The Further Adventures of The Wise Owl of Kilkeel - Antarctica 2016/17


15th January 2017:

This,  sadly,  is the last update from the RRS James Clark Ross as if all goes according to plan I will be landing in the UK next Sunday.   I am due to fly north from Punta Arenas,  Chile,  via Santiago (the capital of Chile) and possibly then Madrid,  before arriving in Heathrow for the final flight north to Edinburgh.  This is a longer journey than that taken back in November.

However,  on the plus side,  The Wise Owl and I have just had a couple of days at Rothera.  Having failed to arrive there in November I am pleased to say that we had an ice free run to the base this time and the cargo operations were completed in a very timely fashion and now the ship is sailing the one thousand miles north to Punta Arenas.

Rothera lies to the south of the Antarctic Circle and so there is twenty-four hours of daylight at this time of the year.  The GPS receiver on the Bridge of the ship,  when asked when sunrise and sunset is,  displays the message 'The Sun never sets'!  So,  exactly where is Rothera then?

Rothera is located on the south east side of Adelaide Island,  which in turn is towards the bottom end of the Antarctic Peninsula.  It's position is Latitude 6734' S, Longitude 6808' W and at this time of the year the temperature can be somewhere between about 0C to +5C,  so not very cold at all.  However if there is a bit of wind this can make a huge difference to how it feels and it is always best to wrap up well before venturing outside.  The temperature when The Wise Owl went out was nice and so he did not need a coat.

The first place to visit is Rother Point.  This is an elevated bit of land that overlooks the Biscoe Wharf (John Biscoe was another famous explorer and the predecessor to the RRS James Clark Ross was called the RRS John Biscoe).  Rothera Point is the home to a number of memorials and it also offers a lovely view out over the bay.  Sadly it was a bit dull when we were ashore so it is not looking as good as it could have been.

Looking towards Rothera Base.  In this picture can be seen the communications dome and a weather satellite receiving station along with some of  the antennas that the base will use to communicate with aircraft and field parties.  Rothera is the largest British Base and can accommodate around one hundred people,  amd many of the people here are in transit before being flown out in the the wilderness,  referred to as 'The Field'.   These groups are known as 'Field Parties' and can consist of as few as two people in a small tent to perhaps a dozen or so in a camp.  Field parties can be away for several months at a time and have very few facilities (no bath or toilet) and so you have to be very keen to spend long periods away from home comforts.

On the way to the main building at Rothera The Wise Owl tried making friends with some elephant seals.  These two were sleeping on one of the access roads (this is common) and I could only see two others whilst at the base.  The ice that prevented the ship from getting to Rothera has also stopped some of the wildlife,  including not only the elephant seals but also penguins (I only spotted one whilst there) from getting there also.  Normally there is a lot of wildlife to look at but it will have all gone elsewhere.

The Wise Owl sitting on a vehicle that is more at home on a golf course than at an Antarctic base.  There are a lot of vehicles at Rothera and these small buggies are very handy for moving small bits of cargo around.  They will also ferry luggage to and from the aircraft.  In the background is New Bransfield House which is where the kitchen and dining room,  along with library (which has a fantastic view) are located and is the social hub of the base.

The building in the background is the summer transit accommodation building.  Here,  in four berth rooms,  those that are on the base for a short period of time live.  It is only a short walk to New Bransfield House for their meals but if the weather is not nice then one would have to dress correctly.  A lot of effort for breakfast! The ship brought in a years worth of supplies to the base and The Wise Owl is sitting on one of the cargo boxes.  The contents.......toilet rolls.  Lots of toilet rolls,  enough for more than a year,  this to allow for problems such as not getting to the base on time.  Everything that the base needs will have been packaged up and marked months before our arrival so that it could be correctly loaded and stowed on the ship.  Once it is discharged ashore the cargo is marked with a destination so that everything ends up in the right place.

