Captain Woodfield made 20 seasonal voyages to the Antarctic on three research ships between 1955 and 1974. Starting as a Junior Deck Officer he worked for The Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey which in 1964 became the British Antarctic Survey. He played a paramount role in the gradual change from using under-powered and poorly-equipped ships to the professionally-managed and sophisticated vessels of his last command.
The arts of exploration and survival during his early years in this majestic but unforgiving continent are described as attempts were made to establish research stations, support science, and survey in totally uncharted, ice-filled waters amidst often ferocious weather. Dramatic stories are featured such as the near loss of a ship in pack ice, the stranding of another in hurricane force winds and the collapse of an ice-cliff onto the vessel.
The pioneers of Antarctic exploration, the area's history, the hardships and incredible achievements of those original seafarers are described. Yet polar navigation during the author's years was not without peril and the near loss in ice of his first ship, the RRS Shackleton, the demise of her Master, and his ill-judged replacement and consequent dramas are fully told.
After a voyage of enormous responsibility, aged just 25, he transferred to the RRS John Biscoe as Chief Officer under a fine seaman but difficult disciplinarian. The highs and lows of their relationship are told as are vivid descriptions of predicaments they overcame such as being blown ashore in hurricane force winds and beset and crushed in pack ice. The first ventures of the John Biscoe into the Weddell Sea are recounted with information on the nature and movement of ice, its interrelationship with weather, and the methods of navigation in ice before the age of satellites.
Appointed to command the RRS Bransfield, he recounts her extraordinary maiden voyage when it was feared she would split in two. The battle with a horrendous storm at the end of his last voyage is fully described together with his final sentimental return to the Falklands.
Captain Tom Woodfield went to sea aged 16, joined the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey and subsequently became the foremost Polar navigator of the century, attaining the furthest South for any vessel in the Weddell Sea. He joined the Board of Trinity House, sailed in a Round the World Yacht Race, supported Sir Ran Fiennes on his Transglobe venture and sailed with Sir Robin Knox Johnston in the Sail Training vessel, Malcolm Miller. He served on Antarctic and Falkland Island advisory committees and lectured on those topics.