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Captain's Letter no. 8

Captain's Letter no. 8

April 2008

Dear Friends of SPRI,

I thought that I would bring you up to date on our adventures since leaving the UK in late Nov 07, in order that you are fully up to speed with our progress and work this season.

We write to you having just completed our second work period. The weather is currently beautiful with the most spectacular sunsets and the temperature a balmy 14 degrees; significantly warmer than we have been used to!

As always, Endurance carries over 20 scientists and field assistants from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and over 6 tonnes of equipment and stores. This season, one of the main areas of interest was the 5200 ft peak on Mount Haddington on the Antarctic Peninsula. It has taken over 47 hours, 14,100 kg of fuel and 3000 miles flown between last year and this work period, but the dedication of the flight and Ships Company finally got the whole team into place. “The biggest challenge was the weather,” explains Lt Matt Boulind, Flight Ops. “You have to work with Antarctica and it will decide when you can move and when you can’t. The challenge of flying to such a high altitude in such extreme conditions is something that you can never really appreciate until you get here.” Endurance has two crews, one of which has always carried out a complete previous deployment and is now the only dedicated Lynx flight.


The scientists spent two months boring down into the ice removing a core from inside the drill. By the time they reach to bottom, they have gone back 35,000 years and this information will show how the planet has changed. This is fundamental research that will tell us about the history of the planet.

Another team has looked even further back in time. Fossilised clams and scallops from 10 million years ago have been collected to look at how they lived in a time when conditions were very similar to today.

Other teams were up to their necks in mud, quite literally. Hidden in the mud and soil samples are fungi and bacteria, most of which are new to science. As the global temperature rises, (3 degrees in last 50 years) they become more active and produce more carbon dioxide, the main culprit in global warming. Essentially, the problem will become an ever-decreasing circle and so its study is so important to us all.

Image as described adjacent
Around James Ross Island

For many of the ships company, this was their first time in Antarctica and the moment they first saw the ice will remain with them forever. Apart from awe inspiring scenery, the wildlife really is everywhere and within the first two days, we had seen three species of penguins, two species of seal and over 20 humpback whales. Even the most amateur photographer will be going home with stunning pictures!

A very personal journey was made by the son of one of Shackleton’s original crew. His father had been marooned on the wild, isolated shores of Elephant Island for four months in 1916. It was a very emotional moment when he was taken to the rocky outcrop and eventually a boat landing was permissible where he was greeted by several thousand Adelie penguins. “I cannot thank the Navy enough for bringing me somewhere that has been part of my life for so long and I never dreamt that I would actually see it.”


Transiting still further South we carried out some base visits and one of our stops was at the American Palmer Station. We had a wonderful tour of their labs and I was fascinated to have a talk on sea cucumbers that live only in Antarctica. After months away from home, it was great to find that they have an amazingly well stocked shop selling everything from postcards to baseball caps! A little retail therapy was good for the soul!

Image as described adjacent
Surg Lt Cdr Matthew Turner, Lt Lou Brimacombe and LAPHOT Kelly Whybrow find a new friend

Next stop was Vernadsky base that is run by a team from the Ukraine. The base is very famous and houses the piece of equipment that was used to discover the hole in the ozone layer.

Image as described adjacent
Capt Tarrant signs the visitors' book at Vernadsky Base

We then continued further South to Rothera British Antarctic Survey (BAS) base. In order to get there, we had to pass through the spectacular Lemaire Channel with its 1000m mountains either side - very careful navigation is required to get through safely. The Monkey deck at the front of the ship was full of photographers wanting to take in the amazing scenery.

Whilst we were at sea, we left one of our surveying teams behind at Rothera led by Lt Stuart Long. They used our small survey boats to look at the sea bed around the harbour so that the charts we use to safely navigate could be improved. Below is the account of their work.

Endurance passing through the Lemaire Channel

‘HMS Endurance was tasked to conduct a bathymetric survey of un-charted water around the BAS Rothera Research Base in Ryder Bay, Adelaide Island. On 7th Feb a boat camp consisting of nine personnel and one Survey Motor Boat (SMB James Caird) was deployed by HMS Endurance to Rothera for a two week period, prior to Endurance sailing south to Alexander Island and the Bellingshausen Sea.

The boat camp was tasked to survey previously unknown water around Ryder Bay on behalf of BAS to assist them with their biological research. The team consisted of one survey officer, one leading surveyor and seven Able Seaman. The first few days of the boat camp consisted of establishing the control, both tidal and positional, upon which the rest of the survey work depended. Thereafter, personnel were split into two teams and the SMB went out on a daily basis (weather and ice permitting) to collect the bathymetric data. The area to be surveyed was sub-divided into seven smaller areas, each of between 1-2 sq nm with general depths believed to be in the region of 10-400m, and each area was completed before moving onto the next area thus ensuring data was collected in a systematic manner that could then be charted.

The raw data was collected using an Atlas Deso single beam echo sounder with positional data being provided by a local established differential GPS network. Where ice concentrations were low, a side-scan sonar was also deployed to obtain an acoustic picture of the seabed. All the raw data was logged onboard by a computer which was then transferred to a shore system at the end of the day so that tidal corrections could be applied and spurious / poor data edited out.


Due to poor weather and high ice concentrations throughout the period of the detached boat camp, only three of the seven areas were completed and this data will be rigorously checked before being submitted to UKHO for charting action and BAS for research purposes.’


So we left our boat campers at Rothera and after proceeding further South than this ship has ever been before, we headed for the Bellingshausen Sea. We eventually reached the edge of the ice shelf, which was actually six miles further in than actually charted due to the ice shelf having retreated over time. We also discovered a new colony of Emperor penguins, which were happily settled on the edge of the shelf as our welcoming committee!

We then headed north again and spent a couple of days surveying Lazarev Bay that is currently just a blank on the chart. No-one has ever surveyed here before and it is a real challenge. Whilst making slow but careful progress in the entrance of the bay, we got our scientists ashore using the helicopters to collect more rock and soil samples.


Next stop was Rothera again on our transit North and we had two very important events to look forward to; the annual winter Olympics, and the visit of Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, Commander in Chief (CinC) Fleet.

Each year, all the departments on board put together a team of ‘highly trained Olympians’ to see if we can beat BAS on their own turf. The two mile walk up the glacier was almost enough for some! I was there in my official capacity to start all the races, confirm the times, shout encouragement, and most important of all, judge the ice sculpture competition. BAS won in style and in the evening we held an ice barbecue on the quarterdeck to thank all staff at Rothera for their hospitality.


In the morning, the atmosphere changed once we heard that Admiral Stanhope’s plane had left the Falklands, and the last minute preparations were made. In order to show him as much as possible in the short time he was here, we put together a busy, but interesting programme for him. First stop was Blaiklock Island in one of the ship’s helicopters. Once on the island, he was given a tour by two of the senior scientists from BAS about the work they do, but he also got to meet some of the locals. He then spent the next 24 hours touring the ship and Rothera station, meeting penguins and various members of the ship’s company before heading North to Chile for more business.

On ship

And so you are now up to date. We are slightly jaded from a less than comfortable crossing of Drake Passage and happy to be able to take the opportunity to stretch our legs on land for a few days before re-fuelling, re-storing and proceeding South again for another busy work period.

May I take this opportunity to thank you for your continued support of HMS Endurance. I look forward to updating you again soon on our progress.

Best wishes

Bob Tarrant
Commanding Officer