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Captain's Letter no. 7

Captain's Letter no. 7

January 2008

Dear Friends of SPRI,

This newsletter gives me a great opportunity to update you all on progress since Nick Lambert left in February this year, and also to fill you in on how we will be operating the ship over the next 18 months before her refit in summer, autumn and winter 2009. As I write, we are in the process of reclaiming the ship as our own after a very long period in dry dock over the summer and preparing ourselves for a deployment.

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HMS Endurance in drydock

For those of you who have read Nick's newsletters before, these remarks will form a familiar theme as the ship prepares itself for the forthcoming Antarctic season.

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Capt. Bob Tarrant RN

Let me do a quick introduction before I continue - my name is Bob Tarrant and I have been in the Navy for 28 years.

For a large chunk of that time I served in the submarine service both in diesel and nuclear powered submarines. HMS Endurance is my second command and is a fantastic opportunity for me to experience a very different way of doing business in a very different part of the world. I have however, visited the South Atlantic before, as a young man, during the conflict in 1982. I was a young officer on board the destroyer HMS Antrim which headed the small task group that re-took South Georgia and then subsequently assisted the forces landing in Falkland Sound and San Carlos water. I remember being fascinated by icebergs, penguins and seals, and I can recall seeing the previous HMS Endurance, and thinking how wonderful it would be if I could visit the Antarctic but I never thought that would actually happen. I therefore feel very lucky today in command of the Royal Navy's Ice patrol vessel, to be able to revisit the Falklands and South Georgia and now explore much, much further south.

Soon after relieving Nick in February this year, we set off for the Antarctic and conducted a short but productive work period off James Ross Island.

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James Ross Island,
Antarctic Peninsular

Principally we delivered logistics for our British Antarctic Survey colleagues as they investigated fossils on Seymour and Snow Hill islands to better their understanding of what the Antarctic was like 80 million years ago when unburdened by the ice sheet. Interestingly enough it turns out that the climate in the Antarctic is not dissimilar to today's climate in the Caribbean. The fossils recovered are those of creatures associated with shallow warm seas. Other teams were looking at rocks from the neogene era which are well exposed on James Ross Island and give us a hint of what the Earth was like during a period when CO2 levels were extremely high. The other major task of this period, other than continuing the effort to survey the waters around James Ross, was principally to provide charting for tourist vessels to improve the safety for all mariners in the Antarctic. Being in this area, enabled us to frontload supplies up to Mount Haddington right at the top of James Ross Island and assist with other large British Antarctic Survey projects this coming season, such as taking a core sample through the James Ross ice sheet.

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Bird Island chicks

My second work period proved to be a real privilege. The British Antarctic Survey asked us to assist in shutting its Signy base in the South Orkneys and also to prepare the base on Bird Island off South Georgia for the winter.

At this stage winter seemed to be closing in fast and in mid to late March we had to use the very few opportunities the weather gave us to achieve the re-supply.

With work in South Georgia complete, our Antarctic season 06/07 came to an end. At this point HMS ENDURANCE would normally head back to the UK. However, in this inaugural 9 month deployment we continued with operations. Initially we had a very pleasant stop in Cape Town, followed by a month off the west coast of Africa.

We learnt lots of lessons, not least, that an icebreaker being a well insulated vessel cooks nicely in tropical climes; I'm sure you could have told us that already!

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School's out!
A real contrast with Antarctica

We also discovered the special qualities of the Red Plum that make her an ideal ship to conduct effective and high level diplomatic work with friendly nations in other parts of the world. These qualities also make her an ideal vehicle on which to discuss and consider difficult subjects such as the impact of climate change upon the countries we visited. It was an interesting task; to re-focus ourselves beyond having a wonderful time in foreign ports, in order to deliver UK objectives and this was not always easy at the end of a long Antarctic season. We gained a lot of experience on visits to Ghana, Sierra Leone and Senegal which we hope to be able to put into practice during our next deployment.

As we gear up for the next season it is good to know that because of the work we have done this summer while alongside in dry dock, we are a much more capable ship. Her new windlasses, hot water system, hydraulic systems, high-pressure air systems and air-conditioning systems to name but a few, all go a long way to sustaining a new future for HMS Endurance. After the success of our nine-month deployment we will be deploying again in November and will be leaving UK shores until May 2009. The broad concept is that we can conduct both the 07/08 and 08/09 seasons in the Antarctic, and in the austral summer we can remain in the South Atlantic conducting defence diplomacy on behalf of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Ministry of Defence. This makes good sense financially and makes better use of the immense talent the ship has. It does present a significant management opportunity in making sure the ship is happy, well maintained and suitably trained to continue its role to the high standard we all expect. I have made my people my priority. The challenge is to make sure that they all have the same amount of time at home that they would have had if we had been coming back to the UK in Summer 2008.

By the time I write again I hope that we will be operating the ship some way further south of Portsmouth dockyard.

With best wishes,

Bob Tarrant
Captain, RN