Series 1 - Episode 4

Ice Patrol

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Disaster strikes the Endurance when a faulty valve bursts in the engine room and floods the ship with water. The crew spends a desperate night fighting to save the vessel from foundering in the Straits of Magellan.

The HMS Endurance is patrolling the Atlantic island of South Georgia. Executive Officer (XO) Tom Sharpe is in charge while Captain Gavin Pritchard is on leave. Tom’s latest job is to oversee a fine old navy tradition of having his crew grow beards for charity. “At the end of it there’ll be a judging session – best beard, worst beard, most ginger beard,” he explains. “I’m going for the most ginger.”

Endurance is due to embark on a 3,000-mile journey around Cape Horn to Valparaiso in Chile, where she will spend Christmas. Before leaving South Georgia, the company have a few hours to stretch their legs at the former Norwegian whaling station of Grytviken. In 1904, this town was home to around 300 men. All that remains today are the rusting machines that were once employed to strip whale meat. The sailors are impressed by the scale of the operation, but express their relief that such practices have been abandoned.

As Endurance sets sail, Executive Warrant Officer Andy Pilbury commences his nightly inspection of the crew’s cabins. He is generally impressed by what he sees. “We’ve had some relatively calm weather down here, which is when the standards start to slip, because they take for granted that it’s secure,” he says. “It’s not that bad at all.” One of Andy’s jobs is to check on company morale, and he takes the time to chat to the sailors and joke about their beard-growing efforts.

However, the joking soon stops for the crew of the Endurance. The ship has reached the Straits of Magellan at the southern tip of Chile when engineer Jack Russell begins what seems like a regular inspection. “We were carrying out routine maintenance more than anything else,” he recalls. “The next thing, all hell broke loose.” A valve burst in the engine room and flooded the ship with water. “I was just faced with an absolute wall of water – nothing like I’ve ever seen before in my life,” Jack says.

As the crew began to pump water from the bowels of the ship, XO Tom Sharpe ordered everyone to emergency stations. “A flood in the engine room pipe being about the worst thing you can hear when you’re in command,” he says. Diver Carl ‘Tommo’ Thomas was charged with plugging the breach. “We were told, [if we] don’t isolate this, the ship is going down,” he recalls. But the crew was unable to fix the valve and Endurance suddenly lost power. The ship was at the mercy of lashing waves and began to list dangerously in the water.

Miraculously, Endurance drifted towards the only sandbank in that part of the strait. The XO ordered his men to drop anchor in the hope that it would spin the ship around in the direction of the open sea, thus stabilising it against the waves. The manoeuvre succeeded and the crew then worked through the night to pump water until tug boats could come to the rescue. Fortunately, only one person was injured during the incident.

Endurance was eventually towed for 30 hours to the Chilean port of Punta Arenas. An MOD salvage team took charge of the effort to empty the flooded engine room. The water had reached the crew’s quarters on C-Deck, meaning that all of their personal belongings were ruined. “I’ve lost every single possession I had on board the ship,” says Able Seaman Dean ‘Buster’ Rhymer. Endurance was eventually transported all the way back to Portsmouth, where Captain Pritchard hopes she will be fixed as good as new. “She’s a sturdy old campaigner and she’ll be back to life soon,” he says.

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