This is view down part of the runway with the Dash 7 aircraft turning and about to depart for Sky Blue,  which is a depot further south.  Sky Blue is so called because it has a blue ice runway and this allows aircraft without skiis to land there.  The Dash 7 also flies to Punta Arenas (it takes about four and a half hours) to carry out passenger transfers and collect fresh produce.

This is a Tucker Snow-cat,  a workhorse in the Antarctic for the British Antarctic Survey.  It's tracks mean that it is ideal for crossing snow and ice and it has a very powerful engine.  Even after these have sat in temperatures of -40C (at Halley) they can be warmed up and started.  They are a very reliable means of transport. 

It just so happens that one of the crew,  Gareth,  has a picture of a Snow-cat from when he was at Halley as the mechanic.  This is taken in mid-winter and he tells me that if you look very carefully at the picture,  at the door below the mirror,  there is a slight mark.  This is a small hole that formed in the door seal and the result was that the inside of the vehicle filled with snow....just from one tiny hole.  If you can't see the hole then click HERE for a marked picture.

What a load of RUBBISH!!!  The Wise Owl is sitting on a bag of rubbish,  surrounded by bags and drums of rubbish.  The Antarctic is a very special place and also very unique in that countries of the world realised how important it is and that it needed special rules to protect it.  These rules form The Antarctic Treaty and amongst the many things that it covers is that ALL waste must be removed.  If,  in years to come,  Rothera Base is closed,  everything at the base,  including the buildings,  will have to be removed.  All waste is carefully segregated (perhaps a bit like at home if you have different coloured bins for different rubbish) and it will be loaded on to the ship to be safely disposed of.  When cargo is shipped in, much of it is put into re-useable crates and cartons,  designed to fold flat to be sent back to the UK and used again and again. 

Now the James Clark Ross is on passage to Punta Arenas and should arrive there on Thursday morning.  Sadly the calm weather that we had when we left Rothera has changed and it is a bit rough out,  with the ship pitching rather a lot.  I hope that you have enjoyed following the adventure of The Wise Owl and he hopes that you have all learnt something new!

8th January 2017:

It has been an interesting week since the last update.  The science has now finished,  although there is a lot more work to be done by the scientists before they leave the ship in a few weeks time,  and the James Clark Ross is now on passage to Rothera.

The 5th of January was the anniversary of the death of the famous Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton,  who passed away in 1922 whilst his ship was in Cumberland Bay preparing to head south.  He was buried at the small cemetery at Grytviken.

  Ernest Shackleton's grave on South Georgia.  His first expedition south was with Captain Robert Falcon Scott on board the Discovery (which is now a museum ship in Dundee).

  Because the ship has been working in the vicinity of South Georgia and now is towards the top end of the Antarctic Peninsula,  we have had a constant following of birds,  including the Wandering Albatross.  This bird has the largest wingspan of any flying bird - up to 3.5m and is a joy to watch as it effortlessly glides over the stormiest of seas.

Talking of stormy seas,  we have also enjoyed (not sure that is the best word to use) a few of those this week and managed at one point to roll 35 to Port and about 30 across to Stbd,  which means that a single roll was over 70.  This had a few things moving rapidly and we did need to tidy up a little bit once the ship had settled down again.  I was awake at the time,  but had I been in my bunk I think I would have been sliding down it fairly quickly.

At times the water was breaking over the TOP of the Foremast!  The only good news was that the sky was blue and the sun was out,  which does make a huge difference to the way one feels.  Due to the weather on Saturday there was little in the way of work that I could do but the Catering department still managed to produce some lovely food for us all on board.

