31 October, 2006 King Edward Point
Well the quiet at KEP is well and truly over with this month seeing ‘first call’, the first cruise ship and yachts flying in and out of the cove. We have said our first goodbyes, and hello to new arrivals. The wildlife is back in force, and no longer do we sleep quietly in our beds!
October started with a whole base scrubout. This was obviously the ideal way to start the month for many! 2 days were set aside which were spilt into 4 sessions of different cleaning duties per person. Instructions were given by Ali that she expected to see us on hands and knees! So base was thoroughly cleaned from top to bottom inside and out, and was gleaming by the end.
A Pirates party for Ali’s 21st birthday (that’s what she told us anyway!) and in anticipation of her leaving was held at the end of scrubout. A few celebratory drinks were had and many laughs at the fact Rick had chosen to use permanent marker to draw his naked lady tattoos on his arms!
Snow clearing. Now Steve is a dab hand at snow clearing which is a time consuming process with only one JCB, and Rick follows a close second. So after 2 days of scrubout they started clearing the track, fuel lines and jetty for the imminent first call. Not only this but the epic of the Kubota commenced. Now for those of you who don’t know a Kubota is a small digger that belongs to Morrisons and suddenly became essential for their work at Rothera this summer. Now the problem with the Kubota was that it was over at Grytviken in a container with snow virtually up to the top of it.
Steve’s ‘no it won’t be easy to get on the JCR’ pleas came to no avail, despite the sending of photos. So Rick and Steve started developing ingenious plans to get it out of the container and onto the beach. Admittedly, this did involve a lot of digging, but by the time first call arrived they were confident they could get it out and to the beach.
Now the problem with snow clearing is snow, and on the day prior to first call, it dumped and dumped and all their hard work was to no avail. Track clearing commenced again, and after a reckie with the JCR crew the decision was made to leave the Kubota safely tucked up in its container after all.
Friday 6th saw the arrival of HMS Dumbarton Castle. She won the prize of possibly the longest time taken to come alongside our jetty this year with an interesting perpendicular approach.
The DC bought with her thick heavy snow that bucketed down for the next few days. The poor crew spent most of their time alongside digging it off the deck. She left a day early when ousted from the jetty by the JCR.
Onboard were Niall Cooper the new museum curator, Miriam Iorworth a new museum assistant and old friend having just come out of Halley, and Serita Suman also a new museum assistant who applied after been sold on South Georgia after she visited aboard a cruise ship last year.
The JCR was due to arrive on Sunday 8th but as we all know at KEP, ships like to arrive at the weekend and keep us all working hard throughout. So unable to go to Bird Island first due to bad weather the JCR arrived a day early on the Saturday. It was nice to see the red and white creep around the corner, and despite the amount of shipping that goes on at KEP first call is still a momentous occasion. Rick and Will gave her a RIB escort into the cove, as is tradition.
Once into the cove we all waved patiently back at the crew and the very visible blaze orange jackets of the FIDS. The wind however, was starting to funnel through the cove and she sat for a long-time pontificating coming alongside. Eventually it became clear that she was ferry gliding closer and she came smoothly alongside as ever.
Now despite all our preparation we neglected the fact that a large BAS science buoy that had been rescued from SG waters during the winter when it came adrift was sitting on top of one of the line bollards. Obviously the bollard had been hiding under snow for most of the winter and placing the buoy on top of it an oversight. As the JCR quickly put her lines on we had to mobilise the JCB and a few shovels to quickly move the very heavy buoy and uncover the bollard. We felt a little stupid!
However, all was forgotten once we were onboard for a lovely buffet in the evening catching up with old friends and meeting new folk aboard. Then it was an early rise to commence cargo and refuelling which all went very smoothly. The FIDS onboard confined to the point due to the avalanche risk on the track came ashore to help. Dinner for a few and then drinks in the bar for all returned their invitation from the previous night.
Monday we finished cargo and I did my all-important eyelash fluttering at the JCR chefs to come out with some goodies. To be fair we gave them some orange squash back! The JCR headed off towards Bird Island at 17:00 with a snowball fight to see them off with Martin Collins coming very close to getting Captain Burgan as he hung out the bridge window.
They left behind our new BC, Andy Barker, Martin Collins (marine biologist, old friend of KEP and important eater of any half finished biscuit packets) and field GA Ash Morton.
