King Edward Point Diary – August 2003

31 August, 2003

Food glorious food

I’m sure no avid reader of the scintillating “KEP” web diary would be surprised by tales of snow, skis, fish, parties and wildlife. In August there will be a slight shift in emphasis towards food. Yes, August for me was punctuated (in addition to the usual antics) by gastronomical delights. Breakfast, lunch, dinner; I love all three and more besides but more on that later. There will also be a short note on women in the Antarctic.

Firstly, in fine British tradition a word about the weather. While those back home were delighting/suffering in the sweltering heat, we were also having unseasonably warm temperatures with a positively summery +15 degrees being recorded towards the start of the month. The result of the warm spell was rather uplifting with a number of lunches (usually leftovers for the waste conscious and fried delights for the “tech services” boys…and Sue) being taken on the veranda. So, the weather was good for spirits but bad for skis, though learning to ski on sheet ice will surely stand us in good stead on the more forgiving snows we hope to experience on our return to the other world.

The thaw was also good in revealing rubbish on the beaches (See May-July for the causes) so our newly arrived expert cleaner-uppers (aboard the tug Luma) can really do a thorough job before the wildlife returns. In the depths of winter, however warm, there isn’t much wildlife around. One creature however that never leaves, if only because they are hemmed in by glaciers and the ocean on all sides, is the good old reindeer. This is not a joke.

Brought from Norway by the whalers in “the olden days” for tasty fresh food these reindeer are now genetically distinct populations. Often spied from our fishing boat through binoculars we rarely get the chance to see them up close. A couple of boat trips this month however offered evidence that the thaw was also good for the reindeer. These beauties photographed at Jason Harbour are remarkably tame.

Our fisheries patrol vessel Dorada has featured heavily in events this month taking our next door neighbours away on their annual 4 month holiday and bringing in a replacement. Sad goodbye happy Hello. The Hello to new Marine Officer Ken (seen below with an old friend) was especially happy because not only is he a funny man with some tales to tell but his arrival coincided with the delivery of lots of fresh food. Unlike the BAS communes elsewhere in Southern climes we are fortunate enough to have sufficient ship visits to warrant a fairly regular supply of goodies. This time fresh beetroot, spring onions and leeks were discovered amongst the boxes of fine produce from Chile and the Falkland’s hydroponic fruit and veg ventures. So what to do with a box full of beetroot? I’ll tell you what to do with a box full of beetroot. Grab yourself a copy of the River Cottage Cookbook and turn to page something or other where you’ll find the finest beetroot soup recipe ever seen. “Beetslaw” our new take on coleslaw is also rather good, and a very good colour.

When Dorada finally left us bound for the sunny Falkland Islands, she was expecting the usual 3-4 day cruise, a few waves, a few whales and perhaps an impromptu boarding of a Toothfish vessel en route. What they did not anticipate was a detour thousands of miles to the north, south, east and west to assist our Ozzie friends in arresting some suspected Toothfish smugglers (Viarsa 11) that had been chased all the way from Australian waters. What ensued was a beautiful example of multinational cooperation, mankind pulling together for the sake of fishkind. Word has it the naughty pirates are now heading to South Africa where they are expected to face the full force of the law.

Still on fisheries, a word on observers. They have been mentioned before but dash it all I’m going to mention them again. These plucky folk spend months at sea with fish and fishermen for friends. For those on Chilean crewed boats, pig’s ears are commonly seen on the menu and for those on the Korean boats the disappearance of ships’ pet mutts mid-trip is always a worry. August 31st saw the end of the season and they flocked in with many tales to tell. Some are wiser, some are thinner, most are smellier and the selection of facial hair is truly a thing to behold. The fish scientists here owe a lot to the dedication and hard work of observers and this year we thought it was only fair to reward one of them with their very own “to treasure for a lifetime” trophy. Below, is Paul McCarthy the lucky recipient of the very first “observer of the year” award.