The Deck Officers who drive the ship from place to place are not only responsible for steering and ensuring that we don't hit anything,  either land or ship or in our case iceberg,  but they also have to keep a good record of where the ship is.  This is done using a chart,  which is the name for a nautical map.  Lines are drawn on the ship to show the proposed route and then every hour a position is plotted and marked on the chart.  Here The Wise Owl is on the chart,  which covers the area between the bottom tip of South America and the top end of the Antarctic Peninsula.  The water between the two land masses is called the Drake Passage and it has the reputation as being the roughest bit of sea in the world!  I am not sure that is the case,   although on Saturday it was very rough and lumpy,  but today it is far from that.  In order to mark the chart correctly a nuber of tools are needed,  from a parallel ruler to  dividers.

The Drake Passage looking very calm this morning.

The Wise Owl at the window on the Bridge this morning,  not a position he would have been able to enjoy twenty-four hours earlier as nothing was sitting very still.

All being well the James Clark Ross will arrive at Rothera on Wednesday to carry out the base relief.  Next Sunday will be the last update as the week after I will be flying back home.   I hope to get lots of good pictures whilst at Rothera to make the final update a really good one,  with some great views and wildlife to share with you all.

1st January 2017:

A Happy New Year to all at Forgandenny Primary School!

I am going to start off this week's update with the New Year,  although I have to say that there are a lot of more exciting things to report.  The tradition on board ship is for the ship's bell to be rung just before midnight by the oldest person on board and then just after midnight by the youngest.  Before this can happen an important task is to polish the ship's bell and here The Wise Owl is finishing off the job.

What weighs 45 Tonnes and is about 17m in length?  Not sure,  well the answer is a humpback whale.   I mention this because we have seen a number of these wonderful animals over the past week and in some cases they have come close enough to the ship that we have been able to hear them breathing (known as blowing).

There she blows!  The first indication of a whale is normally it blowing and this can be seen from a long distance.  In this case this humpback whale was close enough to hear before seeing!  This whale has a distinctive mark on it's fin and it was possible to identify this very whale several days later,  not something that we can normally do.

This is a picture of a whale in the distance and shows just what a whale blow looks like.  If you are very good at whale spotting it is possible to tell what type of whale it is just from the blow,  as the different whale species have different looking blows.  Sadly I am not that good and need to see a whale to identify it,  and sometimes even that is not easy as some whales do look similar to others.  It is very rare to see a whole whale,  although not impossible,  as they arch their way out of the water to breath.  Humpback whales may also 'breach' which is when they do jump out of the water.  When you think of how big and heavy they are,  that is an impressive thing to be able to do.

This picture will give you an idea of just how close the whales can come to the ship.  These are humpback whales,  which are possibly the most inquisitive of the mammals.  On this particular day there were four of them circling the ship.  Sadly this is not good for work as everyone rushes out to enjoy the wonderful display that these animals are putting on for us.

Humpback whales also do a lot of flipper slapping.  Not sure why they do this but it does mean that they are on the surface and very easy to watch.

When the humpbacks are going to dive deep they tend to do so with a wave of their tale,  also known as the fluke.  This is the view everyone likes to catch on camera,  sadly this one decided to dive deep a bit further away from the ship.  They do not dive deep after each surfacing.  Often they will blow a number of times before diving deep for some time.

The Wise Owl was wondering if you know what the largest whale on the planet is?  

 The Wise Owl  has also been involved in some remote science work.  This is an ARGO float and belongs to the German Met Office.  They have asked that we deploy it for them in the Southern Ocean and for some reason this task is mine.  I have to unpack the float and check that it is all in good order before switching it on some two hours before it goes in the sea.  Here The Wise Owl is checking that I have removed the protective covers from the instruments on the top of the float.

The ARGO float deployed.  This will soon sink to about 2,200m and drift for about ten days at this depth.  It will then rise to the surface and transmit the data it has recorded back to the German Met Office.  Once that has happened,  it will then sink once again for another ten days.  It will carry on this cycle of events for at least five,  possibly seven years,  collecting valuable information.  This is likely to be the last time it is seen as once the batteries die the unit will stay down at depth and eventually sink to the sea bed.  This is part of a very large network,  with thousands of these deployed around the world by lots of different organisations.

