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Royal Navy sailor sharpens Antarctic skills on RRS Sir David Attenborough ahead of Protector deployment

On the sea ice in Weddell Sea
5 January 2024
Topic:
A Royal Navy officer prepared for an imminent Antarctic deployment on ice breaker HMS Protector by sharpening vital skills on British research ship RRS Sir David Attenborough.

Lieutenant Commander Philip Boak embarked on the vessel as it headed south to Antarctica, gaining ‘ice experience’ that will prove invaluable when he heads there again but now with knowledge of navigating and operating a ship in polar waters.

The time on board also gave him a chance to learn about the vital work of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and the operation of their state-of-the art polar research ship.

RRS Sir David Attenborough is designed to carry out resupply missions to the BAS research stations as well as complete scientific research in the world’s polar regions.

And Philip got to see up close the important work they do, visiting the Rothera Research Station, the world’s largest iceberg, the South Orkney Islands and South Georgia among other unique sites.

“The whole experience was fantastic, both professionally and personally,” said Lt Cdr Boak.

“Being on board the Sir David Attenborough provided a real eye-opener to the work carried out by BAS, and the importance of the scientific research carried out in the polar regions.

“During my time in the Royal Navy so far, I have quite literally seen the world. Antarctica was the final continent to ‘tick-off’, and I was visiting the Falkland Islands and South Georgia for the first time as well.

“With Rothera located just south of the Antarctic Circle, I managed to get a certificate to commemorate this event.”

Ships and their sailors who visit Antarctica are often spoiled with an abundance of wildlife unique to the region and it was no different for Philip and the rest of the company on Sir David Attenborough.

He added: “There was a huge abundance of wildlife to be seen in the Antarctic waters. Among other animals I managed to spot six penguin species, (Magellanic, Gentoo, King, Chinstrap, Emperor, Macaroni) and five seal species (Weddell, Crab Eater, Leopard, Elephant, Fur).

“During the scientific expedition to the Weddell Sea, it was fascinating to observe the various planktonic species which were caught at depth, including copepods, krill, polychaete worms and jelly fish.”

Being on board the Sir David Attenborough provided a real eye-opener to the work carried out by BAS, and the importance of the scientific research carried out in the polar regions.

Lt Cdr Philip Boak

Lt Cdr Boak has spent the past few years deployed with the Royal Navy’s survey ships, including ocean survey vessel HMS Scott – named after explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott. The Royal Navy officer led two expeditions to Antarctica in the early 1900s.

“The whole area is steeped in history, and I was keen to learn more about the exploration of Antarctica,” he said.

“This was very apt, as I have just departed from HMS Scott, named after Captain Robert Falcon Scott of Antarctic fame.

“South Georgia gave the opportunity to visit the grave of Sir Ernest Shackleton, who was at one time a rather bitter rival of Captain Scott.”

With a career in surveying, Philip found the scientific expedition in the Weddell Sea a particular highlight. It was the first time the ship had completed a dedicated scientific expedition – it examined biochemical processes and ecosystem function in polar environments.

Over the course of 10 days, the Sir David Attenborough would deploy different equipment to gather data and information including two types of nets to catch planktonic organisms which could then be studied; a conductivity temperature depth carousel to record the salinity and temperature of the water and take samples to then be analysed in a lab; and sea ice coring – where scientists would take cores of thin sea ice to be analysed.

Other standout moments included heading to the Rothera Research Station to resupply the British Antarctic Survey staff with provisions and fuel, a journey with “absolutely stunning views”, and sailing past A23a – the world’s largest iceberg which is twice the size of London.

Lt Cdr Boak also got to visit South Georgia and more BAS research stations to hand over supplies including ones on King Edward Point (visited twice) and Bird Island.

 

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