NAVY NEWS, JANUARY 2012
● The ship's fi refi ghters work their way through the smoke at OST; who left the tap running?... S/Lt Trudgeon conducts a survey from the James Caird IV off Plymouth; and a BV tracked vehicle is craned aboard Protector
had never broken ice? Well, you have now. In a decade’s service as a civilian vessel, MV Polarbjørn never did the job intended for her.
She did a lot of work supporting oil rigs, spent long periods in the Caribbean. But sailing close to swathes of ice, negotiating icebergs, growlers, bergy bits, patrolling in the domain of penguins and leopard seals, not a bit of it. It’s taken a change of name – to HMS Protector – and crew for that.
In the deepening gloom of a late November day (hence the rather grainy image below), the newest ship in the Royal Navy sailed on her maiden voyage. Protector
Harbour to a ripple of camera fl ashes on the Round Tower as dusk descended on the Solent. Over the coming three months
– the fi rst half of an eight-month maiden deployment – the Royal Navy’s new Antarctic patrol ship will see a lot of ice. Luckily, there’s a fi ne pedigree.
Protector is built by the same fi rm as the ship she replaces, HMS Endurance. (Indeed the hull is pretty much identical to the much-loved Red Plum.) And there’s quite a bit of ice
ID you hear the one about the icebreaker which
second sweep by that sounder will pick up 132 readings. When her mission is complete she’ll hand over hard drives to the UK Hydrographic Offi ce in Taunton with
terabyte would fi ll 212 DVDs...). And the reason why?
terabytes of data (one
Well, Antarctica is proving increasingly popular with cruise ships, eager to take tourists (upwards of 8,000 annually now) to the ends of the earth for the ultimate experience. They want to get as close to the ice as is safe... and for that you need top- notch charts.
Hence you send a top-notch survey ship to the Antarctic Peninsula, the slice of the frozen continent for which the UK acts as ‘caretaker’.
Despite the fact that a vessel has gone to survey these waters pretty much every year for the past half century (among them the previous HMS Protector...), “only a minuscule amount has been surveyed to modern standards”, says Lt Cdr Philip Payne, Protector’s First Lieutenant.
Among the most popular destinations is Deception Island. It’s on Protector’s work list. So too Elephant Island.
Further along the peninsula the waters around lesser-known Dundee and Detaille Islands and Andvord Bay will be surveyed. First, of course, you have to
patrol experience to call on in the Royal Navy. This is, after all, the 100th anniversary year of Scott’s Terra Nova expedition. For Protector, like Scott, science is the essence of this mission: supporting the British Antarctic Survey experts on the ice and gathering unparalleled data about waters only inadequately charted to date. Unparalleled? Well, her multi- beam echo sounder is the next generation along from the survey kit Endurance enjoyed. A one-
get there. The fi rst of Protector’s three work periods begins in mid-January. At ten knots, it’s the end of December before she gets to the South Atlantic, a fortnight after that before she’s among the ice. She’ll have to negotiate the
Drake Passage six times this deployment; it’s a three-day passage
South America and the Antarctic Peninsula and the waters are rarely forgiving. That’s why most ships take the natural canals of Patagonia
between the tip of
passing from the Atlantic to the Pacifi c... but that’s not an option for Protector.
like a pig,” Lt Cdr Payne says dolefully. To prove the point, a Force 8 barrels through the English Channel on the very fi rst night of the deployment; aboard it’s like riding on a seesaw that is not only pitching violently, but yawing as well. Sailors are, of course, used to storms. They are less au fait with working in extreme temperatures,
Protector can expect around the ice is -2˚C. Typical lows will be -10˚ to -15˚. Throw in the wind chill (the wind in these parts is largely uninhibited, so the gusts are ferocious) and it’s pretty unpleasant.
A Royal Marine mountain leader – plus a small detachment of green berets – joins the survey ship once she’s in the South Atlantic specifi cally as an expert on living and working in frozen climes. Like
most of the ship’s company are ice virgins (including her commanding offi cer) – a handful have served aboard Endurance, a few such as AB(HM) Mike Beevers sailed with HMS Scott to Antarctic when she fi lled in for the Red Plum.
Going south with Protector, he says, is a “completely different experience”.