I have shown you some pictures of some of the larger animals that can be found in the sea.  This is something a lot smaller,  a tiny squid.  The scientists have been doing some fishing this cruise and they are looking for things like this and also much smaller beasts like krill.


Christmas Day 2016:

A very Happy Christmas to you all at Kilkeel Primary School from The Wise Owl and all on board the James Clark Ross.

The Wise Owl,  perched on the JCR Christmas tree this morning.  Whilst you have all been enjoying a break from classes and opening your presents,  we have all been working hard on board the ship,  preparing for the next leg of the science cruise.  Whilst that does not sound very good,  it is not too bad because this work is being carried out in the sheltered waters of Stromness Harbour,  just a short distance from the abandoned whaling station of Stromness. 

The Wise Owl at Cumberland Bay with King Edward Point and Grytviken whaling station in the background and the Doctor's hand stopping him from flying off in the breeze!

The James Clark Ross arrived in Cumberland Bay on Friday evening and stopped overnight.  On Saturday morning the base at King Edward Point sent out a boat with some scientific equipment that was needed on the next science leg,  and once that was on board the ship headed the short distance around the coast to Stromness Harbour,  from where this update is being written.  Stromness is a good place to do the calibration of the echo sounders as there is no heavy glacial run off into the harbour,  in Cumberland Bay there is so much fresh water going into the bay that it would make a serious effect on the results.

The Navigator has kindly given our position here in relation to Santa's Grotto in Lapland and we are just short of 8,000 nautical miles away.  This did not seem to be a problem for Santa and his reindeer as many on board awoke this morning to presents at the end of their bunks.

With the weather so lovely The Wise Owl has spent some time out on deck admiring the view.  I think that South Georgia is the most wonderful place that I have ever visited (I have yet to see if Kilkeel is better!) and the views are always worth making some time for.  The Wise Owl is sitting on part of a mooring that will be deployed on Boxing day.  Since this picture was taken a number of instruments have been fitted in the large holes that can be seen,  and once it is deployed it will remain under the surface for about a year.

The Wise Owl seems to like the moorings!  This is the one that was recovered a week or so ago (you can tell because of the state of the metal anode,  which is used as a sacrificial piece of soft metal that is eroded rather than the more expensive frame).  Again there is a fine view with some snow capped mountains in the background.  South Georgia has  a long mountain range and much of it is snow covered.

The final picture for today is with Stromness whaling station in the background.  Whaling was a very large industry in Antarctica until the mid 1960's and much of what was caught in Antarctica was processed on South Georgia.  There are two other whaling stations within the bay area here,  Husvik and Leith.

The James Clark Ross will depart from Stromness on Monday morning when we will head back out to sea and continue with the science work.

Wishing you all a Happy New Year......which is only a few days away......

18th December 2016:

It has been another interesting week (there are few weeks that don't prove to be such on here) and there has been some excitement and drama on the high seas.  Most of the work that has been carried out has been by the geologists,  the scientists that are looking at the sea bed and the structure.  The first bit of excitement was getting rock samples from 4,500m below the ship (that is over 2.5 miles!) using a dredge.  The dredge is just a big chain mail net that is dragged across the surface way below us.  It is then hauled back on board and whatever is inside is investigated by the scientists.

  The Wise Owl sat upon some of the rocks dredged up during a shallower cast,  from about 750m below us.  Dredging is not without difficulties and sadly we have now left all three dredge nets that we started out with on the sea bed.  If the net catches on some rock that won't budge or break,  then something has to give and the dredge is fitted with a series of weak links and when the tension exceeds the link limit,  the dredge is left behind and the wire recovered.  We managed to find some very stubborn rocks on the sea bed,  but that is one of the risks that is taken when deploying such equipment to an area that nothing is known about.

