King Edward Point Diary – January 2008

31 January, 2008

South Georgia is not an easy place to get to, if you’re a tourist you can get here by cruise ship or charter yacht, both options demand heavy financial investment and a good four days in seas that are more often than not unkind. If you are coming here to work you’re probably going to travel on the Pharos SG (an ex-Nothern Lighthouse Board ship). As I was travelling down at the same time as Morrison Construction’s crew I was bumped off the Pharos and got to sample the cruise ship life for a few days instead, gratis!

We sailed from Stanley on Remembrance Sunday, and had checked all our kit on board early in the day in order to make the most of our time in the Falklands. The Explorer II is a large five and a half star luxury liner. But this is no pleasure cruise, its actually hard work keeping up to speed with all the lectures, recaps and tutorials…not to mention the zodiac cruises and visits onshore! It was an excellent introduction to South Georgia, its history and its wildlife. We were in quite a privelaged situation and a bit of a star turn as the passengers were all very interested in our work and living arrangements. The lectures were excellent and really filled in the days at sea, there were photography tutorials and naturalist available to answer questions on deck announcements were made if whales, birds, penguins were spotted and the meals, snacks and beverages were never ending! We crossed the polar convergence in the middle of the night, the cold Antarctic meets the warmer Southern Atlantic here and it’s often characterised by a bank of fog. Soon after, the icebergs started appearing, some small, some massive, all very impressive! As well as being a luxury liner, Explorer II is also fitted with stabilisers, should things get rough. It turned out to be an unusually calm crossing with no wild pitching and rolling and definaltly no seasickness!

I set foot on South Georgia’s shores for the first time on the 14th November, in previous times all shipping had to call at King Edward Point for administration before landing at any other area in South Georgia. These rules have been relaxed, in part due to the large number of cruise ships coming down each season. We called in at Salisbury Plain, a huge King Penguin colony. It was breathtaking, the beaches were filled with penguin, fur seals, elephant seals, skuas and many other sea birds. It’s such a density of fearless wildlife that it’s too much to take in at once so we sat on the beach while all the toursits headed for the colony. The beach was a melee of seals with fat, krill-filled penguins meandering through, and skuas stalking around looking for their next meal. Sitting is the best thing you can do in South Georgia because the wildlife will come to you, penguins are quite curious and if you wait long enough they’ll come close enough to get your hard earned picture! Having extra privelage meant we could stay on the Plain while the first load of toursits were taken off and the second lot prepared for disembarking. We went up to the colony then and saw the amazing King Penguin chicks, big, brown fluffy, curious things that they were! They stretched all the way up the hill, a long walk for a full parent with short legs! It was a magical day and the added bonus was a zodiac ride around Elsehul, another bay in the Bay of Isles. We couldn’t go onshore because of the narrow, packed beaches and the swell but because all the lecturers also drive the zodiacs we had a personal expert to tell us all about the sooty albatross we could see, and the fur seals porpoising around the boat. Wonderful!

We steamed into King Edward Cove the following morning and met the Government Officer as we were disembarked onto one of the BAS jet boats of which we have two at KEP. I was struck by the old whaling station at Grytviken and the contrast between that and the new BAS buildings , home for the next year. So now it was time to start getting to know, the life, work and team that I’d be integrating into.

Mairi Macleod

KEP Base Commander