HMS Protector ‘breaks the ice’ with Sir David Attenborough in ships’ first encounter

Two of the UK’s Antarctic research ships ‘broke the ice’ when HMS Protector and Sir David Attenborough met up at sea for the first time.

The icebreakers – operated by the Royal Navy and the British Antarctic Survey – sailed in company in the English Channel off Start Point in Devon as both gear up for missions around the frozen continent.

Protector has just emerged from the most extensive overhaul in her decade’s service with the Royal Navy.

And the Royal Research Ship (RRS) Sir David Attenborough – which the public famously wanted to call Boaty McBoatface in a national poll to pick her name – is undergoing extensive sea trials around the UK before she debuts in the Southern Hemisphere in time for the austral summer at the end of 2021.

Despite heavy February showers and less-than-clement conditions, the two distinctive icebreakers – both feature striking red, white and gold paint schemes - manoeuvred in close proximity, allowing them to work together for the first time – and for the ship’s companies to take a close look at the respective ships.

“It was great to see Captain Will Whatley and his fabulous ship Sir David Attenborough at sea off Start Point. We are looking forward to joining them in the Antarctic soon,” said Captain Michael Wood, Protector’s Commanding Officer, who chatted with his opposite number over the radio.

It was brilliant to see Sir David Attenborough up close for the first time! I can’t wait until we are working with them in the Antarctic and would love to meet the ship’s namesake one day

LSC Kasey Easson

Both ships are expected to work together extensively in Antarctic waters. Protector maps the ocean to update Admiralty Charts for fellow seagoers, delivers supplies to remote BAS bases and supports international research, chiefly around the Antarctic Peninsula.

RRS Sir David Attenborough carries 60 scientists in addition to 30 crew and performs many of similar roles, including logistics support. She also carries numerous autonomous craft to gather data from Antarctic waters, including one named Boaty McBoatface.

Logistics expert Leading Seaman Kasey Easson said it was “brilliant to see Sir David Attenborough up close for the first time! I can’t wait until we are working with them in the Antarctic and would love to meet the ship’s namesake one day!”

Gunnery officer Lieutenant Alastair Newton added: “It was fantastic to see RRS Sir David Attenborough in all of her glory carrying out sea trials. It will be great to see her – and Boaty McBoatface – in the coming Antarctic season.”

Protector has now arrived in Devonport after sailing down from Teesport, Middlesbrough, where she’s been since last spring.

Her ship’s company are now preparing for Operational Sea Training – the Royal Navy’s rigorous assessment which determines whether ships and their crew are ready to deploy on missions thousands of miles from home.

After spending the summer around the UK, Protector is earmarked to deploy to Antarctica in the autumn, ready to work through the austral summer.