Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Mess room

30 January 2008
7:30 am GMT
Overcast but bright with lively sea

The food on the Shackleton is superb. There is always a selection of nice things to eat at breakfast, lunch, dinner and even snacks in between. At breakfast there is always a cooked English breakfast option with black pudding (although to some it is not an option), yoghurts, cereals and fruit. At lunch and dinner there is always a selection of about three cooked meals plus salads, cold meats, breads and cheeses etc. There is always a selection of yummy puddings too. It’s very simple – you just go up to the servery with a plate and help yourself to whatever you want. Its all delicious too! They must be proud of what they do.

The Chefs are very talented and creative. As little food as possible goes to waste (as should be the case). For example, left over roast meats are turned into stews, and left over fajita breads are combined with other dishes to create cheesy type wraps with sweet-corn and peppers.

What strikes me is how modest the chefs are with their work. For example, once when I was making a cup of tea, I saw one of the chefs making something with the hot water. I asked him what it was and he said ‘soup’. I said ‘lovely’ and asked him what kind of soup he was making and he said ‘same old shite soup!’ A humbling moment.

In addition to all the food there are tea, coffee and soft drinks facilities available round the clock. Around this deck, in the lounges and TV room there are also a number of fridges containing goodies like beer, cokes and confectionary etc. My favourite is in the TV room. The fridge there is jam packed full of chocolate. It’s not free - you have to sign out what you take on a ‘tick sheet’, but it’s there (and its learnt my name). Three days in to the voyage and it has already been completely re-stocked. I’m not saying it’s all my doing but I hope I don’t go through the sea ice when we get to Halley.

Tomorrow I am on ‘Gash’ which means I will be spending a lot of the day washing dishes, cleaning tables and floors, and generally helping to keep the servery, mess room and lounges stocked up and clean and tidy. You never know – with a bit of luck I might learn some cooking skills! Andy Cheatle is down there at the moment. I’ll go down and see how he is doing. I was going to play a prank and take my laundry down to him – but on second thoughts I’d better not.

P.s. The ship is really moving about now and its getting colder!!!.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Passage to Halley

The Way List
The route to Halley

28 January 2008

Just a quickie – I popped up onto the bridge to check that someone was steering the ship. I met the Chief Officer Andy Newman who kindly confirmed that an officer was always in attendance and they did have a plan to get to Halley. He showed me the ‘way list’ and the proposed route to get to Halley on the navigational screen. Normally the ship’s route is as the crow flies, but on this journey they were required to take some sea bed readings at two locations for scientific purposes. As a result, the route had a number of small direction changes. The total journey should take a maximum of 14 days (yikes). I took photos of the way list and navigational screen and commented that although we were not in a position to approve these proposals, we had no adverse comments to make at this point. This was followed by a clear case of humour failure and I felt it best to leave the bridge. I guess it must be an Architectural joke.

Later the Captain told us that today we are at about 41 deg S and that we might start to spot sea birds from now on. Also the first Antarctic icebergs might be visible at around 47 deg S. At 50 deg S we meet the ‘Convergence’ where the Atlantic and Southern Oceans. This is where I will be sick again but after that it should be a lot smoother sailing (phew).

The RRS Ernest Shackleton

The control panels in the Wheel House on Bridge Level 3
Elevation of the RRS Ernest Shackleton grabbed from Google inages

28 January 2008
About 41 deg S

The RRS Ernest Shackleton was built in 1995 and is approximately 80m long. It is arranged on three bridge decks, three service decks and two engine room decks. Each deck has a different coloured ceiling to help you orientate around the ship:

From the top there is the bridge deck level three, which contains the main bridge and wheelhouse, where all of the navigation and steering of the ship is done. It’s the place in the ship where the best views from inside can be gained because of the continuous angled windows all the way round. It is one large open planned space with screens, illuminated banks of control buttons (some of which flash), and coffee making facilities. I can’t help thinking how much it reminds me of the Starship Enterprise bridge, but that probably demonstrates just how few ships bridges I have been on.

