Diary of L.É. Eithne voyage to Argentina February 6th to April 8th 2006

Captain’s Journal LE EITHNE - Monday February 6th
Early this morning the crew of the L.É. Eithne embarked for their historic deployment to South America. Bags were thrown into cabins as last minute supplies and humanitarian gifts arrived on the quay wall. These supplies were hurriedly stored away as family, friends and wellwishers arrived down to the ship to say their good byes. At 1030hrs, the Chief of staff swept down onto the soccer pitch in one of the new Air Corps Eurocopters. By now everyone was poised awaiting the arrival of the Minister of Defence. The Guard of Honour lead by S/Lt Clarke was in position, the ships company was mustered on the flight deck and family and friends were seated in the hanger. The Minister was piped onboard at 1100hrs and inspected the guard of honour, before addressing the ships company. In his address he referred to the deployment as exciting and historic. The ships Capt. Cdr Mark Mellett also addressed the ships company and the media that had gathered on board for the occasion. In his speech he talked of the work to be done in Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. He also referred to the new opportunities open to L.É. Eithne and the Naval Service, and finally he thanked all those who have worked on behalf of L.É. Eithne to make this deployment happen. The Minister then unveiled the painting, by artist Philip Grey, commissioned by the Naval Service for the South American deployment. The Minister, his Excellency the Argentinean Ambassador to Ireland and JJ O'Hara of the Admiral Brown society were then presented with limited addition prints by two of the ships crew, A/Sea Carney and Blackwell. It was 1135hrs before we set sail, and there were palpable feelings of excitement, anxiousness and relief as the engines started up and the lines were let go. We were on our way South America (via Tenerife).

Captain’s Journal LE EITHNE - Tuesday February 7th
Midday position - 45 46'.8N 010 18'.8W
360nm from Cork
1000nm from Santa Cruz, Tenerife
Everyone has spent the day getting back into the sea going routine. However the events committee headed by S/Lt Carr and SPO Fealy held draws for the upcoming events, which include a darts competition, a 45 (cards) competition and a Colin McCrea Rally competition on the PS2. The XO, Lt Cdr Aedh McGinn is one of the favourites for the darts competition after winning a preliminary wardroom competition today. Today also saw the start of daily circuits run in the ships gym by S/Lt Kieran Carr. To everyone's surprise the ship still has Sky TV despite being 550nm from the Irish Coast. The ship is making good speed and we may arrive in Tenerife ahead of schedule, if we can manage avoid a low pressure with gale force winds heading westerly towards Canaries.

Captain’s Journal LE EITHNE - Wednesday February 8th
Midday position - 39 29.6N 12 11.8W
760nm from Cork
690nm from Santa Cruz, Tenerife
The ships routine has now pretty much become established. A dog watch has been introduced which means that watch-keepers can now advance a watch each day and will get a full nights rest every third day or so. For day workers call the hands is at 0700 and breakfast at 0730. A wonderful sunrise today followed Tuesday's beautiful sunset. In between, the night watches had little to report apart from the wardroom watching the 'Cruel Sea' on DVD - . To remain sharp the Marine Engineering Officer Lt Cdr Tony Heery has planned a major damage control exercise in which the whole ship's company will turn to. Key staff for this exercise will be Chief 'Bull' Hogan and PO Tom Kennedy. The Captain and Communications Officer, Lt Olan O'Keefe are still watching the Atlantic depression with gale force winds sweeping to the north of the Canaries between us and where we are due on Friday. Will we be forced to alter course? As I write the decision is being made. We are now more than half way to Tennerife. The ships onboard news team have been busy getting ready for our onboard news report tonight. More about this tomorrow!

Captain’s Journal LE EITHNE - Thursday February 9th
Midday position - 33 47N 14 17W
1105nm from Cork
335nm from Santa Cruz, Tenerife
Yesterday after lunch the first in a series of damage control and fire fighting exercises planned by the MEO and his engineering team for our voyage to South America, was executed. The scenario for the exercise, was that after a submarine surfaced unexpectedly in front of the ship a collision was unavoidable, and this collision was to result in a hole in the bow. The exercise was then to shore up the hole and prevent the ship from flooding. All the ships company trained for this kind of situation, but regular drills keep everyone sharp and ready should a similar event happen in reality. This showed yesterday as everyone knew his or her place of duty and the exercise ran smoothly. While a submarine collision may seem extreme the scenario could just as easily arise as a consequence of a collision with one of the many 40ft containers lost overboard from merchant ships every year.

Traffic converging through the choke point of the Strait of Gibraltar was modest and no alterations were necessary although one super-tanker passed close astern heading west out of the Strait. As the stand on ship L.É. Eithne had the right of way.

Internally preparations continue for service provision in South America. The usual nuisance items of course pop up, with a leaking freshwater pipe causing the shut down of the ships domestic services for a time. Shipwrights and artificers were very quickly on hand however to repair the fault.

The darts tournament was due to commence last night but was postponed due to bad weather and heavy rolling. However the first installation of the P31 news was aired last night through the ships internal TV system. The co-anchors Commop Tom Browne and A/Sea Adam Purcell presented the news ably assisted on the sports desk by PO Micheal Broderick and A/Sea Jenny Blackwell as the weather girl. With direction from S/Lt Fergal Tubridy and C/RRT Sean Newstead. Their was also a special health and safety slot in the news last night with PO/SBA Matt Connolly giving a demonstration on the application of suncream ably assisted by his model PO/Shipwright Tom Kennedy. The show went down well and everyone onboard is looking forward to the next installation. It seems that forecast give by A/Sea Jenny Blackwell was not as accurate as it could have been with near gale conditions overnight and undermining every attempt at a good nights sleep.

Despite the weather progress is good and the ship is passing to the west of Africa. After yesterday's weather briefing the Captain decided to stand on and not to alter course. L.É. Eithne is a good sea-boat and well up to the forecast conditions. Who would have thought that you would have near gale conditions off sunny Casablanca. Engine revolutions have been reduced a little to take account of the heavier weather. The air temperature has been rising steadily and is now at 17 degrees while the seawater temperature is over 18 degrees. Our estimated time of arrival in Tenerife is lunchtime tomorrow 10th Feb. Fuel and other vital supplies are ready for shipping. As we are ahead of our ETA we may even stay the night but that will depend on the forecast for the next leg from Tenerife to the River Plate - more about that tomorrow!

Captain’s Journal LE EITHNE - Friday February 10th
Midday posn - Alongside Santa Cruz Tenerife. Temp. A comfortable 23°C
1440nm from Cork
4546nm from The River Plate (Mar Del Plata)
Throughout Thursday afternoon L.É. Eithne continued to make good between 14 and 15 knots. With the wind veering from Southeast around to Southwest in rough sea conditions L.É. Eithne moved moderately and occasionally heavily in the head sea and westerly swell. The daily gym circuit training was cancelled although a few 'die hards' like the Gunnery Officer, Captain and PO Engine Room Artificer Plant got their thread mill or cross trainer fix. By nighttime the weather had improved and those not on watch got a better nights sleep. However the weather did not ease sufficiently enough for the darts tournament to begin, and it has now been postponed until we leave Santa Cruz. The water temperature has risen to over 20 degrees Celsius and so far concerns regarding keeping the engines at a sufficiently cool temperature at higher speeds have been premature. The decision was made, however, to bring the engines back slightly, once it was clear that L.É. Eithne could make its ETA in Santa Cruz. Throughout the night the occasional spectacular bolt of lightning lit up the sky as the one or two thunderstorms passed through.

The ships company woke up this morning with more of a spring in their step after finding the weather to have improved, with sunshine and clear blue skies, almost on cue as we made our final approaches towards Tenerife. Tenerife rose out of the ocean like Skellig Micheal off the West Coast of Kerry. The steep and imposing rock islands set against the background of a clear blue sky made for classic Spanish scenery. Everyone onboard was happy to see the first line ashore at 1147hrs. The Consul, Mr Jaime K Willis was there to greet us on arrival and give us a brief on where to go in Tenerife. We were surprised to find how strong the Irish community is on Tenerife with the first Irish settlers establishing their roots in 1847. So next year there will be a big Irish celebration around St Patrick's day. All the crew are now looking forward to the chance to do a bit of last minute shopping and stretch the legs. The weather also looks promising for the start of our next leg south towards Argentina (The River Plate), with winds forecast to be northerly and behind us making for much more comfortable sea conditions - more about this tomorrow!

Captain’s Journal LE EITHNE - Saturday February 11th
Midday posn - Manoeuvring Santa Cruz Harbour Temp A comfortable 23 C
1441nm from Cork
4545nm from The River Plate (Mar Del Plata)
Since arriving the weather in Tenerife has been mixed, with long sunny spells interspersed with short heavy showers. The showers seemed to come just as we were undertaking an evolution like manoeuvring the ship or taking on fuel. After taking on 70,000 litres of marine diesel L. . Eithne moved from the bunkering berth to a berth closer to town.

Santa Cruz harbour is a man made harbour in some respects similar to Dun Laoghaire with large breakwaters protecting ships from any easterly sea and swell. The air temperature is 22 degrees Celsius while the seawater temperature has just passed 20 degrees. I mentioned that the first Irish settlers came to Tenerife in 1847, that should have read 1747 when Cromwell was in his element. Lt Cdr Aedh McGinn has insisted that this fact be corrected otherwise his fianc would be very annoyed. Some of the crew took to the quay wall with their hurleys and the sliothar. I say the sliothar because we only brought one with us so when it went into the tide there was no option but to jump in to retrieve the ball. The rain didn't stop the crew of L. . Eithne donning their shorts for the first time since leaving Cork Harbour, and taking advantage of Tenerife's duty free shopping, with people buying everything from expensive watches to dodgy sunglasses. Happy with our purchases and shopping bags dropped back to the ship, the mood was buoyant as we set out to sample some of the local cuisine and nightlife. It has to be said that the locals, who like to be referred to as Canarians, are very friendly. Food was excellent with and relatively cheap. The beer however is quite strong and in hindsight best drank by the thimble full!

The ship woke up this morning only too aware of the night previous, with sore heads and periodic moans of 'never again'. Many took the few hours free this morning to run off some off the ill effects of last night. Sinbad Duvet was surprisingly slow for a man that has run at national level.

Jaime, the honorary consul called onboard to see all was well and after a coffee with the Captain he left happy that the visit was a success and even happier that the ship had left him with no headaches! Getting to Tenerife from Ireland is quite easy with direct flights from Dublin by Aer Lingus twice a week and a flight from Cork scheduled to start in July.

The pilot boarded the ship around 1100. A difficulty in clutching in the starboard main engine required that the ship left with only one engine, however the second engine was on line before the ship left the safety of the harbour. By 1200 L. . Eithne was steadying up on 204 - a course which will bring the ship to Mar Del Plata and the River Plate the next stop in two weeks time. There will be plenty to talk about between now and our arrival with crossing the tropic of Capricorn, going through the doldrums crossing the equator to mention but a few topics - but more about that tomorrow.