  I seem to recall that you may have been studying pressure and the effects on the weather.  It is a very important aspect and it is the pressure that you often see depicted on weather charts.  This barograph is used to record the trend of pressure in the previous three hours and this is one piece of information that is sent to the Met Office with the weather reports.  You will be able to see that our pressure did a bit of a drop, from about 1005 hPa to 990hPa but not too sharp and then it rose again and steadied somewhat.  The drop in pressure is what has brought our current  bout of weather,  which in turn has resulted in a lack  of sleep on Friday night and the way it is just now I think that tonight is not going to be very good either.  The Wise Owl is currently clinging to his perch.

Sunday is a day when weekly chores are carried out.  Living on board the James Clark Ross is no different to living at home,  clothes need to be cleaned and The Wise Owl is having a look in one of the three laundries on board.  The more exciting thing about my laundry day was doing the ironing in my cabin,  as there was a bit of motion to make the process just a little bit more difficult.  The Captain carries out his weekly inspection on a Sunday morning and all the cabins and work areas get an extra clean and this helps to keep the ship in the good condition that she is in after twenty five years of working in the remote parts of the world.

It is not only rock that is dredged up from the depths.  This coral (including what looks like a tiny Christmas tree on the rock) was part of the 750m dredge and is of interest to the biologists on board.

The Wise Owl and I would like to wish you all a MERRY CHRISTMAS and hope that you have a lovely holiday period.

11th December 2016:

Since the update last week there has been little to report from on board the James Clark Ross,  with our visit to the Falkland Islands being somewhat brief and also very hectic and busy.  As well as all the cargo work that was carried out,  the ship loaded fresh stores for the current cruise and the last thing that we did was to take on bunkers,  or fuel,  at the military port.  I think we loaded 450 cubic metres (this is the way that we measure fuel,  unlike in your car when you measure the amount of fuel in litres).  A cubic metre of fuel is 1,000 litres,  so the ship therefore loaded 450,000 litres.  In fact the Chief Engineer,  who is responsible for the fuel on board,  tells me that the exact figure was 450,001 litres!  The Wise Owl seems to think that the average car will take about 50 litres of fuel to fill up from empty and so wonders how many cars we could fill with the fuel that we loaded in the Falkland Islands?

With little to report on I thought I would visit Helen,  who is sailing with us as the ship's doctor.  She insisted in checking out The Wise Owl and I am delighted to report that he is very well.  The JCR has to carry a doctor when working in the Antarctic and Helen actually sailed from the UK in September and will remain on board until May 2017,   so she has a very long time here. 

I also visited the Cool Specimen Room,  which is a large walk in fridge that the scientists use to work on samples that need to be kept chilled.  Sophie,  who is holding The Wise Owl is the Principle Scientific Officer,  also known as the Chief Scientist.  Her role is an important one as she is responsible for all the scientific work that is carried out whilst she is on board.  Science cruises can take several years to plan and all eventualities have to be covered.  With Sophie is Gabi,  one of the science team who has sailed as the Principle Scientific Officer in the past.  The Cool Spec Room is just a chilly lab and it is not uncommon to see laptops and computers set up in here to help with the processing of the data.

On a more exciting note I have just come in from the Bridge and watching some whales.  The area that we are heading to just now is known for the number of whales that seem to gather there at about this time of the year.  Sadly the whales today have been a bit too far away to get any good photographs,  but I am hopeful that the time will come when they do get close enough.

The weather since sailing has been good but sadly it has been changing during the course of the day,  with the wind picking up which in turn means that the state of the sea has changed from a nice flat calm to a somewhat lumpy state (the latter is not a technical term) and I think we may be in for a  few days of rocking and rolling.

4th December 2016:

Just because the James Clark Ross is parked in Stanley (that is not a technical description!) and I am not writing my Daily Update does not mean that I am not writing the update  for Kilkeel.  The Wise Owl insists that I do so,  for a number of reasons not least of which is that  I forgot to include something in the last update.

