Chilling with the penguins in Antarctica
Sailors and Royal Marines aboard the Royal Navy’s ice ship HMS Protector have been getting to know the penguins of the Antarctic as they begin their season supporting scientists studying the frozen continent.
The Devonport-based icebreaker is on a five-year mission to make Antarctic waters safer for ships to navigate seas and to help our understanding of the unique icy environment.
She had to smash her way through ice to reach the British Antarctic Survey base at Port Lockroy, located on an island off the Antarctic peninsula around 900 miles from the Falklands.
The isolated base is home to the southernmost post office in the world and an enormous colony of Gentoo penguins.
Protector’s crew offloaded more than two and a half tonnes of supplies for the scientists – work which had to take place without disturbing the colony as the birds enjoy right of way at Port Lockroy.
Mission complete, Protector headed north for Deception Island, a popular destination for all cruise ships operating around Antarctica: it’s the only active
volcano on the planet which you can sail into, with a narrow gap for entry and exit.
“It’s a truly breathtaking location – and a unique loc- ation for those on board,” said Captain Marc RodriguesBernet, an Army officer who’s acting as Protector’s linguist/interpreter.
“We spent two days encircled by a halo of volcanic rock.”
A few of the ship’s company went ashore for a walk on the black earth and encounter the seal population – for some this was their first experience of Antarctica – hydrographic experts took numerous readings and Protector’s dive team braved the cold to perform a practice plunge in near-sub-zero waters.
“This is the furthest I have ever travelled from home and the snow and animals are extremely pretty,” said sub lieutenant Hannah Crowson of the Protector experience.
From Deception, the ship headed north via Ester Harbour in the South Sandwich Islands to Elephant Island, where legendary explorer Ernest Shackleton and his men sheltered after their ship Endeavour was crushed in the ice in 1916.
Today’s sailors and marines held probably the most southerly act of remembrance for those killed in the Great War, in particular the three members of Shackleton’s party who survived their ordeal on the ice only to be killed serving King and country.
“Every one of the ship’s company is aware of how fortunate they are to be on this ship, carrying out exhilarating work in otherwiseunreachable areas, but that pales in comparison with the gratitude we owe the World War One generation,” Captain Rodrigues-Bernet added.
Top, some of the crew of HMS Protector try to find safe passage through the ice at Port Lockroy; above from left, LPT David ClaytonCharlesworth; friendly penguins; HMS Protector off the coast of Elephant Island