King Edward Point Diary – February 2015

10 February, 2015

What a busy month! The rat eradication team had arrived at the end of January aboard RSS Ernest Shackleton so, by February they had settled in and the final phase of the South Georgia Heritage Trust’s project to rid the island of rats was underway. The ‘Ratties’ were busy setting up stores depots and fuel dumps on the Barff peninsular and, taking advantage of all the good flying days that South Georgia’s changeable climate offered, were getting nicely ahead with their baiting programme. Although beset with difficulties such as a helicopter severely damaged in high winds, February overall, proved successful for the project despite a few initial setbacks.

The same high winds that damaged the ‘Ratties’ helicopter presented challenges for our busy boating officers. On one occasion, a planned trip across to Cumberland West Bay to collect Kelvin Floyd and Brad Miers, had to be aborted due to some 50 Knot winds and a three metre swell. The hapless guys, who were working on the Habitat Restoration Project’s invasive plant eradication program, had to hunker down and survive on emergency rations cooked on Hexamine blocks until the weather improved.

The numbers on base were increased further by visiting scientists. The ‘Fish team’ had just returned from a research trawl on a chartered fishing boat and gave hugely engaging presentation of their work. Sue Gregory and Mark Belchier explained how their ‘Groundfish Project’ was vital in order to set fishing quotas for the coming season. This will ensure that South Georgia remains one of the most sustainable and well regulated fisheries in the world. Another facet of their research was to find a reliable method to determine the particular species of skate present in South Georgian waters. They proposed that this could be done by counting the numbers of bones that make up their spine. Emma, our base Doctor showed off her medical skills when she produced clear and lucid X-rays of the samples of skate in the laboratory here at King Edward Point.

Another pair of scientists, Arwin Edwards and Ann Jungblutt were studying Glaciers for hidden microbes in the ice and gave us an absorbing presentation of their work to date. They explained how these microscopic creatures which, form the majority of organisms in the Tree of Life, had enormous potential in providing new resistance-free Antibiotics. They also have a significant role in global warming, forming ‘blooms’ in as little as four days in melting ice. This significantly adds to the thawing process by reducing albedo, the reflection of the sun’s radiation.

The BAS Technical services team had an extremely hectic month with two major tasks completed. The Bore Valley Dam was due for its annual maintenance and inspection. This supplies beautifully pure and fresh drinking water to the base so it is vital that it is kept in tip-top condition. Of similar importance is the Gull lake Dam. This holds the reservoir of water for the Hydro Electric power plant which, supplies the base and the Grytviken museum complex with up to 170 kW of clean green energy.

Another major project completed this month was the replacement of an engine to one of the stand- by generating sets. Erny, the mechanic, took time out from his otherwise busy schedule to complete this complex task, practically single handedly and in record time.

On the 10th February, we had a visit from HMS Protector, the Royal Navy’s ice patrol ship. She anchored in the bay for a couple of days which, provided some welcome rest and recuperation for the crew who also organised a beach cleanup operation. This visit was particularly notable as The British Antarctic Survey’s RRS Ernest Shackleton was also berthed at King Edward Point. We felt we were seeing double, they are sister ships, built in the same Norwegian shipyard.

As part of the ongoing program to monitor South Georgia’s wildlife, our resident scientists, Steph and James, record the health and growth rate of each year’s litter of Fur Seal pups. The 14th of February was the date set for the second round of ‘pup weighing’. This involves weighing and recording 100 pups and the help of volunteer labour is always welcome. The pups have grown fast and can weigh as much as 17 kg so this is quite hard work.

Of course, the highpoint to February was the annual South Georgia Half Marathon. This was held on the 21st of February. 16 contestants vied for best time in three classes: Running, ‘Runkling’, that is a combination of running some sections and walking others, and Walking. The course was held over very challenging terrain. From the start line at King Edward Point (KEP), the route took the participants round the bay to Grytviken, past the old whaling station, a steep climb up Brown Mountain, across the ridge and down a steep and tricky scree slope before returning to KEP, the half way point. The 2nd half, no less arduous, took the competitors back to Grytviken, alongside the church and up the track to Deadman’s Pass, onwards to Maiviken hut then back to the finishing line at King Edward Point. First in the walking category was Andy Porter, the electrician from the South Georgia building team with a time of 4 hours 22 minutes. The runkling class was hotly contested with 8 entrants competing for the best time. Jen Lee and Sarah Browning, both South Georgia Government employees came in joint first to claim this honour. Their time to complete the course was 2 hours, 39 minutes and 40 seconds. There was serious competition and amazing times in the runners class, all four entrants came in with times under 2 hours! Government Officer Simon Browning achieved an astonishing result, completing the half marathon in 1 hour, 48 minutes and 55 seconds. Not too far behind was South Georgia’s postmaster, Hugh Marsden with a time of 1 hour 52 minutes and 15 seconds. Builder, Micky Sutcliffe and BAS Boating Officer Mathew Philips were hot on their heels with times of 1 hour 59 minutes 15 seconds and 1 hour 59 minutes and 40 seconds respectively; incredible!

An award ceremony was held later in the evening with Station Leader Ian Hey and Government Officer Pat Lurcock awarding certificates of completion.

The final excitement for the month was the inaugural South Georgia Regatta held on Gull Lake. This was pretty much a spontaneous affair that is sure feature in South Georgia’s calendar of events in future years. There were 10 entrants of model sailing boats of many different designs. some had been lovingly crafted over many months, others were a bit more makeshift but somehow more successful! The rules were simple, the contestant with the first vessel to reach the other side of the lake would claim victory.

The fleet of small boats was cheered on by a crowd of spectators comprising of most of the island’s inhabitants, many of whom were sporting a maritime look of some sort. The ‘Fancy Dress’ box supplied nautically themed hats suitable for the occasion and silver buttoned blazers gave the feel of Royal Henley on Thames; the obligatory Pirate completed the dramatis personae.

Jamie, the medic from the Heritage Trust Habitat Restoration team was the proud owner of the winning craft. Skippered by a stuffed toy rat, this elegant design, constructed from a piece of polystyrene with a polythene bag for a sail, caught the wind and left the other contestants in its wake. Not too far behind was ‘The Welsh Hero’. Designed by Emma, the Base doctor and constructed from a ‘Heroes’ chocolate container with, I kid you not, a bag of polenta as ballast. This craft came a credible second place, despite a collision early on with the RRS Bransfield, entered by Hugh, the Postmaster. The fact that the most successful entries of the day were built by our base doctors should be telling us something but, for the life of me, I do not know what! It is however, with some relief that I am able to report that 3rd and 4th place were taken by model sailing boats of a more conventional nature. A beautiful red-sailed yacht, entered by Tim from the Building team, set itself on a circular course in the middle of the lake. It was not retrieved until 3 weeks later! The event was closed with a celebratory glass of Pimms. A toast to a very enjoyable day and a busy but fun-packed month.