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It's a long long way to Charcot Island

Updated Friday, 2nd March 2007

Mark Brandon travels to the Falkland Islands to board the research ship that will take him to the Antarctic.

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(to the tune of 'it's a long long way to Tipperary')

If a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, my journey of 10,000 miles to the ice begins with a flight to the Falklands via Ascension Island. In recent years this has always been on an RAF Tristar, but with our armed forces stretched, subcontracting meant we ended up sharing a Boeing 747 with a couple of hundred Army, Navy and RAF personnel. If you are going to be away from home for a couple of months I can seriously recommend starting the journey on a half empty huge plane. Very comfortable and the 'first step' was looking good! Of course normal life intervened and bad weather at the Falkland Islands meant it would be too windy for us to land and we were forced into a stop over at Ascension Island.

Runway at Ascension Island
The Runway at Ascension Island.
[Image: Mark Brandon]

Ascension is a tiny volcanic island only about 8 miles wide that rises from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The word remote doesn't really do it justice and it is about half way between Africa and South America with the closest land at St Helena 700 miles to the south. With no indigenous population the only people are UK and US military, the BBC and Cable and Wireless. Normally the thought of spending a day on a tropical island is pretty good, but the appeal is lost when you are dressed in British winter clothing, are not allowed your luggage back and are not sure how long you are going to spend there! Over the years I have learnt always to travel with my toothbrush in the hand luggage!

I guess we were lucky to get away with a 30 hour delay before continuing our journey south. Flying over the sea for so long means you don't really have too much to look at out of the windows and I found myself drifting and thinking about the coming months. It is going to be pretty tough at times - but if we are lucky with ice conditions and the weather is kind, we could tie down how much this part of Antarctica is being eroded by the ocean.

Suddenly we pass into some high altitude clouds and there is science to see! The coloured halo around the shadow of the plane is an unusual optical effect called a glory which is formed by backscattering of sunlight on the clouds beneath the plane. It is a beautiful effect and given the right conditions you can see them hill walking and at sea. Foggy and cloudy weather is not all bad.

A glory
A glory seen in the clouds from the plane.
[Image: Mark Brandon]

The Falkland Islands tend to get a bad press about their weather - but with no pollution, few residents and a riot of wildlife it's a wonderful place to visit and travel around. The only bad thing I think you could say about the islands  is that they are windy. In fact they are really really windy which makes hill walking a little tricky sometimes.

 We finally got to the James Clark Ross and with only a few hours before we sail, it's a mad rush to get everything up and running. I guess one of the big differences between working at sea and working at home is that here we have to spend a lot of time lashing our equipment and computers to workbenches so that they don't end up on the deck when the ship rolls. It turned out to be a very sensible thing to do given that we sailed into some pretty horrendous weather - probably a seven on the Beaufort Scale and the ship was rolling through 30-40 degrees. After spending the last year on land I felt pretty rough , but my sea legs will come back. The only good thing is that there is so much going on to distract me from self pity.

Hopefully the next entry will be from the ice!

(Charcot Island is at the bottom of the Bellingshausen Sea off the coast of Alexander Island)





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