31 October, 2003 King Edward Point
October has seen winter turn into summer here at KEP, with no time for spring in between.
John and I went on our long-awaited winter trip during the first week of the month. We had two dingle days over at Maiviken visiting the gentoo penguin colony at Tortula (including a lone chinstrap penguin with an identity crisis), and strolled along the other Maiviken beaches, which are beginning to fill up with seals of various descriptions. We also did a bit of snowboarding and climbed up to the Spencer Ridge for great views of Maiviken, Sappho Point, Larsen Point and Jason Harbour. Unfortunately the weather changed and we had 2 days of mank up at Hodges Lakes, much of which we spent holed up in the tent – but we did manage to scale Mount Hodges in a period of relative calm and we also got some gnarly tales to tell when we got back, gnarliest of which was the low number of underwear changes we managed during the five-day trip…
When we returned from our jolly, the Fishery Patrol ship Sigma was alongside the KEP jetty having brought much needed mail and freshies as well as Rosy Thomas and Andy Whittaker (this year’s Museum Assistants) and Ann Prior (Ken the Marine Officer’s other half, taking over from me as KEP Postie). The other important ship visit this month was that of the James Clark Ross on 23 October – first call by a BAS ship this season 0 (although it was an AWG charter). We had a hectic couple of days while she was alongside, unloading all the cargo – all the dry food stores for the coming year as well as a load of science, domestic and technical cargo. Hamish the purser wins our October “Person of the Month” award after donating a selection of soft cheeses, fresh milk and other delicacies to our meagre luxury foods cupboard – although how could he resist when attractive young ladies were asking “Haaaymish… any chance I could have a tin of ravioli??? I haven’t tasted any for over a year…”
The JCR also brought enough people to double the population of South Georgia – there are now 43 inhabitants of what has been dubbed “Elm Street” (the Grytviken clean-up camp) including a large number of asbestos removers from Chile. More relevantly (for me), Jenny Corser my successor as KEP doctor was on board, sporting the obligatory cropped hair. In fact, while the JCR was alongside we had enough manpower to staff a small emergency department, as we had four doctors and a charge nurse in residence. Luckily no one took advantage of the medical overkill and decided to injure themselves – and Kamikaze Ken was too busy to go out skiing. Many thanks to Capt. Elliott and the JCR crew for an enjoyable visit and we look forward to seeing you again very soon.
One casualty this month was our back-up boat, Ernie. Ernie arrived a few months ago from Stanley and has since managed to secure a firm place in KEP legend. She managed a couple of work-related trips but her final voyage was just too much and she had to be towed back to base by the humble Teal – just in time to be shipped off back to Stanley on the JCR (with Howie breathing a big sigh of relief – although we now need a new back-up boat).
Beaker work has continued this month, with regular plankton trawls and trammel net fishing. Rich, Suzi and Frin have also been performing age studies on rock cod. To do this, they take the ear bones (known as otoliths) from the fish and set them in resin, then slice the resin blocks very thinly and examine the thin slices of ear bone under the microscope. Every year the fish lives, a new layer of bone is added to the otolith which varies in density according to season – so these can in theory be counted like tree rings and the age of a fish can be calculated. In practice, some of the lines can be fuzzy and difficult to read so curses can often be heard coming from the Anal (analytical) Lab. In order to increase the accuracy of otolith ageing, fish are tagged and injected with a dye which dyes that year’s ring, so that when the fish eventually dies the number of rings laid down since the dyed ring can be counted and compared to the time when the fish was tagged. Some of the fish kept in the aquarium here are tagged, and during the annual groundfish survey (which takes place in January) a number of fish are tagged and released back into their natural environment.
There has been plenty of other work to do around base this month as we were all involved in “Global Scrub-out” to get the place looking spotless in time for relief. We have a weekly scrub-out where everyone is assigned part of the base to clean, but some areas need an extra going over every once in a while. So fridges and ovens were moved and scrubbed, old magazines were sorted and trashed, bookshelves were polished, and a mountain of gash was created and disposed of. John was in charge of “George” the friendly carpet cleaner, who certainly did his fair share of work judging by the colour of the water tipped out of him at regular intervals. The work didn’t stop once the JCR had left, as the new cargo had to be tallied and put away, including a year’s supply of food. Luckily the weather was very good to us and the boatshed became a temporary warehouse as the whole base contingent got to work unpacking boxes, putting the packing material in bags for disposal, flattening the boxes, and transferring the contents to wherever they were going.
