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Terror on the Dart

3rd June 2020

A nautical terror of interest...RRS Sir David Attenborough’s cargo tender launches for first time and successfully completes the maiden voyage from Exeter to Dartmouth.

Terror arriving into the River Dart Terror Darthaven Erebus Turf locks leaving Exeter ship canal

Launched on the Exeter Ship Canal the 22-tonne Terror will play a critical role for the RRS Sir David Attenborough; which, in addition to its scientific role, will support the resupply of the five Antarctic research stations operated by British Antarctic Survey. Terror will transfer food, fuel and science equipment to any location where the water is too shallow for the new polar ship to approach.

Exeter Fabrication Ltd have done a great job of building Terror. The design includes a ballast system for getting heavy loads off a beach, two-ton telescoping crane, and diesel tank heating for operating in extreme cold conditions.

Terror’s sea trials proved that she has very nimble manoeuvring characteristics and an impressive top speed - 11 knots is pretty quick for a box shaped boat that can carry 16 tons!

The next stage for Terror is to complete her commissioning and snagging in Darthaven Marina before being delivered by sea round to Birkenhead. On arrival in Birkenhead, Terror will meet her mother ship for the first time and try her davit out for size.

Before deployment to the Antarctic, Terror will also undergo more extensive sea trials to test all her functions. This will include beach landings and the transfer of fuel using a 10,000 litre pillow tank on the deck.

Once in Birkenhead, Terror will also meet Erebus for the first time. Erebus is another tender for the RRS Sir David Attenborough. which will undertake shallow water scientific missions and survey work.

Terror and Erebus are named after the ships from Sir John Franklin’s fateful exploration of the Northwest Passage –through the Canadian Arctic – in 1845. The ships became trapped in sea ice and, after 19 months, the explorers set out on foot – but none survived. The two ships were discovered in 2014 and 2016.

The original HMS Terror was built in 1813 in Topsham. As our new Terror transited the Exeter ship canal, she passed the build yard for the original Terror. The locality of the builds of both Erebus and Terror are quite remarkable. With Terror being built just a stone’s throw from the original and our new Erebus was built in exactly the same yard at Pembroke Dock as the original HMS Erebus is 1826.

The new Terror also boasts the honour of being the only vessel to transit the Exeter Ship Canal whilst wearing the British Antarctic Territories ensign.

Co-skipper for RSS Sir David Attenborough is Will Whatley, previously skipper of RSS Shackleton. When not in the Antarctic or, working on commissioning Will is a keen sailor on his own Van de Stadt design yacht. He recently completed a solo transat of the Atlantic and is planning a North West Passage in the yacht. He is also a regular ocean racing crew member on Pazienza and will be speaking at RDYC later in the year.

Ready for launch

For more information on RRS Sir David Attenborough visit

Also, worth reading is Michael Palin’s account of the original HMS Erebus and HMS Terror in the 1840’s.

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