King Edward Point Diary – November 2010

30 November, 2010 King Edward Point

November was my first full month on the Island. A whirlwind month, despite being unusually calm, warm, and sunny. Experienced winterers recounted tales of woe & snow; of clouds in shrouds around local peaks; of wind that pinned you to the ground in the harsh old days of “last summer”. None of that for us, thanks. Just nature at its most splendid.

But we’re not here for a holiday – the month kicked off in true style with the arrival of the James Clark Ross and the first great cargo transferral of the austral summer season (see pic above). Most of the base supplies for the year are offloaded to our stores in this one fairly manic day of slinging, hoisting, unslinging, checking, loading, unloading, checking, ticking, checking, organizing, shifting, stacking, and counting. And tea drinking. A very good introduction for me to base life as I began to learn the ropes in preparation for taking over the job of Base Commander from Ali Massey.

Below I pick out just a few of the months’ interesting nuggets of time that have stood out for me.

Bonfire Night

Bonfire Night was celebrated in true style with a small bonfire on the ground outside our main accommodation building – another beautifully calm and clear evening was enjoyed here – by this point just a week into life on base, and it feels very much like home. Everyone pulls together to put on small events like this and keep the social calendar stocked. This is, I think, a common feature of British Antarctic bases as it has been my pleasure to discover in the past.

Church ceilidh

Being a keen fiddle player and traditional music enthusiast, I am always up for providing tunes for a dance – when coupled with the enthusiastic fiddle skills of George Lemann, one of our boatmen, the driving rhythms of Jon Ashburner’s bodhran, and a historic Norwegian-built church in an abandoned whaling station, we had the ingredients for a cracking ceilidh. The tunes were duly learnt and the date of the 26th of November was set. Dinner was provided by the church steps by some of the yacht dwellers staying alongside the jetty at Grytviken. When the wind got up and it got chilly even beside the barbecue, the church provided shelter and the dancing, warmth, to the assembled crews of KEP, Government of South Georgia, and Grytviken Museum. We played into the evening and great fun was had by all. I hope to repeat the performance at least once more in my coming year of residency on the island.

Bivvying & camping at Maiviken

A great perk of having a job with BAS at King Edward Point is the possibility for travel in the local area. And if weather, staff requirements, and work allow then there is the chance of overnights stays on the weekends. Maiviken hut is commonly visited and is less than an hours’ walk from the base but it can be the setting for marvellous peace & quiet and for a nice bivvy or camp out. Myself, Tom, & Ashley did just that towards the end of the month – at a time of year when the sunrise occurs at around 4am there is no better place to be to get up in the middle of the night to relieve yourself than on the slopes above the Maiviken beaches, with a view over to the far side of West Cumberland Bay. I did this, and it was difficult to go back to bed, such was the beauty of that morning. We had a very entertaining evening, first cooking dinner in the hut then sleeping out under polythene or directly face-to-stars. The air is so clear, and the sky so free of polluting light, that they appear exceptionally clearly during cloudness nights.

Cruise ships

Throughout the month, the bay pulsed quietly with the heartbeats of cruise ships as they came and went, landing passengers often enjoying a hard-earned trip onto the terra firma of South Georgia to get acquainted with the teeming wildlife. The bay is rarely busy with ships, as they stagger their entrances, sometimes with many quiet days at a time, which gives the staff and the island plenty of chance to rest in between visits. The weather has been so kind recently that the visitors can hardly have had anything but a great experience of the Island. Above, a few of the base members are invited aboard the Polar Star for a barbecue. Very pleasant.

Extended boating to Stromness Bay

We have excellently equipped boats which normally run within Cumberland Bay. Occasionally though, when backup up with a very good reason to do so, we can venture out of the bay and head “left” out of the Bay mouth towards Stromness Bay, or “right” down the coast towards St Andrews bay and Ocean Harbour. I was lucky enough to go along on a trip to take Kelvin (an invasive plant species eradication expert) and Pat (Government Officer) round to the three whaling stations of Husvik, Stromness, and Leith in Stromness Bay. They had work to do ashore at Husvik, and the new boatmen Matt Kenney & Ashley Perrin required local area familiarisation training on the jetboats, so we toured the 3 bays and practiced anchoring and landing shore parties using the jetboat tender craft. The weather stayed lovely, and in spite of a need to remain outside of the vigorously enforced 200m exclusion zone around each of those historic stations (in the picture, we’re standing 200m off the shore at Stromness), we had a fascinating day of boating, training, observing, learning, and defending ourselves against fur seal advances as we moved through their territories to land ashore. This was a superb day and I hope there will be many others like it.

I think those few snippets give a brief overview of my first impressions of life on the base and some of the activity of my first month. Not a place to come if you enjoy dull moments!

Thanks for reading,

Rob Webster, BC