St Helena. The ship will return to Portsmouth in mid May. Our work is not over then however as we plan to visit Leith in company with RRS James Clark Ross as a backdrop for the Antarctic Treaty Convention Meeting in Edinburgh in June 2006.

I look forward to writing further updates for you as the deployment progresses. You can also find information about the ship's activities at our HMS Endurance Tracking Project website This educational site is pitched at Key Stage 1 and 2 and avidly followed by many worldwide enthusiasts.

With best wishes,
Nick Lambert