King Edward Point Diary – April 2012

30 April, 2012

April at KEP is usually the point that summer starts to wind down and winter begins; numbers on station drop and the makeup of shipping changes from Tourism to Fishing.

At the start of the month we said farewell to the last summer science project, the DARWIN team were conducting investigations into the mouse population on the island, as part of the ongoing habitat restoration work. Hugh the fastest postman in South Georgia and Sarah the Museum Director also departed for the winter.

The Saturday before Easter saw Plancius, the last cruise ship of the season, visit Gryitviken. However a few days later she had an engineering fault and lost her main propulsion while near the bay of isles. Fortunately the weather was calm and Plancius was able to limp into Cumberland bay.

Engineers onboard attempted repairs and conducted trials but it was apparent that the Plancius would not be able to leave the island under her own steam. It was decided that she would come alongside the wharf at KEP. Given her limited manoeuvrability, the KEP jet boats were made available as impromptu tugs.

There followed a slightly tense 20min as the Captain skilfully brought the 89m ship alongside the 20m wharf. Our boating officers did a fine job assisting Plancius alongside using the jet boats. Matt assures us it’s the first time he’s driven into the side of a ship, but I’m not so sure.

So we ended up with 115 guests, for a couple of weeks. All things considered the passengers were in good spirits and took advantage of the opportunity to spend extra time on South Georgia while expedition staff ran local trips for the stranded passengers.

The museum was reopened and KEP provided South Georgia’s first internet cafe to enable passengers to get in touch with family and friends back home. We were kindly invited down for a BBQ on board one evening, and it was interesting for Island dwellers and visitors alike to find out about two very differing ways of life. An impromptu tug of war was held on the deck of the Plancius and the KEP team managed to defend the honour of the island, though only just.

The third week of April saw a busy time for King Edward cove, the cruise ship Ushaia arrived to return the Plancius passengers to South America, along with the tug boat Otway from Monte Video. They’re arrival coincide with that of the Fisheries patrol ship MV Pharos and the BAS vessel RSS James Clark Ross.

One of the BAS research ships RSS James Clark Ross stopped by for last call, which is the last ship call before winter and a chance to get any final cargo onshore and send north all the scientific samples, general cargo and recycling for return to the UK. As the wharf was occupied by the Plancius last call was conducted using the JCR’s tender and loading cargo from the beach.

While cargo operations were taking place some of the crew and passengers from the JCR got the chance for a walk ashore to look round Gryitviken and the museum. Staff returning north from Bird Island also got a chance to see how things are done at South Georgia’s premier research station.

The 25th of April saw the 30th anniversary of the liberation of South Georgia during operation Paraquat, when the Argentine forces at King Edward Point surrendered to Major Guy Sheridan. The talk given earlier in the summer by Chris Nunn, who commanded 42 Commando during the operation and maintained the garrison afterwards, was fresh in many people’s minds.

We honoured the occasion in best KEP fashion with Gin and Tonics on the veranda, the RAF also commemorate the occasion with a Hercules flyby all the way from Mount Pleasant in the Falklands.

April was a busy month for fishing boats as the Toothfish fishery got into full swing. The Government of South Georgia manages the fishery to very exacting standards and only issues licences to around six boats each year. Before fishing begins boats are inspected by the government officers to ensure all safety and fishing gear is up to scratch and that all protection measures are in place to prevent albatross and other birds becoming entangled in lines.

Another aspect of the licensing procedure is the placing of observers onboard all boats fishing in the waters around South Georgia. Katie our fisheries scientists spent four weeks on board the San Aspiring as Observer while fishing round the South Sandwich Islands. Upon her return she gave us a short talk about the work of observers and some of the wildlife around the South Sandwich Islands.

We were joined for a short while by Neil and Ramon, two observers awaiting their fishing boats. They treated us to a fine Saturday night meal combining Korean and Brazilian cuisine seamlessly. Neil developed a taste for Kimchi, a Korean delicacy of cabbage fermented with chilli flakes, while working onboard Korean fishing boats and is trying to spread the word both at KEP back in his home town of Wigan. Ramon rattled up a Brazilian BBQ and some Caipirinha’s which went down very well.

April saw the arrival of Andy our new Electrician; a BAS veteran having wintered at Rothera and spent the last few seasons working on the new Halley VI he has decided to spend some time in the banana belt. We celebrated his arrival with a mass ascent of Mt Duce and a recreation of the famous Shackleton shot; it was also new Government Officer Jo’s first South Georgian Summit.

Andy’s arrival signalled the departure of Tommy who has spent the past 18 months at KEP but is moving on to the bright lights of Cambridge HQ as the new Facilities engineer for Rothera. We took the opportunity for one last trip into the hills, and were blessed with a fine day for a stomp across to Glacier Col and on to Osmic and Hestersletten. We all wish him the best of luck in his new job and he will be missed, despite his enthusiasm for refrigeration and snowboarding.

James Wake

Base Commander