Captain’s Journal LE EITHNE - Sunday February 12th
Midday posn - 22 51.8N 019 01.4W
1800nm from Cork
4300nm from The River Plate (Mar Del Plata)
1480nm from The Equator
Since we left Tenerife yesterday the weather has been (as they say in Cork) massive, with a blue-sky during the day and magnificent full moon lighting up last nights clear skies. Temperatures are reaching 24 C during the day and fall slightly to 19 C at night. Today, the ship is on Sunday routine, with uniform only worn by people on watch. The flight deck is covered in a shimmering white carpet of Irish bodies who like albino seals are popping in and out of our own paddling pool, an old liferaft commandeered before leaving Ireland. L. . Eithne is making good time, with engines at ahead 8 Trim 6, she's doing 15knots. We crossed the Tropic of Capricorn (23.5 N) this morning at 0915hrs. As we progress along this the longest passage ever undertaken by an Irish Naval Ship we do not expect to put into Port until Sunday 26th February.

Onboard we normally have dinner at 1800 but today in keeping with tradition in much of Ireland we will have it in the middle of the day with a choice between lamb, pork or beef roasts. For evening meal there is a choice between panini, quiche or healthy option salad.

The decision has been made to change working rig to shorts from tomorrow morning. The next in a series of exercises is planned for tomorrow afternoon after we have had time to make more progress on the external and internal preparations for South America. As we are now well outside coverage for terrestrial television and the footprint of our satellite service stopped at the Canaries our own homemade onboard entertainment has started in earnest. The darts competition finally got underway today with Able Supply Paddy Lawlor hot favourite to take the title. Updates on the darts results tomorrow. The gym has been very busy with the three treadmills, cross trainer, cycling and rowing machines getting good use. For the more serious including the armed boarding team and divers there is the "smith" weights machine, which has proved to be a fine piece of kit. The excellent gym facilities, good food and no alcohol underway combined with weather conditions that are improving each day make a recipe for health and fitness.

If you have any queries regarding our deployment or if you want to ask any of the crew a question about their work or anything else please e-mail the captain - captain@eithne.amosconnect.com We will try and answer your question as quickly as possible - now I'm going sunbathing.
LE EITHNE Captain’s Diary - Monday 13th of February
Midday Posn – 17 03.8 N 021 54.7W
Dist to Cork - 2180
Dist to Mar De Plata - 2300
Dist to Equator – 1110
Temp – A simmering 25°C

Today the weather has continued to be good with temperatures now reaching 25°C + and the seawater temperature at over 24 degrees. The wind is fresh and as it is from the North we have a following sea and light airs across the deck. The main point of interest on the African Coast is Dakar which a couple of hundred miles to the South East. In the waters around the ship a number of shark have been sighted including some “hammerheads”. In addition the ships supply staff have been out with their aprons trying the catch some of the flying fish, which have been gliding over the wave crests but so far no good!

The seamen are working hard on deck getting the ship ready for her South American début. Some of the ships crew this morning had a distinctive pink colouring after yesterday’s exposure to the sun, and even the doc who gave a health and safety demonstration on ‘P31 News’ regarding the dangers of exposure to the sun and the application of suncream is a little sheepish.

After yesterdays relaxed Sunday routine the ship is rested and ready for today’s armed boarding exercise, which will commence at 1530hrs. The exercise is like previous evolutions and is designed to test our response to a scenario similar to that which we could easily be expected deliver services in home waters and beyond such as counter narcotics. Using a stand off technique we will deploy our boats in International waters tracking, intercepting and boarding a “virtual” contact. The exercise will terminate with an armed boarding of LE EITHNE by the teams and securing the ship while overpowering a number of the crew who wearing high visibility jackets will be acting as belligerents. The ships boats, which we call “Jaguars”, have a speed of up to 70 km Per Hour. They have a range of 200 Kilometres and are fitted with high speed inboard diesels and counter rotating propellers. LE EITHNE currently has six “Jaguar” coxswains that it has certified these include Able Seamen Alan Purcell, Niall Carney, Jenny Blackwell, Robert Wallace and Niamh Crowley.

There is a BBQ planned for this evening on the fight deck with spicy mince kafkas, pork chops, sausages, burgers, salads and baked potatoes and a range of sauces on the menu.

The darts competition has already thrown up a few close matches, with Seaman Jenny Blackwell just beating Able Electrician Patrick Reidy who were both on the ‘double 1’ for some time. There were also wins for Supply Jackie Shannon who beat Ensign Sean Linehan and Warrant Officer John Walsh and Ensign James Harding also won.

Clocks went back an hour last night so we are now in “N” (November) time zone one hour behind Ireland. “N” time zone is one hour behind “Z” which is the same as GMT. For those reading this elsewhere in the world you will have to figure out the difference yourself. We are scheduled to pass close to the Verde Islands today at around 1600 hrs (local time), that’s 1700 hrs Irish time so we are hoping we might be able to pick up mobile phone coverage. As I close, the Ensigns have just taken the midday position using their sextants and they assure me they know where we are – well lets see if they are right and Cape Verde pops up where it should!

Captain’s Journal LE EITHNE - Tuesday 14th of February
Midday Posn (Z) Irish Time – 11 43.6N 024 16.7W
Dist to Cork – 2500 nm (nautical miles)
Dist to Mar De Plata – 3550 nm
Dist to Equator – 770 nm
Temp – a warm 24°C

Guess what the Cape Verde Islands were not quite where they should have been!

The weather has continued to be good and air temperatures continue to be high at 24°C + a little less than yesterday because of the slight cloud cover. The seawater temperature is now over 26 degrees. The cloud cover has meant that our Junior Officers Ensigns James Harding and Sean Linehan have been unable to get their midday sights using sextant so I hope we don’t get lost between now and our next landfall which will be the former Brazilian penal colony (now a nature reserve) De Fernando De Noronha 1000 miles ahead and 200 miles off the Coast of Brazil. The wind has freshened some more from the North but LE EITHNE continues to make excellent progress. We are currently 500 nautical miles from the main points of interest on the African Coast the borders between Guinea Bissau, Gambia and Senegal. In our wake last night and now 200 miles astern we left the Verde islands. We had hoped to close these spectacular volcanic structures rising from the mid Atlantic ridge but on closer examination of the charts we were surprised at the extent of uncharted waters that surround these Islands. The number of underwater seamounts rising thousands of metres from the deep ocean to just under the surface of the water is significant. There presence coupled with the fact that the Islands, as we fixed them on radar, were 1.5 nautical miles out of position compared to our charts was enough for us to heed warning notices to mariners. These advised that we should keep at least seven nautical miles off the coast. So the best plans of mice and men to close sufficiently so as to get into mobile phone coverage failed. Fortunately we still have our e-mail, which went down for six or seven hours yesterday – thanks however to our sparks SLt Fergal Tubridy (alias Simon Duvet) the software problem was sorted and we are back on line.

The armed boarding exercise was of value in keeping our teeth sharp. With a fresh wind of force six the tracking and interception by the team of the virtual contact was no cake-walk nor was the boarding of LE EITHNE from the “Jaguars” as they overpowered the nominated criminals under the command of the designated female skipper Communications Operative Tracey Wilkes. The Irish Navy’s capacity for small boat operations is a “niche capability”. Operating in what are statistically some of the most hostile sea areas in the world – the west coast of Ireland – others navies are watching closely at how the Irish navy doctrine in small boat operations is evolving.

This evening the ship will go to action stations as we simulate operations in a hostile environment. Our 57mm Bofors main armament linked to our Lightweight Optronic Director will be put through its paces while our 20mm secondary armament Rheinmetals will fire in support against a ship launched target. As with armed boarding, or, indeed any evolution, the competencies required for service provision in a difficult environment are not such that you can turn them on or off like a tap – so the only way to maintain the required level is to practice, practice and practice.

The BBQ provided an opportunity for our head chef Petty Officer Eddie Staunton and his team to pull off another food miracle while we all dined together on the flight deck in the warmth of the evening setting sun.

The darts competition continues to surprise with our Navigator SLt Patricia Butler being just beaten in a close match by Leading Mechanician Dwayne Mc Philbin – what an athlete! In response, however Able Mechanician Amy Healy beat Petty Officer William Leahy.

In case you didn’t know today is Valentine’s Day and all of the crew send their love to their wives, girlfriends and boyfriends. Some have been lucky to be given cards or packages containing sweets and thongs I mean things with strict instructions not to open until the 14th Feb – I promise we didn’t. Our senior Logistician Senior Petty Officer Sam Fealy was particularly lucky to have a card from his wife delivered by his son Gerard who is also embarked as a Radio Radar Techician.

As previously mentioned we are delighted to receive your comments or questions relating to our deployment captain@eithne.amosconnect.com . I am grateful to Paul Murphy from Mallow now living in the UK who pointed out the mistake regarding the link between Cromwell and the first Irish to settle on Tenerife. I obviously misinterpreted the link made to me by the Irish community on the Island. I suspect that what was meant was that the first Irish settlers to Tenerife must have been descendants of Irish transplanted possibly to Montserrat in Cromwell’s time in Ireland in 1640s. I am fortunate that Lt Cdr Martin Clifford NS Rtd loaned me his copy of Tim Pat Coogan’s book “Wherever Green is Worn” which helped in researching this point.

Right now green is being worn and the Irish Tricolour is flying in the middle of the Atlantic less than 800 miles North of the equator where we hope to cross on Thursday. Soon we will be abeam of Liberia where Irish Troops are deployed but more about that tomorrow.
Captain’s Journal LE EITHNE - Wednesday 15th of February
Midday Posn (Z) Irish Time – 06 13N 026 54W
Dist to Cork – 2900 nm (nautical miles)
Dist to Mar De Plata – 3190 nm
Dist to Equator – 410 nm
Temp – a warm 27°C

Who spotted that the Cape Verde Islands are nearly eight hundred and sixty miles from the Mid Atlantic Ridge well imagine my surprise – the Cape Verde Archipelago is actually part of the Cape Verde Plateau and well to the east of the Mid Atlantic Ridge! .

Last night not for the first time, these latitudes were disturbed by the sound of Naval gunfire from an Irish Naval Ship. On the last occasion LE NIAMH under command of Lt Cdr Jim Shalloo did her final preparations and test fired her main armament before entering the Port of Monrovia where the security situation was still unstable. She had just embarked an Irish Defence Forces reconnaissance team in Sierra Leone under the command of Col (now Brig General) McNamara. The team were tasked with reconnoitring the security situation and identifying a suitable Camp Site for the first Irish Battalion (Bn) to be deployed to Liberia. LE Niamh provided security and logistical support as well as a means for emergency evacuation out of the Port. As we pass abeam of the Port of Monrovia the mission of the Irish Bn under the command of Lt Col JJ O Reilly is winding up. The Irish Bn acted as the Quick Reaction Force (QRF) and a security assistance force while the Liberian institutions were re-established and while the Demobilisation, Disarmament and Reintegration (DDR) process was completed. Today, onboard LE EITHNE two of our chefs Robbie Meehan and Brendan Fitzgerald as well as our second in command Lt Cdr Aedh McGinn have seen service with Irish Bns in Camp Clara in Liberia..

