RN Hydrographer takes on exciting sailing adventure

Royal Navy sailor Jennifer Whalley is crewing a tall ship around Britain to pave the way for young scientists following in the footsteps of Charles Darwin.

The 31-year-old hydrographer based in Plymouth has joined TS Pelican to ensure hi-tech survey equipment installed is ready for a two-year adventure retracing the route the legendary 19th Century naturalist took in HMS Beagle.

The observations and discoveries the naturalist made during his five years on the Beagle laid the foundations for Darwin’s ground-breaking theories of evolution published a quarter of a century later in On the Origin of Species.

Two centuries since Beagle was commissioned, the Darwin 200 project is intended to attract 200 scientists, naturalists and conservationists, taking them on a global voyage, allowing them to conduct research – and inspire as many as 200 million people in science, conservation and the environment.

Hydrographer takes on exciting sailing adventure

Jennifer, from Bournemouth in Dorset, works at the Devonport-based Fleet Hydrography and Meteorology Unit, but is spending the next few weeks on the Pelican on a preparatory voyage ahead of the main adventure which begins next year.

“This will be a really exciting and amazing experience for me,” said Jennifer. “I learnt to sail as a teenager but never on something as big as TS Pelican.

“I will be assisting with their newly-installed echo sounder, getting to understand the technology, and hopefully helping them with its operating procedures prior to the start of the Darwin 200 project.

“They are also contributing to the ‘Seabed 2030’ initiative, whereby the aim is to have the whole of the earth's seabed surveyed in some way by 2030. It’s an exciting venture to be part of.”

As a Royal Navy hydrographer, Jennifer has served on HMS Echo, one of the Navy’s dedicated survey patrol ships which spends months of end mapping and surveying the world’s oceans and harbours.

She has worked in the Mediterranean and around the British Isles, in particularly working with teams which surveyed the Solent and approaches to Southampton – one of the country’s key commercial ports and home of the cruise industry – and the Scilly Isles. Jennifer was also part of a trials unit looking at crewless survey vessels.

Her journey on the Pelican starts in Liverpool, from where the ship heads into the Irish Sea, then Glasgow and the remotest of the UK’s island groups, St Kilda, roughly 40 miles out into the Atlantic from the Hebrides.

After spending a few days exploring the island and epic landscape, Pelican continues to the Orkney and Shetland Islands. The final leg of the journey will be heading south to Edinburgh and eventually into Canary Wharf in London.

“I want to soak up as much as I can about the ship, what it does and is doing in the future. It will be really interesting to see how Darwin and the Navy of his time managed before our current technology,” Jennifer added.

“I love Scotland and I'm really looking forward to exploring the uninhabited Island of St Kilda before we sail south and into Canary Wharf, something I haven't done before.

“It’s hard to know how it will differ from life in the Navy, but I have been told there aren’t any daily orders and the routine alters quite a lot from day to day depending on the weather. I really don't know what to expect but I’m looking forward to this once-in-a-lifetime experience.”