King Edward Point Diary – December 2003

31 December, 2003

Happy News Year

HAPPY NEW YEAR to you from all at KEP including me, Vicky, the latest ‘winterer’ arrival. Having sailed in on 30th November, it seemed appropriate to offer my services for this month’s newsletter while the island’s impacts were still relatively fresh in my mind. However, I am already fighting those human instincts that urge me to accept the surroundings as background, and grasping at the childlike wonder, begging it to stay. Already I am walking past seals and penguins without stopping on my way to work. How odd is that?

The ever-changing light, the clouds and weather (a meteorologist’s dream), the Lord of the Rings landscapes, the sounds, sleeping to the sound of roaring elephant seals that sound like lions by your window, the waves on the pebble beach, the wind howling in fits and spurts. I cannot describe the beauty of the island in a newsletter, so I’ll stop there. If you want to know more, get hold of Antarctic Oasis, a book written by the Carrs, who have been sailing around the island and living and working at the Grytviken museum (15mins walk around the cove from KEP) for over a decade.

On my second night at KEP I was introduced to applied fisheries science and found myself in a smelly (apologies most excellent team fish) ‘wet lab’ trazzwling a shallow tray of sea water filled with life of types I had never seen before. Suzie and Rich explained the process, to look for fish larvae, but I kept getting side tracked by the snails, the small jellyfish with their own internal fluorescent lighting, baby prawn type things that sped about from one end to the other, and pink seaweed. I eventually got the hang of the picking out the ice fish larvae, identifiable by their striking large blue/green eyes and managed to pipette a few on to a petri dish for Frin to analyse under the magnifier. As I understand it, the beakers (Scientists) use data from these weekly plankton trawls in the Bay to look at growth rates, and changes in population size which help to provide a sustainable management of fishing in the South Georgia waters.

My next encounter with the in your face science of applied fisheries research was the following week when I found Suzie and Frin in the wet lab, Suzie was dressed in bright orange galoshes handling a big knife in one hand and an even bigger fish in the other. A second weekly fishing session uses a trammel net to catch adult fish which are then weighed, inspected for eggs and reproductive stage, aged (using their ear bones), recorded, gutted (with a big knife) and eaten. Lovely.

My final experience of the science program was an outing on Quest to help (ostensibly) with laying the trammel net and completing a plankton trawl. Quest is a small but sturdy red and white fishing boat, looks just like one you’d see on the quay in Falmouth, apart from the fact that it has a few extras (GPS, ground radar, iridium phones, extra clothing, food, emergency medical kit etc, etc) to improve the safety in remote waters. The nature of fishing is inherently dangerous, with the requirement to work with machinery and equipment in conditions that can hardly be described as stable. Peter, our new boatman, arrived at KEP approx. 2 months ago, with over 15 years of Scottish fishing experience and has already spotted several improvements that will undoubtedly lead to a safer and more efficient fishing research program. I joined him with Suzie and Rich and ventured into the Bay. Although the weather appeared relatively mild in the sheltered King Edward Cove, there was a confused swell out toward the fishing grounds. A true test of my sea legs, all was fine while I remained outside, but steering the vessel in the wheelhouse for half an hour appeared to confuse my stomach too.

It’s the cruise ship season at KEP. On my third night here, most of the base crew were lucky enough to be invited aboard the Andrea, where we enjoyed a top quality meal and drinks in return for providing some entertainment to the (mostly British) tourists onboard. We had to leave the ship before the karaoke got into full swing, but I’m sure the ship’s crew would extend their thanks to Rich for trying hard to get it off the ground… Several more enjoyed another quality meal aboard the very plush Endeavour later in the month, and a couple even managed a third ship visit onto Hanseatic for Christmas Eve. Rosie and Andy who are spending 6 months living at KEP and working over at the museum with the Carrs have been kept v. busy with visitors to the museum, or ‘adventurers’ as I believe they call themselves. This is on top of maintaining and developing the museum, overnight bivvying and early morning ski sessions. Big smiles greet them when they walk in the door at the end of the day with freshies from the ships.

