Wednesday 29th February
On board the ship
It is 1300 and we are about the leave the natural harbour of Deception Island. We have sat here for two days but high winds prevented anyone from leaving the ship. The Bridge is on ‘Specials’ with many sailors keeping watch in all directions, and all wearing their white caps. We aim to reach Antarctic Sound by midnight and to overnight at Esperanza again, before finally having one more attempt at reaching James Ross Island. The wind within the harbour is currently 40 knots and higher winds are expected once we leave Deception Island; Sea State 7 is anticipated for the crossing.
This morning I followed the Engineering Officer (“Engines” or Phil) on his rounds. We saw all the mechanical workings in the ship’s underbelly, and the safety features to prevent a flood or fire in the engine room. They include extra pumps and a new separate generator in case the generators in the engine room fail. I climbed up and down hundreds of steep ladders, climbing from the bottom of the ship to all the way up inside the crane and down and up again. These ladders must keep the engineers fit! The engine room and generators were spotless and sparkling, with not a spot of grease to be seen. Shipshape indeed.
Having completed the work we brought for the journey, read all our books and watched all our films, the team are frustrated, and cannot wait to get ashore tomorrow. Iain (“Cheese”, the field assistant) is particularly fed up, having been on board since January 1st. With luck we will get ashore tomorrow and get 6 days fieldwork. The tedious monotony of two weeks at sea is really beginning to bite.
Thursday 1st March
On board the ship
This morning we awoke to grey cloudy skies near Hope Bay and began our transit towards Prince Gustav Channel. The radar image suggested that Fridjtof Sound was clear, and we began to pick our way through. The numbers of icebergs steadily increased, and many had fur seals or Adelie penguins sat on them. Perfect hunting ground for orcas, but unfortunately none were to be seen today. As we approached Vega Island and James Ross Island was sighted in the distance, the pack ice density increased and ice breaking began in earnest.
The team spent much time on the bridge or foc’sle, watching the prow of the ship cutting through the ice. Many times the ship came to a complete halt, and we were forced to reverse and try again. As our speed has decreased, we are now hoping to reach Croft Bay late tonight, and with luck will be put ashore before dark. We are packed and ready to go at a moment’s notice.
After much difficulty, James Ross Island was sighted and we entered Croft Bay. I was asked to go into the speed boat with an officer and two boatmen, to identify our campsite and see if it was feasible to be put ashore. The ice was a maze, and many times we were turned back by the thick pack ice. Terrapin Hill was in sight, and I was worried that having come so close, we would be unable to get ashore.
However, we finally found a way through. Close to the bay, the sea surface was starting to freeze, and the beach was covered with bergy bits. As it was getting late, the officer recommended that we be put ashore first thing in the morning. While we were waiting to be hoisted back aboard, I was allowed to drive the speedboat.
When we got back to ship, the Captain decided that we should go ashore straight away, so that we could have a full day of fieldwork tomorrow. With the sea ice continuing to close in, the ship would stay nearby, ready to scoop us up at a moment’s notice. We had to rush to get ready, and by the time I was hoisted back aboard, the crew had already loaded our kit into bags for winching onto the landing craft. By 10 pm (and still without dinner), we had the tents up and water boiling for our ration packs.