30 April, 2006 King Edward Point
April has been a month of transition. The weather has changed from a summer / autumnal feeling to one of winter, visitors have changed from holiday makers to seasoned fishermen living a life on the waves, and the wildlife is slowly leaving the beaches and cliffs for a winter at sea. Along with these changes life at King Edward Point has rolled on as usual with camping trips, big fishing hauls, visitors and the start of a new fishing season.
In writing these newsletters I always find it hard knowing where to start. With such a busy month it seems easiest to start with our visitors. This month we mainly said goodbye. The last of the Morrisons guys left at the beginning of the month. These included Big Al, Stu, Kev and Pete. Thank you guys for your company over the summer. And especially to Big Al who cooked a fantastic Beef Wellington with the help of Stuffin’ Steve on the last Saturday before they left. We also said goodbye to our favourite taxidermist Stuffin’ Steve Massam. It was great to have you back over the summer and fingers crossed we’ll get a chance to see you again before we leave. Steve also acted as our ceidligh dancing teacher. Pre-dinner dance classes were held under his watchful eye as ladies and gentlemen hurtled round the bar.
The last of the yachts came and went. We had the pleasure of Captain Ron; a single hander that has done the majority of his sailing up in the tropics. He stayed around for just over a month. This was unintentional as the weather conditions weren’t favourable for him to leave. It was great having him around as we enjoyed hearing stories of ‘flare gun Jenny’, his childhood memories, and other crazy stories of his life at sea. Captain Ron left at the end of the month with good south-westerlies filling his sail, a dodgy engine and a radar that wasn’t working. Good luck Ron and we look forward to hearing your news when you get to South Africa. Then there was the welcome return of two friends. Pat and Sarah Lurcock arrived back from four months leave.
This month has seen numerous trips off base. Two separate groups had the opportunity to walk over to St Andrews Bay to see the king penguin colony. Unfortunately the trips had very contrasting weather conditions. The first trip over included myself, Charlotte, Ali, and Stuffin’ Steve. The weather was quite simply superb. I’ve been over to St Andrews four times before this trip and so far have never seen all the mountains out. This time we got to the col over looking St Andrews Bay and all the mountains were visible. To top it off there was a sunset of oranges, reds, pinks and purples.
The next day was spent chilling out with penguins under blue skies. Thankfully the weather was warm as my choice of river crossing was not the best. Where I first crossed the river I thought I had followed Charlotte who had successfully crossed about knee deep. But I was wrong. I ended up wading through the river waist deep in cold glacial melt water- a refreshing start to the day. We spent the day exploring the king penguin colony. There were still a number of king penguins still on eggs. But at this time of year the majority of the king penguin chicks have hatched. We saw them at various different sizes- some newly hatched, some well fed. Unfortunately my river crossing skills did not improve as the day went on. On our way back to the hut for dinner I managed to wade through only thigh deep water while the other managed ankle deep!
The third day of the trip was a walk back from St Andrews to Sorling Hut. We bumped into Jamie, Ady and Javier on their way to St Andrews as we dropped down into Hound Bay. They were all in good spirits at the start of their trip. It was certainly different meeting people on the way somewhere on South Georgia. Hound Bay proved a good place to stop for lunch, which we enjoyed by some very large moulting elephant seals. Once finished, they go off for the winter to feed up in time for the breeding season in September / October. We also managed to drop in on the Hound Bay king penguin colony. During the summer a British Antarctic Survey field party had spent time studying the colony. We did a quick chick count for the scientists before moving on followed by fifteen king penguins. These guys seemed intent on following us! All in all a great few days topped off once more by a spectacular sunset at Sorling Hut.
The second St Andrews trip wasn’t quite as lucky with the weather. The first day was beautiful but the rest of the trip was a wee bit wet and misty. Their trip included a circum-navigation of the whole of the St Andrews colony along with some evening karaoke. The guys had a fantastic time and were picked up from Sorling Hut with big smiles on their faces.
