King Edward Point Diary – April 2004

30 April, 2004

Winter draws near

April at King Edward Point by Suzi

I’ve been living here at KEP for 17 months now and this April the last people are starting to accept summer is over and are eagerly anticipating winter snows. Those of us who were here last year know to make the most of the free time now before the busy fishing season begins and are hoping that all goes smoothly this year. We still look out at the 2 wrecks which are a reminder of last year’s disastrous start to the fishing season. This is the month where we say goodbye to the last of the summer visitors and the skis start to pile up in the corridors.

At the start of April there was sufficient summer left for me to complete the half marathon that everyone else ran last month. I was lucky to have my office buddy Rich act as water carrier and chief Mr Motivator and Vic and Peter who were also keen enough to run the course a second time to keep me company. I can now hold my head high, no longer the only member of the base not to have run the course.

This event coincided with the pilot broadcast of a local radio station, Sarah’s “Antarctic Radio Station Experiment” or A.R.S.E.. With request shows, interviews, adverts and perhaps a little too much music from Marine Officer Pat’s rocktastic iPod it was a great success and everyone was glued. Thanks Sarah.

April here is a (relatively) quiet month where we prepare for our next busy season, in which South Georgia’s major fisheries operate. From May, the waters surrounding South Georgia are fished by Toothfish longliners and Krill trawlers and the huge reefers to whom they offload their catches are frequent visitors to our bay.

All this winter activity means we need extra help in terms of manpower. We had two new arrivals this month. First we welcomed Hamilton, a second boatman, deemed necessary because of all the boating needed to support the fishery whilst maintaining the scientific fishing programme. He seemed to have settled in very well by the time his first foot hit South Georgia soil. An Australian by birth he is new competition in the KEP funnyman championships where traditionally Pat and Rich have vied for the top spot. We also welcomed back Rob Gater who assists the marine officer and organises the government fisheries observers who carry out biological work on the fishing boats. He returned slightly more bronzed than we remembered and full of stories of Blue-footed Boobies in tropical lands.

We’ve all been enjoying lots of outdoor training and activity this month as our super-duper field assistant Rob continued his assessment of our travel area. There have been too many trips to mention but everyone has enjoyed tramping around and looking out for Rob as he re-familiarises himself with solid earth again after a season tent-dwelling in the wild islands of the Antarctic Peninsula.

We have also spent weekends doing-up some of the huts dotted around the local area that desperately needed repairs. Frin got to grips with roof felting at Maiviken, under the watchful eye of our resident handyman come beardy mountain man Peter. The story goes that she carried all the materials and tools to Maiviken single-handed and did the job herself. I cannot verify this as I (unfortunately) arrived just as the job was finished. I spent an enjoyable evening in the finished hut though and can say that it was a job well done.

After the hectic JCR visit (see below) another “work party” got busy on the Harpon Hut. My timing wasn’t quite so good on this occasion, Frin and I arriving early afternoon after a relaxing walk over at a speed that allowed us to gossip all the way. We had secretly hoped the new roof would be finished by the time we got there. On arrival I was handed a silicone gun and instructed to seal up the windows. After a few handy tips from Peter I completed my task and even managed to produce the odd brew for the workers. I handed over to Jen when she arrived and I have to say she was a little heavy-handed having not had Peters expert tuition. While silicone wars were raging Peter, Frin and Rob were beavering away with more felt, wood and other “stuff”. It was a pretty cold night but Frin and I had put the tents up in a professional way ensuring the workers were able to have a good nights sleep. The next day reinforcements arrived and after a lot more banging and a few more brews, the job was done. Well done the girls.

In the middle of all these goings on we said goodbye to the 40 strong asbestos removal team who had been stationed at Grytviken (across the cove) since September. It was sad. We will miss many of their cheerful faces not to mention a guaranteed supply of lime juice and fresh croissants!

All the asbestos has now been buried and many of the tin structures that made up the station have been dismantled. More work remains to be done and we look forward to the return of some of our friends next year. They all left on theJCR whose 4-day visit was much enjoyed. At KEP the last visit of a BAS ship doesn’t have the same significance as at other bases where the “last call” is the last contact people are likely to have with the outside world until the winter is over. It is still a big event however and there was the usual BBQ/party with rather greater numbers than usual. The Boytec Chilenos danced with their usual gusto, perhaps buoyed by the arrival of a few “new” young ladies on theJCR. The Bird Island boys were delightful and we were really pleased to finally meet them having been neighbours for so long.

