30 April, 2007 King Edward Point
April is a month of transition, the start of the austral winter, which means that the last of the summer visitors say farewell, snow arrives (rather early this year) and the wildlife leaves the island for the sea or to fly north.
The Fisheries Patrol vessel Pharos brought back Pat and Sarah Lurcock, the Senior Government Officer and the Post Mistress, from their 4-months of leave in the UK. Emma, the other Government Officer, has been here all summer; she and Pat will work together for the next four months.
Also on board was Rob Smith, a BAS GA. In 2004 he was here assessing the local terrain for a review of our “travel limits”. As BAS employees we cannot just wander off anywhere- we have to remain within “rescuable” distance of King Edward Point, and can’t climb any peak we fancy; those requiring technical skills are off limits. But we’re not complaining, as there is plenty to see and do within the permitted areas.
This time Rob was in SG for only ten days, en route home from a season in Rothera, to help Miriam (Museum Assistant) close up the museum for winter. They left on the outgoing Pharos on the fifteenth but Miriam will be back in October to work in the museum again.
The Navy usually send a ship down from Falklands to patrol South Georgia waters two or three times a year. Two arrived on the 12 th April; the destroyer HMS Edinburgh and the RFA Gold Rover (a Royal Fleet Auxillary is a tanker that travels alongside a destroyer to supply it with fuel). This is a special year- as it is a quarter of a century since the Falklands War which started in SG, and distinguished guests were on board to commemorate the event (see below).
The science team of Anjali, Charlie and Jenn continue their regular routine of work. In the lab they age toothfish (by counting the rings in their earbones), maintain an aquarium of bored crabs, count fish larvae etc. They try to get out weekly on their little boat Quest to trawl for plankton and set nets.
The Tech Services team were busy behind the scenes as usual.
Gareth the Generator Mechanic, keeps the whirring bits of KEP working (this month for example, fitting new brakes and steering ram on JCB, making marker posts for ship mooring line anchors, so we can find them when the snow is deep, and winterizing the museum), and concentrates on the Herculean list of things to do generated by the eagle eyed Ricky and AMOS ( the “boss in a box”).
Andrew Chase (AC) the Electrician got the best call-out job ever – to Bird Island. He was taken there by the JCR and spent seven days checking their repeater, generator and the other electrics. The lucky chap managed to see and photograph the courtship dance of the wandering albatross, and start up a band with the BI-four of Donald, Fabrice, Rob and Robin. They sent back lovely presents of ginger cake, home brewed beer, home-made postcards and T-shirts.
A few crew from various fishing vessels came along to the surgery to have medical problems assessed by Melanie (doctor). There were some sessions of doc school, to build on the first aid skills that the base personnel already have.
Our Dear Leader, Andy (Base Commander) wrote reports, looked out for hazards, risks and near-misses, fiddled with antennae and computers (e.g. to maintain the DARTCOM which provides satellite images of the weather and sea ice over the Southern ocean), told us to be tidy, and lent a hand to everyone on base when jobs needed doing.
The boatmen (Martony and Charles) are crucial to the science and government work here, and they have been busy this month as you will see.
The battle for the Falklands “kicked off” here in SG. Several VIPs arrived to help commemorate these events. The new Commissioner for South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, His Excellency Alan Huckle and his wife Helen made their first visit here. Two significant veterans of the war were invited too; Lt. Keith Mills and his wife Liz, and Major Guy Sheridan and his wife Molly (who spent summer 2003 painting here on a Shackleton Scholarship).
On 19 th March 1982, Argentine scrap metal merchants landed at the abandoned whaling station in Leith Harbour and raised the Argentine flag. This was spotted by members of BAS, who reported the situation to the Commissioner in the Falklands. When the Argentines refused to lower the flag, the Navy sent a detachment of marines led by 22-year old Lt. Keith Mills to Grytviken, aboard HMS Endurance.
On April 3rd, Argentine troops attacked Grytviken. After a two hour fight, Mills surrendered (having been ordered by London “to shoot only in self-defence, not endanger life; yet not surrender”). A remnant of that battle remains today, an Argentine Puma helicopter that crashed on the slope of Brown Mountain.