LE Niamh’s mission, which at the time arose at very short notice, provides a perfect example of why it is so necessary to ensure your operational capacity is maintained at as high a level as possible. At 1600 and 2000 yesterday under command of Petty Officer Brendan Madden and assisted by Able Seamen Purcell and Niall Carney LE EITHNE’s main armament spoke to the latitudes as it projected High Explosive proximity fused pre-fragmented shells out to their maximum safety range of 16 kilometres. LE EITHNE’s gunnery and fire control system (FCS) with its capacity to fire remotely from the ships operations room continues to be quite a sophisticated fit. The Lightweight Optronic Director (LIOD) can automatically track a target picking up its infra red signature giving bearing and elevation to the fire control software. The missing third dimension, which is given by the laser range finder, allows for the computer to calculate the predicted hitting point which is where the gun points. Modern air engagements are about getting the target to pass as close to the gunnery shell where the doppler activated radar fuse will explode when both shell and target are at their closest point. The main armament shoot last night was supported with Seamen Niamh Crowley, Eoin McCarthy and Jenny Blackwell on the Rheinmetall secondary armament firing a thousand rounds per minute of target practice tracer lighting up the sky like fireworks. Chef Mick Rath provided close in support on the 12.7 mm heavy machine gun. The shoot conducted against 57mm rocket illumes and co-ordinated by the ships gunnery officer SLt Kieran Carr (AKA the Beastmaster) was a great success. Obviously the importance of maintaining a clear air and surface range is paramount with the shoot accompanied by safety transmissions on channel 16 and the command safety team scouring the horizons. But having not seen a ship for over two days we were all alone in our exercise. .

The weather has continued to be good and air temperatures rising to 25°C. The seawater temperature is now almost 29 degrees. Together with LE EITHNE’s Marine Engineering Officer Lt Cdr Tony Heery I will shortly visit the main engine rooms where the ambient air temperature is 44 degrees with extremely high humidity making conditions difficult. The current engine room watch with Petty Officer Dominic Russell assisted by Mechanicians Alan Doyle and Brian Hastings must regularly take their rounds in these conditions. Already we are monitoring a number of near alarm statistics such as the forward main engine jacket water temperature and one of the main shaft bearings. .

Yesterday Mechanician Brian Hastings, the youngest member of our crew, dressed up in his white shirt and black bow tie and presented all our ladies embarked with a Valentines package from the rest of us – all because we still believe in romance in the Irish Navy. .

Tomorrow we will cross the line and many of us are trembling in our boots as we think of what is in store for us “Pollywogs”. We will also come close to a lone rocky outcrop rising from the depths called Penedos De Sao Pedro e Sao Paulo and guess what – its on the Mid Atlantic Ridge!

Captain’s Journal LE EITHNE - Thursday 16th of February
Midday Posn (Z) Irish Time – 01 00N 029 12W
Dist to Cork – 3230 nm (nautical miles)
Dist to Mar De Plata – 2840 nm
Dist to Equator – 60 nm
Temp – a warm 28°C

Thank you for all your positive and constructive comments on the journal, which you have asked to be passed to the scribe. Some have suggested that the author should introduce himself so today that is how I will open. I am the Captain of LE EITHNE Commander Mark Mellett and you can continue to mail your comments to my address at captain@eithne.amosconnect.com

The heat and humidity are such that today I rose early at 0630 to get my run in. But I had to wait a further 30 minutes to get a free machine it seems that the logistics department including Cook Alan Corcoran and Petty Officer Micheal Broderick hardly sleep at all. Before I had finished training, the ship’s Bosun Petty Officer Paul Mc Carthy assisted by Leading Seaman Noel Dunne were already setting the men and women of their department to work in preparation for South America. In addition to being seamen responsible for the deck department, Paul is a radar plotter and Noel is a gunner. They are also key members of our ships diving team and two of the four personnel loaned from LE EITHNE to take part in the difficult diving operation following the tragic loss of the Rising Sun off the Southeast Coast late last year. The diving operation, which lasted almost two weeks at depths of over 50 metres, was complex and extremely dangerous. The crew of LE EITHNE sympathise with the families of those who lost their lives during and following the tragedy.

Today at GMT we are just over four hours from the equator. The wind has dropped to light airs and the sea is nearly flat. We are now in what is known as the doldrums. Last night we had heavy rain showers, which almost blanked out our radars. In the days of sail the area was dreaded because of the fear of becoming becalmed. It is the zone where the trade winds of the northern and southern hemispheres converge and where, after prolonged heating over the equatorial ocean some of the air finally ascends vertically. The term Inter-tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) is also used to describe the latter phenomenon.

For days other than flying fish and the very occasional seabird apart from ourselves we have seen no life. In the past 12 hours in particular however the number of seabirds has increased significantly and just on the horizon as I write the Islands of Penedos de Sao Pedro e Sao Paulo are becoming visible. These rocks rise to a maximum elevation of 19 metres and they pull us like a magnet to admire their beauty. They belong to Brazil and have been designated as a conservation area. Though steep-to they need to be approached with extreme caution as the waters surrounding them are not fully charted. In 1974 the Motor Vessel Ana Christina sank after striking an unknown object just 10 miles SW of the Group. We are now just seven miles from the group and I must alter away or else there might be no journal tomorrow!

Today I have a special task and that is to greet King Neptune, Queen Aphrodite, the Judge, the doctor, the court clerk the chief of police and his able assistants who will oversee the ceremonial proceedings associated with crossing the equator. My task will be to secure right of passage for the ship and crew on this historic occasion of the first Irish Naval Ship to pass from the North to South Atlantic. As a pollywog myself, I am sure I will have loads to report on this tomorrow.

Meanwhile planning continues for the delivery of services. Working with the Embassy in Argentina and other stakeholders such as Crumlin Childrens Hospital in Dublin we are still refining the services we will deliver. Besides the diplomatic and ceremonial aspects of our visits, in Argentina, through Crumlin hospital we have established links with a Children’s hospital in Buenos Aires. We will host a number of events and facilitate a number of links between Paediatric Centres in Argentina and in Ireland. These links, it is hoped, will lead to possible education inter-action and health service professional exchange programmes. We also of course hope to host sick children from these centres just as we do with our friends from Our Ladies Children’s Hospital Crumlin. We will also work with the Fahey Institute and as I write we are receiving confirmation that we will host children from this institute in Buenos Aires. The “good Father Fahey” was one of the greatest single influences on the Irish Community in Argentina. In 1843 the 39 year old Irish Dominican was sent to Buenos Aires. Tim Pat Coogan writes that after a lifetime in which he made himself indispensable to the Irish Community, Fahey’s finest hour occurred during a succession of killer epidemics, which struck Buenos Aires in 1867 and 1871. Caring for those sick and dying from cholera and yellow fever no matter what their nationality, Fahey finally died from yellow fever in 1877. Fahey’s biographer Mgr J Ussher says that under Fahey “the Irish in Argentina had been transformed into an important, organised and prosperous community”. His legacy lives on through the Fahey Institute, a boarding school regime providing education for many boys and girls from both the Irish and Argentinean community who when initially established would have remained untaught. He also was responsible for setting up a number of hospitals and bringing the Sisters of Mercy to Buenos Aires where they cared for orphans.

Delivering these services however requires that we make it to Argentina on or ahead of schedule. I spoke yesterday of some of the issues being faced by the engine room staff. I did visit the main engine rooms where the ambient air temperature in the forward space continues at 44 degrees making conditions difficult. The staff were coping well, however, minimising their time on rounds in the space. I also mentioned that we were monitoring a number of near alarm statistics. Mid afternoon yesterday we lost the Port Main Engine as it shut down automatically on alarm. For hours engine room staff investigated the fault – working in shifts in the extreme heat. It was soon narrowed down to an electrical fault. Chief Engine Room Artificer (ERA) Tom Sheridan together with Chief Electrical Artificer (EA) Fergus Heaton, Petty Officer (EA) Fiachra Kelleher and Able (EA) Patrick Reidy continued their investigations up to midnight with the engine coming on-line and shutting down with worrying regularity. Shortly after mid-night satisfied that the shut downs were the result of an electrical fault and not an actual main engine critical status the Marine Engineer Lt Cdr Tony Heery decided to by past the shut-down system and run the main engine overnight monitoring its status regularly. Just before 7 this morning with the electricians back on the case found a break down in the wiring insulation of the shut down system. I have just been advised that the fault has been fixed. This morning’s engine-room watch is headed by PO Eric Stephens with support from Mechanician Jonathan Crawford and ERA Dave Culliton.

Last night we had a quiz night, which was won by team 3 with Lt Olan O’Keefe (aka Olan de Omen) Mech Vinny Sweetman, Bil Tyson and Declan Cassidy. The Naval Service Senior Non Commissioned Officer Warrant Officer John Walsh celebrated his birthday yesterday and I got my haircut by Ensign Sean Linehan. Will my next haircut be voluntary – I don’t know, I have just been called to the bow where we are getting ready to meet our guests – more about that tomorrow,

Captain’s Journal LE EITHNE - Friday February 17th
Midday Posn (Z) Irish Time – 04 36S 031 43W
Dist to Cork – 3600 nm (nautical miles)
Dist to Mar De Plata – 2480 nm
Dist to Equator – 276 nm
Temp – a warm 30°C
The air temperature has continued to rise and is now 30 degrees with the seawater temperature at 29.8. Over the past thirty-six hours the wind has shifted from the fresh North Easterly we had North of the Equator to a more modest but freshening South Easterly wind south of the equator. These are the trade winds separated by the dreaded doldrums and so valued by sail ships over the centuries. Overnight new constellations that most of us have never seen were visible in the heavens. Just over the horizon the Arquipelago de Fernando de Noronha rises out of the ocean. The main island of the group appears completely mountainous and is covered in vegetation. The islands owned by Brazil have a restricted area surrounding them preventing fishing, hunting and any other action which might affect the environment. In previous times the islands were home to a notorious prison for Brazil’s most hardened criminals. We continue to get some assistance from the south equatorial current, which pushes west. Soon we will be smack in the middle of the Brazilian current, which will assist in bringing us exactly where we want to go along the coast to the river plate. To date out progress has been such that we are now over thirty six hours ahead of schedule. This morning in discussion with Captain James Robinson DSM Naval Service second in command and head of Naval Operations Command it was decided to consider amending our estimated time of arrival in Mar Del Plata to Saturday 25 Feb.