There is still an unusually large number of icebergs around South Georgia. The “superberg” grounded off the East coast broke up this month meaning even more icebergs drifting into our bay where they become grounded in the shallowing coastal waters. This picture shows the superberg before it broke up. The pink blob indicates where we live.

All this ice has prevented the science team (Frin, Suzi and Rich) from laying their nets in the bay, which is a shame but has freed up some time for our new favourite thing CRAB LARVAE. Oh yes. This month Team Fish have spent many hours in the cold aquarium looking into little pots with little baby crabs in. We now have noses like healthy puppies (cold and wet) and strange dreams filled with little orange shrimpy looking things.

The aim of this work is to learn more about the biology of the crabs native to South Georgia of which little is currently known. As a potential resource for fisheries and a by-catch of other fisheries it is important to know about these crabs so we can protect them.

The Snailfish introduced last month are thriving and growing (see above). The temperature in their home is ably controlled by our Macca sparkie Krissi-lad. He’s a charming man whose coffee and cakes are unsurpassed. Beneath his tattooed Grrrrr exterior there is clearly a cuddly Mr Kipling trying to get out.

A visit from the patrol ship Sigma brought not only the return of Bob but the grand opening of the new improved “Hairy Lemon”. The hold of the ship was long ago converted into a social area and has now been transformed into a sophisticated meeting place the likes of which wouldn’t be out of place in….Faversham, my glorious hometown in east Kent. The ship’s cook Angel provided some grub and good times were had.

Easter was of course in April and without fresh eggs it could have been a bit of a non-starter. However, some lucky base members had chocolate eggs sent from home. Brian’s wonderful mother sent him a huge egg that he shared. Such a lovely egg and he hasn’t even written more than a postcard to her since he arrived (shame on you Brian). Jenny the “won’t eat fried food it’s too unhealthy” Doc made everyone a dozen or so amazing chocolate truffles each. In addition to this the Easter bunny left small packets of goodies outside everyone’s door on Easter Sunday. Like Father Christmas, he is rumoured to reside with the Marine Officer in Shackleton Villa down the corridor.

As if there hadn’t been enough gallivanting, we managed boat trips to Cumberland West bay, that is, round the wilds of Sappho Point which forms the headland of the peninsula dividing Cumberland East Bay from the aforementioned Cumberland West Bay…get it? Anyway, having dropped off some tools and “stuff” for the Harpon Hut job we took the boats into Mercer Bay which is headed by the towering Geike Glacier. We shut off the engines and sat back basking in the sunshine and listening to the creaks and groans of the ice.

No month on a B.A.S. base would be complete without some Skool. This month our training included more resuscitation practice, navigation skills, rope work, Primus stove and Tilley lamp maintenance and much more besides. A little out of the ordinary were the Search and Rescue Exercises. Necessary as we are our own emergency services we must practice a variety of rescues from different parts of our travel area. This month we rescued Jenny from a rocky scree slope a couple of hours stretcher carry up and away from base. We also rescued Rich from a waterfall (having apparently broken his pelvis). We are really quite fortunate to have so many fit people here. I managed to escape the hardest job (again) because I was just too short to pair up with anyone to carry the stretcher. I’m an accomplished thermos flask filler though so I do have my uses!

A quick word on Burnett

This plant, a native to South Georgia, is at certain times of the year, beautiful. It is however universally loathed for it’s sticky, hooky properties. The seed heads of the plant which grows to about ankle level are gorgeous little pompoms covered in barbed hooks. These are at their most irritating from January until the lovely snow comes to cover them up. They stick to your laces. They stick in your socks. They work their way up your legs and prick you all over. I won’t go in to what happens when you undo the rear flap of your salopettes to relieve yourself. I will say though that you learn very quickly to select your toilet location with utmost care. The fur seal pictured right seems to have been able to retain some sense of pride and dignity despite being colonised by Burnett.

So. Amongst all these goings on, South Georgia remains an incredible, beautiful island we feel lucky to live on. When you forget to moan about the stupid details you remember that living here you never have to go to the bank, sit in traffic, pay rent, and you can largely ignore the horrors of the outside world due to our limited access to news. We only wish more of you could see it too.

I send love to my family and friends at home and not at home, in particular my good friend Jen and her new baby Marion. I can’t wait to see you. Xxxx