King Edward Point Diary – February 2003

28 February, 2003

Back to school!

February has seen us all go back to school, well actually lots of schools. As well as the ubiquitous Doc School which this month has included a surgery tour, wound management and stitching, we have had Spanish School, Boat Handling School, Knot School, Abseil School, Stove School, Fire Extinguisher School, Watercolour School, and last but certainly not least Foot School run by Suzi and Frin. More on some of these later.

The month started with the return of the Fishery Patrol vessel Dorada from the Groundfish Survey, bringing us back Therese and Suzi, and dropping off Mark “Monkey Boy” Belchier and The Mighty Martin “Cookie Monster” Collins for ten days of unrelenting science (she’s a cruel mistress….) The story of the Survey is an epic tale involving fish, nets, knives, more fish, ice, deep sea cameras, whales, yet more fish, bribery, corruption and chocolate!

Having munched his way through the biscuit tin on Dorada, Martin headed straight for the dining room in search of something with McVitie’s written on the packet. Later that evening we had a barbecue on the ship before returning to base.

Steve, Jude and Therese left KEP on Dorada on February 2. They had been here since BAS’s return to King Edward Point in 2001, and the fact that a relatively new set of buildings has such an established sense of being lived and worked in is largely down to them and the rest of their team of pioneers. Quite a few tears were shed as they left – Steve and Jude were bound for a couple of months holiday in the Falklands and South America, and Therese off into the waiting arms of Andy.

We had a few weeks of fantastic summer weather (people reading this in other bases may wish to skip this part) and at one point the temperature reached a fantastic 20°C. Some of us even managed a spot of sunbathing in bikinis on the veranda, but the resulting photo is not flattering so has been censored!! The summer flowers were out in force – most of which are foreign species that have been introduced over the years. However, the dandelions and buttercups do bring a nice touch of yellow to the slopes around Grytviken and the Point, and dandelion and tussock grass salad is a common item on our summer menus – some adventurous folk also make a tasty salad from dandelion leaves.

The good weather sent us scooting off into the surrounding hills, with people spending nights at Maiviken (where we tortured songs and ate munch and twiglets well into the fantastically clear and starry night) and Penguin River, where Andy and Rich spent a weekend. There is a king penguin at Penguin River which has been sitting on an egg for the past 6 weeks or so, and we are all desperately hoping that the egg will hatch. Some of us went up Mount Hodges (the peak which looms over Grytviken) on a virtually cloudless day and were rewarded with brilliant views all round, along with the distant sounds of fur seals crying at Maiviken. There have also been trips out in the boats Teal and Alert to Moraine Fjord and Corral Bay to see the glaciers and wildlife, which at this time of year includes elephant and fur seals, penguins, ducks and reindeer.

Sporting activities this month have included another match for South Georgia FC, this time against the James Clark Ross team. Once again we were beaten (3-1), but were coming back strongly at the end. There is an excellent match report (I believe) on the JCR web diary. Hopefully Santa will bring us a new football pitch for Christmas, as the existing pitch is an entertaining mixture of bog and tussock, with patches of knee-scraping gravel lurking in the middle. This time we managed to get some spectators – attendance was 2 – thanks to Willem and Evert from the yacht Terra Nova. They would have played for us, but had just done their washing and were due to sail later that day so didn’t want to get too muddy! In order to get fit for our next match (and for skiing when the snow arrives), we have taken up running at lunchtimes. For some reason, we three girlies seem to come back from running resembling ripe beetroots whilst the boys don’t even seem to sweat. Such is life….

What have Technical Services been up to? Well, John, Andy and Howie have now made the potting shed into a very desirable residence. The potting shed is so called because it is basically a garden shed (held down firmly with wire guys and a concrete base) which covers the fuel day tank. Previously, filling the day tank in winter (a weekly task) involved dressing up warmly and sitting in a snow hole for an hour (or something like that), but erecting the potting shed had provided some shelter from the elements. It was still cold in winter however, so the Technical Services team has now lined the inside with plasterboard and installed electrical lighting. John will now be able to fill the tank whilst sitting in comfort, with his pets Ted and Betsy to keep him company. The Technical Services team has also been doing lots of fishing off the jetty (without managing to catch any fish), zooming about in Teal, and other things that are too exciting for us mere mortals to handle. I had my own small technical services project when I constructed a door to enable me to get under the building easily for rat trapping purposes, although there were many pleading cries of “John…how do I…” heard along the way. Andy (also known as Sanj) set up his own fast food restaurant, “Henry’s Burgers” one night – they served a rather limited menu but the staff were helpful….