I left you yesterday as the pipe “Captain report to the F’ocsle” was made by the leading hand of the watch Leading Seaman Courtney Gibbons. Fo’csle is an abbreviation for “forecastle” and comes from the time of sail when ships were built with a forecastle to the front of the ship, a main deck in the middle and an aft castle at the back of a ship. By the time I got there His Excellency King Neptune (Cook Brendan Fitzgerald), Queen Aphrodite (Petty Officer (PO) Michael Broderick), the court clerk (Warrant Officer (WO) John Walsh), the judge (Senior Chief PO Robbie Byrne), the doctor (PO Hull Artificer Tom Kennedy), the chief of police (Chief PO John (Bull) Hogan) and his Police assistants (PO Paul O’Brien, Cook Alan Corcoran, Seaman Niamh Connoly, Electrician Rory Galvin) were in situ. I requested King Neptune for the right of passage from the Northern to the Southern hemisphere. In reply King Neptune granted the ship and all her crew permission to cross the equator but required that those who had not done so before be required to undergo an appropriate imitation ceremony. On the flight deck the crew were assembled, and under the supervision of Lt Olan (the omen) O’Keefe, “a shellback”, like Chief PO Tom Sheridan, being the only members of the ships company previously to cross the equator, the ceremony began. A representative sample of those who had not crossed the line before, known as “pollywogs” including PO Cook Eddie Staunton, SLt Fergal Tubridy, PO Michael Harrington, Seaman Niall Cremin, Mr Bill Tyson and PO Maurice Plant were assembled. The court was convened and each pollywog was brought before the court and their crimes were read out. As Captain it was my job to appeal for leniency for each, which I succeeded in doing for all but Bill Tyson. Bill is a civilian member of a TV crew who is making a documentary on the deployment and I just could not find any positive qualities that were sufficiently meritoriuos to warrant a plea of leniency. All the pollywogs were initiated and required to take the doctors medicine, which consisted of eggs, and flour each was then thrown in the water. Just when I thought all was going smoothly things went bad and I found myself seized by the chief of police and brought before the court. My crimes, were so many, that they were unfolded on a roll of paper, which ran across the full length of the flight deck. There was no hope; the crew were silent despite a feeble plea for leniency, which was discarded. I had to take my medicine and after being made jump like a monkey I was thrown in the water. So the ceremony which is hundreds of years old and carried out on merchant and naval ships when ever they cross the line was completed in the South Atlantic for the first time on an Irish Naval Ship.

LE EITHNE has a number of means with which to stay in touch with the outside world. The Fleet 33 e-mail system is new. We would ask anybody e-mailing the ship to keep your message relatively short, as we are restricted in the file size we can receive. The e-mail address is captain@eithne.amosconnect.com . In addition to this we have high speed data links data links (HSD) via INMARSAT B which also gives us voice, telex and fax comms. Other communications facilities include medium/high frequency (MF/HF) radio over telex, HF voice, Ultra High Frequency Voice and Very High Frequency Voice. Other Satellite based communications include INMARSAT C store/forward telex, EMSAT phone and fax and IRIDIUM Sat Phone for world wide voice coverage. The ship is of course fully compliant with the Global Maritime Distress Safety System (GMDSS) requirements. The communications centre under PO Greg Hamilton is manned 24 hours a day. Some of the services provided and supported by the department include monitoring international distress and calling frequencies, supporting rear link communications with Irish Troops in Liberia, transmission of Meteorological reports to Met Eireann and of course all communications between the ship and Naval Operations Command. Greg is assisted by Leading Commop Martin McGuckin, Leading Commop Mark Ansboro, A Commop Thomas Browne, A Commop John Paterson and Commop Tracey Wilkes. Techical staff who support the department are Chief PO Radio Radar Technician (RRT) Sean Newstead Department Head and RRT Gerard Fealy. So far we have just monitored one distress which was over 2000 nautical miles from our position and outside our capacity to provide a meaningful response.

Slowly but surely LE EITHNE’s decks are being transformed as the seamen work their way top down painting as they go. I try to avoid painting unnecessarily. Besides the environmental penalty, there is also the consideration of cost not to mention the time consuming drudgery associated with this task. For once however no body is complaining with perfect weather and the executive officer making sure everyone is properly protected with sunscreen lotion issued to all. The drudgery of the task is more than mitigated by the beautiful weather. It was always our plan to keep this task for the fair weather on passage – good thinking bosun PO Paul McCarthy.

In the logistics department menus for the various functions are being drawn up. We will host, diplomatic receptions, business functions, military functions, chilrdens functions and special focus groups as well as receiving calls of protocol and custom in each port we visit. The ship will be thronged by thousands of visitors and under the watchful eye of thousands more as they walk or drive by this piece of sovereign Irish territory flying the Irish flag proudly in each country we visit.

LE EITHNE has a huge heart, a great crew – we will make sure she looks the part because when all is said and done she is the best little flagship in the world.
Captain’s Journal LE EITHNE – Saturday18th of February
Midday Posn (Z) Irish Time – 10 22S 034 19W
Dist to Cork – 3970 nm (nautical miles)
Dist to Mar De Plata – 2100 nm

Progress continues to be good. The weather is again in our favour with an air temperature of 29 degrees and seawater temperature over 30 degrees. The East South East Trade wind has eased and is now moderate or light.

We are now just under a hundred miles off the Brazilian coast. The Brazilian current is a God send and giving us almost an extra knot in speed. Abeam to starboard, which is the right hand side of the ship as you look ahead (Port being the left), is Recife one of Brazil’s major ports. During our initial planning for this deployment this was to be our last Port of call before returning to Ireland but in consultation with HE Excellency Martin Green, Irish Ambassador to Brazil, it was decided to travel further up the Brazilian coast to the Port of Fortaleza. Here because of the work of Irish Missionaries the community have been very much influenced by Irish culture. Further up this coast is the entrance to one of the most spectacular waterways in the world – the Amazon. Enough of that, however, for it will be well over a month before we return to these waters to spend some time. So, lets save the storyline till then.

As I write Ensigns Sean Linehan and James Harding have taken the midday sight, which is a relatively straightforward way of getting your midday latitude. Combining this with a sun run sun they will be able to give me an accurate fix of our position without resorting to electronic navigation aids. Bill Tyson, who is doing the documentary, has been getting lessons from Lt Damian McCormack on Astronomical Navigation using a sextant. Declan the cameraman has just said that it is fortunate Bill has learned so fast or we never might have known that we were in Azerbaijan!

Overnight a number of work parties tackled some critical areas and by morning when the first gym customers (Senior Petty Officer (SPO) Sam Fealy and PO Micheal Broderick turned too on the machines, the hangar deck paint was already dry. Training was a little easier this morning and after getting it in we were ready for our usual breakfast of cereal, fruit juice, brown bread and tea. Most of our gym equipment is fitted with an electronic sensor, which can detect your heartbeat when you wear the appropriate chest strap. The beauty of this is that you can set your programme against your heart. My own preference is to exercise at 158 beats per minute, and the treadmill speeds up and changes elevation as necessary to keep me at that work rate. This is ideal especially if the ship has a list because of the weather. This morning I noticed that when both our Executive officer Lt Cdr Aedh McGinn and myself were exercising our speeds were down. Ultimately however its about work rate not speed and extreme care has to be taken exercising in this heat ensuring for example that sufficient fluids are consumed.

Seabirds are now common and the occasional whale has also been sighted. We normally make returns of all sightings to the Irish Whale and Dolphin group as well as University College Cork’s Coastal Marine Resource Centre, which is co-located with our Base on Haulbowline Island Cork. Monitoring cetaceans and sea life provides data that are of value in assessing environmental health. This is just one of the many services the Navy provides.

Another service we provide is the provision of fire fighting services to vessels in distress. Yesterday we carried out a major fire fighting exercise onboard. From my perspective on a day-to-day basis the greatest threats I face are on one hand the dangers associated with flooding as a consequence of collision, explosion, grounding or intake/valve failure and on the other the danger of fire. Every member of the ship’s company is a fire fighter. Using the state of the art fire fighting training facility at the National Maritime College Ireland, where the navy’s college under Cdr Tom Tuohy is partnered with Cork Institute of Technology under Donal Burke, we are put through our paces. There are no hostages taken in this training. In my last training exercise besides losing my own life I also jeopardised the lives of the fire fighting team I was leading. Embarrassing but that’s the place to do it and not out here when you may have to fight a fire for real. We have nobody to turn to and unless we can put out the fire there really is no plan B. Consider our stores, hundreds of tonnes of diesel, tonnes of high explosives and pyrotechnics as well as all the furnishings, deck stores and supplies all perfect fuels ready to complete the fire triangle. But we shouldn’t be pessimistic, however, we train every few days varying the scenario. Our equipment is good. Some of the facilities we have include fixed CO2 fire installations, numerous pump options to charge the fire main, state of the art breathing apparatus and clothing, thermal imaging cameras (TIC), modern fire alarm facility triggered by heat and or smoke, smoke generators for training and a range of standard hoses, nozzles, branch pipes and foam makers. While posing a huge threat in times of hull damage such as after collision, the sea however can be our saviour when it comes to fire fighting, with its water being pumped throughout the ships fire main to where ever it is required and then being applied as is or in conjunction with a foam making facility to good effect. One of our greatest resources is the level of our training coupled with having one the Navy’s most experienced fire fighting instructors CPO John (Bull) Hogan as our CPO Mechanician.

Our exercise scenario simulated an oil fire in no. 3 generator room. An initial investigation by the ship’s standing sea fire party which includes CPO John Hogan, PO Electrician Fiachra Kelleher, Leading Mech Dwayne (Giggles) McPhilbin and Supply Paddy Lawlor leads to their immediate attempts to bring the fire under control failing. The team closes down the area and leaves one member to brief the attack team while Chief Hogan recommends to the Bridge to proceed immediately to emergency stations. This entails all personnel reporting to pre-assigned stations, all equipped with their personal life- saving equipment. The ship’s damage control headquarters springs to life and under the direction of the ship’s Marine Engineering Officer (MEO) Lt Cdr Anthony Heery the scenario is assessed and our best resources are focussed on the problem. The ships organisation provides for damage control parties at the ship’s forward end under PO Maurice Plant and at the ship’s after end under PO Liam (Sammy) Leahy. Each party has a cross section of skills and technical expertise offering the MEO with a variety of options for tackling the fire. One of the MEO’s first actions is to assign a water boundary cooling team to the adjacent and overhead compartments in order to prevent conduction and likely secondary ignitions. His main weapon in this case ultimately comes down to a four-man attack team making an entry into the compartment where the fire is out of control. The team includes one member with a water-wall offering protection to the team, a fire fighter who fights through the water wall, a hose handler and a team I/C. Each is dressed in a fearnought suit of thick fire resistant woollen material together with anti flash gloves and headgear to protect exposed skin, a helmet, fire fighting gloves and a breathing apparatus which is managed to the second by a controller. The Breathing Apparatus controller, who is a little remote from the fire, monitors cylinder pressures and times calculating when the next attack team needs to relieve the 1st. In our scenario the first team consisting of Seaman Lee Coughlan, Seaman Robbie Wallace, Mech Alan Doyle and Mech Brian Hastings, were relieved by the second team consisting of Seaman Fergal McDonagh, Seaman Robert Buckley, Leading Seaman Gordon Cummins and Seaman Niall Cremin who brought the fire under control eventually extinguishing the blaze. Do we all go to tea then, no, sentries must be mounted and the situation monitored until temperatures have dropped and there is no risk of secondary ignitions. All equipment has to be inspected, recharged and replaced ready for what will hopefully be another training exercise. Of course throughout the whole operation the MEO must also be mindful of the amount of seawater used in bringing the fire under control. There is little point in bringing the fire under control only to present me with my other nightmare of a ship so flooded that we are unable to float.

