30 June, 2011 King Edward Point
June at King Edward Point was a varied month. It featured the most important celebrations of the Antarctic calendar, events of astronomical significance, and was punctuated by holidays, fishing vessels activity, fisheries patrols, and weather-watching.
The month began with a rare opportunity to watch the International Space Station passing above us – and we were presented with a superb clear night on which to do so. You may just be able to make out the bright line traced over a couple of minutes by the shining object as it raced around the Earth:
The red and green lights you see here are the King Edward Cove harbour leading lights which help to guide ships into the safe anchorage at night.
The winterers including myself have been eager for decent snows to fall. It has been a slightly frustrating winter so far on that score, as apparently was the case last year too. We have tended to get a decent snowfall of perhaps 6 inches which stays for a week or so without consolidating into a viable base for skiing. This has been followed by a fast warming and rainy precipitation which has chased all the snow away and we begin again. But we continue to live with the hope that the legendary skiing of South Georgia will bless us with its presence in good time!
Whenever there are conditions approaching anywhere near suitability, we are out there making the most of it! Above you can see a fine South Georgian winter’s day – due to the limited daylight (darkness falls around 4pm) we have been in the habit of having a longer than normal lunch to get outside for a while, then working late to compensate. Here, Tommy the electrical engineer and I have nipped out for a spot of lunchtime skiing on the nearby Gull Lake Track, and although the conditions are far from perfect, it’s a decent bit of exercise. Tommy can be seen sporting his splitboard, a relatively nascent technology in the world of snowboarding which allows the board to be split into 2 skis for the purposes of ascending. The method of ascent is then very similar to that of ski mountaineering. At the top of the slope, it takes Tommy a matter of a few minutes to remove the skins from the bases of the skis, and reassemble the snowboard for the descent. Terrific stuff, which will no doubt continue to be further improved and open up the backcountry for the adventurous snowboarder.
Below, the 2 main states of play during June – First, the cold and crisp. Second, the wet and stormy.
Midwinter’s Day, falling this year on Tuesday the 21st of June, is the most important date in the Antarctic calendar. It is the Southland’s equivalent of Christmas and in fact has greater power since it’s importance does not depend on beliefs that you may or may not hold – it is something that brings all those wintering in the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic together for a celebration of shared experience and appreciation for the whole of Antarctic history, which is yet so relatively new. This year is particularly interesting, as it is the centenary of the Terra Nova expedition that took Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s team to Antarctica for their ill-fated final race to the pole.
On British Antarctic Survey bases, this is usually celebrated by some time off work and a series of activities to bring everyone together. This year at KEP our time off was interrupted by necessary work and the comings and goings of ships and staff, but we managed to keep the day itself free for a full day. As base commander, it was my solemn duty to provide the mother of all breakfasts cooked to order for my hard-grafting staff! So all the stops were completely removed for a mammoth fry-up, even including specially imported potato waffles. This was preceded by my second attempt at making croissants – which, if I be allowed to say myself, were rather terrific. Alastair provided some homemade jams that he had brought down with him last year for the occasion, and we all had a good feed. Here are some of the croissants before cooking:
I don’t have any pictures of them cooked because we were too busy eating them.
After breakfast we had the presentation of the midwinter gifts. This is an important tradition that is taken very seriously by the winterers – at the start of the year our names were mixed in a hat and each winterer pulled out the name of another, to be kept secret. This was the person for whom they had to make a gift – this could take any form, with the only stipulation being that it ought to be a fit reminder of the place and time for which it was made. Having been attendant at 3 midwinter’s celebrations now, I can say that it is amazing what quality can be produced by those who may have no previous craft skills of any kind, just by trying something new. The standard of workmanship was very high indeed. Here is a pic of the various presents arranged together. They range from musical instruments to easy chairs and from turned wooden tankards to metal sculpture…
This is a pic of Tommy opening the ukulele that I made for him. It is made from timbers that come either from the beach or from our local stores, some of which was once used in the whaling activities at nearby Grytviken. So a little bit of history given new life…
After the presentations, we headed outside for the traditional South Georgian midwinter’s swim in the sea. “Swim” is probably stretching the definition a little, since the temperature of the water is near freezing, but between 17 and 70 seconds after first plunging into the water, we exited to roll in the snow before getting back to a normal temperature in the sauna.
We later enjoyed a superb Christmas-style meal during which all the culinary delights at our disposal were unleashed:
The day was completed by the BBC World Service Midwinter Antarctic Broadcast, during which messages from each of our families were read out along with each BAS base’s nominated song and celebrity message.
All in all a superb day much enjoyed by all.
Here we are congregated in the bar raising a glass on midwinter’s evening.
The rest of the celebrations we had planned were postponed after a few of our members were called away from base for fisheries work, and we dealt with some boating and work closer to home.
There has been plenty of activity in the South Georgia Maritime Zone krill fishery this month. Here we see the reefer “La Manche” with the much smaller krill trawler “Saga Sea” alongside her whilst they tranship krill and the reefer refuels the smaller vessel. Each boat visit and especially the first appearance of each boat in the fishery demands an in–depth inspection by the Government Officers here before they can begin catching. We, the BAS team, support the work of the Government Officers and transport them to and between vessels as necessary.
A few members of the BAS team managed to get out and about in the local area for well-deserved camping holidays after very little time off base in the last 8 months. Trips were made out to the Greene Peninsula, and another to the slightly further afield Barff Peninsula where local area exploring and relaxing.
We continue as always to feed in science to the wealth of data collected up to support fisheries research and the Government’s efforts in managing the sustainable fisheries of South Georgia. Our two wintering scientists tackle this from 2 distinct angles – Alastair Wilson, our seal and bird specialist, analyses fur seal scats amongst other things, to glean information about their diets and through that information about the health of the krill stocks. And Katie Brigden, our fisheries scientist continues to work on samples gained from the regular trawls from the Pharos SG fisheries patrol vessel. This sheds light on fish stocks by investigation of fish larvae, and plankton trawls reveal much about the state of the marine environment in the local area. Katie also works on samples collected by observers on Patagonian toothfish boats, all of which feeds back steadily into the management of the fishery and the setting of quotas and so on.
Above, we have a view through Alastair’s microscope – he is identifying these little bones which are otoliths or fish ear-bones, which he has extracted from fur seal scats samples. Amazingly, he can tell the species and age of the fish that the fur seal has been eating, just by analyzing these tiny bones!
We also enjoyed the company of Brazilian scientist Ramon Benedet during the latter part of the month. Ramon is a pHd student with BAS who has also been working recently as a fisheries observer on a couple of the fishing vessels in the area. He spent 2 weeks at KEP after being retrieved by the Pharos SG, working with some benthos samples from the sea-bed in our labs. He was good to have around and he slotted in well to the base milieu during his time here.
Now, onwards into July, historically one of the coldest months at KEP. We hope for great weather and enough snow for a bit of skiing. And for a continuation of the winter that has so far flown by on the breeze…