The Royal Navy survey ship HMS Enterprise is carrying out scientific research in Antarctica.
More than 7,000 miles from her home in HM Naval Base, Plymouth, the survey ship is spending the end of the Austral summer supporting British scientists and using her hi-tech array of sensors to update naval charts produced long before computers and underwater sonars.
A highlight for the crew is seeing up close the rich wildlife, especially when they visited South Georgia’s Gold Harbour to honour naval graves and found themselves in the middle of a gathering of King and Gentoo penguins.
Even though it’s the equivalent of August, daily temperatures in South Georgia are still below 10˚C – well below the 30-plus Celsius Enterprise’s have grown accustomed to when the ship spent more than a year in the central Mediterranean as part of the international naval force dealing with the African migrant problem.
The ship handed duties to her sister HMS Echo last autumn, then headed to the Falkland Islands to relieve regular patrol ship HMS Clyde.
The rare visit to the Falklands has allowed HMS Enterprise to update charts and survey the wrecks of RN ships in time for 35th anniversary commemorations of the 1982 conflict later this year.
Joining the ship for the three-day trip to South Georgia were the senior officer in the Falklands, Commodore Darren Bone, British Antarctic Survey (BAS) experts, troops from the Roulement Infantry Company and the island’s Rapier air-defence battery. BAS scientists recorded whales and dolphins en-route.
HMS Enterprise navigator Lieutenant Kyle O’Regan had to resort to using old-fashioned charts produced using lead lines to record depths many years ago when he guided the ship safely into harbour.
He said: “It’s fair to say that no-one aboard Enterprise will forget this incredible patrol any time soon. As one of my shipmates put it: it’s the thing recruiting adverts, never mind dreams, are made of.”
Once at anchor, teams were sent ashore to meet the wildlife. Fur seals proved a little ferocious, but the vast penguin colony amounted to ‘an over-abundance of cuteness’ in the words of the New Zealand exchange officer Lieutenant Robin Khun.
The first day ended in Drygalski Fjord at the southern tip of South Georgia, where HMS Enterprise – which enjoys a strengthened bow to operate in icy waters – dodged sizeable chunks of icebergs or glaciers to take a close look at the glacier spilling into the narrow waters.
Glacier-watching continued on the second day in South Georgia and a look at the stunning Nordenskjöld glacier – two miles wide, four long and over 400ft high – in Cumberland Bay, which also has an abandoned whaling station, derelict vessels, a museum and the grave of explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton.
The sailors spent two days in the capital of the island using their small survey launch Spitfire to chart the shallowest waters, getting close to even more wildlife – fur and elephant seals, albatross and yet more penguins – and enduring every possible weather event: snow, high winds, rain, glorious sunshine.