Onboard, however, we have a number of personnel who in addition to other skills make it their business not to float, our ships diving team. Tomorrow we will pass over the Abrolhos shoal with a least charted depth of 10 metres – lets send the divers down to have a look – more about that tomorrow.


Captain’s Journal LE EITHNE – Sunday 19th of February
Midday Posn (Z) Irish Time – 15 59S 036 55W
Dist to Cork – 4350 nm (nautical miles)
Dist to Mar De Plata – 1720 nm

Today has been probably the most pleasant day since leaving Cork two weeks ago – with an Air Temperature of 31 Degrees, seawater temperature above 30 degrees and a light easterly breeze there is hardly a cloud in the sky. We are now well over halfway through the longest passage ever undertaken by an Irish Naval Vessel – the voyage from Santa Cruz Tenerife to Mar Del Plata Argentina. Flying fish continue to abound. Yesterday I saw a seabird swoop and seize a fish as it glided close to the water surface. I forgot to mention that a few days ago one fish actually landed on the flight deck. I am glad to have embarked at least one aircraft for this deployment. Senior Petty Officer Sam Fealy who picked up the fish on being asked if was dead quickly retorted, “no he is waiting for a bus”!

Having completed my night orders last night and before turning in I was reviewing the Admiralty sailing directions which provides up to date advice to mariners on the dangers to be expected in these waters. To my surprise it cited the coast of Brazil as a hotspot for piracy with reports of pirates successfully over running ships with high freeboards and travelling at speeds of up to 17 knots. My mean speed now is just over 15 knots or thirty kilometres per hour. Attacks usually take place under cover of darkness, most often between 2200 and 0600. While it would be a brave pirate that would board our ship – it is a headache I would rather avoid, accordingly the night watches were briefed and the need for vigilance was stressed. The experience has been that pirates in the area approach their target from the stern. At nighttime depending on the experience of the criminal it is likely under normal steaming conditions with no activity in the hangar that LE EITHNE’s stern light would look no different to that of a merchant or fishing vessel. Other hotspots in the world for piracy include the Straits of Malacca and the West Coast of Africa.

The Arquipelago dos Abrolhos shoal extends far offshore from the Brazilian coastline with a least depth of ten metres at a point known as Banco Inverie just to the East of our planned track. Satisfied that the survey is reliable, this morning I adjusted course to close this point. From this point the shoal tumbles to the deep Ocean and depths of greater than 4000 metres. As part of our programme to keep our teeth sharp today we are simulating an Operation Awkward in which we deploy the ships divers as an emergency response to a suspected terrorist hull attack. First however using our stand off training we will vector the diving team ahead to an estimated position where we will simulate an aircraft ditching 20 kilometres south of the ship on the Banco Inverie. The ships diving officer Lt Damian McCormack gathers the diving team and briefs command as well as the divers. As a diver myself I will also participate in the exercise, firstly to keep my minutes up to date, secondly it allows me the opportunity to assess at first hand our competency and thirdly it provides job enrichment for Lt Cdr Aedh McGinn who will assume command of LE EITHNE for the exercise. The deployment from the ship goes well and the ship prepares to vector us to the supposed aircraft crash spot. Travelling at 35 knots (or 70 kilometres per hour) our rigid inflatable boats are the fastest response we have and can speed ahead of the ship with a 40 kilometre per hour advantage. As a younger officer in the Navy I trained as a Search and Rescue diver with the Royal Navy in Culdrose deploying from helicopters. This was an exciting qualification to have and necessitated the maintenance of a high standard of physical fitness. These days with no helicopter embarked on LE EITHNE it has been impossible to maintain the grade and the qualification has lapsed. Nevertheless much of the doctrine learned still applies when deploying from a RIB. Besides debris, one of the first things to look for when looking for a ditched aircraft will be a fuel bloom on the sea surface. At night time this can often be detected by smell. On this occasion however our exercise has to be cut short as an overheat alarm triggers on the large inboard diesel engine of our Rigid inflatable boat. If responding to a genuine emergency in the circumstances we would accept it and carry on but this is training and we reluctantly acknowledge the alarm and return to ship to change boats. With sunset approaching we quickly move to the second phase of the operation to commence our ships bottom search. Just before we enter the water a shark like fish is spotted on the starboard side. At four or five feet while a consideration on his own he is not a major threat to life or limb once a careful watch is maintained. So the operation continues. Simultaneously while the divers deploy the ship also goes to swimming stations and a shark lookout is posted. The water is absolutely beautiful with visibility in excess of 30 metres. The ships hull is searched and found to be very clean with no cause for concern. Sacrificial anodes are in tact, no ropes or lines on the propellers, rudders or extendable stabilisers and all transducers clear. Meanwhile on the surface it is like water world with virtually every member of the ships company, other than the duty watch, jumping from the flight deck and climbing up the scrambling ladder – after all it is Sunday and if we can’t relax today then when can we.

As the divers wash their kit and charge their bottles they are framed by a beautiful sunset as the ships engines growl into life and LE EITHNE resumes her course to Mar Del Plata. For the first time in a week traffic is increasing as Brazilian fishing boats work the shoals and commercial shipping ploys up and down the coast. Just like last Sunday we had our dinner in the middle of the day and later than usual we settle to our tea at 1930.

Its now 10pm and I must finish my night orders. I will again ask the watches to be vigilant in case we meet a pirate. One thing for sure, however, is that he won’t hit us before midnight unless he the dumbest pirate in the south Atlantic. LE EITHNE is having a talent competition tonight on the flight-deck and most of the ships company will participate. Under the supervision of Warrant Officer John Walsh and with the support of the incredible one man band Leading Seaman Mark Ansboro the sharks, and pirates (that’s if there are any) of Arquipelago dos Abrolhos will be entertained like never before – but more about that tomorrow.
Captain’s Journal LE EITHNE – Monday 20th of February
Midday Posn (Z) Irish Time –21 18S 39 28W
Dist to Cork – 4690 nm (nautical miles)
Dist to Mar De Plata – 1380 nm

It was hard to decide who won the talent competition on Sunday night but I suppose my preference was the “Perryboys”, Communications Operative (Commop) Brown and Seaman Robert McCarthy whose dance routine to “Keep On Moving” by Five was outstanding. Lisa my ten year old daughter would have been thrilled. You will also be pleased to hear that so far the pirates in these waters have chosen to give us a wide berth.

It is just five days now before we will be escorted into the Argentinean Port of Mar Del Plata by our host ship ARA Drummond. The weather continues to be very good with a light east south east breeze, an air temperature of 33 degrees and seawater temperature over 30 degrees. There is a little more cloud today, which is no harm; nevertheless it is the hottest day so far. Onboard we are very pleased with the light working dress with which we were issued prior to departure. Our day-to-day rig consists of black safety boots and socks, and blue shorts and shirt with epaulette rank markings or blue dry flo complete with LE EITHNE P31 cap. Many thanks to all at Naval Sores (a special word for LE EITHNE’s last executive officer Lt Cdr Brian Dempsey who was key) and Defence Forces Logistics Administration who worked against the clock over the Christmas to get us the kit on time.

Over the past day or two our technicians, in particular Radio Radar Technician Gerard Fealy and SLt Fergal Tubridy have been working on the Computers which are destined for the Admiral Brown school several hours up the Parama River. These machines together with a variety of other equipment have been gathered on behalf of, purchased for or donated to JJ O’Hara President of the Admiral Brown society in Foxford. In addition to this hardware we were fortunate to receive almost 2500 dollars donated by the Naval Association in Ireland to be used as we see fit in the course of the delivery children humanitarian services in some of the countries we will visit. Thank you to the association President Lt Cdr Bobby Mulrooney NSR Rtd, Terry Cummins Secretary and Malachi Gallagher. The post Christmas toy appeal in Dublin Diocese was such a success that Fr Pat Donoghue, on behalf of Dr Diarmuid Martin, was able to donate toys for distribution in some of the hospitals we will visit. The toys will also be gifted when children from the hospitals are onboard. The Royal St George Yacht Club Dun (RSGYC) Laoghaire and the Higher Education Authority (HEA) Dublin were just two of the many other institutions that came to our assistance. Thank you to Commodore Richard Lovegrove of the RSGYC and Pauraic Mellett of the HEA. Each collected toys which will be put to good use for instance when we are working through the Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) “Task Brazil” and we host the street children of Rio De Janeiro to a party onboard.

Today we encountered the Pampo Oilfield off the Brazilian coast. It is 116 nautical miles long and 40 nautical miles wide extending up to 80 nautical miles South East of Cabo se Sao Tome. I am required to keep at least 500 metres from each of the facilities and rather than snake my way through the field I have chosen to alter to the east and leave everything to starboard. Commander Eugene Ryan who is our Commander Fleet Operations at the Naval Operations Command was in touch and advised me that one of these vessels in the field has Harry Courtney as Captain. Harry is a cousin of Christy Courtney, who skippers the Naval Launch David F running between Cobh and our Naval Base. I was able to e-mail Harry and at our closest point we were just thirty miles apart. We tried to establish communications on Marine VHF Channel 16 (International Calling Channel) but were unsuccessful. As we pass we can see numerous different platforms the majority of which are not specifically charted, as they are either exploratory or only newly sited. They are working in varying depths some appear to be between the one and two thousand metre contour, which is extremely deep. According to Harry this is probably one of the most congested fields other than the Western Gulf of Mexico with a mixture of fixed platforms, drilling rigs and Floating Production Storage units Offshore (FPSOs). In addition to these I can see a plethora of rig support vessels some manoeuvring under and dwarfed by the production platforms.

This is a predominantly oil rich field. The oil is carried from each well head in pipes known as flowlines to a production platform where primary processing and pumping is carried out. The oil is then transported to the nearby storage facilities (FPSOs), which are moored for that purpose. As we transit I can see a number of the production and FPSOs flaring excess gas into the atmosphere. If it was night time I would say it would nearly be as exciting as our night shoot of last week.

Where we are now all of the structures we currently see under normal circumstances should be outside the territorial waters of any state. The State of Brazil, however is one of thirteen states in the world that claim a 200 nautical mile territorial sea. With the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) ratified in 1994 this would seem to be an anomaly as that convention (Article 3) makes provision for a twelve mile territorial limit. Under International law (UNCLOS) a coastal state may exercise sovereign rights over the seabed and sub-seabed resources out to the limits of its continental shelf area of jurisdiction (Article 77). In the case of Ireland a partial claim has already been submitted to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf for an area of ocean extending beyond the 200 mile limit. Should this and its final claim be upheld, a large area of the north-east Atlantic would come under national jurisdiction. In addition to natural resource benefits that may be derived from this area come responsibilities, which Ireland is required to uphold under international law. Government tasks the Naval Service with upholding and implementing international and European obligations at sea. There is little doubt but that this extension of geographical jurisdiction will impact on naval operations. As I look at the Pampo Oilfield I wonder will we someday see a similar spectacle off the west coast of Ireland.