On 16 October Ian held an oil spill exercise for us on base. The base and its environs have a lot of oil contamination left over from whaling and military days and more recently the wrecked fishing vessels, but for any spills which happen due to BAS activities there is a strict policy of immediate containment and clean-up. The scenario for us was that a bowser (fuel carrier) had fallen off the side of the jetty whilst refuelling Quest (our fishing boat), and diesel was leaking from this into the water. We mustered, donned the appropriate protective clothing and were all assigned tasks for the exercise. Despite the weather being pretty miserable and everyone being dressed in oversized green boiler suits which made the jetty look like an episode of “Teletubbies” was being filmed, we did a good job of containing the “spill” with special sausage shaped containment cushions positioned round the area by boat (the ill-fated Ernie).
Our neighbours over at the AWG camp in the Grytviken whaling station were also busy in preparation for the visit of the JCR – bringing the main party of asbestos removers. However, they managed to find the time to invite us over for a housewarming dinner the night before the ship arrived. We put on our glad rags and arrived in style – for some reason I was ushered to a secluded table where the only other occupant was a bearded AWG mechanic. The lighting must have been particularly bad at that end of the dining room as it was supplemented by a candle and strange décor as well. Still, the waitress service was good and we appeared to have the only two wine glasses in the camp.
John our Cornishman (although, as we are very fond of reminding him, he was born in Devon) challenged Andy Petersen the AWG chef (a Cornish pretender) to a “pasty off”. Never ones to miss out on fine foods, we all wandered across to Grytviken at lunchtime ostensibly to judge the competition but in reality to stuff our faces. Who won the contest has never been resolved but the competition caused both chefs to scale new heights of pasty genius – Andy scored highly in terms of punctuality but John’s tasty traditional method (none of this “puff pastry” business) and his crimping style drew gasps of admiration from the assembled masses. It must be in the blood, as John’s mum Sharon is a national TV star having demonstrated the art of Cornish pasty making on “Richard and Judy”. Mrs Clemens, we salute you.
Another sure sign that winter is over and summer has begun is the return of the South Georgia wildlife big style. Of course we are never short on wildlife but it is very noticeable when summer starts and all our old friends return, many of them (like the shags and terns) in their bright breeding colours. Skuas (large brown predatory birds) don’t hang around during the winter so it’s great to see them come back, and one of the biggest dates in the calendar is the day the first elephant seal pup is born at the point. This year we had two born during the morning of 9 October. The pups are dark-furred and wrinkly Two bull elephant seals in combat
when they emerge but thrive on the super-rich milk they get, and after about three weeks lose their baby fur and become extremely cute and tubby weaners with huge endearing eyes. One dopey pup seemed to have a death wish and had to be rescued after falling between the base building and a snowdrift; he then trailed after a large bull elephant seal which he thought was his mum – just when the male seal spotted a rival and was spoiling for a fight. Luckily the pup was successfully reunited with his real mum who wobbled off to join the rest of the KEP colony with her wayward offspring in tow. There are a fair few fur seals around the base too – fur seals have a rapidly expanding population after being almost wiped out during the sealing days of the nineteenth century, and there are some strong concerns that this artificially high level of population growth will have a detrimental effect on the vegetation and other animal and bird species around the island. The debate as to whether anything should be done rumbles on.
In addition to the aforementioned “Elm Street” housewarming party and an evening on board the JCR, during October we attended Suzi and Rich’s Office Party, a party to celebrate the acquisition of some rotating bar stools (formerly known as “office chairs”), Howie’s barbecue down at the boatshed, a Moroccan Night in Larsen House organised by Rosy and Andy W, and a Girlie Night – with the eight resident ladies on the island all attending (for those taking notes, that’s Pauline, Ann, Asbestos Sue – the only girl in a camp of 43, Rosy, Jenny, Frin, Suzi and me). Sometime during the whirlwind of social events I managed to complete the barstool challenge, a feat only previously managed by the athletic Mr Andy Godsell, and something I hoped to accomplish before I left here. The month culminated with a Halloween party on the 31st – some very scary characters (and warped minds) lurk in the dark corners of King Edward Point. Luckily we wimped out on the chance of trick-or-treating over at Grytviken, as rumour has it that some nasty surprises were waiting for us on the track!
Well, that’s it from me – my last newsletter from King Edward Point, the place with the most beautiful view in the world. It just remains for me to send lots of love to my family and friends – especially Dad, Mum, Marky, Janey, Olly and Bumpy D – see you all in May! A big hello to everyone at Calton Juniors, and loads of congratulations to the Calton Juniors football team for winning the Gloucester Primary Schools 6-a-side competition – good luck for the County finals. Thanks to all the SG residents and visitors during the past year and a bit for making my time here such a great one!
Bye for now, Sue