Dedicated to these observers, their coordinator Bob, based here for the winter, has indeed coordinated them with smooth competence, sensitivity and understated cool. Seen here juggling a hectic radio schedule whilst responding to countless fax enquiries Bob has managed to carry out his duties to the observers in addition to producing countless culinary delights. His love of fish goes beyond his work and rarely does a meal time pass without Bob reaching for the anchovies. Paella, fish pie, Toothfish a la Bob, you name it he can cook it. One wonders where he gets his inspiration from, or one would was one not party to the information that Bob gained an admirable grade at A-level in the subject of Home Economics. That, I believe, is where his Summer Pudding recipe came from. Frin, a keen fish cooker herself has taken every opportunity to learn from the master and will be very sad when her anchovy-loving friend departs in the near future.

John is our very own mechanic come handyman come pasty maker come Cornish ambassador come gnarly dude. This month he celebrated his 24th birthday. We enjoyed ourselves very much and paid tribute to his “yeah I can do that” attitude. He is very good with his tools (see left) and as the birthday was to be once again a fancy dress affair he demonstrated (much to the doctors delight) that he was also rather good in a white coat (see right).

An important note on women in the Antarctic now follows:

In addition to contributing to the cutting edge science that is commonplace here in the Antarctic it is possible for a lady stationed here to retain class, femininity and sophistication. It is in fact possible to significantly improve your sense of style. Our doctor is a case in point. With a fearsome reputation amongst the fishing boats of the South Georgia Marine Zone, “La Doctora Punky” has undergone a transformation, completed this month with this stunning ensemble put together for the themed “disco” where we celebrated the fact that we had all made it to August the first.

Decked out in her fancy new garb her BAS issue moleskins and fleece but a distant memory, Sue graced the dance floors and enjoyed the attentions of a number of our party guests. Ladies of course love to dance and we were lucky enough to have the crew of the salvage tug (soon to be replaced by a beach tidying tug) Calafate to spin us around the dance floor (AKA the generator shed). Despite lacking in Latino blood, our boys more than held their own and managed many expert moves. The boatman Howie deserves a special mention here for his consistently stylish efforts.

Anyway….food. In addition to our fortunate position as regards a fresh supply of onions leaving mounds of the dehydrated variety piled in the food store, we also get to sample the delights of “world cuisine” without leaving our little bay in the middle of the Southern Ocean. Never one to miss a lunch opportunity, I have enjoyed traditional foods on Japanese and Ukranian Krill trawlers, countless empanadas courtesy of our Chilean visitors, and a huge array of Korean ginseng products. As the fishing season is winding down, so we can look forward to summer where the island of South Georgia itself often provides. No we aren’t allowed to eat the reindeer. Salads of Dandelion leaves and Tussock root are favourites. The fish we eat year round once all the samples for science have been taken but summer does herald the spawning of some of these fish the roe of which can be rather tasty. It is nice to know that the fish we catch as part of our research here are never wasted.

Crabs. Perhaps unsurprisingly I like eating crabs. These however are for strictly work purposes. New recruits to the world of science, they had no idea, as they grabbed the baited hooks of longlines, that they would be transported miles across the seas to King Edward Point. Gratefully received by the science team, all here were not convinced and our electrician Andy’s face when he realized just what it was he had been carrying in the boxes from the jetty, was a picture. I think he’ll grow to love them.

So, there have been the usual smattering of ski trips, boating and even a few camping trips managed as the fishing fleet thinned out this month. Rich and John receive accolades this month for their chivalrous sledge pulling leaving the ladies to ski faster and more stylishly to their destinations. I have kept the talk of skiing to a minimum not because I don’t like it but because if I said any more I would have to concede that the base commander Ian’s turns are coming on an awful lot quicker than mine….oh, I said it.

I will leave you with this, a rare picture of the happy KEP family together for an evening ski behind Grytviken the abandoned whaling station soon to be demolished. The smiles indicate that the end of the fishing season is nigh and we will soon be able to take a deep breath before our little world is transformed by the shift from fisheries to tourism and the twinkling lights in the bay will be people enjoying what for many is the trip of a lifetime in the largely unspoilt wilderness of an Antarctic Island. Watch this space for the arrival of spring.

Love to my family at home, Alys and the Faversham Crew, and all the other special people. I miss you. My life here would be a lot harder without you all being an email away. If you are at all worried about the emotional strain life in the Antarctic has had on me you will be reassured by this picture. The only change is my apparent desire to be Josh from Casualty. I can’t help it. x