The stories surrounding early polar explorers such as James Weddell and James Clark Ross still fire people’s imaginations today. The two brothers Ollie (13) and Harry (11) Ferguson from Scotland are definitely no exception, because the two have revived the legendary ships of Ross in their own project, in the truest sense of the word.
Sailing around 20,000 kilometers around Antarctica and collecting oceanographic data that will be made available to science sounds like a project often undertaken these days. But “Project Erebus” is quite different: the two ships already sent off are measuring just one meter in length and weighing around 25 kilograms, are made of elm wood and are very accurate replicas of two of the most famous ships in polar exploration, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. Making it even more remarkable is the fact that the brains and hands behind the project are 13-year-old Ollie and 11-year-old Harry Ferguson.
The two boys from Turriff in Scotland, located about 50 kilometers northwest of Aberdeen, were thrilled by the Ross expedition in Antarctica. This gave rise to the plan to revive the two legendary ships and send them on another voyage around Antarctica. However, they should not simply look like the two original vessels and drift on the ocean, but should be dedicated to science and record data on their voyage, just like the originals once did. Thus, the two young adventurers collected all possible information about the two ships and put their plan into action.
The hulls were made from a 192-year-old elm tree, the same material as the original ships. “From day one of the build we have started with original materials and only compromised where necessity dictated,” the pair explain. “With the help of friends and generous craftsmen we created a plywood template from the original 1839 admiralty drawings to cut and then shape the hulls.” Even the rigging was thought of during construction, but had to be removed as it was unlikely to survive Southern Ocean conditions. Protection of the hull from fouling during the long voyage was also thought of and solved by means of a copper/resin paint to avoid environmentally harmful chemicals. To stabilize the ships in the water, a ballast system and a cruciform keel were developed.
On the technical side of the idea, tracking the two ships and collecting oceanographic data as the voyage progressed, the Fergusons contacted Icoteq, a company that specializes in wireless transmission technologies. “After hearing the background to the boys’ adventures, we were excited to help them by developing the tracking devices for free,” says Craig Rackstraw of Icoteq. “We developed a customized tracking and data monitoring device that includes a GPS receiver, air and sea temperature probes, a pH probe to measure ocean acidity, and a forward-facing camera. The position and scientific data are sent back to us via an ARGOS satellite link.”
Main problems were on the one hand the energy consumption, respectively the supply, on the other hand the robustness of the system. However, the company’s team of experts came up with a solution for this as well and developed a battery that should provide energy for up to six years. At the same time, they also found a solution for data transmission. “We break up each image and send it pixel by pixel with each satellite transmission. When the pixels are received, they are reassembled into a final image that is built up over a period of several weeks,” Craig Rackstraw explains.
After two years of planning, building and sea trials, the time had finally come to send the ship models on their way. With the help of friends, the models were transferred to the fisheries patrol vessel Pharos via the Falkland Islands and launched about 300 kilometers west of South Georgia on July 11. “It’s an awesomet feeling, we’ve been trying to get it for two years and now we’ve finally done it and it feels great,” Harry Ferguson tells British media.
Backing them on their adventure is their father, MacNeill Ferguson, an ecologist, book author and consultant. He helped them contact the experts, used his environmental expertise to help with the development himself, and has always encouraged their adventurous spirit. ” This was by far the most elaborate and difficult adventure we’ve ever had to undertake,” he says. ” The sheer amount of learning and skills the boys had to learn to make these boats, and to build them, and to test them, and the understanding of how all these things work, it’s just a joy to see them learning in this way by doing stuff..” For Ollie and Harry, the fact that they’ll also be assisting research is an important consideration: “We’re interested in collecting data on climate change and also seeing what happens to the boats and the end result, and-although the likelihood is very low-whether we’ll ever see them again.”
We at PolarJournal keep our fingers crossed that the two replicas will rather follow the footsteps of James Clark Ross and complete their mission in one piece instead of following the fate of Sir John Franklin, under whose command the Erebus and the Terror found an icy grave in the Canadian Arctic.
Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal
Link to the Icoteq project page
Link to the Facebook page of Ollie and Harry
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