DA: I am always confused by who works for who on the ship. Do you work for BAS?
MG: Yes, I work for BAS, joined BAS 20 years ago. I have sailed on the Bransfield (which has been replaced by Shackleton), the JCR and the Shackleton as the Radio Officer. The terminology and the rules for that has changed since, my job is called the ETO: Electric Technical Officer.
DA: What does an ETO do?
MG: My prime role is to look after the radio station, Global Maritime Distress Safety Services (GMDSS). Emergency communications constitute my primary role, but it is tiny given the other tasks I have to do. I look after all the navigation equipment; the radar, GPS etc. Then I do the regular communications – on one of the last ice stations we had I talked to the Twin Otter airplane, that was a treat. That doesn’t happen often. In the old days, we would have radio communications 3 times a day with the bases, but not anymore. I also take care of washing machines and dryers.
DA: Yesterday we heard that we passed a cruise ship in distress. Is this true?
MG: We didn’t really pass it; it was ahead of us. We didn’t get any distress calls from the cruise ship either because due to the impact of the high seas, their communication system temporarily broke down. We know about this because someone’s wife (someone who is on board) works in the cruise industry thats how we heard about it. But if they were able to send a distress call, we would have received it.
DA: Is true that the day before, we passed a Russian spy ship, which was all white?
MG: No! We passed “a cruise ship who used to work for the Russian Government” !! It’s called Akademik Ioffe – she USED TO work for the Russian Government looking for NATO submarines but now does private Arctic and Antarctic cruises.
DA: Did you start sailing right away when you joined BAS?
MG: Yes, I first sailed on the Bransfield, did the full tour from September until May. Then you’d go on the JCR for 4 months on, 4 months off for 2 years. Then you’d sail back on the Bransfield to complete this 3-year assignment.
DA: I’m sure you witness a lot of interesting things over the 20 years you have been sailing. What were the most memorable ones?
MG: I was on the Bransfield and got dragged down my bunk early in the morning one day. There were in excess of 100 minke whales in a feeding frenzy at the bow of the vessel! This was in the early 90s. Couple of years ago, around Pine Island Bay, we had another minke whale experience.
There’s another one that was quite memorable. We nearly sank on the JCR one time! I was in here, doing amateur radio and the captain knocked on the door and said: “You might want to stop that”. A big sea water valve had fallen off and now basically there was a hole in the ship and we were filling with water! I think we took in 90 tons of water, but fortunately our engineers are very good and they happened to have a piece of metal with holes drilled in the right place so within an hour we were back to normal. We were 6 miles off Bird Island (where we have a base) and there was a fishing boat nearby, so we did not send any distress calls. I phoned the Shackleton and spoke with them.
DA: What was your degree in when you joined BAS?
MG: I did a 3-year course and main qualification for going to sea as electronics engineering. You also learn M code, 20 words a minute. I did an hour of Morse everyday for 2 years, for practice. I am still that good! Out of the 25,000 contacts I have, only about 200 use Morse. Now the rules have changed too – all the deck officers are required to have radio qualifications. They have to learn how to press this red button!! But when there’s an emergency, the last thing you want is deck officers in the radio room because they should be the ones handling the emergency on the deck, trying to stop the water flow, fire, get people in the life boats etc.
DA: What do you do when you’re not sailing?
MG: What I am told to do!
DA: Do you work another job when you’re off?
MG: No, I have a wife and a teenage daughter who tell what to do! I live near Perth in Scotland, 40 minutes from the nearest city. I like geo-cashing, that is treasure-hunting with a GPS. I like to cycle when I get a chance.

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