Below bridge level three is bridge level two. Here are the cabins for the core of the ship’s crew, including the Captain, Chief engineer and Comms Engineer. Conveniently for the officers it is also the level at which the life boats are housed. You have to be quiet on this level as the crew are always sleeping - actually I mean to say there are always some crew members sleeping.

On Bridge level one, below that, are the cabins for the main crew and other important people.
Below this is Deck A. Here are the remaining crew members (including stewards, cooks, engineers), ourselves (Andy and I) and some of the steward’s stores. This is also the level at which you would board the Shackleton from the dock side. Most of the cabins have views out but some are positioned within the ship and do not have a port hole window. Further back from this area are the hatch doors to the cargo holds and right at the back, elevated, is a helipad. We are currently not carrying a helicopter, but a Caterpillar D9.

Below this is B deck where the lounges (smoking and non smoking) and tv room and bar are. It also has the galley and mess room. This is all situated towards the front of the ship. Towards the middle is the upper level of the main cargo hold, the aft cargo hold behind that, and the rear open deck right at the back (under the helipad). At the back here are also the wet and dry science labs.

C deck is below this contains a laundry, freezers for food, main and aft cargo holds, the gym, badminton court claimed from an empty space in the hold, sauna and electrical and mechanical engineering work shops.

At the bottom of the ship are the upper and lower ‘Tank Top’ decks. These contain the lower cargo hold, engine rooms, generators, heat exchangers, fuel stores, fore and aft thrusters and retractable vertical azimuth. The Chief Engineer told us that the engines are rated at 2 x 4.4MW. There are four generators. The cycle speed of the drive from the engines is 720 rpm which is reduced to 160 for the propellers. These are set at 73 degrees (but to what I’m not sure. The vertical I imagine – at this point my head was beginning to spin from the data). The fore and aft thrusters allow the Shackleton to position itself accurately at a point (such as against the sea ice), assisted by the retractable vertical azimuth which also enables the ship to keep moving forward if the propellers fail.

All this, with its ice-strengthened hull adds to a ship which is well prepared for Antarctic waters, and therefore it is not surprising that this ship was assembled in Norway!

The best places to be are (apart from in the mess room where the food is), standing on the monkey deck which is the roof of the wheelhouse, in the wheelhouse itself, or outside on the A deck. Sunbathing on top of the main hold doors is highly recommended when it is sunny and we are not too far south (something I have not done of course because I am busy working - honest)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

My orange boiler suit

My orange boiler suit
Sunday 27 January 2008
On board the RRS Ernest Shackleton

Andy and I went into the hold this morning to collect our BAS kit bags. With excitement we opened them in our cabins and checked out the goodies. In particular I was eager to find my BAS orange boiler suit. This piece of clothing is almost iconic in BAS circles. It’s what all the crew members wear on site at Halley and defines you as a true Antarctic inhabitant. With my cool orange and black BAS kit bag (sporting the British flag) I found the following:

1 No. pair of steel toe capped snow boots with 2 No. pairs of thermal linings. (I swapped my size 11's for Andy's size 13's. I thought the extra size treads might give more traction in the snow)

2 No. orange boiler suits with thermal padding; (HOORAY!!) one L and one XL, (XL for days when I have a fried breakfast). Both with 'Extreme Team' written on the back (Cool!) and with bright pink internal linings (bonus!)

