King Edward Point Diary – March 2012

31 March, 2012

Most significantly this month, we have been joined by two new team members. Paula O’Sullivan and Jo Cox are both familiar faces to BAS; Paula having worked as a boating officer for two previous consecutive winters at KEP, and Jo joining us from the bridge of the RRS James Clark Ross where she is normally chief navigating officer. Paula will be joining me in the boating department, signifying the end of a period of working alone, and Jo will be joining the South Georgia Government office where she will be working as a government representative on the island. A huge KEP welcome to both ladies!

When talking of the traditions and orthodoxy of devoted couples who decide to get married, rusty landrovers, Nido tins, boiler suits and a ship’s fog horn are likely to get a rare mention, if ever mentioned at all.

However, KEP had the privilege of playing host and notary to the wedding of OTEP Ecologist Kalinka Rexer-Huber and her husband Graham Parker; a wedding which cast aside many traditions in favour of a most unusual, but very memorable ceremony. Conducted in the shadow of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s memorial cross on the idyllic rock promontory of Hope Point, the wedding was informal in the extreme, with most of the congregation in boiler suits and rigger boots, and not a cravat or veil to be seen. The result however was extraordinary, and the fine weather and spectacular South Georgia views made for a most romantic ceremony.

Everybody on base and aboard the fisheries patrol vessel PHAROS SG, who was alongside at KEP Jetty at the time, were invited to witness this special occasion, and join in on an afternoon of celebrations. Kalinka has become a very popular and valued member of the King Edward Point team over the many months she has now spent on the island, studying the rats and surveying and treating the small number of manageable invasive plant species on the island. The ceremony was conducted by the registrar of South Georgia, Sarah Lurcock, and the building team from Morrison’s construction decked out their Series II landrover with electrical-cable-marking tape for ribbon, and trailed a bunch of empty potato tins and milk powder tins. With the rust and dents suitably disguised, the chauffeur-driven vehicle whisked the newlyweds from Hope Point to the front of Everson House, where they were greeted with a champagne reception and a round of applause. Everyone here would like to wish the happy couple many years of adventuring together.

Of course, the festivities could not last, and the work program for March started in earnest. Katie Brigden, our resident fisheries biologist, accompanied members of the OTEP team as well as South Georgia Government representatives on a field trip to Ocean Harbour to study the reindeer movements in the area, and treat some sporadic invasive plants. The work undertaken in these studies will help build an accurate and thorough appraisal of the reindeer population on the island, and how their removal might best be managed.

Once again, we had the pleasure of hosting the Royal Navy at KEP during a visit by patrol vessel HMS Clyde. The ship docked alongside, where she remained for a few days to carry out some work on the island. Amongst the crew where a small team from the Royal Air Force explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) team, who were to carry out controlled detonations to dispose of any relics of the 1982 conflict, which still get reported in the hills surrounding the base. It is a great time to be here, as often the teams are very friendly and willing to get base members (safely) involved, and what results is a louder and more explosive fireworks display than you may have seen before!

Often the Navy will volunteer crew during a visit to South Georgia to any tasks which require extra pairs of hands. This time, we had a rather large request. The wreck of the fishing vessel LYN, which grounded and breached on rocks in the entrance to the Morraine Fjord during a severe storm in 2003, has unfortunately sustained more damage during a recent period of heavy seas. The vessel has now broken up in to three sections which has breached the forward freezer hold and exposed a quantity of expanding foam to the sea, which had, by the beginning of March, been deposited on nearby beaches. A large cleanup operation was launched with the generous help of the crew of HMS Clyde and some 20 RN volunteers (including the Captain!) equipped with their own landing craft, joined a team from BAS and GSGSSI in the cleanup. We were overwhelmed by our success, and after a hard day filling sacks and ferry people to and from the remote beaches, we had recovered practically all of the beach debris. It really made everyone proud to be able to ensure the island is kept as pristine as possible, and the team here laid on drinks in the base bar to thank the RN helpers.

The cooperation with the Navy turned to competition however, and the next day, a football match was held on the old recreation ground at Grytiviken disused whaling station. The Navy gave our team a fair walloping, but foolishly agreed to a ‘sudden death’ decider, and the golden toe of BAS Engineer Tom Whitfield secured a (somewhat un-deserved) victory! The day was finished off by a fabulous talent show, organised by the rates mess on the warship, and KEP took part with a last minute rendition of the Dad’s Army theme tune, accompanied by some sub-sandhurst-standard marching and drills!

The science department has been busy this month, and education has continued to be a large part of our resident scientist’s roles. As well as delivering seminars on board visiting cruise ships (including the National Geographic explorer among others) to raise the scientific significance of the island to the tourists; our team have also been delivering their expertise directly back to the UK. This year’s Cambridge Science festival organised a live video chat between children at the festival and our scientists in their laboratory here in South Georgia. The children asked many questions, some scientific and some more domestic, and the feedback was very positive. It is hoped the base can participate in more educational and awareness opportunities in the future.

An eventful month ended on a high, as we enjoyed another visit by the tall ship Bark Europa. The 56m LOA Barquentine rigged sailing ship is always a welcome visitor. Not only is the ship beautiful to look at, and reminiscent of some of the ships which would have plied their trade in South Georgia a century ago, but she always has a welcome invite for base members to come aboard for a barbeque when she is in King Edward Cove. It is of course a great opportunity to share our knowledge and experiences of the island with the passengers, and to help educate them about some of the issues the island faces and the successes the island enjoys, but the good food, good beer and (perhaps not so good) dancing is always great fun!

Lastly, our living link to Antarctic heritage, BAS Zoologist Alastair Wilson, paid homage to his families’ impressive and significant past on the 29th of this month. Alastair hosted a church service in the Grytviken church to mark the Centenary of Captain Scott’s last diary entry, made shortly before his tragic death whilst attempting the return leg of his successful expedition to the South Pole. The story, now infamous among Antarctic enthusiasts, still rings stark and true to those who work south, as Captain Oates sacrificed his life in order for the others to survive on the remaining food rations, stating “I am going outside, I may be some time”. These words he is said to have spoken to the two surviving men in his tent; Captain Scott and Alastair’s Great Great uncle, Edward Wilson.

Matt Kenney

Senior Boating Officer, KEP — South Georgia.