This month has been the month of rock and roll plankton trawls. But the scientists have battled through their queasy stomachs to pull up lots of very interesting plankton (or so they tell us!). With sunset getting later, and trawling having to occur just before this, sorting hours in the lab are getting past bedtime. A radical decision was made at the end of the month to eat dinner before going.
To help get the scientists to bed on time, senior scientist Rick, and assistant assistant scientist myself have been on hand with our pipettes and forceps as ever. We have also broadened our horizons in the lab when Sarah and Will stuck to their microscopes enlisted us to help. Rick’s highlight was getting to wear a white lab coat!
Our ever faithful fishing vessel Quest was pulled out of the water briefly on the 25th for a quick check of her integrity after a winter of pushing through the ice. She lives (just) to fish a bit longer.
The scientists have also once again been in the spot light again, when Nigel Marvin and his film crew arrived on the yacht La Sourire. They joined team fish out on Quest, and then filmed in the lab. Watch out for the channel 5 documentaries due to be screened around the 18th Dec.
Martin Collins was dropped at Sorling Beach with Ash to head over to the Hound Bay King Penguin colony. Martin and Ash satellite tagged adults who were feeding fluffy chicks to hopefully track their feeding patterns and locations. Martin will then use these locations to fish off the JCR and try and work out what they are feeding on.
To compensate for all the boating activity in Cumberland Bay we decided it was about time we left the Bay. On the 12th we took the jets to Stromness Bay. The Government Officer and his wife were dropped at Husvik for the day to do some repairs on the managers villa roof, which had suffered some damage over the winter, and the rest of us enjoyed the sunny day doing some boating orientation around the bay, and picnicking at Leith Whaling Station. Stromness Bay only became an extension to our boating limits earlier in the year, so the Government Officer can be supported in trips and patrols to that area. It is a great place to visit and great to see the other whaling stations of Leith, Stromness and Husvik. Husvik was home to many a BAS scientist and the managers villa still contains many relics of BAS in years gone by.
The following day the jet boats pushed south down the coast towards Hound Bay. This again has been an extension to our boating limits, so ongoing orientation of hazards, safe anchorages and general geography is useful. The field party was uplifted from Hound Bay saving them a snowshoe back across horrible wet spring snow.
The yachties are back, with many paying an early spring visit to KEP. Valhalla arrived first on the 10th with a group of tourists onboard, and our youngest person on the island for a while Gascon aged 4, son of the owners. They also usefully had a dentist onboard who kindly gave me a second opinion and some advise on a tricky tooth I had been dealing with.
My schoolgirl French now stretches into the limits of dental terms, which fortunately like medicine more or less, are derived from Latin! A social gathering was held at Carse House to meet them, with Gascon kindly serving up the ice for our G&T’s.
Golden Fleece arrived on the 17th with a group of French mountaineers onboard who had planned to do the Shackleton crossing. Unable to do it they came and elephant seal watched at the cove and then tailed us all the way to St Andrews on skis but with no heavy packs! The fleece returns in 6 weeks to pick up Ash and start the South Georgia Petrel Survey. Ada II 21st somewhat passed me by as I was away at St Andrews Bay, but onboard was the famous French Sailor Isabelle Autissier. Pelagic Australis arrived on the 22nd with tourists onboard who joined us for our pub quiz in the bar.
Nordnorge was the first tourist ship to arrive and had the most passengers of any ship due to arrive this season: 260. Sarah Lurcock and myself went aboard to do a very busy post office, the first of many for the season. Onboard were Sally and Rick who were hitching a ride to Port Lockroy for their summer season.
The elephant seal harem has been building up gradually since September and the first pup was born on the point on the 4th. Since the harem has grown steadily to 180 females and pups have been born throughout the month. By the end of the month we were starting to see our first weaners. The incredible growth that occurs after 3 weeks of suckling must be unrivalled anywhere else in nature.
With the eles come the birds, and skuas and Giant Petrels are around to clear up the placenta or any pups that don’t make it. Spilt nose, last years dominant male returned to hold the beach and has successfully held his harem against many contenders, with the help of a couple of beta males.
Towards the end of the month fights between bulls increased and their bellowing rattled base windows, but fortunately they stayed mainly at the far end of the beach so not causing too many sleepless nights on base.
