Your intrepid correspondent enjoys RAF (in)hospitality and finally manages to board the JCR in Stanley
23.02.2007 - 26.02.2007
Greetings, dear readers. True to form, I have dropped the nautical silly-speak in this entry, mainly because my new seafaring mates would have me keel-hauled, run up the mainsail, swabbing the deck, and sluicing the bilges if they read it. To start you off, here is a map of my route to date:
Well, what an eventful few days I've had since I started my trip. The original plan was to fly from RAF Brize Norton to the Falklands in one go with a 2-hour stopover for refuelling at Ascension Island, but unfortunately the Met Office had a different idea. We were warned at Brize Norton that there was a chance that crosswinds at Mount Pleasant (the Falkland Islands air base) might prevent a landing, and lo! it was the case. After only an hour in 'the cage' at Ascension Island (where people stopping-over are normally held for their own safety), we were informed that we would be staying at the Travellers' Hill RAF base (affectionately known as Bunkbed City) until further notice. Didn't sound too bad until we were informed that none of our baggage would be leaving the 'plane, so I was stuck for what turned out to be 30 hours on a tropical island dressed in one set of stinky Antarctic-ready clothes with no toothbrush. Things got worse when I found I had to share a double bed with a strange man....
Anyway, to cut a long story short we had an 'interesting' time in Ascension. I went on an 'R and R' trip to Georgetown, which basically ended up being a trip to the pub, and I got a pink nose from the strong equatorial sun. Here is a (not very good) photo which is somewhat uncharitable but I think sums the place up a little:
Generally the scenery was military hardware and communications technology superimposed on a beautiful Martian volcanic rock landscape adorned with cacti and other succulent plants. An amazing place.
After some jiggery-pokery with our expectations we finally left Ascension at '1100 hours' the next morning. We then flew to the Falklands and on the way I read a very interesting paper about using a 6th-order Matlab routine to solve ordinary differential equations. Despite the cross-winds being a fantasy, the landing was pretty hairy and the plane swerved alarmingly down the runway to loud cheers from the crew of HMS Exeter, who were sitting a few rows behind us.
By the time we arrived in the Falklands it was late and we were knackered, so we hibernated in the Upland Goose, the hotel next to the local BAS office and a regular feature of tea-break conversations in Cambridge:
The place was heaven after all those RAF dinners and accomodation, and possessed such luxuries as a bar, fine food, a shower, and razors! After a wash, a feed, and a few jars of bitter we all collapsed into bed thankfully. Unfortunately I didn't get any good pictures of the Falklands landscape, which was stark and imposing, with rocky slopes surrounded by gorse and minefields. Hopefully some photos may appear later.
The next morning my trusty physiology woke me up nice and early, so I went for a walk around Stanley before breakfast. You will all realise that this means I must have been seriously affected by all the travel and lack of sleep. However, since I knew we were boarding the ship that morning at 10am, and had a recently-acquired sense for how badly our return travel plans could go awry, I was keenly aware that this might be my only chance to see any of the Falklands. I strolled around Stanley in the cool breeze and tranquillity of an early Sunday morning and it felt absolutely great, especially as I knew that a pot of tea and a Goose fry-up awaited my return at 0830. Just as I was inspecting a WWI memorial on a small hillock, I noticed the JCR (James Clark Ross) coming into port and snapped a pic:
I have now been on the JCR for two days and am just about finding my feet. It's a fantastic ship (in my limited experience) and everyone seems extremely friendly and helpful. The bar is cosy and the food is really good, served at the table by the stewards. It is shirt and tie only at dinner and, of course, the curry drips from my chin are caught in the napkin that normally resides in my personalised napkin ring... oh it's a hard life at sea!
Here are a few photos from the ship. Firstly a nice picture of the JCR loading fuel while 'alongside' (tied up in port) at Stanley:
Next, an embarrassing picture of Hamish (the Purser) using me as a shop dummy for demonstrating an immersion suit, which is donned to keep us alive in Antarctic waters if we have to abandon ship. It makes you look like a giant Jelly Baby:
I thought I'd put that one on the web to avoid blackmail in future. Everyone had a good laugh at me in it but I got some of my own back today when we had a boat drill and everyone else had to put theirs on too.
We are now pitching and rolling at sea and in a few days' time when I have assimilated the experience I'll tell you all about it. Suffice it to say that despite us experiencing 'severe gales' I haven't been sick yet. Very early days yet though, and squid for dinner tonight...
Before I leave I should tell you about Colm, now one of the Able Seamen on board. He turned up at BAS with an overnight bag from his native Ireland on the morning of the 22nd for an interview, and by 5pm was unexpectedly on his way to Antarctica with us still dressed in his interview suit! This was especially amusing at Ascension Island, as he was walking around a tropical RAF base dressed in pin-stripes.
PS: unlike most sailors, some of my readers are of a delicate disposition so, since this blog is intended for a family audience, please keep the comments as clean as possible. All rude messages can be emailed to me as usual. Thanks.