Its also yacht season. We’ve seen ADA II who are carrying out an albatross survey and obtaining info for an update to the Island’s Visitor’s Guide. We also briefly saw Golden Fleece and Ocean Tramp, who are setting up AWS’s around the island to look at the snow accumulation and ablation on the glaciers.

10th December saw the arrival of the Shackleton, a day’s cargo work and an evening’s BBQ and disco entertainment hosted by the KEP boatshed boys. KEP is usually the last stop off before the trip down through the ice to Halley, and those onboard welcomed the opportunity to stretch their legs on the last rocky places they’ll see for a few months. Disco fever was rife and although from an occasional visitors eye the party seemed civilized, I’m aware that the doctor’s (there were 4 in total!) were kept busy the next morning and pink shirts were a winner.

Although the departure of the Shack meant goodbye to the departing Doc, Sue, the arrival of the Shack meant I received my toys, including my board. Turns out there is quite a boarding crew here this year, and we had a Saturday morning session at Cornice on the 13th. Snow was slightly slushy in warm sunshine but forgiving to beginners.

The day improved further as we headed to the beach at Hope Point afterwards to catch up with the pasty king, Jon, who made us tasty pasty picnics as only a true Cornish man. Being a Devonshire born lass, I have a tough act to follow to uphold the County and my family’s pride. Frin and Suzie continue to sweet-talk/barter/bully their way to obtaining luxury items from our friends on visiting vessels, this month’s highlight for me was Frin’s fresh squid stuffed with feta cheese. Jenny believed she had worked up quite an appetite after all the activities of the day, and took on the challenge of finishing the chocolate cake’ but hadn’t counted on the cream as well.

A brief resume of some now familiar S.G. ornithology for my twitching friends – sooty albatross, arctic terns, giant petrels, S.G ducks, skuas, gulls, white chin petrels, Wilson’s storm petrels, prions at dusk, black brows over the Bay, king and gentoo penguins, the odd chinstrap and snowy petrels on and around icebergs, the unusual adelie visiting the museum’but no sign of Barry – if anyone has any news please write and tell us because he’s lost.

I’m pleased to report that after 3 months of travelling round the UK completing training courses, saying goodbye to friends and family and generally getting very little exercise, I’m now clawing back my fitness. Chris (sparky) has been holding an increasingly popular circuits session twice a week over the month. He learnt his skills from none other than Air Mech Tom O’Connor, renowned throughout the BAS for his punishing training sessions and ‘encouraging’ jibes to help you through the hour. I have already warned Chris that shouting ‘shoulders like boulders’ at me is unlikely to have the desired effect of improving my press up technique, but the ‘abs like slabs’ seems to work every time. He enticed us to a pre-Xmas session on the 23rd with the promise of games and presents for those attending… 12 lords a leaping, 5 knees to chest, a press up and a burpee isn’t quite what we were expecting. I was lucky enough to unwrap the pass the parcel (amid a circle of sit up sessions) only to find a forfeit of 20 seconds of crunches. Hmmmm. We are hoping he is willing to continue his hard task master role throughout the winter… no, really, we are, aren’t we Bryan? My guess is that Bryan hasn’t turned up for circuits because he doesn’t need the slab like stomach, – he’s already laid back and chilled, why would he need to stretch those muscles to get vertical again?

One of the best bits about attending circuits is the sauna afterwards. The Swedes that constructed the base in 2000/01 left behind their shipping container decked out with a sauna and shower. From the upper bench at 90F you can sit and watch seals playing on the beach and in the shallow kelp beds, penguins (not doing a lot), gulls, petrels and terns fighting the breeze. It’s a social place at the moment with visitors after work, after running, long walks, joining for a spot of heat action. The menthol vapour is a popular addition at the moment as is a spot of relaxing music.

