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Journey to the bottom of the earth: Stewart Craigie’s voyage to Antarctica (2023)


As part of the next phase of activity on our Antarctic Infrastructure Modernisation Partership (AIMP), Sweco special interest projects technical director Stewart Craigie is travelling aboard the RRS Sir David Attenborough, accompanying Leigh Storey the AIMP Senior Responsible Officer (SRO), John Eacott who manages the Framework Contract for NERC and Elen Jones the BAS AIMP Programme Director.

On a 5-week tour of the region visiting Rothera, Robert Island, Signy, King Edward Point and Bird Island Stewart and the wider AIMP team will inspect works already completed and in progress and undertaking research into future projects such as Rothera Hangar, runway extension and renewables, a potential decarbonised station at Signy and future modernisation at King Edward Point.

But what does it take to actually get to this remote part of the world? Here, Stewart provides a log of his journey…

14 December 11.00am

Collected to be taken to Glasgow Airport.
Temp is -4 degrees C

14 December 2.50pm

Board the plane for take-off. This is where the journey really begins.
Temp still at -4 degrees C

14 December 4.00pm

Land at London Heathrow
Temp ‘up’ to -2 degrees C

14 December 6.00pm

Travel to RAF Brize Norton. There is a long wait at Brize Norton. This is a military airport so the security is very well managed and it takes a lot of time to ensure that everyone travelling on the aircraft is safe to travel.
Temp -2 degrees C

15 December 2.30am

Board Plane to fly to the Falklands. The aircraft is due to travel almost 8000 miles which is too far for it to fly in one flight. We therefore need to touch down at a location which is almost halfway down the west of Africa.

15 December 8.00am (GMT -1hr)

Land at Cape Verde. This is our refuelling stop. It is a rule that you cannot stay on a plane that is refuelling. All passengers embark into the terminal while we refuel. Cape Verde is near the equator so the temperature has now increased to 28 degrees C!

15 December 10am

Board plane to continue to the Falklands. This is the longest section of our journey before we get on the ship. We will be flying for 10 hours. The good part about all these long flights is being served tasty meals and watch films I’ve missed up to now!

15 December 6pm (GMT -3hrs)

Finally we have finished the flying part of our trip into Antarctica. Only a short distance now until we get to our ship the RRS Sir David Attenborough. We will live on the ship now for the next 5 weeks.
Temp is a pleasant 20 degrees C

15 December 7pm

Arrival at the ship. Although I have seen this ship many times before it is still very impressive. It is the newest research vessel operated by the British Antarctic Survey.

Its job is to spend months at sea sailing around the Antarctic Region to allow scientists to capture data about the climate and the ecology so that we can better understand how humans are affecting the planet and see how we may need to change what we do to protect the planet for the future. We will spend the next few days preparing the ship to depart.

17 December 1.00pm

Ship Departs the Falkland Islands. We are now at sea! This ship travels at 13 knots (which is about 15mph) so in a full day will travel 360 miles a day. We are about to cross the Drake Passage which is one of the stormiest sections of sea in the world. We are hoping that won’t be the case on this crossing. The crew advise all of us to take sea sickness tablets, just in case!

19 December 6.00am

We cross the 60th degree of Latitude in the Southern Hemisphere. That means we have reached the Antarctic circle. We are now officially in Antarctica; we still can’t see any land however. That won’t happen for another 12 hours. This means it has taken 4 days and 19 hours to get to Antarctica from my home in Scotland!