The science work continued apace this month, and if anything the scientists were busier than they have been for a while. Mark and Martin’s visit clarified a few things that the new science team were unsure about, and the Groundfish Survey produced some new and unusual “freaky fish” for the team to identify. There was also some deep water video taken during the Groundfish Survey enabling the scientists to find out more about the lifestyle of certain species of fish. Frin, Suzi, Rich and Howie (with assorted sightseers from the rest of us) have been going out fishing locally in the bay approximately twice a week, and got very excited when they caught a Patagonian toothfish which was almost 1 metre long. Not nearly as excited as when they encountered two Southern Right Whales near the Barff Peninsula however! The whales came right up to the boat and swum round it but unfortunately for us back at the base, the beakers were all too spellbound to find a camera. There seems to have been a noticeable increase in whale sightings around South Georgia and generally in the Southern Ocean this year, which is very encouraging.

Ian gave us some fire safety training which included putting out small controlled fires using different types of extinguishers and fire blankets. This was fun, but the fires did seem to start raging, spitting and flinging sparks out in all directions every time Frin approached them! Ian has also given us some revision of the use and maintenance of paraffin stoves and Tilley lamps, and various other “schools” throughout the month. Molly Sheridan (a Shackleton Scholarship artist staying with us for a few months) ran sketching and watercolour classes, and we have even been trying Spanish lessons, although we do not have anyone who knows much Spanish so are having to learn it from a book and CD. Howie has put us all through our paces and given us further boat handling lessons in Teal, Alertand Quest.

The ship visits have continued throughout the month. As well as the aforementioned visit from the JCR (which also involved another appearance of DJ Howie’s disco), HMS Leeds Castle paid us a very enjoyable visit, showing off their stunt ship-parking skills in the process. HMS Endurance also called in and gave us a look inside one of their helicopters (“Suzi! Don’t touch anything!”) and a chance to stock up on chocolate and Pot Noodles from the NAAFI store. The tour ships continued to pop in and out, with many of them inviting us on board for meals, sometimes in return for a short talk about the work done here. There are often very interesting people on board these ships, and this month one of the visitors was Toni Hurley, daughter of Frank Hurley. Frank Hurley was the photographer on Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance expedition and took the unforgettable photograph of Endurance stuck in the ice with her rigging covered in rime.

Here at KEP it is a little bit different from the other BAS bases because we have neighbours! We celebrated what would have been Shackleton’s 129th birthday on 15 February next door at Pat and Sarah’s with a delicious nine course meal featuring local cuisine and red wine. Then on the 20th we all went over to Grytviken for a buffet and presentation at the South Georgia Museum – Molly presented an anemometer (wind-speed measuring device) taken from an Argentine submarine in 1982 to the museum collection. The pictures below show the dinner party (left) and the presentation. Click the images to enlarge them.

The wildlife round here has continued to entertain us. There have been three or four chinstrap penguins hanging around the base to moult. Chinstraps have lots of character and are probably the most cheeky of the penguins we get here. A stray macaroni penguin was seen during the month hiding in the tussock near the foodstore. The gentoo penguin chicks at Maiviken are growing up and losing their down, although there are still some younger ones around like this chap pictured. Sammy the Seagull seems to think “survival of the fittest” actually means “survival of the fattest” and since his only energy expenditure seems to be to run after his rivals and fly up to perch on the dining room window whenever it is opened, we are getting concerned for his health. Our living quarters were constructed with large windows and there is a wonderful view out across the bay from the dining room and bar so we usually see fur seals and sometimes penguins porpoising through the water and playing close to the beach whenever we glance outside.

So, another busy month for us down here at KEP. One small unfortunate matter is that the ship specially chartered to bring our Valentine mail down here appears to have sunk without trace!!!! So, boys, we expect a gigantic effort next year – chocolate and flowers are always appreciated….

Anyway, it just remains for me to say hi to all the “old” team, wherever you are – we miss you – and send lots of love to Mum, Dad, Marky, Janey and Olly (big hug from Aunty Poops).

Bye for now,