HMS Endurance docks in Lisbon.jpg

HMS Endurance docks in Lisbon

EN ROUTE back to Portsmouth, following an intrepid six months patrolling the frozen wastes of South Antarctica, HMS Endurance docked in Lisbon last week. The Resident’s reporter Gabriel Hershman and a group of Cascais schoolchildren took the opportunity to visit the impressive icebreaker patrol ship, escorted by the ship’s chaplain, Stephen Parselle.

HMS Endurance is a Norwegian-built vessel with a crew of 125 sailors – including six armed Royal Marines – and two Lynx helicopters. First charted by the Royal Navy as HMS Polar Circle in 1991, she was subsequently purchased and recomissioned as HMS Endurance the following year. Endurance certainly lives up to her name. She has a range of 24,600 nautical miles at 12 knots on a fuel tank capacity of 1,200 cubic metres. She can also store enough dry and frozen provisions for 270 days and is capable of making 50 tonnes of fresh water every day.

HMS Endurance travels down to South Antarctica every year. Surrounded by seals, whales, penguins and icebergs, she floats on top of underwater volcanoes, fulfilling her important mission. Endurance enjoys eternal daylight much of the time since the European winter is the southern hemisphere’s summer – the Antarctic equivalent of the Scandinavian “land of the midnight sun”.

Leaving Portsmouth on October 31 2005, Endurance sailed past the Portuguese island of Madeira before going on to Salvador in Brazil and Montevideo in Uruguay. She also docked in the Falklands Islands, scene of the 1982 conflict with Argentina. Perhaps surprisingly, Reverend Parselle revealed that the Argentineans extended a warm welcome to the ship’s company. “Some of our crew were veterans of the Falklands campaign. Together with some Argentinean veterans, they took part in a wreath-laying ceremony,” he said. Reverend Parselle, who has served more than 20 years in the armed forces, lends the crew spiritual support during their lengthy, and sometimes lonely, voyage. “A total of eight people were bereaved during our time at sea,” he explained.

Endurance has three separate missions. For the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, she inspects tourist sites and sets guidelines to ensure that the natural beauty of the area is preserved in the light of a growing number of visitors. For the British Hydrographic Office, Endurance surveys marine capability through its multibeam system, taking three-dimensional images of the ocean bed. The ship’s charts are then sold to civilian shipping fleets. Its third task, commissioned by the British Antarctic Survey, is to support scientific exploration of the area’s geology, investigating, among others, polar rock formations, fossils and sediments. It was scientists from the British Antarctic Survey who first discovered the hole in the ozone layer and who helped to restore the seal population to South Georgia (south-east of the Falklands), which was once threatened with extinction.

This was HMS Endurance’s first visit to Portugal, having been diverted due to an industrial dispute, and the crew took advantage of the unexpected stopover to enjoy the best of Lisbon’s nightlife. The previous evening, the British Embassy’s Defence Attaché had also hosted a small reception party on board ship, attended by the British Ambassador, John Buck. When I met the crew, it was 178 days since they had sailed from Britain and there was an air of palpable expectancy at the prospect of returning home.

Schoolchildren from the Cercia School in Cascais were clearly thrilled to be shown around HMS Endurance. One boy sat on the bridge in the captain’s chair, surrounded by electronic maps and compasses. Captain Nick Lambert later presented their teacher, Edgar Pereira, with a framed photograph as a memento of their visit. Coincidentally, it was also Captain Lambert’s birthday and visitors and crew alike drank a toast to celebrate the occasion in the ship’s bar.

Readers may be interested to know that the BBC’s Planet Earth series has just finished filming aboard HMS Endurance, as part of a documentary about the world’s polar regions. The programme’s provisional transmission date is some time this autumn.