1 No. Black boiler suit again with 'Extreme Team' written on the back (Excellent)

1 No. pair of snow goggles which fit over...

1 No. cool pair of 'Julbo' sunglasses (with both on you really have to be outside)

1 No. UV resistant drinks bottle (for UV intolerant drinks)

2 No. XL Lowe Alpine thermal vests (I can definitely have some more fried breakfasts)

2 No. XL green Lowe Alpine thermal tops (and the food on the ship is great)

2 No. XXXL green thermal long-johns (They do black pudding in the mornings too!)

1 No. Fleece coat XXS (I think I'll ignore that one)

1 No. orange hard hat with fleece lining and ear covers (for days when I'm working I guess)

2 No. neck mufflers - one blue and one pink (the pink is very fetching)

1 No. fleece balaclava (normally used in winter I understand)

5 No. pairs of thermal socks (lets hope I can last without losing any)

1 No. pair of thermal inner gloves

3 No. pairs of outer gloves - one thermal and two working. (I think I prefer the thermal ones - you can hold a pen better with them)

1 No. hat with Morrison Construction on one side and BAS on the other (This will prove very useful for declaring which camp I subscribe to on site)

2 No. towels (BAS blue)

2 No. pairs of moleskin working trousers waist 38R. Perfect fit (Well there goes all the fried breakfasts - back on the salads)

So, now I am all kitted out for work in the Antarctic! Once I get all this on I might look a bit mis-shapen, but at least I’m now in possession of two famous boiler suits. I’ve been wearing them around the ship to get accustomed to them, but I really should wait until we reach icy waters. It’s still twenty-something degrees here and you get hot very quickly inside of one.

First photos

V&A waterfront: Our pad in the background
The RRS Ernest Shackleton waiting to go
Leaving Cape Town
Our cabin - home for about 2 weeks

Sea sickness

27 January 2008
On board the Shackleton
Heading south
Sunny with a little cloud (nice sun bathing weather)

One hour - one lousy hour from leaving Cape Town and I was in the toilet being sick! We hadn't even hit any rough sea. I went to bed yesterday afternoon at about 4:30 and slept almost solidly until 7 this morning.

Now I am armed with tablets, a sea sickness patch and travel bands. Today I am feeling alot better but the ship has slowed down a bit and I think we are running at a normal pace. (On the way out they were testing the full capacity of the engines which was why the ship was moving about alot more - well that's my excuse to be ill). We have been warned of more serious weather in a day or so.

I'm not sure if the remedies actually work or if they just give you something to take your mind off the sea sickness: Tablets make you drowsy, patches give you blurred vision and a dry mouth and travel bands leave grooves in your wrists, but I guess they must be working because I feel almost normal today.

There are some tips that I have been told and some I have quickly picked up which also help:

tip: stand on deck and focus on the horizon
experience: don't stand next to the generator exhaust

tip: take in some sea air
experience: don't stand on the edge of the deck facing into the wind and wearing loose fitting glasses when the ship hits a big wave

tip: take some light exercise (I think this means walking around the deck)
experience: do not try to play badminton in the ship's hold, especially against the crew. You will not only become very ill but loose badly too

tip: go to bed, darken the cabin, close your eves and drift with the ship
experience: no problem - and it keeps me out of trouble

There are advantages to sickness. Despite the fried breakfasts and the abundance of food available every day, you can't help loosing weight. The crew call it the Shackleton diet.

Got to go now and collect my BAS kit bag and see David Bailey about the talk on the ship (which I missed yesterday)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

About to go

Saturday 26 January 2008
Quay 6
V&A Waterfront Marina
Cape Town

We are on board the RRS Ernest Shackleton. It’s 11.05 South African time. All crew are to be back on the ship by 12 noon and the ship leaves at 1pm! I’m in the ship’s cabin with Andy Cheatle (the M&E services contractor for the Halley VI build) and we are both waiting with anticipation and expectation to set sail. It’s been a bit of a wait. We expected the ship to leave on Tuesday 22 January, but missing parts for the generators held us up.

It’s getting exciting and it will be a relief to get going, but on the process of getting to site we have to cross one of the worst waters in the world – the Southern Ocean and the Weddell Sea! It will take between 10 and 12 days to reach Halley from Cape Town (god willing) and all reports and feedback from people who have done this crossing on the Shackleton say we are in for an interesting ride. It will be a real test of our sea legs. On the one hand the route can be very choppy, and on the other hand the Shackleton ‘bobbs about alot’.