As you will,  I hope,  recall one of the regular science tasks is the deployment of the CTD (Conductivity,  Temperature and Depth) often to great depth.  On the report from 20th November The Wise Owl asked if you thought that pressure would increase or decrease with depth.  The answer is that the pressure increases and is very,  very powerful.  It is amazing that there are fish and beasts that can survive at depths of thousands of metres below the surface.

An example of pressure can be seen with a polystyrene cup,  which is used to keep the contents hot.  The reason that the cup has good thermal properties is that the polystyrene is made up of many particles with air between,  and it is the air that helps to insulate.  When put under a lot of pressure,  in this case to a depth of over 4,000m,  all the air is forced out and the end result is the same cup but now much smaller.  Anything that is drawn or written upon it,  remains but in  a shrunken form. 

The JCR arrived in the Falkland Islands on Saturday morning and no sooner had we tied up,  had a spot of breakfast,  than the hatches were opened and cargo work commenced.  Due to not arriving at Rothera as planned has meant that some of the cargo that should have been put ashore is needed urgently and this has to be located,  to then be flown south on the BAS Dash7 aircraft,  which I think will be flying on Monday.

Just across the bridge that separates FIPASS (the berth that the ship is tied to) is the Seaman's Missions and on Saturday lunchtime I nipped across to see Maurice and Debbie Lake,  who came out to the Falklands from Kilkeel.  They had worked here before they moved to Kilkeel and it is lovely to see them back in the islands.  The Mission is a welcoming place for all seafarers and offers assistance to those that might need it.  One of the reasons that I visit is to see Marlon......

The Wise Owl outside the Seaman's Mission in the Falkland Islands.

I don't often appear in photos but as I had to keep a firm grip on The Wise Owl as he meets Marlon,  who was very kind and gentle with him.  Marlon is very playful.

I promise you that Marlon was very gentle with The Wise Owl during our visit.

Maurice and Debbie with The Wise Owl at the Seaman's Mission.  One nice thing about the Mission is that as a seafarer one gets a free cup of tea,  which is perfect for me.  On my visit on Saturday Debbie had been making sausage rolls,  so I managed to have one of those too.

The Wise Owl has heard that you took part in a Santa Walk and that  this was also linked to the Mission to Seaman and was very impressed with your efforts.

If all goes to plan the James Clark Ross will sail later this week and head to the east,  to the South Sandwich Islands and South Georgia.  The South Sandwich Islands are in the news at the moment as three of the islands are currently very active volcanoes and I hope that we may get to see some interesting sights.  Whilst in the vicinity of South Georgia I would hope to see some of the wonderful wildlife that lives on and around the island.

27th November 2016:

I had hoped to have lots of lovely pictures for the update this weekend with the ship due to have arrived at Rothera Base,  at the bottom of Adelaide Island,  but sadly that is not the case.  There is a lot of sea ice between our position today and the base,  some sixty or so miles away.  This morning the Captain made his way into the ice,  which was 10/10th pack,  which means there was a lot,  and due to the pressure on the ice it was closing up behind us immediately.  This is not good and so we turned around and headed out into the nearby open water and as I write this update on Sunday afternoon,  that is where we are.  Waiting.

As can be seen from the display of our main navigational GPS system the ship is well inside the Antarctic Circle.  It is amazing how little time the James Clark Ross actually spends in Antarctica,  with a lot of our time spent further north.  Having said that it is all classed as Antarctica,  or sub-Antarctica.  The Wise Owl is happy to be back south but a little sad that we have not managed to make it to the base,  where there are lots of things to both see and do.

Sadly the contrast today has not been very good and so whilst The Wise Owl is very clear in this picture,  the ice and land behind him are not.  Adelaide Island is a large island but when cloud covered and with poor contrast it is very difficult to see.  The Wise Owl was wondering if you can find out any information on contrast and what effect it can have on people travelling in snow covered regions.