On LE EITHNE we continue to appreciate all your comments on the journal. It seems the readership is getting wider and wider. Reports have even come in the that Mary and Denis in the Castle Inn have been keeping track of their fair haired boy our Executive Officer Lt Cdr Aedh McGinn. I can safely say that even when he was at the top of his rugby career he was never fitter than he is now – it must be something to do with the wedding! Don’t be worried Mrs McGinn the Beastmaster, Biggles, Olan the Omen and Simon Duvet will look after him – well that’s if the Pirates don’t get him first – lets see - more tomorrow!
L.E.Eithne,s Position 20th February 2006

Captain’s Journal LE EITHNE – Tuesday 21st of February
Midday Posn (Z) Irish Time –26 36S 43 54W
Dist to Cork – 5149 nm (nautical miles)
Dist to Mar De Plata – 965 nm

Today started like most others – water temperature reduced at 28 degrees plus and air temperature of 31 degrees. The wind was fresher at force 5 from the Northeast and LE Eithne was rolling a little more than normal an indication of some disturbed weather ahead perhaps. We are crossing the Sao Santos Plateau and have moved further offshore. Two hundred miles to the West is Porto De Santos Brazil’s principal port and the Port of Brazil’s largest city Sao Paulo with a population of nearly 11 million people. Other than preparing for our first ports of call we have set ourselves no other major tasks for the day – in the navy however you never know how things will turn out.

We have less than a thousand miles to go to Mar Del Plata and as our commitments in South America are planned and refined I find I am spending several hours at my desk finalising timelines and programmes. Working with the different time zones it is important that our queries requiring an Irish response are stacked and cleared before I turn in around mid night. This means that they are on the desk of Naval Staff or other Irish Stakeholders first thing the following morning. Working with our stakeholders in South America we can continue to do business up to 7pm each day. Tonight, however, we will put our clocks back one more hour.

Our focus is now clearly on the services we will provide in each country we visit. E-mails are rolling in from the Irish Embassy in Argentina covering our visits to Mar Del Plata, Buenos Aires and Montevideo. The Irish Embassy in Argentina also has responsibility for Uruguay, which is located just across the River Plate. Messages are also rolling in from the Irish embassy in Brazil covering our visits to Rio De Janeiro and Fotaleza.

So what is it all about and why has the government sent LE Eithne nearly halfway round the world to South America. There are really four main strands to this visit

  • diplomatic,
  • economic,
  • cultural
  • Humanitarian.

    On the diplomatic front the catalyst for this visit was the invitation of the Argentine government for Ireland to send a warship to Argentina in 2006. There are many strong links between Argentina and Ireland with an estimated 500,000 second and third generation Irish living in that country. One of the key figures in the Argentine state is the Mayoman Admiral William Brown who is iconic in stature in the eyes of the Argentinean establishment and citizens. Brown, who left Foxford as a young boy, is to Argentina as the Kennedys are to the United States. When finalising what dates in 2006 LE Eithne should travel to Argentina it was decided that it would be important that the visit should coincide with a key date in the Brown calendar. So in 2006 we are coming to Argentina to celebrate the anniversary of the death of this great man on March 3rd. A man who was not hostage to doctrine and who continually surprised his enemy through his unconventional approach to Naval Warfare. A man who was a humanitarian in his outlook. So it is entirely appropriate that these two themes should be hallmarks of the services we will provide – being unconventional and being humanitarian.

    On the protocol and diplomatic front the tax payer can be proud of the services that the men and women of LE Eithne will deliver on their behalf. Of course to some degree the assessment of success will be qualitative, but any opportunity in this region, which succeeds in bringing diplomatic communities together under an Irish flag, also serves as a statement of genuine interest in South America. Of course there is also the business opportunity and LE Eithne through the diplomatic receptions as well as through other focussed events will act as a focal point for key decision takers to meet and develop existing relationships and explore potential new trade links, thereby enhancing our national economic objectives

    Irish exports to Latin America exceed €500m (2000) and this represented 1% of Irish merchandise (i.e. hard goods as against software) exports and 5% of EU trade with Latin America: Latin America represents 7% of all EU Trade. The big beasts of the Latin American economy are Brazil (a remarkable combination of a first world economy (Brazil is a major exporter of aircraft, for example) mixed with some abject poverty, Argentina (now recovering from a difficult economic decline about 3 years ago) and Chile, commonly regarded as the fastest growing and in many ways the most European of Latin America countries. Incidentally, Uruguay, although small, has the second highest GDP per capita in Latin America. The deployment is consistent with the other efforts in recent years by Ireland to raise our profile and, ultimately, our trade with Latin America. President Robinson visited the area (Argentina and Chile) in 1998; the Taoiseach visited Argentina and Brazil in 2003 and President McAleese visited Argentina, Brazil and Chile in 2004. LE Eithne is visiting two of the three ‘big beasts’ and, also, one of the most economically and socially advanced countries in Latin America, which is on a par with Ireland. Specifically the ship will be used as a platform to promote Irish goods and services notably for the Galway oil services company MCS Limited and for the Kerry Group.

    On the cultural side in addition to the ceremonies in Argentina for Admiral Brown, the ship will act as a floating show case of “Irishness”. Besides the crew each of which in his and her own right will act an ambassador we will reach out and leverage off the Irish community in each city we visit. The result of our efforts will be more than the sum, a synergy which will see Ireland and things Irish being on the agenda in each country before, during and after our stay. The food we will serve is Irish, the music we will play is Irish, the pictures we will show will be Irish the art we will display will be Irish.

    I am delighted that the Mayo Artist Ger Sweeney has loaned LE EITHNE an entire exhibition of paintings entitled “Coast” for the duration of the deployment. The exhibition, which in due course I will talk about in more detail, comprises of a selection of his works inspired by travel and memory and completed over two years at his studio on the Mayo Coast. It will form the centre piece of every formal and informal occasion we have on LE Eithne.

    I would like to talk in more detail about the humanitarian aspects of the work we will do but I am piped to the bridge. Just on the bow at three miles the Officer of the Watch Ensign James Harding draws my attention to a large cylindrical object floating in the water. A number of days ago I spoke about the risks to ships from hazards such as lost containers well here we have such a risk. It looks like a buoy that must have come adrift from the Pampos Oil field three hundred miles north and which was carried south by the Brazilian current. There is no doubt in my mind but had I struck this 50 tonne hazard at night the solid angle iron, at each end could have seriously holed our ship.

    Flicking through the Navigation warnings there it is one of two last reported drifting two hundred miles to the north. The easy thing to do would be just to report it to the nearest competent authority and carry on. My experience in home waters however is that our Naval Operations command would regularly divert our ships hundreds of miles to deal with Navigation hazards and why should it be any different here. We are in International water, we have a serious hazard to navigation, we have the competence and the capacity to deal with the problem and more we have a duty as professional mariners. I bring the ship to action stations and increase our damage control status. By closing hatches below decks and subdividing the ship into smaller compartments we can increase the watertight integrity of the ship. This is necessary so that I can manoeuvre close to the object before deciding on a course of action.

    At about 12 metres in length and three metres in diameter including the reinforced metal protectors at each end the cylinder has an enclosed volume of between 60 and 70 cubic metres. Satisfied that the hazard is a derelict and in consultation with the Brazilian Search and Rescue Authorities I open to two hundred metres and one of our 20 mm cannons firing armour-piercing rounds is brought to bear. Single shot first just in case it’s full of gas and then automatic fire. Even after the first rounds it is clear that the object is beginning to take some water but filling a 70 cubic metres cylinder with 50 or 60 trickling taps is going to mean it will be a long time before the tank sinks. So we move to phase two.

    Having holed where possible along the waterline we despatch our divers supported by our engineering staff to open the five vent holes on top of the hazard. Everything is going smoothly until just as we launch our Jaguar boats there is a call of shark, shark. Sure enough circling the hazard like sentries on duty are three or four hammerhead sharks with their fins breaking the surface. Any plans we have for going to swimming stations after the operation are shelved.

    Phase two however will still progress with the proviso that the divers are to stay out of the water and to get on to the object directly from the boat only if it is safe to do so. Petty Officer Paul McCarthy our Bosun, and Leading Seaman Gordon Cummins are first to climb on to the hazard. Petty Officers Maurice Plant and Eric Stephens (whom I beat in the third round of the darts tournament last night) then close with PO Plant also getting on the derelict to give technical advice. Moving confidently along the hazard and using probing rods through the bullet holes they report that the cylinder is hollow and not filled with polystyrene or other similar material. The divers open each valve in turn and to my delight report that it is now filling easily with water. We make our report to the Brazilian Search and Rescue authorities and we resume our passage to Mar Del Plata satisfied that are doing our duty.

    Dinner tonight was special – we celebrated Christmas again, Turkey and ham, plum pudding and whiskey cream – the nearest we will get to alcohol for another four days. Despite my joy of making it to the fourth round in the darts, tonight, Seaman Robert Wallace knocked me out. Its now 30 minutes after midnight and I need to do my night orders and guess what with the stroke of a pen I am going to make it 30 minutes after eleven we are moving to Argentinean time.

    An extra hour in the bunk for many, an extra hour on duty for those on watch. As I turn in there is a gale warning for South Oceanic just what we need – will we avoid it you will have to wait and see!
    Captain’s Journal LE EITHNE – Wednesday 22nd of February

    Midday Posn (Z) Irish Time –29 46S 47 32W
    Dist to Cork – 5320 nm (nautical miles)
    Dist to Mar De Plata – 695 nm

    By morning LE Eithne is about 100 miles to the east of Lagoa Dos Patos. It is the largest lagoon in Brazil extending 130 miles north from Porto do Rio Grande to the mouth of Rio Guaiba. It is separated from the sea through its length by a sandy peninsula, 6 to 12 miles wide, on which there are dunes and a few small patches of vegetation. We will pass closer to this lagoon in two weeks time on our passage to Rio De Janeiro.

    The wind is offshore and where we are I am thinking - how things can change overnight. By 7 am I am running uphill on the treadmill with an almost three degree incline which I have not put into the machine. The wind is now gusting to a near gale from the west and LE Eithne, catching the wind easily, is listing to port causing the incline. We are light because of our low fuel tanks after the 4000-mile journey from Santa Cruz. It is unusual for the wind to be this fresh but we are prepared for it. Imagine waking up and finding your house tilted to one side. It would be the simple things that catch you like the water in your shower tray won’t go down the plughole. Worse still it will probably overflow into the rest of your bathroom space and if you are really unlucky out under the door into your bedroom, taking your toilet brush with it on the way. By midday the pitching is starting as the sea begins to build and our speed starts to drop. Last night we went back to one engine because we were ahead of schedule. Now we must stay on one engine because of the weather. While it also helps conserve the remaining fuel – we are making slower speed than anticipated because of the wind. If there is a lull we will bring back that second engine and race for our objective – the rendezvous with the Argentine navy and the Port of Mar Del Plata.

