King Edward Point Diary – December 2002

31 December, 2002

New arrivals and Christmas

With the arrival of December, we knew our days were numbered. All talk was now of the imminent arrival of the new people – our replacements. Our haggard, windworn faces were no longer required. These fresh faces would not carry the signs of getting allocated the cooklab once too many times on scrubout nor know of such things as turning up for breakfast yet again dressed exactly the same as at least 5 other people, never mind being tormented by the memories of the everlasting nightcap. No, after two short years, we can sagely shake our heads and only hope they can get through the cruise ship season without getting too fond a liking for fine food and wine before being left to defend for themselves in the parky days that a South Georgia winter can throw at them. Well, they’ve arrived and they’re actually quite pleasant and don’t smell too badly and, you know, I think they’d say the same about us!

Along with the new came old faces too in the shape of Pat and Sarah, returned in fine form from their holidays and a pit-stop visit from Jenny Scott who spent last summer with us, mapping the vegetation of South Georgia (SG) and who is now an expedition leader on one of the cruise ships. Other new entries to our tranquil spot were Molly Sheridan, an artist here for a few months to recreate the beauty of SG, and Pete Bucktrout, a BAS photographer/cameraman, intent on capturing the vivacity of life at KEP or at least capture us mumbling something about our work here.

So, summer was definitely here with base members almost trebled in number and King Edward Point marina taking full advantage of the peak tourist season. On one day alone, four ships came alongside, each waiting in turn, and regaling departees with horn-blowing that echoed around the mountains. Europa, a restored bark, a type of tallship from the Netherlands, was eagerly awaited and created a stunning sight coming into King Edward Cove. Unfortunately, there was not enough wind for her to sail in. An invite aboard was gladly accepted that night in a setting from days of yore. The BAS ship, RRS Ernest Shackleton, was back in the area, for its summer season of resupply of various bases. It did a little bit of running between Bird Island and here, swapping people around and did, much to our disgust, steal Andy Cope away to Bird Island. We got Pete and his camera instead. Hmmm.

The Falkland Islands fishery patrol vessel, Sigma, a regular visitor to us over the last two years, made, perhaps, her last visit for us outgoing crew, and took Richard and Miranda, the outgoing marine officer and post-mistress back to Stanley, another sad parting with good friends. HMS Endurance visited and brought Mark Jessop, a former Bird Islander, who has landed himself what one might call, a plum job, photographing various penguin colonies around the island from Endurance’s helicopter. A few of us climbed up the side of Mt. Duse that morning to watch the entertainment provided by their two helicopters taking ship’s personnel off in various trips round the island.Endurance also dropped off former Brigadier, David Nicholls, and Steve Ellis, to survey Discovery House, which was restored last summer, for its potential as a visitor’s centre, linking the research which concentrated mainly on the biology of whales in the early 1900’s to the science being conducted today, by us. Throw in the start of the icefish fishing season with trawlers coming in to pick up licenses, various cruise ships and yachts and you’ll understand why our suggestion of Discovery House as an offshore, paparazzi-free casino makes a lot of sense!

Handover began with gusto as we bombarded our new arrivals with information ranging from fish chopping, to where we keep the toilet paper, to boat training, to how to make bread at six in the morning and a meal for 20 odd people that evening in three easy steps, to being introduced to the various intricacies that make-up the techno side of our world. And everywhere we went, Pete, and his camera went too. Amazing how used you can get to a camera following you around and I think we were all getting the hang of it. We had stopped turning instantly red and going blank when asked what we had actually been doing for the last two years of our lives and some wonderfully eloquent, evocative descriptions of today’s world and our work here were falling easily from our lips yet Pete quite often insisted on retakes! The man had patience. Apart from the work and base life, part of the handover is the way to some of the local beauty spots. A sunny, hot day called for a trip to Maiviken where I think all were blown away by the awesome wildlife that lives there, fur seals, elephant seals, gentoo penguins, sooty albatross….. Certainly impressive were John and Andy Godsell, the new genny mech and electrician, braving the snow-trek in their shorts! Some boat trips to glaciers also went towards whetting appetites for the winter ahead.

Within all the “hecticness”, we created more with a chance to have a break from work being welcomed with relish. First up was the Shackleton’s first call celebration, a barbeque with the entire population of South Georgia, the ship’s crew and all ingoing people to Halley. Suzi, one of the new scientists, celebrated her birthday with a ‘water’ themed fancy dress party. Two young royal marines who were helicoptered in that morning to do some tide gauge work entered into the spirit and donned tussoc grass skirts! Irene produced another barbeque to celebrate midsummer’s day (December 21st) and Molly disappeared for a few days of sketching around the coast aboard Polar Bound a cruise boat with which her owner and skipper, David Cowper has single-handedly circumnavigated the globe five times. Good job because they needed to be back in time for Christmas, and they were.