Emma, the Government Officer, and Steve managed to get away for a couple of days to Ocean Harbour. This trip proved to be a bit of an epic. The walk over was done in misty conditions using a GPS as a guide. Unfortunately the weather didn’t improve from there. On their final night the wind really picked up. Back at King Edward Point the wind was screaming. The weather station was registering a steady 45 knots with gusts up to 60 knots. Looking out the window you could see the wind picking up the surface water and producing vast willywhorls. Talking to Steve after the trip it was the same over at Ocean Harbour. During the evening they made a decision to move their gear into the old whaling hut. Once they got all their gear in the tent was not so lucky. A big gust of wind left Steve holding the tent like a kite as the fabric attached to a guy ripped. In a brief lull in the wind Emma jumped onto the tent and they managed to dismantle it and get it inside. From the hut they watched out the rest of the storm. And true to form after a big blow the next day was quiet and clear.
The JCR visited us this month on their final leg north. As we have already had last call we were in the position of just enjoying the visit of a BAS ship rather than having to deal with cargo. The JCR stayed in for a couple of days to do some dive work. The dive team included two of the out going wintering dive team from Rothera, Matt Brown and Dan Smaile. It was a great chance for them to see King Edward Point. All to often you don’t get an opportunity to visit the other BAS bases, you only hear about them at conference. The diving was a mixed success for them as the water column had become very silty as a result of heavy rains. But the guys certainly enjoyed the barbecue in the evening along with the rest of JCR.
Science at KEP has again been busy for Team Fish. We’ve been slicing and dicing toothfish otoliths now for a couple of months. The otolith is a bone in the head of the fish, which can be used to get an age estimate. When the otolith is cut in a certain direction you can see internal rings. These rings are alternating dark and light bands. One set of light and dark bands are laid down each year and form one years growth. By counting these sets of bands you can age a fish. It is the same principal as aging a tree.
But we have not just been confined to the labs. Ongoing monitoring of the fish in Cumberland East Bay has continued in good old Quest. Two notable fishing trips have occurred this month. The first was just past the mouth of Cumberland East Bay but still within the Cumberland Bay system at approximately 240m water depth. Two trammel nets of different mesh size were tided together and set in the hope of catching mackerel icefish. Unfortunately no icefish were caught. However, forty marbled rockcod were caught in the larger of the two nets. This was a huge haul considering the net is only approximately forty metres long.
Once the net was onboard we made an on the spot decision to try and get as many of the rockcod back into the sea alive having measured their length and injected them with a coloured numbered tag. As Quest steamed back into the Cove we set about untangling as many as possible. We managed to get a few back into the water by the time we were back alongside the quay. There we were met by a number of helpers who gave us a much needed hand to get the rest of the fish back into the water alive. At the end thirty adult fish were released back into the sea to live another day.
Team Fish and the boating department landed the largest toothfish ever caught in Cumberland East Bay in April. We were fishing at a depth of 240m by Sappho, which is just inside the mouth of Cumberland East Bay. It was a lovely morning blue skies and a little breeze. We started hauling the down line up as usual but when we got to the anchor we saw the net snagged on it. This was a surprise as there is approximately 90 metres of line going from the down line to the net. So we had to detach the down-line, drop the anchor back in the water and then go round to the other side and pick the other side up. Things ran much more smoothly from this end. The anchor was free, there was less weight on the across-line and the bridles were not too twisted. We began pulling the net in by hand. It felt heavy and we began joking about what was caught. But we were not prepared for what we were about to see. Through the gloom we began to see a large mass coming towards us. And then there it was a monster toothfish. At this stage we didn’t know how big or heavy it was. All we knew was it was massive! Estimations of length and weight started flying around the boat so it was decided that we should put our money where our mouths were. Everyone had a guess of total length and weight but an entry fee had to be put forward. By the time we were alongside, and folk from base had had a look, the prize stood at one bottle of Baileys, one bottle of whisky, one bottle of gin, a couple of bottles of wine, a bottle of port, a couple of boxes of chocolates and some wine gums- a good haul in itself for any winner. In the end Rick and Sarah who got the closest estimate for length and weight shared the prize. The fish officially weighed in at 21 kg with a total length of 130 cm.
