To deliberately run a vessel onto sea ice feels as wrong as you can get, but for a trainee Warfare Officer who cross-decked onto Roayl Navy vessel, HMS Protector, as she steamed to Antarctica, it soon became part of his daily routine.
During December and January Midshipman Thomas Ciantar, along with Petty Officer Hydrographic Systems Manager Nathan Smith, joined the ice-patrol ship as she travelled from Fleet Base West, in Rockingham, Western Australia, down to the Ross Sea, via Tasmania, to conduct fisheries inspections of vessels targeting the endangered Patagonian toothfish.
Travelling as far south as 77 degrees, the former commercial ice-breaking ship, and the only one with such capabilities in the Royal Navy, also conducted survey operations and a base inspection.
Now promoted, Sub Lieutenant Ciantar said he was excited to be given the opportunity to travel to Antarctica.
“I was happy to take part on this trip, which comprises part of my sea-time for Phase II training – this is not something that is likely to present itself again in a hurry,” he said.
“The Royal Navy and Royal Australian Navy operate in a similar manner with only some notable differences being in the way we do damage control – being in a position to observe how another Navy operates will definitely assist me in my future career.
“We integrated well with the ship’s company, they made us feel welcome, and of course, there was the standard banter surrounding cricket and rugby.”
Sub Lieutenant Ciantar said he faced some unusual challenges in the Antarctic environment.
“Due to the latitude, the sun never set, so coming off a middle watch after staring into the sun did feel quite weird,” he said.
“Navigating through ice and, at times, having to break it took some getting used to – we normally tend to avoid hitting things at sea.”
The ship’s company were among the first people in the world to see in the New Year as Protector crossed the International Date Line at 2359.
Sub Lieutenant Ciantar and Petty Officer Smith had the opportunity to go ashore on Ross Island and visit the hut once used by the British Antarctic explorers Scott and Shackleton.
“That was truly an amazing experience – the hut is almost exactly how it was left more than 100 years ago,” he said.
“Other standout moments were spending time with the embarked Royal Marines and firing a minigun and GPMG light machine gun.
“We were fortunate enough to see a variety of Antarctic wildlife including albatross, seals, penguins and whales.”
This is the first time the Royal Navy has travelled to the Ross Sea since 1936 and the first time that a Royal Navy ship has visited Hobart since the 1990s.
Protector usually spends most of its time around the Antarctic Peninsula, south of the Falkland Islands and where the British Antarctic Survey base is located.
The ship and its 75 crew will spend more than 20 months away from the United Kingdom.