    Ahead as we look to the river Plate we have more to think about, as a relatively deep depression off Uruguay is likely to give us problems soon. Our weather information providers are forecasting gale or strong gale force winds in our area for Friday night or Saturday morning. They are not however forecasting the weather we have now – something is strange and looking at the relatively rapid drop in the barograph my feeling is that the depression is deepening earlier than expected or else an unexpected frontal system is passing through. The deepening depression is bad news in the short term but might just be to our advantage in the longer term. Lt Olan O’Keefe gives an assessment and his judgement is just what I suspected. The depression off Uruguay is possibly deepening and we are getting the effects earlier than expected. The positive side is that we are still 600 nautical miles from the depression centre. If it goes according to the weather forecasters predictions on Friday/Saturday we would be about one hundred miles from the depression centre. In that position we could expect much stronger winds than those, which we have now and they would be from the South East whipping up a large sea and swell. Our hope is that the depression will behave as they do in this area and shouldered by the blocking high of the horse latitudes slip down to the southeast feeding the roaring forties.

    We are now in the horse latitudes. Under normal circumstances the wind should be light and in the days of sail when ships were becalmed for long periods in these latitudes to save water the horses were the first to go overboard. South of the horse latitudes we have the roaring forties – the equivalent to our prevailing westerlies in Irish latitudes. In the southern hemisphere they reach gale force with such regularity that they are called the roaring forties after the latitudes wherein they are generally located. For today at least the roaring forties has expanded its footprint! Throughout the day we will monitor the forecasts. Is this an unexpected frontal trough or an early more rapid change in the character of the depression?

    Earlier the afterdeck was awash as the waves broke over the starboard quarter. But the wind continues to back to the South as LE Eithne gives an occasional pound causing the ship to quiver like it has just taken a bite of a bitter lemon.

    Life carries on as normal onboard. All departments have moved their personnel below decks. We used the good weather window wisely and externally LE Eithne is now looking good. Internally the electricians and Engine Room Artificers are busy trying to repair one of our air condition units as well as installing lighting in the cross deck alleyway, which is adjacent to our main reception area. We have placed a picture of our President Mary McAleese in this area. The shipwrights, including Leading Hull Artificer Declan Tighe, work side by side with the electricians removing and drilling panels as required. Seaman Aidan Hitchins is on watch ready to take the wheel as required by the Officer Of the Watch – but right now because traffic is non existent the ship is on auto-pilot and steers itself. This allows Aidan to keep a sharp lookout. Aidan took over watch from Seaman Helen Meridith of the Naval Service Reserve. We were delighted that Helen was able to come with us on the deployment.

    This time last year LE Eithne was four hundred miles off the West Coast following the Blue Whiting shoals as they migrated north chased by mainly Norwegian, Faeroese and Russian fleets. When we needed additional help Helen made herself available for the extended patrol in what are statistically some of the most hostile seas in the world. These long patrols are carried out over the horizon and I suppose are the other side of the coin in terms of service provision. In the past I have sometimes felt that there isn’t much understanding of this type of work, being carried out as part of Ireland’s contribution through the EU to the North East Atlantic Fishery Commission’s (NEAFC) work. There is however another important consideration some of the waters covered by the NEAFC area of jurisdiction overlap with the area of continental where Ireland has or will submit its claim for sovereign rights over the seabed and sub-seabed resources. From a ship’s commanding officers perspective it is a tasking like any other that requires all his skills in order to ensure the maximum service provision while maintaining morale.

    LE Eithne’s deployment to South America in terms of output for 2006 will represent just over 3% of the total patrol output of the Naval Service. The vast majority of the remaining patrol time will be focussed on home water patrols such as NEAFC up to 200 miles off the Irish coastline.

    In addition to Helen from Cork we have another Naval reserve member Leading Seaman Rachel Calopy from Limerick. Rachel was a late addition to the crew list – she has already proved her worth in her work and because of her fluency in Spanish she will be particularly valuable in Argentina.

    The miracle men under PO Chef Eddie Staunton are in the galley getting dinner ready – tonight we are going to the Chinese – Sweet and Sour Pork, Fried slice beef in Oyster sauce and Stir Fried Chicken. We are very fortunate to have such talent onboard LE Eithne and this talent in the creation is complimented by our silver service team. Supply Jackie Shanahan, Supply Chris Hurley and Supply Paddy Lawlor who work with us in the wardroom under the direction of Petty Officer Michael Broderick will be key members of our catering team when it comes to our formal dinners, luncheons and receptions. Also helping in the logistics side and attached to the ship for the deployment is Senior Chief Petty Officer Tom Cronin one of the longest serving Non Commissioned Officers of the Naval Service.

    In case anyone thinks otherwise – LE Eithne is a twenty-four hour operation. Using a watch system all departments are manned every hour of every day with a reduction in manning only when we are not underway. At two and five thirty in the morning the galley will spring into life as the night rations are cooked for the middle (12 – 4) and morning (4 – 8) watches. We don’t expect our chefs to turn to for these feasts so normally one of the duty watch is press ganged for the duty. Delights such as sausages on toast and runny egg sandwiches are divided between the bridge, communications centre and engine-room watches. Amongst those on duty tonight will be Mechanicians Patrick Collins and Joseph Byrne as well as Engine Room Artificer David Culleton. While on watch but not on the bridge additional tasks such as polishing decks and painting jobs in the internal high transit areas are often assigned. As evening approaches the weather moderates and I am able to phone the Officer Of the Watch, our Navigator Sub Lt Patricia Butler and ask her to ring on the second engine. While we can we will try and make a few extra miles. Patricia who did the passage plan for this 13000 nautical mile deployment will effectively have command on my behalf until Midnight when she will hand over to Lt Damian Mc Cormac. Having competent watch-keepers puts the Captain’s mind at ease and so that there is no ambiguity in command policy for the period during which I will sleep my night orders will be written during which instructions peculiar to the particular passage are articulated. Issues covered include minimum traffic separation, action in the event of weather change, charts to be used, courses to be followed and special engine requirements.

    Having completed night orders I have just reviewed the weather and it seems that low is still developing just off the coast of Uruguay. It is right in our path to Mar Del Plata – the bad weather has not gone away and I sense I won’t be able to run on two engines for two much longer. If the low develops as they are now forecasting the wind will be full gale force from the southeast offering us no real opportunity for shelter – will we be up the River Plate without a paddle we’ll have to wait and see!
    Captain’s Journal LE EITHNE – Thursday 23rd of February

    Midday Posn (Z) Irish Time –33 40S 52 00W
    Dist to Cork – 5715 nm (nautical miles)
    Dist to Mar De Plata – 300 nm

    Overnight the weather has continued to moderate and we wake to a beautiful morning. The winds are relatively light and the temperature has dropped to about 24 degrees. The seawater temperature is also falling a little and is now 25.6 degrees. We are about 70 miles south south east of the Port of Rio Grande, which sits on the southern end of Lagoa Dos Patos, the lagoon I spoke about yesterday. An unusual consideration when approaching the Port is the need to be cautious when calculating draught for entry and exit. Depending on the wind conditions the seawater density can change from almost completely seawater (meaning less draught) to completely fresh water (meaning greater draught) in the space of a couple of hours.

    Before 7AM I am alerted that the Gerry Ryan show has taken an interest in our hammerhead sharks and would be keen on an interview. My run is put on hold for the time being. We will use satellite phone to make the link. I was surprised to find that Gerry thought we might be bored on the passage from Cork to Argentina. The way I feel now I wish I was bored – before we even get to our first Port we are feeling a little tired so I for one will take it easy tomorrow. First however it is time for a run.

    As I mentioned last night it looks like the weather has not given up and the depression off Uruguay is continuing to build. Through our Naval Communications Staff we pass a message to the Argentinean authorities that we have a concern over the weather. Their assessment is even more severe than ours with a forecast of wind-speeds gusting up to 47 knots this is just below storm force. The only way to avoid the weather is to turn back and run north. As it is we may have to put the weather on our stern, particularly if it is blowing from the Southeast as there will be no lee whatsoever from that direction in these waters. We decide to stand on and get to our rendezvous position ahead of schedule so that at least we have time to pull back if the sea and swell begins to rise. One last obstacle before we can taste the harmony of Mar Del Plata.

    Our Argentine escort has been changed and we will be met by ARA GUERRICO one of the DRUMMOND Class. This 80 Metre Frigate has quite an impressive, missile, gun and torpedo fit. The ship has an unusual history in that it was originally built for the French Navy and sold to the South African Navy in 1976 while still under construction. As a result of an UN embargo on arms sales to South Africa this sale was cancelled and it was purchased by Argentina arriving there in 1978. The class has assisted in United Nations operations off Haiti in 1994.

    After yesterdays internal preparations the ship is ready for me to carry out Commanding Officers rounds. This inspection can take up to two hours and entails the Captain visiting every nook and cranny on his ship. Each department head stands by his department and all personnel turn to. I am very pleased with the inspection. After rounds the entire ship’s company muster in the hangar and I give my assessment. In the final analysis it is really a matter of pride, pride in your ship, pride in your department and pride in yourself. By now it is clear to all that mediocrity will get us nowhere on LE Eithne. We have come to the other side of the world to deliver services and notwithstanding the bad weather ahead of us the easy part has been done from now on the reputation of our service and our Defence Forces is in our hands. It will be judged by how our ship looks, how we deliver services and how we perform on and off duty.

    With rounds complete we continue with some preparations for Mar Del Plata. Our marquee decking is laid. I have a concern that the wind may catch it but Aedh is happy that we can strap it down. Getting this job out of the way will make it easier when we get alongside. The officers’ forum is convened and we review the most recent version of our programme for Mar Del Plata, Buenos Aries. Everything from menus, to ceremonial, to children’s visits, to the visit by the Argentine Special Olympic Committee and team is discussed. We have a number of wreath laying ceremonies and parades. There are several diary clashes and deputising Captains are appointed.

    By 8pm LE Eithne is beginning to roll more severely as a building easterly sea and swell runs up towards the River Plate. There is still no significant drop in the barograph. We are well ahead of schedule so we drop back to one engine. The semi final of the darts tournament was played earlier tonight and Supply Paddy Lawlor and Mechanician Patrick Collins were to meet in the final but that has to be postponed. By 11pm the sea has continued to build. We have now reached the mouth of the River Plate and we are between Cabo St Antonio in Argentina and Pta Del Este in Uruguay. As we move towards our rendezvous point the waters are beginning to shallow and the wind is freshening further. It is now gusting over 40 knots. The Sailing Directions talk of a local wind called the Sudestadas. These winds are caused by depressions moving into the area from the Parana basin, which then deepen rapidly near the coast before moving off to the southeast. On average around five to eight Sudestadas occur each year. The sailing directions reassures me that the incidence of winds of force 7 and above at this time of year should only be between 2 and 5 percent. I feel like throwing the book overboard. It looks like nobody is going to get much sleep tonight!
    Captain’s Journal LE EITHNE – Friday 24th of February
    Midday Posn (Z) Irish Time –37 07S 56 06W
    Dist to Cork – 6015 nm (nautical miles)
    Dist to Mar De Plata – 88 nm

    This morning, we all wake as if we had not slept. The wind is a full gale and the seas are heaping up from the southeast. Our escort ship has (wisely) reviewed her rendezvous position so that it is closer to Mar Del Plata. My view is that the conditions are such that they are perhaps too extreme to justify the protocol of sending an escort to meet us, but this is a matter for the Argentine authorities and we are grateful that they will honour us in this way. As I look out on the grey wind swept waters it finally dawns on me as to why William Brown felt so at home in these seas – right now they look exactly like the squall ravaged waters of Blacksod bay on a dark winters day. While the probability of us experiencing these conditions are between 2 and 5 percent – when it occurred it must have brought Brown right home to his native Mayo – that is where my mind is right now.

