Day 6: 6 January 2019

The ship’s bell

Ray (who insists on calling me Bub) is my new best mate on board. He’s a rough, tough, spit-in-your-eye Texan with a physique on him that is straight out of Stonehenge. He not only pilots underwater ROVs (Remote Operated Vehicles), he even builds them. Anyway, if we find the Endurance, Ray, like everybody else onboard, wants me to raise something, as in ‘Hey Bub, wouldn’t it be awesome if we brought up the bell?"

I agree it would be ‘awesome’, bells are just so emblematic, but it is not so simple …

Behind this project there was an Expedition Advisory Committee that comprised John Kingsford (of Deep Ocean Search [DOS]), Donald Lamont (former Chairman of the Antarctic Heritage Trust and ex-Governor of the Falkland Islands), John Shears (Expedition Leader), Gwilym Ashworth (DOS), George Horsington (of Marine Archaeological Consultants [MAC]) and myself. Together we consulted closely with the Trustees of the Flotilla Foundation, scholars at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge (which later partnered up with the project) as well as a range of scientists and technical experts from UK, South Africa, France, Norway, New Zealand and elsewhere. Above all there was Ocean Infinity who provided staff and the Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) without which this project would not have been possible. We worked closely with every one of them while all the time building on preparatory work carried out by DOS a couple of years before.

The one topic we kept coming back to was whether or not we should raise anything from the Endurance. There were a range of opinions but, in the end, we got bogged down on ethical issues. In addition there were conservation concerns as well as legal questions regarding ownership (because everything on the seabed is owned by somebody, it’s just that usually they do not know who they are).

The whole matter became so complex that we finally decided that if we found the wreck and were able to conduct an archaeological survey, it would be strictly non-disturbance; in other words, nothing would be taken from the site. That is not to say that in the future individual objects and structure should not be raised. Indeed there are items of information and cultural value on the site that, if left, will one day decay out of existence; but now is not the time, we simply are not ready for the reception of artefacts. Indeed - and to put a cap on the argument - by the terms of our permit that was issued by the Polar Regions Department of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, we are not allowed to touch or raise anything. And so it is that for the present at least, the bell stays put.

* * * * * * * *

Had a meeting with Captain Knowledge Bengu in his cabin. Together we looked at the Copernicus Sentinel-1 images of ice conditions around the huge slab of ice (designated A-68) that calved from the Larsen C ice shelf. That is our next destination. We are experiencing the best ice conditions for many seasons and he thinks we have a good chance of getting in behind A-68 and close to what is left of the ice shelf.

For much of the day we have been in close pack. The ship is on manual and, basically, we are finding open water wherever we can that will take us in the right general direction. Speed varies from 4 to 12 knots. Current ETA for the Larcen C is midday 10 January.