He continued: “It has been challenging getting her ready for this deployment, but it should be worth it.
since April for this moment so there’s a sense
aboard. of excitement
incredible, amazing. It’s a different world from anywhere
“The sights on the ice are “We’ve been working Protector herself, average the temperature Nor is it good for her. “She rolls
else. Not much of the sea has been charted and on Scott last year it was fascinating to fi nd a volcano like Deception Island but under water.” He’s part of an 18-strong
– there’s no operations room, no missiles, a different way of working.
hydrographic and survey department aboard Protector, assisted by a state-of-the- art multi-beam echo sounder which, like the rest of the surveying equipment, was fi tted over the summer. In addition, Protector’s brand new survey motor launch is crammed with hi-tech kit – the only difference is that, thanks to its size, it can go where mother cannot. Together, they provide data for the UK Hydrographic Offi ce which would have been undreamed of just a few years ago; during a recent survey of the River Dart it could pick out the marks on the seabed left by anchors dragging along... ...which is something you’re not likely to fi nd around Antarctica.
What you will fi nd is a geologist’s/hydrographer’s/ environmentalist’s dream: “Very few places are dull and uninteresting on the sea bed,” says Lt Cdr Payne, who spent eight years involved with Endurance, including planning much of her deployments, but never actually went down south. “There’s
geology, a lot of things occurring with ice fl oes. And some of the places have never been done before. To get the full picture, will be fascinating.
counter-piracy, now I’m down on
Jamie Gallienne who’s not quite adjusted to life aboard a survey ship after serving in sleek grey messengers of death.
“Last year I was doing the
ice,” says LS(AWW) some fascinating
“It’s defi nitely more relaxed
“The accommodation is quite luxurious – I was used to a 52- man mess.” On here, as a junior rate, he’ll have to ‘make do’ with a three- man berth. With ten-channel satellite TV. “You get your own space,
that’s something you don’t get on a pusser’s grey.” It’s not the only thing different
from the rest of the fl eet. The bridge (which offers 360˚ visibility plus a small coffee area, nicknamed the Bridge Bistro) also serves as the ops room. Containers in the hold serve as the comms centre, armoury, buffer’s shack, photographer’s studio.
The two-deck hold also stores something Endurance couldn’t: Royal Marines BV tracked vehicles and quad bikes with trailers.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime deployment for most of us.” Some of his shipmates are slightly more reticent.
With Protector lacking helicopters (she has a fl ight deck but there’s no hangar and you can’t lash aircraft down, so it’s really only for emergencies), the BVs and bikes will be used instead to ferry supplies to outlying British Antarctic Survey bases. A powerful crane (in theory it could lift three small landing craft) hauls them out of the hold and on to the ice. This combination of practicality and hi-tech survey equipment means, believes her Commanding Offi cer Capt Peter Sparkes, that Protector will “serve us well down in the ice”. As a teenager he was fi red up by the old Endurance’s deeds around South Georgia 30 years ago.
“Driving Protector is a unique privilege,” he says. “This is a
very special command: a fantastic ship with a fantastic ship’s company.”
The latter have spent the past six or so months ‘navalising’ the ship, turning her from MV Polarbjørn into HMS Protector. “They’ve had to transform her into a warship in a few months and it’s been a big ask, but for most of us this is the chance of a lifetime.”
Although 90 per cent of the ship is pretty much as the Navy got it, fi tting that fi nal ten per cent of Royal Navy equipment – such as communications, the WECDIS electronic chart kit, and the specialist surveying equipment – has placed great demands on his men and women.
They number 88 on paper, but you will never fi nd more than 65 on board. As the ship deployed, it was a little over 50. Crew rotation means around one third of the sailors will be in the UK at any one time – Protector should be available for operations 330 days a year; when her Antarctic duties are done, she could be sent to the Caribbean or survey UK waters. Crew rotation also means that you won’t see many sailors as you move around the wide passageways and stairs – and that the demands placed on the small number of souls aboard are many. “We are lean manned and we ask a great deal of those aboard," Capt Sparkes adds. "It’s
high-tempo work in the most demanding environment in the world.”
Three decades on he gets the chance to follow in her footsteps.
pictures: la(phot) arron hoare, hms protector
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