    We are now over 6000 nautical miles from Ireland. The air temperature has dropped to a cool 16 degrees which together with the gale also drags down our morale - at least a little. I am not unduly worried however because I simply could not see how the morale of the past two weeks could be sustained or go any higher – a slight dip today is timely leaving sufficient room to surge tomorrow when we enter Mar Del Plata.

    Yesterday afternoon we had moved the generator out to the end of the flight deck. Even though it is well covered and protected from the elements on more than one occasion I thought of it overnight especially when we took a heavy wave. This generator along with a raft of other items were acquired by JJ O’Hara from the proceeds of the charity of the people of the Mayo and Galway. Such is the weight of the generator we used a block and tackle arrangement to give us the required purchase to haul it across the flight deck, using plywood sheeting to protect the paintwork. Once in position the ship’s company set to laying the deck for marquee. This was my second worry overnight – but I was well assured by the bosun PO Paul McCarthy that it was going nowhere.

    By late afternoon we close the Argentinean coast and for the first time we see Argentinean soil. In some ways we are like a dog looking into a butcher shop so close but we still have nearly 24 hours before we enter the Port of Mar Del Plata. Besides torturing ourselves there is a practical reason why we close the coast to get a mobile phone signal. Within twenty minutes mobile phones, which have been dormant for the past two weeks, are popping up left right and centre.

    At 1800 we sight the Naval Vessel Guerrico and we proceed to close her position. The wind has eased off to a force six and we do what we in the Irish Navy do best we despatch one of our boarding teams from six miles to close the Argentinean vessel. As I have mentioned before with an interception speed of up to 70 km per hour she can close the distance three times faster than LE Eithne and as dusk is approaching rapidly I am keen to get the formalities over with and get into the passage programme before our entrance to Mar Del Plata. ARA Guerrico then formally welcomes us as follows:

    " Ireland’s Navy Vessel LE Eithne this is Argentine’s Navy Vessel Guerrico. In the name of the Commander of the Naval Atlantic area Capitan De Vaio Roque Andres De Vicenzo, the Commander of the Navy Patrol Division Capitan De Navio Eduardo Castro Rivas and the Commander Task Element, Officers and Crew of this Warship welcome to Argentinean waters. For us it is a great privilege and honour to receive and sail with a warship of the heroic Irish Navy who carry the traditions and the blood of our most important Navy hero your fellow countryman Admiral William Brown. We truly believe that this visit will serve to reinforce even more the historical bonds that join us. We wish you the greatest success in your task and we expect you to enjoy your time to the maximum in our country."

    In response LE Eithne extended the following reply:

    "Argentine Naval Vessel Guerrico this is the Irish Naval Flag Vessel Eithne on behalf of Commodore Frank Lynch Flag Officer Commanding Irish Naval Service, Captain James Robinson Officer Commanding Naval Operations Command, the entire Irish Naval Service and the people of Ireland, Commander Mark Mellett fellow county man of your great hero Admiral William Brown and the crew of LE Eithne wish to thank you for your welcome and honouring us with your presence in this difficult weather. We have come a long way full of excitement and with high expectations and we look forward to our visit to your great country. With Spirit and Courage we have faced the unknown the same spirit and courage that your great hero and our countryman Admiral William Brown shared with your people".

    As the greetings concluded LE Eithne’s executive officer Lt Cdr Aedh McGinn with the agility of a trapeze artist and accompanied by Ensign Sean Linehan boarded ARA Guerrico on its starboard side. Gifts were exchanged and the passage plan to Mar Del Plata was agreed. As dusk set in Aedh and Sean were again in the port Jaguar under the command of Able Seaman Adam Purcell and returning to LE Eithne. In doing so they reinforced what is the Irish Navy’s niche area of expertise, heavy weather small boat operations. With the Jaguar hoisted we set course for the overnight passage to Mar Del Plata carrying out a variety of evolutions underway such as signal lamp exchanges.

    As I finish my journal for today ARA Guerrico is taking up position in our wake. With the evolutions now completed we will stay in company overnight. We switch our hangar red night lighting to white as we gather for the final of our darts competition (which is won instyle by Supply Paddy Lawlor beating Mechanician Patrick Collins). Already the morale metre indicates a rise, the lights of Mar Del Plata glow on the horizon and every sailor on board LE Eithne feels honoured and privileged for having been described as the blood of Argentina’s most important Navy hero our fellow countryman Admiral William Brown.
    Captain’s Journal LE EITHNE – Saturday 25th of February
    Midday Posn (Z) Irish Time –38 02S 57 32W
    Dist to Cork – 6100 nm (nautical miles)
    Dist to Mar De Plata (Centre) – 1 nm

    Mar Del Plata has a population of approximately 500,000 but swells with over 1.5 million visitors during the summer months. The summer season is just about to winding down now in Argentina. Besides the Naval Base Mar Del Plata is also home to a large number of fishing vessels and has boat building and repair facilties. There are a number of beaches as well as a fine yacht club. On the hill overlooking LE Eithne’s berth there is a golf club.

    Two TV stations arrive and I give an interview to each. They are interested in what views the Irish people have of Argentina and whether or not we will invite the public onboard.

    Late in the evening I go ashore with the rest of the Wardroom for a meal. In a way the significance of our journey passes us by and it is not until we relax with a glass of malbec wine, our first drink in over two weeks, that we realise what we have had a very successful passage. We travelled from Cork to Argentina arriving two days ahead of schedule having completed four gunnery shoots, two damage control exercises, two fire fighting exercies, two diving exercise, two armed boarding exercises and station keeping with the Argentinean ship ARA Guerrico. In addition we have sunk a major hazard to Navigation. We have provided met reports to met eireann and kept a log of all cetaceans and marine life we have seen along the way, including hammerhead sharks. I finally retire to my bunk at a time I am not going to record here – more tomorrow.
    Captain’s Journal LE EITHNE – Sunday 26th of February
    Midday Posn (Z) Irish Time –38 02S 57 32W (Alongside Mar Del Plata)
    Dist to Cork – 6100 nm (nautical miles)
    Dist to Mar De Plata (Centre) – 1 nm

    Sunday morning is nice. Some of us go for a run along the seafront. The ship will open to the public, but unlike home the demand will be later in the evening so at the request of the Argentinean Navy we agree to open from 1700 to 2000. Our divers carry out a ship’s bottom search. During the dive we check out all the ships inlets checking for mussel growth or blockages. We check each blade of the ship’s controllable pitch propellers. The leading edge of each blade is approximately 2 metres long. The blades have a sleek design so as to minimise cavitation. They are designed primarily for ahead propulsion and as such are less efficient when going astern. LE Eithne does not have a reversing gearbox and in order to go astern the pitch of the blades is changed by a hydraulic system while the shaft continues to turn in the same direction. While diving we check both rudders as well as the sacrificial anodes to ensure that they are reasonably intact. The visibility is just over one metre with a lot of mud stirred up especially by the keel diver, which happens to be me on the return leg. There is about 5 feet of water below the keel.

    On the quay wall a large crowd has gathered to take part in a sports day.

    Preparations continue onboard for tomorrow’s events. With three calls of custom and protocol - gifts have to be prepared. The main gift we will bring is the Philip Grey painting of LE Eithne in a gale with one of our Jaguars in the forefront and the image of Admiral Brown looking down – the painting is inscribed as follows:

    “With Spirit and Courage We Face the Unknown” This painting is a tribute to Admiral William Brown a man who shared his great courage and spirit with the Argentine nation. Died 3rd March 1857. “His Spirit Lives On”

    Co-incidentally Philip was my Petty Officer Gunner on LE Eithne and stood up the gunnery department with me when the ship was built in 1983. He was with me when LE Eithne crossed the Atlantic under Command of Cdr Jack Jordan in 1986. It was there that he had his first exhibition in the hangar.

    In the galley the chefs have planned their menu for the lunch and the reception. Last minute provision requirements need to be identified now. As I type the scent of baking finds its way up to my flat from the galley two decks below probably brown bread for the smoked salmon and cases for the vol o vonts. The menus and place names are printed as well as a raft of other notices and signs – in both English and Spanish – ladies, gents, cloakroom and so on. The backing boards for the art exhibition are being prepared by the chippy, naval slang for Shipwright or carpenter or as they are now called hull artificer because of their expertise with fibre glass and other composite materials. These backing boards are painted white which is Ger Sweeny’s preferred backdrop for his paintings. All the paintings are acrylics on canvas or wood and range in dimension from 12” x 12” to 60” x 60”. Ger currently has a show at Hilsboro Fine Art , 3 St Anne’s Lane, Dublin where he is showing “Terrain” between Feb 23 and Mar 18. Ger’s Statement for the exhibition on LE Eithne reads as follows:

    This exhibition comprised of a selection of my works inspired by travel and memory and completed over two years. Having travelled to South America, India, Europe and the US I find myself invariably drawn to coastal regions as a fertile source of inspiration for my work.
    Trade and cultural interaction via the sea has for centuries fuelled the development of countries globally. Ports continue to be a hub of activity, change and possibility. In doing so they have long been a source of inspiration for artists worldwide. As well as being fascinated by the ever changing light and the elements particular to coastal regions I am intrigued as a painter by the metaphorical resonance of such locations. The sense of exploration in my paintings to some degree reflects a quintessential aspect of the Irish psyche. The forging of new horizons has always been part of our culture, reflected by the broad Diaspora of Irish people in South America. As an Irish artist this is an ongoing debate in my work.
    Ultimately it is through syntax of memory and exploration that my paintings evolve, resolving themselves in a manner that is “open”, so the viewer may interpret according to his/her own opinion and experiences. Enjoy!

    I am delighted that Ger has loaned these paintings and I think that they will provide a unique character to the reception area. The Argentine people will not miss their maritime theme together with the fact that Ger is a Mayoman producing these paintings not far from where Brown was reared. While the art offers me a perfect solution to a complexity that I had been thinking about for sometime in the final analysis this is just another example of a service that LE Eithne will provide, unconventional maybe but LE Eithne is supporting the arts!

    It is nearly 8 pm local time and the last of the visitors are leaving the ship, in all 673 people were onboard over the three hours, which is a huge turn out. Interviews were given to radio and print media. I am now getting itchy feet as I am due in a venue for 830 pm to watch a recording of the Ireland Welsh match. We have tried all day to ensure nobody says the score – lets see if I get there without somebody pricking my bubble – more tomorrow.