Now streaming a part of the winter season of anime at Crunchyroll, A Place Further Than the Universe is the incredible story of four high school girls who travel to the South Pole. Now, a veteran explorer sheds some light on some of the real life aspects of this show, including the mighty sailing vessel Shirase! Read on below!
“What Kind of Ship is the Shirase? We asked a veteran leader!”
Commander Takemoto: Ministry of Defense: Maritime Staff Office, Operations and Plans Department, Operations Support Division, Antarctic Observation Support Group, Commander Participated in the 56th, 57th and 58th Antarctic regional observation voyages. A veteran leader who has served as administrator, navigator, and deputy captain so far. He knows everything about the Antarctic sea.
At the end of the first episode, Kimari and others go to the Kure port in Hiroshima to visit icebreaker “Shirase”. “Shirase” is a real ship, isn’t she?
Commander Takemoto: “Shirase” is actually an icebreaker operated by the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force. Every year, she goes out to Antarctica with the Antarctic Research Expedition members and supplies. She is the fourth generation of Japan’s Antarctic Ocean Observing vessel. She has been in commission since 2009 as a successor to the aging previous “Shirase.”
She is also open to the public, right?
She is. In the anime the ships opens to the public in April, but the real “Shirase” goes back to Japan in April every year and immediately enters the dock to repair her hull. After that, also for the purpose of maritime drills, she stops at various places while going around Japan from summer. We can hold public display in that timing. Since the ship can’t be seen by anyone after leaving Japan in November, they have become indispensable events to let the public know widely what kind of things she does and what kind ship she is.
What kind of people are visiting the ship?
It’s really wide range of people from families to enthusiasts. To our surprise, there are people who do not know that she is a ship of the Maritime Self Defense Force.
What part of Shirase make the visitors surprised?
There are a lot of people who are surprised at the size of the hull in the beginning. In addition, “Shirase” has a wide bridge size of 28 meters. This is the same size as one car of a bullet train. Since it is much wider than other ships, they say, “This is amazing.” There are many other parts to watch, so please come to the nearby port of call in the autumn of this year.
Guessing from the name “icebreaker,” is it a ship that can break ice and move through it?
That’s right. The performance of “Shirase” is that it is possible to proceed without stopping while crushing ice in the sea area covered with a 1.5-meter layer of ice.
But what if she faces thicker ice than that? Turn back?
No, no. Even in that case, she can still tear the ice and go forward by “ramming.”
When the ship stops moving because of the ice, she backs down about 200 – 300 m, then rams it with her maximum horsepower.
What!? So simple!
The ship is called “icebreaker” because she can do it without problems. The number of ramming varies each year. In the case of the 56th Antarctic regional observation voyage departing Japan in 2014, about 5,400 rammings were recorded.
At that time, I was also taking charge of the voyage of “Shirase” as the chief operating officer. I think that she performed more than 1,000 rammings under my direct control. If your purpose is only to dock at the Antarctic continent, you can reduce the number of ramming more. But if you have enough fuel, you can also investigate a new area. Especially because the second generation “Shirase” has high crushing ice performance, she can go deep into places where her predecessor could not reach in the past.
What an adventure. Does the ship roll heavily when she performs ramming?
It is more like “impact” than “shaking.” When the ship proceeds on the ice with a thickness of 1.5 meters or more, it feels like running on a rough road with an off-road car, along with a certain level of intense shakes. And when she performs ramming, it turns into shock and sounds like “Gang Gang,” and “Dong Dong.” But once you get used to it, it is nothing. Because it happens every day, both the crew and the observation staff remain calm. Only a little ice can be broken with a single attack, and it is difficult to proceed smoothly. Even though we try our best, there are days that we can go forward only 100 meters in a day. There was a case that took two weeks while our destination was so close. I was trying to navigate carefully while enduring my irritated feeling, “We would be able to arrive in one hour if there were no ice!”
100 meters a day! It was really slow.
I watched the toddling Adélie penguins many times, who were quietly passing the side of “Shirase” when she desperately ran with rammings (laugh). Though it was a cute and healing sight, it made me feel a little complicated.
Slower than the Adélie penguin (laughs)… By the way, “Shirase” with the 59th observation team safely landed on Antarctica on December 23rd last year (2017).
The approach of the year before (2016) was the 28th, so it was quite early. It seems that the voyage went fairly smoothly as a lot of ice came out from the South Pole last year. And she performed rammings only 27 times this year.
It totally varies each year. Thank you very much for your valuable story!
This interview originally appeared on the official A Place Further Than the Universe website
Translation by Mikikazu Komatsu