Ice Patrol

Friday 30 April, 8:00pm on Five

Concluding on Five this week is the documentary series exploring life on board the Royal Navy Antarctic ice patrol ship HMS Endurance.In the final instalment, disaster strikes the Endurance when a faulty valve bursts in the engine room and floods the ship with water. The crew spends a desperate night fighting to save the vessel from foundering in the Straits of Magellan. The HMS Enduranceis patrolling the Atlantic island of South Georgia. Executive Officer (XO) Tom Sharpe is in charge while Captain Gavin Pritchard is on leave. Tom’s latest job is to oversee a fine old navy tradition of having his crew grow beards for charity. “At the end of it there’ll be a judging session – best beard, worst beard, most ginger beard,” he explains. “I’m going for the most ginger.” Enduranceis due to embark on a 3,000-mile journey around Cape Horn to Valparaiso in Chile, where she will spend Christmas. Before leaving South Georgia, the company have a few hours to stretch their legs at the former Norwegian whaling station of Grytviken. In 1904, this town was home to around 300 men. All that remains today are the rusting machines that were once employed to strip whale meat. The sailors are impressed by the scale of the operation, but express their relief that such practices have been abandoned. As Endurancesets sail, Executive Warrant Officer Andy Pilbury commences his nightly inspection of the crew’s cabins. He is generally impressed by what he sees. “We’ve had some relatively calm weather down here, which is when the standards start to slip, because they take for granted that it’s secure,” he says. “It’s not that bad at all.” One of Andy’s jobs is to check on company morale, and he takes the time to chat to the sailors and joke about their beard-growing efforts. However, the joking soon stops for the crew of the Endurance. The ship has reached the Straits of Magellan at the southern tip of Chile when engineer Jack Russell begins what seems like a regular inspection. “We were carrying out routine maintenance more than anything else,” he recalls. “The next thing, all hell broke loose.” A valve burst in the engine room and flooded the ship with water. “I was just faced with an absolute wall of water – nothing like I’ve ever seen before in my life,” Jack says. As the crew began to pump water from the bowels of the ship, XO Tom Sharpe ordered everyone to emergency stations. “A flood in the engine room pipe being about the worst thing you can hear when you’re in command,” he says. Diver Carl ‘Tommo’ Thomas was charged with plugging the breach. “We were told, [if we] don’t isolate this, the ship is going down,” he recalls. But the crew was unable to fix the valve and Endurancesuddenly lost power. The ship was at the mercy of lashing waves and began to list dangerously in the water. Miraculously, Endurancedrifted towards the only sandbank in that part of the strait. The XO ordered his men to drop anchor in the hope that it would spin the ship around in the direction of the open sea, thus stabilising it against the waves. The manoeuvre succeeded and the crew then worked through the night to pump water until tug boats could come to the rescue. Fortunately, only one person was injured during the incident. Endurancewas eventually towed for 30 hours to the Chilean port of Punta Arenas. An MOD salvage team took charge of the effort to empty the flooded engine room. The water had reached the crew’s quarters on C-Deck, meaning that all of their personal belongings were ruined. “I’ve lost every single possession I had on board the ship,” says Able Seaman Dean ‘Buster’ Rhymer. Endurancewas eventually transported all the way back to Portsmouth, where Captain Pritchard hopes she will be fixed as good as new. “She’s a sturdy old campaigner and she’ll be back to life soon,” he says.

Friday 23 April, 8:00pm on Five

Continuing on Five this week is the documentary series exploring life on board the Royal Navy Antarctic ice patrol ship HMS Endurance.

In this instalment, the Endurancearrives at the rugged Atlantic island of South Georgia. CSgt ‘Daz’ Hope leads three marines on the Shackleton walk, a punishing trek over mountains and glaciers in the footsteps of the famous explorer.

Elsewhere, two scientists carry out field work by a mountain lake and the ship’s photographer conducts a survey of the island’s seal population. In the Falkland Islands, the HMS Enduranceloads up supplies prior to its mission to South Georgia. Deputy Logistics Officer Craig Hastings is there to make sure all the necessary foodstuffs are loaded. “Sausages – if we don’t have sausages on board, then the ship’s company tend to get a little upset,” he says. The Endurancewill be carrying a complement of 157, including members of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and the British Schools Exploring Society (BSES), and it needs up to 70 days’ worth of provisions.

With the captain on leave, Executive Officer Tom Sharpe is in charge of the ship. His first order of the day is to run a man-overboard drill. Unfortunately, muddled communications result in the crew taking nearly 40 minutes to retrieve the dummy from the choppy waters. The XO orders another drill for the next day. “We will have to do another one and we’ll have to do it a lot better than that,” he says.

Upon arrival at the remote island of South Georgia, the ship’s two Lynx helicopters begin ferrying the BAS and BSES parties ashore. A group of four marines led by Colour Sergeant Darren ‘Daz’ Hope is also making its way to the island. The marines plan to undertake the legendary Shackleton walk. In 1916, following the loss of his ship, explorer Ernest Shackleton and his party landed on South Georgia and crossed the uncharted interior of the island to reach a Norwegian whaling station on the other side.

