News story

Royal Navy sailors survey Shackleton's island

Sailors from HMS Protector have returned to the exact spot where polar explorer Ernest Shackleton saved his men nearly 100 years ago.

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A team from the ice survey ship carried out scientific research at Point Wild on Elephant Island - a remote and forbidding shore where Shackleton’s expedition party spent months awaiting rescue in 1916.

Elephant Island is 780 miles (1,255km) from South Georgia and 550 miles (885km) from Cape Horn, the southernmost tip of the Americas.

It was from here that Ernest Shackleton sailed in a makeshift boat, the James Caird, to save his ill-fated trans-Antarctic expedition in 1916. He succeeded - bringing every man home alive.

Now, in the austral summer of 2012, a small party from today’s icebreaker HMS Protector came ashore in small inflatable boats to survey this incredibly inaccessible spot.

On previous visits to Elephant Island, the Royal Navy has tried to survey the waters of Point Wild - but has always been thwarted by the elements. Protector’s coxswain Chief Petty Officer (Survey Recorder) Ken Smith said:

Protector is on her maiden voyage, helping to update charts of the seas around Antarctica for the UK Hydrographic Office who supply maps of the world’s oceans not only for the Royal Navy, but also for international seafarers as well.

The Elephant Island survey party spent three nights at Point Wild - named after Shackleton’s deputy, Frank Wild - collecting data about the tide, shoreline and water level, allowing very accurate depths to be plotted on the chart - particularly important as the area is visited heavily by cruise ships, who will rely on Protector’s findings for safe navigation.

Leading Seaman (Survey Recorder) Toby Casstles said:

This has been a dream come true for me. I never thought I would be lucky enough to survey this part of the world, let alone spend three nights on such a historically-significant island, this is the highlight of my career so far.

Offshore, the ship’s survey motor boat - fittingly called James Caird IV - collected echo sounder data from the shallower waters, while Protector herself surveyed the deeper, more exposed offshore regions.

Protector’s Commanding Officer, Captain Peter Sparkes, said:

Successful completion of this task is a major achievement.

The charts that will be produced from the data collected will help to ensure the safety of the numerous cruise ships and passengers which visit this remote and unique location every year.

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Published 2 March 2012