27 January, 2016 RRS Ernest Shackleton
Ten days ago we left Cape Town on the RRS Ernest Shackleton bound for Antarctica. Today we hit the ice. And quite literally we are hitting the ice! The ship is ice strengthened and so as we’ve reached the sea ice, the ship is crunching its way through ice that’s up to 1 or 2 metres thick.
The sea freezes at -1.8 degrees centigrade and the Antarctic continent doubles in size during the austral winter. Antarctica is already 58 times the size of Great Britain, so these sizes are of epic proportions.
Despite it being the height of the Antarctic summer – we are enjoying 24 hours daylight. It’s lovely after the long, grey UK winter. And although it’s warmer now there is still plenty of sea ice.
The noise of the ship’s hull as it crunches through the ice is deafening wherever you are on the ship. The sound booms across the decks and the vibrations can knock you off your feet. It’s weird, eerie and as the ice slides and fizzes past my cabin window the sound gives me goose bumps.
BBC weather presenter Peter Gibbs is always busy. If he’s not being filmed doing a weather report, or doing a piece to camera, he’s interviewing the captain or on the phone to BBC London arranging his next radio or TV interview. Listen to his reports so far here on: BBC R4, BBC Weather.
The recent death of Henry Worsley shocked us all on the ship. His grandfather was the Captain of the ship the Endurance, on Sir Ernest Shackleton’s famous expedition 100 years ago. And we’re almost at the spot where the Endurance was crushed and consumed by the ice in 1915.
Just before we get to Halley we’ll see the Stancomb-Wills Glacier which was named by Ernest Shackleton after Dame Janet Stancomb Wills who was one of his main benefactors. By all accounts the explorer was a charming and charismatic man.
In 10 days we have seen no land or ships, only a few birds, the odd whale and, more recently, a few penguins. It’s a stark reminder of just how remote and isolated we are. And a realisation of how small we are in this beautiful, yet hostile wilderness. When I go on deck for 20-30 minutes to watch the ship battling through the ice (which I find strangely hypnotic), I lose the feeling in my nose, fingers and toes. But unlike Shackleton and his crew, I can pop back inside and warm up with a cup of tea.
In the next 12 hours we’ll arrive at the Brunt Ice Shelf and prepare to go ashore to Halley Research Station. We are all excited and there’s a slight feeling of anticipation about what lies ahead. We’ve all fallen in love with the ice with its incredible colour, shape and texture and secretly we don’t want to leave the ship which has so quickly become our new home and family while we are south.
Peter Gibbs wintered at Halley over 36 years ago. I can see that he’s excited. I think he’s also a bit nervous. I can’t wait to see his face when his feet finally hit the ice.