The Shackleton walk is an annual rite of passage for the marines of the Endurance, although bad weather has foiled the last two attempts. Maps of the island are still sketchy and the four men face the combined hazards of wind, ice and crevasses – not to mention the 90lbs of kit they must carry. “There is danger in what they’re about to do, make no mistake,” says Tom Sharpe. “They’re very conscious of that and extremely well prepared for it.” Daz and his boys brave gusting winds as they climb a glacier. Reaching the top of the 4,400ft Trident range, they eschew Shackleton’s method of sledding down the hill by making a more measured descent – only for one of the team to injure his back. When the helicopter crew spots them the next day, Daz orders an airlift for his injured man. “He is upset about it because he’s a grafter and a good guy, but I’m not going to expect him to crack on for the best part of 25K,” Daz says.

The remaining three resume their journey, only to be hit by a powerful blizzard. The marines must hunker down in their tent for 36 hours. Once the weather clears, the men are greeted by helicopter crewman Jayne Green, who has landed nearby to deliver them chocolate, sweets and supplies. The final part of the hike includes crossing a vast glacier and fending off over-inquisitive seals. “Bloody horrible they are, these seals!” Daz cries. Also this week, two BAS scientists study the soil sediment of a mountain lake to gain a new perspective on climate change in the area over the last 8,000 years. They hope that their findings will give them a better understanding of climate change today.

Elsewhere, the ship’s onboard photographer makes an aerial survey of the island’s fur seal population. The seals have recovered from a low of just 13 in the 1950s to several million today, and the team hopes to complete a three-year project to count these large, lively beasts. Writer, Director and Executive Producer

Friday 16 April 2010 at 8.00pm on Five

Continuing on Five this week is the documentary series exploring life on board the Royal Navy Antarctic ice patrol ship HMS Endurance.In this instalment, a survey team is dropped off at Greenwich Island to gather depth measurements, a team of marines builds a large snow shelter, one able seaman is brought before the captain’s table for a disciplinary hearing and the ship cuts through the first ice of the season.

On a mission to explore, survey and watch over the British Antarctic territory, HMS Endurancecan access parts of the world that few other ships can reach. For the 120 men and women on board, this voyage is one of risk and discovery in one of the harshest and most remote places on Earth.

Just a few days into the current mission, Endurance arrives at Greenwich Island on the South Shetlands. Lying 100 miles off the Antarctic Peninsula, the island is home to a large colony of gentoo penguins, and is popular with cruise liners. However, Yankee Harbour is not well charted and could pose a danger to any visiting ships. To gather depth measurements for the UK Hydrographic Office, a small survey team is to go ashore for 12 days. On every such mission, the surveyors are accompanied by a team of Royal Marines. “We’re cold-weather specialists,” says marine Robin Cleave. “We keep track of the teams and make sure they don’t get things wrong in cold-weather environments.”

Once ashore, the marines set to work straight away, constructing a large survival shelter known as a ‘quinzee’. Made entirely of snow, this quinzee will comfortably house up to six men – and could be the difference between life and death for the surveyors, should the weather change for the worse. Sergeant Daz Pope is placed in charge of the build. “The one good thing about it is that it’s hard work,” he explains. “The important thing about survival is constant activity. A palace like this takes all the blokes up to eight hours.”

The following morning, the marines return to the ship, leaving the survey team to fend for itself. On board the survey boat Nimrod, William Wright is relishing the opportunity to be out in the open. “I’m very privileged to be allowed on a boat camp,” he says. As a weapons engineer, William spends most of his time dabbling with machinery deep within the bowels of the Endurance. “It’s absolutely breathtaking,” he says of the scenery. “It’s a magical place.”

In the Erebus and Terror Gulf to the east of the Antarctic Peninsula, the Enduranceis approaching its first ice of the season. For the crew, the job in hand is to clear the deck of the night’s snowfall. “It’s to do with ship stability,” explains leading seaman Stephen ‘Taff’ Burke. “If there’s too much snow on the deck, it could cause the ship to capsize.” In the warmth of the bridge, operations officer Adam Northover is excited by the oncoming ice. “This has to be the best job in the navy,” he says. As the Endurance cleaves a path through an enormous sheet of thick ice, even Cpn Gavin Pritchard swells with pride. “This is about as good as it gets for the Royal Navy at work in Antarctica,” he says.

Elsewhere this week, able seaman Chris Evans finds himself in front of a disciplinary panel on a charge of fighting with a fellow sailor while the ship was docked in the Falkland Islands. Having been in trouble before, Chris could face a lengthy sentence in a military prison if found guilty of this latest charge. “I’ve no idea what I’ll get,” he says once the hearing is over. “I’m sure it will be the right punishment and I’ll deal with it.” But given time to reflect on his predicament, Chris starts to worry about the possible outcome. “I’m quite ashamed,” he says. “I’m building up a bit of a reputation and I’m not happy with that. It’s all going to change.” For now, however, his fate lies in the hands of Cpn Pritchard.

 

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