Sunday, 27 November 2016

Adelaide Island and the Sea Ice

The James Clark Ross is sitting at the edge of the sea ice that wraps around Adelaide Island like a chilly blanket. We arrived this evening two days after (for those geographically minded souls)sailing past Elephant Island and into the Bransfield Straits. 
Icebergs in the Bransfield Straits

King George Island and the Bransfield Straits

 The end goal of course being Adelaide Island and the station which lies on Rothera Point facing into the western side of the Antarctic peninsula. For now, however, we’re waiting for the new day before starting the push into the sea ice.
Adelaide Island and the sea ice

Adelaide Island and the sea ice

The atmosphere on board ship is one of deep excitement. It’s been a slow two weeks for most of our passengers and the relief of Signy feels like a very long time ago. This evening, the last on board for many, seemed filled with a special significance. Everyone dressed up for dinner and it’s amazing how swanky and stylish everyone suddenly became! It felt bizarre though. After two months of wearing jeans and a t-shirt, I felt like a child let loose in her mother’s wardrobe because I was wearing a dress and boots. Not, I hasten to add, my steelies, but rather my cowboy boots. Which are obviously much more lady-like. I’m just keeping my fingers tightly crossed that we don’t have many more fancy dinners or it will rapidly become apparent that I only brought the one dress with me. Maybe I could make some sort of a toga from a bed sheet and tell everyone that I’m going as King Herod...very seasonal that.

Ironically, given that it’s just started snowing this evening, it had escaped my notice that the festive season is nearly upon us. Then I heard “Do they know it’s Christmas time” playing on the radio in the galley and it suddenly dawned on me that it’s the end of November! Part of this confusion is down to the fact that as an early-December baby I refuse to accept the festive spirit (in a very Grinch-ish fashion) until after my birthday. The other reason is that life on the ship seems to follow its own time scale. Jobs at sea still have to be done regardless of whether or not it’s a weekend and so there is little in the way of external markers to indicate the passage of time. Rather than thinking in terms of weeks or months I find myself thinking of “around the time we were at Signy” or “when I was allowed to steer the boat...”

That’s right children! Mama got to steer the boat! Admittedly it was for about 15 seconds, with an engineer ready to shove me out the way lest I make a hash of it. But who cares about such pernickety little details? I want a badge saying “helmswoman extraordinaire!” I was told by our first mate that there was an engineering drill and that I should get involved if I could. So at 14.00 this afternoon I trotted down to the main control room and endeavoured to look attentive and like the kind of person who understands what words like “solenoid” mean.

The purpose of the drill was to see if the engineers can take control of the ship, should the bridge no longer be able to control propulsion or steering. It was brilliant. Alarms that sounded like old fashioned school bells were ringing and the chief engineer relayed information that he had received over a phone line from the bridge. It felt just like a scene from “Sink the Bismark” and I kept expecting everyone to call their colleagues Mr... and shake hands and light pipes at the end.
The Main Control Room of the JCR

The engineers responded to commands issued by the watchman on the bridge and set the speed of the ship using a giant lever. The lever looks rather like something that Willie Wonka would have had on his boiled sweet boat. I really wanted to have a go but sadly the cadet pipped me to the post (Pick me sir, pick me!) and had fun playing. But then, after descending deeper into the belly of the ship, we reached the steering compartment. The world’s smallest steering wheel is mounted there, facing dials that show the direction that has been achieved by turning the wheel to the port or starboard side. I nearly squealed with excitement when the chief engineer asked me if I’d like to have a go. For a couple of minutes I lived a heady dream as the chief engineer called out “10 degrees port... 10 degrees starboard...midships...20 degrees starboard.” And then I very reluctantly ceded my place to the engineers.
The steering compartment of the JCR from the tour on the first cruise

I feel that I need to provide some clarity with regards to a previous post. One of the scientists on board has pointed out that my last post sounded slightly like I had bullied a crew member into providing a comedy show aboard the JCR and then encouraged him to strip off in the conference room! We were watching a comedy DVD showcasing the talents of comedian Phil Nicholls who was not actually on board the ship. My apologies to BAS lest they’ve been coming under fire for funding a party ship down on the Southern Ocean...



  1. OMG I have just squealed at my phone reading this! Amazing! You steered the ship! I am so jealous! I am so excited for you and good luck for the next couple of days x

    1. I know, it's so exciting, isn't it? I tried to play it cool, but I think the way I bit the guy's hand off when he offered to let me steer may have given the game away a bit! Hx

  2. Just come across your blog via a @BAS twitter retweet. Read the first paragraph and then had to stop myself - I need to start at the beginning and then catch up! Look forward to following your exploits. Regards

    1. Thank you very much! I hope you enjoy the blog; I'm having a lot of fun writing it! Helen