The festivities began in the afternoon on Christmas eve with ‘It’s a Knockout’, organized by Simon with water use being maximized by all participants, as is the tradition. This was followed by mulled wine in the 90-minute club (a kind of quick drink after work sort of club). Pat and Sarah hosted a Christmas get together that evening until it was time to go to church. Midnight mass was celebrated with the crew of the Endurance at a candlelit Grytviken church. Christmas day arrived with Jude finally being outdone by presents as Frin and Suzi disappeared in a world of fluffy, glittery pink. Pat and Sarah again left Christmas stockings for everyone that Santa had given them for us. Howie, once he had opened his presents, had enough, and got some waterskiing going.

Meanwhile, a few of us went through to visit Pat and Sarah. Then, it was time to chat to Bird Island by radio who were definitely having a good day and were definitely going to watch ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ that afternoon. It was getting on so time to start cooking. Luckily, Howie had put the bird in earlier so accompanied by Rich’s choice of ‘Chaz and Dave’s Cockney Christmas’, we cooked up a storm, a quick dress change, and then we ate up a storm. Five, six, maybe eight courses later, we found Rich funny as he started some after dinner jokes. This was picked up by others and we soon had ourselves some old-fashioned, after-dinner entertainment that I like to think Shackleton and his men might have enjoyed. The jokes certainly were old enough. After a big meal, there’s nothing we like more here than a big dance, so we danced until dawn with some especially fine dancing from our unexpected guests, the above mentioned former brigadier and the captain of the Endurance.

Most of us were woken up on Boxing Day by an excited Sue who, after meeting a former King Edward Pointer, Scobie Pye, and hearing of their footballing days was determined to kick-start that tradition, taking on the Endurance as our first opponents. Suitably, togged out in some of Howie (Trotter’s) merchandise (‘better hurry up, medium are selling fast…’) and sponsored by the South Georgian Government, KEP put on a fine performance, took the game to them, showed mettle, some fine goalkeeping, all to play for in the second half and were robbed with a final score of 4-2 toEndurance. No time for post-match commentary, as Endurance were leaving and taking Andy Smith home via Bird Island. One of the original group leaving was felt by us all. Andy is the calm, easy-going one that every group needs. Throughout the two years he looked out for everyone in his subtle way, never could be risen (and we tried) and never lost patience with the continuous ‘Oh Andeee….?’ whenever we needed help with our latest projects. We all know we were very lucky to have him in our midst. And to show him how much he meant to us we heralded him, and Pete, away with a spectacular YMCA dance routine, hard hats included!

Back to work the next day and it was all hands on deck, quite literally, as the final push came to get Quest, our inshore fishing boat, ready for her return to the sea. A long day and tides were looking good for the following day. A smooth operation soon saw Quest and Howie reunited, buoyantly. Fishing operations were due to recommence in the new year but first there was the little matter of New Year’s Eve to get through!

For the celebrations, various people created their own “theme bars” to add variety to the evening. Smart dress was the order of the day and everyone managed to scrub-up well. The evening began in Tim and Pauline’s ‘Penguin and Elephant’ pub before a visit to the Oosterschelde, another Dutch tallship. Then it was a big “Happy New Year” over the radio to our colleagues on Bird Island who although only up the coast from us are two hours ahead so at 10 o’clock our time they were hugging each other merrily in their superhero costumes. (Read all about it in their December diary).

The next piece of entertainment was provided by Steve and Ian, old and new base commanders (Steve officially handed over to Ian at midnight) in the Magistrate’s Court where they had Howie in the dock for not actually ever completing a winter south. Guilty as charged!

Onwards to Pat’s (remarkably tidy!) ‘Bachelor Pad’ seeing as Sarah was away at Husvik with Molly, David, Alisdair and Irene. A quick drink at Sue’s ‘The Cavity’ dentristy-style pub before gathering on the deck of the Oosterscheldefor midnight. Flares, champagne and three kisses each from all the Dutch made it a memorable moment especially for our stubble-rashed cheeks although some of our boys managed to avoid this by backing away from the friendly sailors and extending their arms for firm handshakes. The celebrations finished in the “nightclub” (boatshed) where an excellent night’s dancing was enjoyed by all.

Happy New Year to everyone’s folks from all here!!

Big hello to Gareth, our former doc, who’s doing great things at the south pole, making us proud and envious at the same time. Hello Mum, Dad and all the mulvs. See you very soon. Can’t wait. And finally hello and love and see you in the new year, Andy x