King Edward Point Diary – March 2007

31 March, 2007

March started with a bang as several of the KEP crew tested out their thespian talents performing “Little Box of Oblivion”. The short play with 5 characters in it was showcased by Andrew, Anjali (yours truly), Gareth, Melanie and Serita.

The Boatshed was transformed into a theatre for the night and the play went very well, given the short amount of time we had had to prepare for it, and there was much frantic last minute learning of lines going on. But the success was measured by the amount of laughs from our audience. I enjoyed my role as a gothic doom merchant – well, I managed to look the part anyway, scaring a few people I think!

Serita (one of our favourite museum assistants) had managed to find this play on the internet and instigated its doing…..and shortly after the performance it was time to wave her goodbye. Her glib tongue had earned her a passage back to South America on the fancy cruise ship the Hanseatic… So as we waved goodbye, teary-eyed, she was looking forward to adventures of a new kind.

But as Serita left we had other non-regulars to keep us company. Occupying Carse House in the absence of Pat and Sarah Lurcock were Darren, Derek and (eventually) Pippa. Darren and Derek (aka the ratties) had come to scout the island and do some surveying of the rat population to start making plans for the proposed rat eradication from South Georgia. This has been done in NZ offshore islands before (home to many endemic flightless birds) and these two had been heavily involved in these New Zealand projects…imagine my surprise when accompanying Falklander Darren, Derek turned out not only to be Kiwi, but someone I had worked with in a past life as commercial and scientific diver!!! Although we spent a bit of time reliving past projects and catching up on common acquaintances, I actually didn’t get to spend as much time with the ratties as I should have/ would have liked to – because as we were carrying on our work, they were doing the same and also training other fellow Kiwi, Ainslie to carry on their work after their departure.

Another visitor to the island was Alec Trendall – a SG survey veteran and colleague of Duncan Carse, an important historical figure here. Somehow, as always I am very bad at keeping up with current affairs even in the real world and this was no exception. The first I knew of his visit was when Andy Barker showed up in the lab with Alec and a film crew in tow, inspecting our work. I had to think on my feet and the easiest thing seemed to be to show everyone the otolith I had been peering at through the microscope at the time! Phew – that either interested them enough, or scared them away. I guess I’ll never know which!

After a lot of time on base I was suffering very badly from Cabin Fever and was determined to get away somewhere – so even though my original camping trip had been cancelled due to Base Commander Andy’s commitments to royal navy ships coming alongside (Dumbarton Castle)…I managed to convince Andrew – poor unsuspecting soul to come camping over on the Greene Peninsula with me…another new playground to explore and discover.

After listening to the wild elements that night – the day dawned fine and clear. Taking our time to get packed up we moseyed down the beach passing the military folk from aforementioned ship doing their beach clean up…( of debris galore from the sunken ships of the past).After ample time admiring the hanging glaciers and the ice cliffs, watching avalanches and ice fall we finally steeled ourselves for the climb up to Jeremy lake and over the pass. It wasn’t really that bad – but by then we were struggling with sunshine lethargy and were finding every excuse to stop and admire the view. Hence the final trudge over the pass was latish in the day and it was a pleasure to watch the sunshine twinkle and reflect off the snow around our footsteps in a vast wilderness of white. We felt like real Antarctic heroes then!!!

On the other side of the pass we found the most amazing camping spot…… On a completely wind still night, overlooking the Nordenskjol glacier which had evening light falling on it…to give way to the most amazing moon. We were definitely happy campers.

The next day saw us tromp around the peninsula via the bouldery beach back to the hut. The tedium of stomping around on this ankle breaking terrain was broken by the small group of chin strap penguins we stopped to admire along the way.

Having finished the circumnavigation in time for lunch, the weather started to turn and we hummed and ha-ed about whether we should still tackle Pt 591 or not. Of course being intrepid antarctic explorers we decided to brave the weather and despite getting very windswept had a great time getting to the summit and then came down the long way taking in Eosin point as well.

As soon as we came back to base we were swept off with the rest of the team to entertain the people aboard the National Geographic Endeavour. A very flash ship and a flash meal to suit. A good night had by all. On Friday the Grigory Mikheev –also known as the party ship arrived. The party ship lived up to its name and this last cruise ship left us a with a royal hangover on Saturday, and waved us goodbye. Not another cruise ship to be seen until next season!

So despite the fact that the last cruise ship had gone, it turns out there was yet another ship to come…..but a ship with a difference….It was the barque Europa – a tall sailing ship that does Antarctic cruises and they teach whichever of the passengers to sail if they want to sail en-route if they want to learn. It’s used as a training ship too. Fantastic vessel – although quite old looking. We were out doing our weekly plankton trawl and we were lucky enough to see the Europa come in under full sail. It was hilarious too – cos we got quite close up and were busy taking 100’s of photos and then noticed that all the passengers were on deck taking photos of us too –after all, we are part of the local tourist attraction!

The barque Europa came alongside and they were most hospitable, invited us onboard for a BBQ, the obligatory science talk had to be given and we were shown around the ship and for us landlubbers given explanations of the principles of sailing. Looking up the tall masts certainly gave me an appreciation of why sailors in early days used to perish climbing around in the masts on a swaying ship and fall to their deaths!

As work carried on in the following week we had the opportunity to do more sampling out in the bay, which I almost regretted cos I spent a solid 7 hours sorting in the lab after that!! Perhaps it wasn’the best of timing for the world’s best haul as both the other scientists were in the middle of swapping shifts on trips away. Charlie just returnig from a trip to cave point with Martony, followed by meeting up with Andy and Miriam to jointly walk over to Ocean Harbour…and Jenn leaving with Charles for a trip round to Hamburg lakes, where they were to get blasted with catabatic winds and heavy rain.

Another trip was a quick visit to the resident Hound Bay penguin research team by Mel and Andy to deliver a birthday cake to Helen. Helen had spent some time with us on base whilst in transit from Bird Island to field party at Hound Bay before heading home after her two year stint.

As all goes in a normal week’s work at KEP, nearly out of date flares were used for training one night. Hah so we missed out on guy fawkes…never mind – bring on the flares. Much fun was had with all sorts of flares –the really loud bangy ones that reverberated through the mountains and the cool red rockets that had little parachutes, personal flares, smoke ones etc etc

Some more excitement in the form of a helicopter coming in to whisk Gareth away to go fix the generators at Bird Island came by. The helicopter belonged to the UK navy ship ‘The Endurance’ that was going to call in to Bird Island on its rounds. A good break for Gareth and a fun chopper ride – however most unfortunately it was short lived as the ship developed engine troubles and decide to try and limp straight back to the Falklands to avoid some incoming weather. Poor Gareth missed his chance to go to BI as we had to go and uplift him from the ship! At this time we were also paid a visit by BAS Deputy Director Robert Culshaw and head of Bioscience Paul Rodhouse. They were going to spend a few days here at KEP, but after a very pleasant dinner together they were whisked away back on board the Endurance at the same time Gareth was being uplifted. Better luck next time Gareth!!

And so ended another month at KEP.

By Anjali Pande, Chief Scientist.