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Turriff World Record holders set for new Antarctic science challenge

By David Porter

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Two adventure-loving World Record holding brothers aged 10 and 12 from Turriff are poised to embark on their most ambitious challenge yet – Project Erebus,

It will see them send two wooden replica boats on a 20,000 km, two-year mission to circumnavigate Antarctica.

Having set and broken world records with previous boat adventures, Ollie and Harry Ferguson are reimagining the Ross scientific expedition of 1839-43 – where HMS Erebus and HMS Terror

circumnavigated the Antarctic – building two boats that will set off next month.

The metre-long boats, made to scale from elm, using original admiralty drawings, will be fitted with two scientific sensors to measure sea temperature and ocean pH, both of which can be used as

markers for climate change.

The current will see the vessels travel for around 20,000km
The current will see the vessels travel for around 20,000km

“The boys have taken an active role in every aspect of the project,” said their father MacNeill.

“The favourite part of the process has definitely been the sea trials where they got to test the keel design, draft, self-righting capability, and wind impact.

“The sea trials have helped us learn how the boats will sit in the water.

"They have also allowed us to test the self-righting capability of the boats which will ensure the tracker unit is kept out of the water and in direct line of sight with the satellites.

“We wanted the adventure to have a scientific component as a homage to the original 1839 expedition and to this end the boats will carry a camera and two sensors that can be used to send

back data via satellite on ocean acidity and temperature.

“The vessels will drift through the Southern Ocean following the circumpolar current around the coastline of Antarctica.

"They will send a GPS location signal several times a day with the onboard cameras sending a photograph once a month via satellite.

“Both boats have been fitted with a ballast system constructed with a modified keel to act as a drogue to utilise the current in driving the boats forward.

"These are effectively drifter buoys thatensure the boats remain caught in the circumpolar current.

“These will be the smallest boats ever to sail the Antarctic seas and will need to stay afloat in the world’s harshest waters and survive long enough to drift 20,000 km.”

The finishing touches are added
The finishing touches are added

Miniaturising the boats has been a real challenge, with almost every aspect of the build raising technical issues.

Buoyancy, plastic reduction, marine growth, battery life, temperature, ice build-up, pack ice crushing, corrosion, and wind drift have all been factored into the construction.

“It’s like a mission to Mars.” said Harry (10) “We cannot rescue the boats once they are launched so we have to plan every detail.”

The voyage is the latest adventure for Ollie and Harry who previously set the world record for the longest distance travelled at sea by a toy boat with their Playmobil pirate ship ‘Adventure’ which

sailed 6072km to the Caribbean as part of their list of 500 adventures.

They went on to smash their own world record last year with a second toy ship, that managed to sail over 15,000 km through the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.

The vessels are based on the Erebus and Terror
The vessels are based on the Erebus and Terror

Bath-based wireless technology specialists Icoteq have designed the vessels’ tracking and monitoring devices to report back the location of each boat.

“We were contacted by MacNeill to ask if we could advise him on the best tracker to buy online to fit to the boats and were so inspired by Ollie and Harry’s mission, we offered to build the technology for them,” said Icoteq Managing Director Craig Rackstraw.

“We developed a custom tracking and data monitoring device especially for Project Erebus.

"It incorporates a GPS receiver, air and ocean temperature probes, a pH probe to measure ocean acidity and a forward-facing camera.

"Position and scientific data are sent back to our servers using an ARGOS satellite communication link.

“The boys will hopefully provide inspiration to other children and families.

"They’re both extremely hands on and have worked hard to make this happen.

They built the boats as far as possible by themselves – and at every stage where they have had to get professional help, it has all been given for free.”

Craig said, if successful, the project could show that low-cost sensors such as those used on the Ollie and Harry’s Erebus expedition, could be a viable way to help monitor climate change.

“This is currently done using expensive complex equipment.

"If low-cost sensors combined with citizen science, can contribute to the gathering of important scientific data, it could open the doorway for larger scale monitoring at a fraction of the price.”

This part of the adventure is very important to Ollie (12) who represented Aberdeenshire at COP26 as a local champion.

“To stop the impacts of climate change, then we first need to understand how it is effecting us, we hope our boats will gather some useful data.”

Icoteq will feature a dedicated Erebus page on its website with a map that will track ‘HMS Erebus’ and ‘HMS Terror’, along with a monthly camera image sent via satellite.

The vessels are due to leave the UK for South Georgia in the Southern Atlantic and will be handed over to the territory’s government who will take the boats on board fisheries patrol vessel, the FPV Pharos, where they will be launched 160 kms north into the Antarctic Circumpolar Current.

The Ross expedition was a scientific voyage around Antarctic in 1839 to 1843, led by James Clark Ross, with two unusually strong warships – HMS Erebus & HMS Terror – who discovered what

became known as the Ross ice shelf, and helping found the science of glaciology.

Ollie and Harry are working their way through a list of 500 adventures which have included sending Lego figures into space, photographing the sea floor, and spending the night in a cave.

In 2019 the pair launched a book titled Ollie and Harry’s Marvellous Adventures which describes some of their best adventures and how to recreate them.

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