No more hammocks and baths once a week!

13 June, 2018

With most of the RRS Sir David Attenborough’s hull built, and the final block Block 51 – the accommodation and Bridge – almost complete, ship Communication Officer Mike Gloistein pays a visit to Cammell Laird to check out progress on the new polar research ship for Britain.

Since starting my career in 1990 on board the RRS Bransfield I have seen the introduction of both the RRS James Clark Ross and the RRS Ernest Shackleton to the BAS operation.  Later this year I will be joining our new ship, the RRS Sir David Attenborough.

Next generation of polar ship

Since joining the British Antarctic Survey I have seen many changes in the ship operations team, which is responsible for planning logistics and enabling cutting edge science.  The introduction of the RRS Sir David Attenborough is the next generation of polar ship that will bring a number of improvements, some very minor and others more major, both for the scientists who will sail on the ship but also for the crew who will be operating it.

The RRS Sir David Attenborough is very different to previous BAS vessels.  She will be longer and wider (her dimensions are: Length 128m, width 24m and will displace 15,000 gross tonnes).

graphic of ships
The RRS Sir David Attenborough is much larger than existing polar ships operated by BAS

She will have two propellers and four thrusters, which should give enhanced position keeping for scientific work.  The labs will be spacious and she will have a moon pool (this is basically a hole, 4x4m, through the centre of the ship through which science equipment can be deployed).  As an old fashioned sailor I am not sure how keen I am on this last point.

The accommodation will be more spacious and comfortable than on the James Clark Ross and there will just be a single room for messing, which will make it a little less formal than in the days when uniforms had to be worn by the officers and a shirt and tie was required for the scientists.  It will allow all on board to mix during meal times, often a great way to get to know new scientists, catch up with those who have sailed with us previously and learn more about the work being carried out on each voyage.

photo of ship interior
The saloon onboard the RRS Sir David Attenborough taking shape

Cammell Laird busy with the construction

The build is funded by the UK Government and a lengthy process took place to determine the ‘Statement of Requirements’ from which tenders were then put forward by companies for the actual build process.  The final design is by Rolls Royce Marine and the ship is currently under construction at Cammell Laird, Birkenhead, on the banks of the River Mersey.

Since the keel was laid in 2017 the yard has been busy with the construction.  When I visited in early May 2018 all the blocks that make up the hull were in place and the final block, Block 51 – the accommodation and Bridge, was almost completed.  This final block can not be fitted until the hull has been launched in summer 2018.

The bow of the new polar ship is complete

Once in the water the hull will be moved to a dry dock so that the final block can be put in place.  When this is done, the inside of the ship can be fitted out, with cabins and public spaces (currently just empty metal boxes) finished to the high standard that is expected in the 21st century.  No more hammocks and baths once a week!