King Edward Point Diary – December 2004

31 December, 2004

Chicks and pups

Summertime is well underway at King Edward Point. We’ve got baby animals of all kinds wandering around. When I arrived, two months ago now, the jetty was covered in fat snorting elephant seal weaners. They’ve moved on around the corner, where they still lie and snort, but they’ve been joined by fur seal pups. Fur seals are present in ever increasing numbers around Cumberland Bay, making the trip to Grytviken entertaining. For the first time this year there’s a pup very close to the track between the Point and Grytviken. He seems pretty chilled out about the diggers that rumble past every day on their way to work. On trips away from base we’ve seen king, macaroni and gentoo penguin chicks, skua and giant petrel chicks and ducklings. And on the Barff Peninsula there are baby reindeer running with every herd.

RRS Ernest Shackleton arrived at the beginning of December, bringing with it two brand spanking new boats for Captain H and his Number 1 Rik to play with. They’re shiny red and white twin engine jet boats that can do thirty knots, stop and spin on the spot, and bounce everybody around in flat calm weather – hence the shock absorbers and 4 point harnesses on all the seats. They’re going to be used mainly to transport the Government Officer to fishing vessels in the bay, but also to deliver us to various beaches around Cumberland Bay for hiking and camping.

The Shack also took away with it Vicky, our Base Commander, and Jenny, our Doctor, both of whom have been here for the last year and are going to spend the summer at Bird Island. A few weeks later our Chief Scientist, Frin left South Georgia after two years living here. On a notice written at her leaving party (with numbers increased by the Dorada boys – thanks to them for providing entertainment!) Frin was described as ‘too cool for skool’, ‘a legend in her own biogeographical zone’ and ‘a devil disguised as an angel’. Whichever of these, she’ll be missed by all on the island and those who’ve visited regularly over the last few years. Frin’ll probably be taking some sun and watching the beautiful people on a beach in Rio by now.

Christmas was quiet this year compared to last, when in addition to 40 builders there were a naval ship and a cruise ship to bolster numbers at the Christmas Eve service at the church in Grytviken. We managed this year with BAS staff and a few of Morrisons builders, in addition to those from the museum and the South Georgia Government. The crew of Apostol Andrey, a Russian yacht that was beginning an attempt to circumnavigate Antarctica looked on in amusement as we all gave it heaps, especially on the FIVE GOLD RINGS. Christmas dinner was provided by Andychef at Morrisons, who managed to produce 10 courses and still have a smile on his face. We’re hoping that our Christmas mail will appear at some point in the next few months.

High points for me in December were two trips onto the Barff Peninsula, one to St Andrews Bay and one to Godthul and Rookery. Local travel regulations opened up this area for us last year, so this year will be the first that we have the opportunity to visit it all year round.

We reached St Andrews Bay by walking from Cumberland Bay, initially through Sorling valley, a wide valley filled with tussock and moss, to Hound Bay, and then over another grassy hill and down a very steep snow and scree slope to the side of the first of three glaciers which drops down into St Andrews Bay. We were enlightened about the geology of the peninsula by Ali, the BC, who was a BAS geologist in a previous life and is on the lookout for gold. St Andrews is the jewel in the crown of South Georgia tourism, with half a million king penguins in a bay surrounded by glaciers and snowy peaks. We were lucky enough to spend a few nights there, just watching the wildlife and enjoying being off base. The king chicks which are there at the moment are beginning to moult and they’re very active and inquisitive. Mature penguins are courting and mating, so boys are arguing over girls and many typically king poses are being struck.

Between Christmas and New Year I headed back to the Barff with Suzi, one of the outgoing scientists, on her last big South Georgia trip. Despite chat from the boys that our packs were obviously so big because of the amount of ‘lipstick and toilet roll’ we were carrying, the girls managed to survive an epic mountaineering trip, womanfully striding on under the weight of packs swollen by a tent big enough for an army, sleeping bags warm enough for the Pole and enough 21st century technology (HF radios, GPS, satphones) to make sure that even when we inevitably did get lost (clear lack of spatial awareness) we could get ourselves out of the mess we’d got ourselves into. Oh, and the lippy and wet wipes, of course.

We had a fantastic day sunbathing in the summer sunshine at Godthul, watching on whilst the icebergs crashed around us, and the sooty albatrosses did their sky dances. And another great day walking to the macaroni penguin colony at Rookery bay, in time to watch what must have been the first day of hatching of the mac chicks. Top tips of the trip – always carry spare matches, so that when your hiking partner forgets them you can save the day. And remember that a day of walking always ends well with a hochachocamocha. For the uninitiated, that’s daily ration pack supplies of hot chocolate, coffee, creamer and sugar. Thanks very much to whoever it was that left a full bottle of Baileys in Corral Hut – always a good addition to a hochachocamocha, especially when the weather’s too bad for a pick up at the end of your trip.

In the grand tradition of BAS diaries I shall end this one by saying hullo to all those that I miss, in the UK and NZ.

Jenn xxxx : )