30 April, 2011 King Edward Point
After a busy couple of months with the rat eradication project the start of April felt much quieter. The beginning of the month brought with it our first real drop of snow. This may sound odd given that we are in the sub-Antarctic but our beautiful island is covered in scree for the summer and only has full snow cover for a few months a year.
We were all suitably excited by the first snow fall and headed for the hills at the first opportunity. Unfortunately the snow wasn’t that deep. Despite this the optimists choose skis and snowboards as a means of travel. Others opted for snow shoes and pulks. Regardless we had great fun exploring our new landscape, though I think we all agree the addition of chair lifts might not be a bad thing.
The middle of April brought with it another busy period with two military visits. HMS York arrived first to drop of the RAF EOD (explosive ordinance disposal) team.
The 1982 fighting on South Georgia has left a number of unexploded ordinances scattered across the terrain. These are usually spotted by one of the base members when they are out walking, a florescent tag is left near the device and the GPS location is recorded. Every so often the EOD team visit to destroy these weapons.
This year the team got to sample a good selection of South Georgia, with devices to locate and make safe on two peninsulas. We were able to demonstrate our excellent (read fast) rib driving to drop them off on the Barff and in return they provided a demonstration on how to blow things up. The latter was avidly attended by the technical services department.
The arrival of the HMS York also brought with it the chance to get away for a few days. By pure coincidence this ended up being a girls holiday. I was lucky enough to get to go, my first and probably only holiday to be taken on board a type 42 naval destroyer.
We were fortunate with the weather and the first evening enjoyed wobbly coffee on the aft deck to celebrate the Queens birthday. That was followed by dinner with the captain and entertainment in the ward room till late. The next day started with a very early but stunning sunrise at Gold Harbor. The glacier here catches the light from the morning sun and really does look gold.
We left Gold for the dramatic cliffs of Dryglaski Fjord and enjoyed clear skies as we sailed. The York was able to travel 5 miles into the Fjord before we had to turn around. The kabatic winds coming off the glacier meant it was cold standing out on deck, however we found a vent from the laundry managed to keep our feet warm!
After Dryglaski we took a look at Cape Disappointment, the tip of the island and so named by Captain Cook when he realized South Georgia was not part of the yet undiscovered Antarctic land mass. In reality it is a stunning line up of mountainous peaks and not particularly disappointing. The York then headed back to KEP and dropped anchor outside base. Ashley, our boating officer was able to bring the ship in, the first and possibly only time she will get to park a warship.
Despite being home we choose to remain on board for another night and participate in penguin racing. This involves a race track, willing volunteers, some oversized dice and a very complicated betting system. As an employee of the British Antarctic Survey I am pleased to report I won my penguin race.
Unfortunately York’s visit was only a few days, however they were closely followed by HMS Clyde. Clyde is a smaller ship and was keen to come along side our wharf, but South Georgia weather being what it is they were unable. Instead we ran a boat shuttle service and in rotation got most of their crew ashore. The members of base that hadn’t been able to go out on the York were able to take a few days break on the Clyde.
The Clyde’s visit was accompanied by dramatic skies. Our base is sheltered from the worst of the South Georgian weather by a series of mountains, the high winds passing over these peaks often results in some spectacular cloud formations.
April and May also brought with them some amazing night skies. We are lucky that we have no night pollution for 900 miles and as a consequence on a clear night we can since thousands of stars and get a clear view of the milkyway. Living down here I have developed an interest in night sky photography. Below are a few of the results.
Dr Sam Crimmin