This picture is of the James Clark Ross entering the pack ice  this morning.  With the open water and very dark 'water sky' behind us it was of great concern the speed with which the ice was closing in behind us.  Water sky is a very good way of looking for patches of open water when working pack ice.  It will only be present when there is cloud cover to reflect the water colour.  It it were ice behind us then the sky would be a very bright white and this is called 'ice blink'.

Pack ice is an excellent place to spot wildlife,  with large numbers of seals hauled out and having a snooze.  When a large red and white ship passes us by they tend to just look up and once satisfied that we are not trying to eat them,  return to their slumbers.  I have seen a few penguins swimming past us during the day but sadly have not managed to get any pictures.  These are crabeater seals.

This was the view when the ship headed into the to the horizon! 


20th November 2016:

It is Sunday afternoon,  I have just enjoyed lunch,  am sitting down to make a start on the update from the last week.  The weather is as good as it can get for this part of the world, with the James Clark Ross sitting in the middle of the Drakes Passage,  a place that one really is not advised to sit in.  This area is between the tip of South America and the Antarctic Peninsula and is notorious for bad weather.  Not just bad,  but horrendous.  Today it is almost flat calm and the sun is beaming down on us from a lovely blue sky.  I have a feeling that this may not last long as we are expecting a bit of a blow from the west (this is the direction that the weather always comes from) and that once it does arrive,  the sea will pick up and before long the JCR will be tossed around like a cork. 

Last Sunday the ship arrived at Signy Island.  This is a tiny island that sits off of Coronation Island and is part of the South Orkney Islands.  Once it was the site of a whaling station,  but that is long gone and all that is there now is a BAS research station.  Whilst there is a small jetty there,  it is not possible for the JCR to get alongside and so the only way ashore is via small boat or the cargo tender. 

The Wise Owl safely perched on the cargo tender heading into Signy Island.  It is a short run,  perhaps ten minutes or so,  and the weather was very kind to us the day we travelled with a nice calm sea.  Sometimes it can be a bit of a rough ride.

Once ashore it was direct to the small kitchen for a cup of tea.  The base can accommodate up to eight people but we left only five,  so a large kitchen is not required.   However, during the ship visit there were up to thirty people ashore to assist with getting everything open and working for the summer season.  Hot food was sent ashore from the ship for all the meals,  which made it much easier than having to cook for large numbers or having to go back to the ship to eat.

It being a scientific research station there is a laboratory for the scientists to work in with the samples that they have collected.  During our visit the room was being used to store equipment brought ashore and this will all be sorted now that the ship has departed,  leaving the lab available for science.

The Wise Owl sitting on an old mooring bollard with a fur seal in the background.  Fur seals may look cute and cuddly but rest assured they are not and as a general rule the males are only interested in growling at you and wanting to take a nice bit out of your leg!  They are best avoided and this is as close as I would want to get to one.  Sadly it was the only seal that was near the base on Tuesday and I did not see a single penguin,  with most being around the coast at large colonies.  Hopefully I will see more penguins and seals when we get to Rothera next week.

The Wise Owl on the shoreline at Signy Island.

The Wise Owl was wondering if you know the Latitude and Longitude of Signy Island?  Also,  can you find the Latitude of the Antarctic Circle?  Signy is not in Antarctica but is a sub-Antarctic island.  Next week I hope to be writing the update from Rothera,  which is further south and inside the Antarctic Circle.  To get there we may well have to break through some pack ice,  the base is currently blocked in by sea ice,  which has formed over the winter months.  We are hoping that some bad weather,  forecast to arrive in the next few days,  will help to break up this ice and make our journey to the base easier.  The Captain is studying both the weather and ice charts on a daily basis and using the information that they provide to decide on the best route to take.  It could be an exciting week ahead.