We have several icebergs in Cumberland bay at present, which I’m sure visiting ships consider a navigation nightmare, but I think are stunning. My eyes are incessantly drawn towards them as they drift by, the white bright light from the spangly crystalline surfaces, the sharp fairy castle peaks, and cool, blue, melt pools tempting you closer. Perhaps we have more than normal due to 2 very large (50 km x 30 Km) icebergs that have been sitting off the north east coast of the island throughout the month.

On the 23rd the Christmas season began in earnest with the arrival of HMS Endurance. Two days of hectic socializing followed as we helped celebrate Christmas early with the crew. Many mince pies and much mulled wine were consumed on Christmas Eve followed by an evening Carol service in the candlelit and beautifully decorated Grytviken Church. The service was organized and led by Nige Blenkard of AWG (ex-BAS), the highlight for me being the Chilean asbestos team singing the Little Drummer Boy carol (pa rupa pum pum sounds v. exotic in a Chilean accent). By Christmas Eve the BAS ship, JCR, had also arrived with Xmas mail and a special present in the form of JD for me. They spent Christmas morning avoiding icebergs in the Bay while we sat through 50 kt gusts in the Cove (the first real ‘weather’ I’d seen since arriving at KEP). Once winds calmed, Endurance left to pick up the British Schools Expedition group from Husvik (who had a superb month in S. Georgia and successfully managed to get all their teams onto virgin peaks) and JCR berthed at KEP. While many hands made light work of the Xmas meal preparations (or was it too many cooks!?) the station was re-fuelled by the JCR ensuring she could keep to her tight schedule. We had over 25 for dinner, (although I don’t think more than 20 sat down to eat at any one time!) with ourselves, Tim and Pauline Carr, Ken and Ann and friends from the visiting yacht ADA II. The meal was absolutely excellent, all the trimmings (including bread sauce M!), and we had a lovely, mostly civilized, evening (ignoring the Cranberry sauce poppers).

Although BAS appear to have picked our KEP team with careful thought, ensuring all have excellent social ability, demonstrable willingness and an aptitude for providing entertainment, by Boxing Day we were partied out. We managed a weak wave to Ian, Howie, Les and Dirk as they left on the JCR and had a day of recuperation. An invite to AWG, who were celebrating a rare day off, for rounders and a BBQ was enjoyed, but most headed home for an early night.

A final garbled paragraph of all the things I haven’t the space to tell you about in any more detail but which might provide you with an interesting insight of KEP life: –

provision of flu jabs for the weakened immune systems of the islanders, a great opportunity to practice our IM injection techniques. Wildlife – ellie seal pups (weaners) are getting fatter, Kings are still malting, baby fur seal pups getting more playful while left w/o their parents, baby Gentoo chicks just hatched, baby Sooty’s and terns expected any time now. Kit – my favourite items are my spanking new orange thermal wellies – v. toasty – even to –50C! Food – Suzi’s chick pea burgers & chilli sauce, Andy C’s Nepali curry night, Jenny’s cheese and chocolate fondues, Bryan’s baked potatoes, Ken & Ann’s mouth-watering Falklands mutton, cakes and freshies galore (salads, aubergines, courgettes, kiwis, peaches and grapes). – Entertainment – birdlife slide shows from Dowie at AWG (ex–BAS), rounders and football, BBQs at AWG, picnics, camping at Penguin River, bivvying at Sooty Bluff, walking to Harpon Bay for fantastic views of the Lyell and Neumayer Glaciers, boating around the bays in gorgeously responsive RIBs (their rigid inflatable boats Mum, so now you know!). Birthdays – Ann’s saw homemade Hungarian chocolate pudding and carrot cake, Suzie’s saw homemade orange cheesecake from Andy chef at AWG, followed by an impressive and colourful display of Chilean dancing talent at the party, and today, 31st, is Peter’s, which several intend to celebrate with him while bringing in the New Year camping locally.

Lastly, big hugs to all my family and friends out there; if I haven’t emailed you yet I hope this letter makes up for it. Life is sweet and I’m smiling, hope you are doing the same.

Vicky Auld