The 1982 BAS team were taken as prisoners of war from the church where they had been sheltering. They were marched away at gunpoint, and on to the Bahia Paraiso. Three weeks later they were flown to Uruguay and released.
The Island was liberated by British forces on 25 th April. While HMS Antrim and Plymouth bombarded KEP, Major Sheridan landed at Hesteslatten with his Royal Marines and accepted the Argentine surrender, without a shot being fired. Sadly one man was to die later on, a young Argentine Felix Artuso, who was shot through a misunderstanding when his submarine Sante Fe was being moved. His grave stands on the hillside by a waterfall overlooking Grytviken.
In recognition of this recent history, on the 13 th April the Commissioner unveiled a memorial plaque at the base of the flagpole, on the beach outside Everson House. Afterwards, in a chilly wind we walked over to the church for a memorial service.
There was a cocktail party hosted by the Government Officer for our distinguished guests, followed by a slide show from the veterans on their role in the defence and liberation of SG.
Next day Andy and Jenn whizzed up dinner for 25 people, the reliable favourite of roast turkey being served.
His Excellency and the veterans were flown about the Island by the naval helicopters. Martony and Charlie took the Commissioner by jet boat to an old reindeer enclosure so he could compare grazed and ungrazed areas, bringing the arguments for and against culling / exterminating the herd (introduced by Norwegian whalers) to life, a fairly hot topic in the “Environmental Management Plan for SG”.
Charlie and Martony, Charles and Jenn then spent several days transferring the crew of Edinburgh and Rover to shore, giving them a chance to explore the area. As it was bleak and chilly weather, some of them looked pretty miserable. We took pity on some of the folk eating their sandwiches in the rain and brought them in for cups of tea. Navy personnel are good “tourists” and bought lots of postcards and souvenirs from the Post Office and museum.
Whilst the Sheridans were here, Guy fitted in another slide show, this time on his attempted ascent of Sheridan Peak (955m). If you win a battle, the FCO may name a mountain after you! In 1999, along with David Nicholls, Guy set off from Hound Bay, and would have climbed his peak, set in the middle of the Nordenskjold glacier, had it not been for a ferocious storm that blew Guy and his fully loaded 60 kg pulk into the air. It was a ripping yarn, which filled us with enthusiasm for ski-touring which will be possible in the next few months.
Guy nipped up Mt. Hodges, which gave him the first chance to look over Hesteslatten and Brown Mountain where his forces landed 25 years ago.
If you read these diaries or the South Georgia Official Website (www.sgisland.gs) , you will know that the main toothfish season starts on 1 May (and ends in August).
Toothfish is caught here on a commercial basis. A license to fish costs £90,500 per 100 tonnes. Ten were issued this year. The money generated funds the BAS and GSGSSI operations on the island, and the FPV Pharos that patrols the waters around SG looking for “pirates” (i.e. illegal fishing ships).
This fishery is one of only twenty or so in the world to have Marine Stewardship Council certification (you may have seen the blue logo on fish in supermarkets) demonstrating that it meets high standards of environmental sustainability.
Emma and Pat must inspect all the vessels at the start of the season to ensure they comply with the conditions of their license (mainly environmental and safety standards). Many of them converged on the Cove in the last weekend of April, ready to spring off to their favoured hunting grounds as soon as they get the all clear.
South Georgian toothfish can be bought in the posh organic supermarket Whole Foods on High Street Kensington but will set you back about £20 per kilo. We are lucky enough to eat it regularly; the science team catch some in nets and we receive it as gifts. I like it a lot, though some say it is too oily. The longliners often give us other food treats- a big box of mangoes and avocadoes were pounced on immediately.
The whole base is involved when a fishing vessel comes in for inspection. The ships wait in Cumberland East Bay. The boatmen take the Government Officers out to the ship to board it for inspection, on our jet boat with a base member acting as crew. Another base member keeps in touch via radio every 15-minutes. The science team meet the ship’s Scientific Observer, who collects biological data and specimens for them to analyse. And if any of the fishing crew fall ill or are injured, they are bought to the surgery at KEP.
Anjali, AC and Andy took up and completed the Seven Peak Challenge that had been laid down at Christmas by the visiting BAS biologist and fitness freak Martin Collins. The peaks are all local and visible from base; Brown (332 metres), Narval, Orca (277), Hodges (605), Petrel I (632), Petrel 2 and Duse (507).