Before we get to the base the ship is completing a series of scientific stations,  which you will be able to read about in the Daily Updates.  This involves lowering the CTD (Conductivity,  Temperature and Depth) frame down to depths of over 4km (although the first one was just 155m).  Samples of water are then collected as it returns to the surface.    Do you think that water pressure increases or decreases the deeper one goes into the ocean?


13th November 2016:

The James Clark Ross finally departed the Falkland Island for the short,  about 630 nautical miles, trip to Signy Island.  Signy Island is a small island that sits off of Coronation Island (a very large island) that forms part of the South Orkney Islands.

A screenshot from our electronic chart system showing where Signy Island is in relation to the Falkland Islands and the route that was taken to get us there.  It took a bit longer that hoped to make the passage due to some bad weather,  which hit us on departure from the Falklands.  The good news is that for the nest few nights it should be calm on board as we will not be trying to make a passage against any weather.

When I first went to see,  a number of years ago,  there was no internet or email,  Facebook and Twitter were unheard of and much of the communication from a ship was done via Morse Code and telex.  With a  Radio Officer on  a ship Morse was the cheapest option and messages could be sent to a ship anywhere in the world.  One of the most famous Coast Stations was called Portishead Radio,  located on the River Severn and was a station that I worked from Antarctica.  Often people think of Morse as Dots and Dashes but this is in fact not the case.  Audible Morse consists of three sounds.  A Dot actually sounds like 'dit' on it's own or when it is the last character,  but when it is the first character or in the middle of a group it sounds like 'di'.  With a dash sounding like a 'dah'  the end result is you may get something like this:

F (which is dot dot dash dot) but actually sounds as dididahdit.  The letter I is dot dot and so sound as didit.  A dash equals three dots and letters have a dot gap spacing and words have a dash spacing.

The Wise Owl with Signy Island in the background.  The base here is a summer only one,  which means that it was closed at the end of the last season (in late March from memory) and has been unoccupied since.  A lot of work now has to be done to get it up and running,  although a good sign was that the generators started soon after we had people ashore.  All being well The Wise Owl will get ashore in the next day or two and I hope to have a fuller update next week.  Being the first day at the base it has been very busy and I have not had a lot of time to either take pictures or write about life on board

The Wise Owl was wondering if you are able to find out any more information about Signy Base?

28th October 2016:   

The Wise Owl getting a P7 send-off from Kilkeel

I am delighted to report that The Wise Owl has arrived safely in Scotland,  along with a lovely keyring and a paper model,  for his next adventure on board the Royal Research Ship James Clark Ross.

The Wise Owl reading a Marine Newspaper article on the keel laying of the new research ship RRS Sir David Attenborough.

Our flights are now booked and the next stage of the journey will take us by car to RAF Brize Norton,  which is near to Oxford,  on Wednesday 2nd November.  I will be stopping off in Sunderland to collect Richard,  the ship's Purser (who takes very good photos).  The flight is due to leave at 23:00 and the first leg will take us to Ascension Island,  just south of the Equator.   Following a short stop to refuel the second leg will then be to the Falkland Islands,  landing at RAF Mount Pleasant,  from where it is about an hour on a coach to Stanley,  the capital.

Pic Google Maps.

The above map gives a rough idea of the route taken,  although does not include the stop in Ascension.  The first leg to Ascension is about 3,600 Nautical Miles with the second leg to the Falklands being about 3,400 Nautical Miles.

The Wise Owl wonders if you know what the difference is between a Nautical Mile and a Statute Mile?

My understanding is that we will have two days in Stanley before we all join the Royal Research Ship James Clark Ross and the start of our exciting adventure south to Antarctica.

When the ship departs Stanley it will head to the Signy Island where the British Antarctic Survey have a small summer base,  which has been closed during the winter months and we will be opening.  This is a hectic time as we have to make sure that everything is working correctly before then heading to Rothera Base,  located on Adelaide Island and inside the Antarctic Circle.

Once The Wise Owl has made himself at home in my cabin I will provide further details of life on board the James Clark Ross.