The Navy’s Antarctic patrol ship HMS Protector ventured further south than ever before on her maiden deployment as she delivered vital supplies to polar scientists.
The Portsmouth-based survey ship sailed to Rothera research base – 800 miles south of Cape Horn – allowing her sailors and marines to experience some of the frozen continent’s stunning natural beauty.
Pictures: LA(Phot) Arron Hoare, HMS Protector
DESCENDING into a cathedral of ice, Royal Marines Commandos explore the stunning natural beauty of Adelaide Island as the Royal Navy’s Antarctic survey ship ventures further south than ever before.
HMS Protector delivered vital supplies to Rothera Research Station – the largest of the British Antarctic Survey’s (BAS) and the centre of its research effort on the frozen continent.
In doing so, the Portsmouth-based icebreaker ventured to her most southerly point yet – 67˚34’S, or nearly 800 miles from Cape Horn, the southernmost tip of the Americas.
Protector was asked to deliver aviation fuel – always a potentially-hazardous task, but one made more challenging given the conditions so far south.
The ship had to pump 168 cubic metres of fuel ashore at a rate of 15 cubic metres an hour – that’s 15,000 litres / 3,300 gallons every 60 minutes, or enough fuel to fill up more than 270 Ford Focuses.
That had to be done in temperatures of -15˚C – and with Protector herself rolling heavily.
Despite being alongside at Rothera, Protector rolls in the heavy swell as she transfers fuel ashore
For even though she was berthed at a jetty at the research station, the swell on the ocean was so heavy that she rolled seven degrees to port and starboard (left and right for landlubbers) – enough to keep her ship’s company in watches in case there was an emergency.
Thankfully there wasn’t and with the delivery made, the sailors and marines could explore Rothera Station and the wider island (Adelaide is 12 times the size of the Isle of Wight) – not least thanks to her BV206s.
Three of the all-terrain tracked vehicles were craned ashore – first to provide an impressive backdrop for a ship’s company photograph, then to allow some roaming.
The ship's company, with CO Capt Peter Sparkes at the front, pose for a traditional photograph
Two dozen of the crew took part in a ‘winter Olympics’ with the BAS team – and promptly beat the scientists and support staff on their own ‘turf’.
The event, whose highlight was the cross-country ski race, was played out against the stunning backdrop of the Adelaide mountains.
“It was a truly amazing experience,” enthused Protector’s dentist Surg Lt Jenna Murgatroyd.
“The awe inspiring backdrop to the games made for a perfect afternoon to try something new on the ice; this was a unique opportunity I will not forget.”
Magnificent desolation... The ship's company take part in the cross-country ski
On the final day of the Rothera Station visit the Royal Marines, aboard the survey ship as cold weather experts, took part in some crevassing supervised by the BAS polar guides and Sgt Ian Freeman, the ship’s mountain leader.
“Once we were down in the crevasse it was a truly mind-blowing experience,” said Mne Thomas Lemar. “It was like being in Superman’s secret lair with huge ice crystals shooting out in every direction, reflecting light in deep vibrant blues.”
Fellow green beret Cpl Shane Carle added: “The obstacles we came across weren’t anything too difficult at first glance but when you are inside an ice cavern everything is automatically made ten times harder.
The Royal Marine and BAS explorers are silhouetted against the stunning natural colours of the ice cavern
“Every time we overcame an obstacle we were rewarded with a new breath-taking sight. One of the most memorable chambers we entered was through the smallest hole you have ever seen.
“Unfortunately not everyone was able to get through this hole. Steve, the BAS instructor, was the first down and shouted up to tell us that one larger man would have to miss this one out!”
The visit, which was a resounding success, culminated in an awards ceremony on board the ship with a rather optimistic – given the sub-zero temperatures – but well- received barbecue.
Festivities were cut short by the weather – with the sea still lumpy, the decision was taken to move Protector away from the jetty –far enough to prevent damage to the ship’s side, but it also meant the BAS staff had to leave early.
Protector departs Rothera, heading into the sunset
With the visit to Rothera done, Protector sailed north to begin the long journey back to the UK.
It took her first through particularly narrow and poorly-surveyed waters, known as The Gullet; the charts in use – the only ones available – were woefully out of date.
It meant that at times Protector was forced to navigate on what had been charted as land 150 years before to avoid the large ice cliffs at the waters edge.
The ship, however, is used to this, the bridge team coolly executed a very demanding navigation serial safety and soon guided her to her next tasking at the US Palmer Station, Arthur Harbour, Antarctica.