I am prepared with three months supply of Stugeron and there are more serious sea sickness patches on the ship. We are reliably informed that a great help is to understand the rhythm of the ship’s movement and so anticipate the movement. Apparently the nose of the ship leads a figure of eight. Just in case I have a secret supply of plastic bags next to me, as there is only one loo in the cabin and there are two of us sharing. We have also been advised to strap down or stow all possessions in the cabin. There is the danger that concern about sea sickness leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy and I don’t want that this to happen. I’m going to do everything I can to beat it. (But then I get motion sickness on a London bus and I am feeling a bit queasy while we are sitting here in dock).

The progress of the Shackleton can be seen on the BAS web site at:

Click on the web cam option to see the latest conditions. The BAS web site also tracks progress of the build at Halley where there is also a web cam:

11.30 now – going to check what the latest is on the ship.

Friday, January 25, 2008

First entry

First entry for AJ Blog
25 January 2008
Cape Town, South Africa
Sunny, +35 to 38 deg C

For the past three and a half years we have been working continuously on the Halley VI Antarctic Research Station for the British Antarctic Survey. It has certainly been a tough project from the start and we have had some really difficult hurdles to cross to help ensure the project reached this stage. Time has flown by so fast I dare not blink. The Halley VI project has been an inspirational adventure and promises to continue to be so. Most of my time has been spent developing cladding details and interfaces with glazing, steelwork, services and internal finishes to ensure that the cold and snow is kept out, the warmth is kept in and that everything fits together snugly. This has been a real adventure and a great amount of fun because, despite the fact that this is one of the life critical areas of the project, most of the design has been developed from scratch. We’ve been playing with glass reinforced plastic (GRP) cladding panels, structural GRP support systems for large glazed walls, complicated and expensive curved glazed roof lights, cladding brackets made out of silicone blocks, nanogel technology and silicone rubber gasketry just to mention a few things.

The project has also taken us all over the world in pursuit of people with cast iron nerves, willing to tackle a project like this, and supply us with all our bespoke components. The inter-modular ‘train’ connectors have been sent from Derbyshire. Much of the glazing has come from Holland and Germany. The steelwork and cladding are being made in Cape Town, South Africa. It’s been a joy to work with people who can plug into an idea and creatively help work a solution through. Now all our efforts are coming to a head and we step back from the coal face to see the wider picture of what we have contributed to: Two mock up modules at an industrial yard in Cape Town in November 2007 herald the beginning of a much bigger task to actually build Halley VI on its ice shelf home. Although we have been up and down the world, nothing feels so daunting as the prospect of heading to site in Antarctica! The contractors are currently there and incredibly busy putting it together. They are now about half way in to the first build season. Tomorrow it’s my turn to join the crew on site. We set sail with the RSS Ernest Shackleton from Cape Town heading south-west to Halley and should hopefully be there in ten days...and then comes the really exciting part of putting the base together.

My role this build season is to be resident site Architect. My deal, I think, is really good: I have the roles and responsibilities of the site Architect, pretty much as set down in the Architect’s Job Book (7th edition, December 2000, pp 213-255), but because labour resources are limited, and construction deadlines are absolutely fixed, I have to pick up a podger and help the guys put the components together. Fantastic! It brings back fond memories of working with steel crews on building sites in Gateshead when I was 18. I tell you this project has everything. I’m looking forward to the cold, the food, the atmosphere, the camaraderie, the team spirit, the isolation, the sense of urgency to complete on time, even the sea sickness – the whole experience. It’s not an opportunity that comes around every day and it’s something to talk about for ever.

In our imaginations and aspirations we have always seen Halley with bright, white, pristine snow-scapes, blue skies and biting cold winds. Even if the reality is not as idealistic as this, I can’t wait to get there and experience it.