Apart from some really beautiful days at the beginning of the month, April has been wet and cloudy. Winter is slowly beginning to get a stronger hold on the island. This month saw the first fall of snow right down to sea level. Unfortunately this didn’t hang around as we got some seriously strong northwesterly winds. These blew at a consistent 20 knots and the temperature rocketed to between 10oC and 15oC. It was like standing in front of a hairdryer. This soon saw off any snow that had settled high up and the snow line that had been creeping down retreated rapidly. The snow line by the end of the month had slowly crept back down again, but it will probably still be a couple of months before we will be skiing.
Longliners in the commercial fishery for Patagonian toothfish began to arrive this month. They must first come to King Edward Point for inspection and licencing. The first two longliners came through at the beginning of April. These boats had an exploratory allocation of catch down at the South Sandwich Islands. The two longliners spent some time down there catching toothfish and also doing some scientific research. This included tagging toothfish.
The rest of the longliners started to arrive in the last week of April. The fishing season around South Georgia and the Shag Rocks starts on May 1st. So far eight fishing boats have been inspected and licensed; four of which were done on the same day! We are still waiting for the last three to arrive. Each fishing boat has a fisheries observer on board who collects biological information and conducts other scientific projects like cetacean depredation of lines, benthic bycatch and skate tagging. Work is hard on the longliners for the observers. The weather around the island in winter is rough and cold making working conditions hard. So it was good to get a few of them ashore for a couple of hours to see the buildings and stretch their legs on land.
The King Edward Point gym (also known as the boatshed) has seen many visitors this month. Ady has started up regular circuit training. For some this is the ideal way to get in shape for the impending ski season and for others it is just a means of getting their shape back.
The draw for mid-winter presents was made this month. It is traditional for mid-winter’s day to make a present for another member of the base. Everyone’s name was placed in a hat we all took it in turns to pull a name out. This was done eight weeks before mid-winter so that people have plenty of time to think about they will make. Already the chippy shop is getting busy with people chopping and sanding.
The base had Easter weekend off. People mainly used the time to relax and recharge the batteries. Ali ‘Easter bunny’ Dean produced a lovely clutch of chocolate eggs for everyone. On Easter Sunday Ady produced a full roast meal with all the trimmings. It was served up early afternoon but before hand Charlotte, Sarah and I decided to work up a bit of an appetite. We had a good Sunday scramble up to Pinnacle. The walk was enjoyable and the view over Cumberland West Bay at the top was definitely worthwhile.
Rats are back!!!! After a lean patch our resident rat catcher, Charlotte, has begun to have some more success in her one-woman mission to eradicate rats from King Edward Point. Rats are known to eat and survive on pretty much anything. This month we discovered that they like to eat the inside of the bait boxes!!! As you can see from the picture, the rats weren’t content with just the bait, they have nibbled all along the inside.
This month base members were a wee bit perplexed by the strange behaviour of a newly moulted giant petrel chick. The bird appeared to want to dive under the water like one of the blue-eyed shags we have around base. It also tried to swim backwards and in doing so looked though it was trying to moonwalk. This behaviour resulted in the nickname of Michael. We were worried about his frantic preening of his feathers around his neck and thought something might have caught round his neck. On closer inspection Jamie and Martony found that this wasn’t the case. But after two days of splashing about in the waters edge trying to swim, poor Michael was wet through. The guys put him in a warm dry place and then released him the next day when there was a bit more wind. To everyone’s delight, a healthy and dry Michael flew away.
April has been indent month. Enough said!!!
In lieu of a cancelled camping trip to the Greene Peninsula, the ladies on the island had a posh meal in Carse House. This left the men on base for a night having a far simpler meal of homemade burgers and chips.
Well that is all for April. It was another busy month and great fun. I’d just like to say hello to all my friends up north and I’ll see you all in the new year – only six months of my sentence left!!!!!!!! Happy Birthday to my sister Phil and my Dad. Love you all.