Journey South, Part 1

Hi everyone!

Taking the opportunity that I have a bit of time, a working Internet connection and a few pictures and ideas for this article, I thought it’s a perfect time for an update!

This article begins the series of maybe two or three parts which will describe my journey South. Please continue after the break!

Cape Town

About 10 days ago we’ve arrived to Cape Town after a 12 hours flight from London Heathrow on the Virgin Atlantic aircraft. The flight wasn’t so bad other than I had a dad with a little baby behind me who kept kicking the back of my seat pretty much throughout the whole night, and some 10-12 years old girl to my side, who decided to kick me a few times while she was asleep. Surrounded by kids, I managed to survive though! 

We got picked up in Cape Town by the local BAS representative and we were brought to the Waterfront, the harbour and our ship – the RRS Ernest Shackleton. 

RRS Ernest Shackleton in Cape Town

RRS Ernest Shackleton

RRS Ernest Shackleton


We were prepared (and scheduled) to leave Cape Town the same day, however as we were soon to find out, we’d be stuck there for another almost two days as there was some technical issue with one of the anchor winches that had to be fixed before we could leave. Cape Town is a nice place to be stuck in, though, so no complaints!

The four of us — the science team: Julian, Octavian, William and myself — decided to take a bus tour from the Aquarium, through the city and all the way up to the cable car to the Table Mountain. It’s a very interesting and quite a pretty city I must say and the view from Table Mountain is just spectacular! We then took the cable car down and hopped on the bus to finish the tour around the city and got back to the harbour for some food. We had what they call a safari platter in a restaurant called Karibou and man it was nice. There must have been at least 7 types of grilled / barbecued meat and I’ve never eaten any of it before. Then it was back to the ship for a quick shower and out to the pub again. It was an early night for me as I was still tired after the flight, so I left the pub around 2300, got back on board, sent a quick email or two and crashed into bed.

The next day we had a practice drill in the morning after breakfast. We were meant to muster in the mess having brought warm clothes with us, and then were shown the way to the nearest life boat, put on the life vests and got into the life boat. It must be a horrible experience to be stuck inside for days… 

Then it was back into town, however we couldn’t really get anywhere far, as the shore leave was set for only two hours, and extended every two hours for another two as the engineers were working on fixing the anchor winch. 

We were finally been able to leave for Antarctica on Wednesday, after the winch finally got fixed. The whole day has been all about waiting though: waiting for the pilot to move from our current berth to the commercial harbour so we can go through Immigration, then waiting for the buses to bring us to the Immigration, then waiting at Immigration in a long queue, then back again to the Shack and again, waiting for the pilot to leave the harbour. We finally left at around 1800 SAST (1600 UTC).

En route to Antarctica

We all fell quickly into the Ship’s routine. The Science Team (Julian, Octavian, Will and myself) started running the Met Observations, which is great as it gives us a good reason and an excuse to visit the bridge often and look at the sea, the birds and everything else that’s going on. I’ll probably write another article about the Met Observations soon. 

I’ve also had my first day of Gash. For those of you who don’t know, Gash is a help duty in the Galley and in the Mess (Galley – marine term for Kitchen; Mess – marine term for dining room). Basically it’s a full day of work, preparing the mess for a meal, cleaning common areas, dish washing, help in the kitchen with potato peeling, etc. It’s not so bad, actually, as it gives us something to do, although I must say I wouldn’t be able to do that every day. I’d go nuts! 

En route to Antarctica

En router to Antarctica

The typical day for me consists of: 

  • getting up for a Met Observation (around 0530 UTC); I do admit I don’t get up that early all the time – there is four of us to carry that task at the end of the day!
  • breakfast
  • reading, listening to music, working on pictures and some visits to the deck to look out for wildlife, icebergs and any other interesting things we might come across
  • go to the bridge for 1130 UTC for another Met Observation
  • lunch
  • more reading, deck visits, hanging around the bridge, etc
  • another Met Observation from 1730 UTC
  • dinner
  • time off
I’d throw in an occasional visit to the Gym and hopefully a sauna as well (I haven’t tried it yet here!).
During the first few days, while the weather was still very nice, I’d spend most of my time on the deck, looking at the views. We’ve seen quite a few sea birds and a nice Sun Halo: 
Sun Halo


Antarctic Convergence

On 15 December 2013, at around 2100 UTC, we crossed the Antarctic Convergence. We were now officially in the Southern Ocean!


Ice Bergs

The following day, 16 December 2013, I’ve also finally seen the first ever ice berg with my own eyes! It was quite far away and it was foggy at that time, so you could barely make out it’s shape on the horizon, but it was there! 

Over the next few hours and days there were many more that we encountered, however due to a dense fog and very limited visibility, we were only able to see a few of them:



The same day we also came very close to the most remote piece of land in the World – the island called Bouvetøya. Unfortunately due to the fog we weren’t able to see it, so I’ve taken a different picture of it instead (below):

Nav Chart



Tuesday, 17 of December marked the day with the sharpest atmospheric pressure drop I’ve ever seen. To give it a bigger context, we received some weather maps and forecasts which indicated there is a very low depression at the same latitude as we were (at that time we were around 55°S) and around 600 nautical miles to the west from us. The centre of the depression had a pressure of 952hPa. 

Throughout the day, as we were moving South and the cyclone was closing in on us, our recorded pressure dropped from 1002hPa on the 17/12/2013 at midnight UTC to 971.5hPa 24 hours later. This is a drop of 30hPa in 24 hours. 


The pressure kept dropping throughout most of the day on Wednesday, 18th as well and finally levelled off at 955hPa. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a low pressure. Remarkably though, the weather is rather nice, except for the dense fog! We have a northerly wind of about 15 knots (which at our course of 180° means it’s blowing from behind us in the same direction as we’re traveling, so we can’t nearly feel it), not a lot of swell (around 2m max) and generally mild and gentle conditions for travel!



60° South

Today, Wednesday 18 of December, we crossed the 60°S latitude. We are now in the Antarctic Treaty waters. Another milestone on the way to Antarctica. I’m also expecting for us to hit the sea ice either tomorrow or the day after – according to the sea ice maps we have, its edge is around 65°S in the area we’re going to hit it. 


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