At the start of the month Ainslie, Charlie and Melanie spent a weekend in Harpon Bay, on the other side of the Thatcher Peninsula to KEP. Harpon’s special attractions are its surrounding glaciers – the Lyell and Geikie that spill onto the beach, and the Neumayer across Cumberland West Bay.
We spent a quiet weekend walking along the beach and saying hello to king penguins, giant petrels, elephant and fur seals along the way. There are far fewer animals on land now, and rarely at KEP. The seals and penguins have gone to sea, birds have migrated north or gone to sea also. So it was a treat to just sit and watch the activity of the adolescent gentoos in their little colony. According to Tony Soper (Antarctica, A Guide to Wildlife, publ. by Bradt) “Uniquely among penguins, the young continue to be fed for a further period by their parents after fledging, so that they are hanging around the moulting area together well into March”.
AC was originally coming on the trip, but had to stay behind to change a light bulb. So it was a nice surprise on Sunday morning when we saw him appear over the hill, frog-marched by Andy and Anjali. On the last night we bivvied outside, lulled to sleep by Charlie’s bedtime stories (courtesy of Bruce Chatwin) and the creaking and cracking of the glaciers. I meant to stay awake until I spotted a shooting star but…
A day trip for the base was kindly provided by the captain of HMS Edinburgh who took nine of us to Drygalski Fjord at the South-East extremity of the island. It is a place we would never have the opportunity to see otherwise, and is of interest for several reasons; “spectacular peaks that rise directly out of the sea to 1000m altitude and the area is a stronghold for snow petrels” (A Visitors Guide to South Georgia by Sally Poncet and Kim Crosbie).
As it happened the weather was grim and it was hard to see much. But the captain sneaked Edinburgh’s bow up to the snout of the glacier as far as he dared. The officers were conscientious hosts and gave us a thoroughly comprehensive tour of the ship; the Lynx helicopter, the bridge, operations room, wardroom (mess), the mixed heads (toilets) and NAFI (where I discovered I could buy sweets! We get plenty of chocolate here but no sweeties).
Martony’s eyes gleam when he spots Playstation’s latestgame, Air Ranger Rescue on the bridge, whoops no it’s for real!, meantime Gareth helps with iceberg watch
Towards the end of the month, Anjali, Ainslie and Melanie took a mini-break in Ocean Harbour. By this time, enough snow had fallen for us to try wearing snow-shoes. Ocean Harbour’s highlights are the remnants of an old whaling station which was abandoned in 1920, and the wreck of an iron ship, Bayard, which blue-eyed shags have made their home.
We had a lovely time, except for coming across a “banded seal”. Fishing vessels are not supposed to, but obviously still do, discard overboard the bands used to pack up their boxes of fish. One of these bands had slipped and got stuck around this young fur seal’s neck, cutting deeply into its flesh. We had no kit to hold the seal and cut it free, so we had to watch and do nothing, knowing it is destined for a miserable death (see Bird Island diary, August 2000).
Back at base, Andy, Charlie, Charles and Jenn walked out of the door and up Duse. Their mission – to recreate a classic photo of Hurley’s from the Endurance expedition, taken from the summit of Duse looking down over Grytviken. I think you’ll agree they did rather well.
Easter weekend was spent recovering from a pub crawl held on Good Friday; one pub in each pit room.
Rumour has it that Charles had a brief career as a chocolatier in Guernsey. He finally demonstrated his skills on Easter Sunday. With assistance from Jenn and after much pouring, stirring and tasting he produced some delicious truffles.
There were four birthdays on the island in April; Miriam, Emma, Charlie and AC. AC got a children’s tea party so he could indulge his fondness for Spam and jelly. Bar Olympics were held in honour of Charlie; wriggling through bar stools and chairs, spinning around a broom handle, Twister with bar mats and so on.
And it that wasn’t enough action and excitement, Thursday evenings became a regular slot for the gripping medical drama Bodies.
Having a wonderful time here. My love to Steven, Mum, Dad, Katie, Ritu, Una, Roshanna, Sabine, Pintos and all other family and friends.