Gentoos have been popping in and out of the water in increasing numbers, and were joined one day by a stray chinstrap, which obviously, had had enough of his own sort as seemed more than happy with the Gentoos! A few King penguins have also started to pop up and we were amused by the one who made a solo attempt on Mount Duse.
Now Mount Duse is the mountain that rises up behind base and is a steep old climb. This King took the straight up route and we watched him in his progress with binoculars. After we lost sight of him onto the ridge we wondered whether he had gone for a summit bid, but Ady set off on skis to trace his tracks, and we found he had pottered off over the other side towards Maiviken. We hope he made what would normally be a 3 hour walk for us without snow back to the sea!
The Light Mantled Sooty Albatross are a very welcome return to the cove as their beauty; pair flying and distinctive harrowing call makes them many people’s favourite bird. Walks to the aptly named ‘Sooty Bluff’ have allowed for some great twitching opportunities.
Despite first call, we still managed to squeeze a few trips in. Will, Sarah, Ash, Tim, Pauline and myself headed off to St Andrews Bay. When we put the request in we were expecting to walk. However, with the new snow we managed to ski or snowshoe the exhausting route all the way. An epic 13km ascending 2 cols and returning to sea level inbetween.
Fortunately, despite the lovely sunny weather the snow stayed reasonably firm for the trip. The last descent into St Andrews was a little icy to say the least, and my weary legs struggled to find that edge on my skis and balance for turning with a full pack on. After my second fall, one run away pole, and the inability to get up off the ground with my pack I gave up and kicked steps down carrying my skis!
I was somewhat relieved to find the other skiers also had burning legs, and had struggled, as it didn’t feel like it when they were looking back up at me from below.
We arrived at the hut, dug our tents in and sat down to our various dehydrated meals. Now we had said to Tim and Pauline this trip would be light packs and no luxuries, as some of us tend to get a little carried away on our SG getaways. And so Sarah, Will and myself thought we had done very well in cutting back, until we realised that maybe mature cheddar, salami, parmesan, Scottish oatcakes and pate may not look like a no frills camping trip to some! Ash been a hardy BAS GA rolled his eyes as he munched on his biscuits brown and mars bar (and maybe a few gifts!).
St Andrews was great and the huge King Penguin colony was somewhat difficult to get to, the beach now been filled with hundreds of elephant seals. However, we winded our way along the shore cameras ever at the ready for cute pups or big bull fights and eventually made it to the heart of the colony where the chicks congregate. 2-tagged Giant Petrels were spotted and the information passed to Helen at Bird Island who filled us in on their particulars.
The lovely sunny weather made it all the more spectacular. After an evening sched we begrudgingly decided to head back a day early, as the weather looked to turn. So an early morning start got us quickly cramponing up the ice to the col, and for those of us on skis a great ski on lovely spring snow down to Hound Bay. A quick search of the Hound Bay King colony followed to try and find a tagged King who’s tag wasn’t transmitting but alas to no avail. So we skied back towards Sorling with lenticulars and cloud slowly filling the col.
By the time we reached halfway the cloud was thick and I even went as far as taking a compass bearing on the valley just incase. Not that it was really needed as we followed our own ski tracks down, and came out of the cloud for a spectacular view over the Nordenskgold glacier. After arrival at Sorling we were just about to dig the tents in for impending bad weather when we turned the radio on for a check to find that the boats had already been launched to pick us up whilst the weather was still good, with a prediction we would have been stuck for 3 days if not. Despite our trip been cut short we were somewhat relieved to be home, when we woke up in our comfy beds the next morning to hear the wind and rain battering against our pit room windows!
Ady and Martony, were the only other to get away this month, taking new arrivals Niall and Serita to Maiviken for the night. They arrived back very wet but having had a good time. The fur seals are arriving back in force, and the gentoos forming their colony again.
Ali handed the reigns over to our new BC Andy Barker this month. They had a quick handover squeezed in between JCR calls, but eased by the fact that Andy has previously been a BC at Rothera.
Ali has been at KEP for two years although she was allowed a month’s break for good behaviour and to have her BC chip replaced last year. She has been an excellent BC, a great friend and has made lots of positive changes to KEP. She continues as a BC at Bird Island for the summer, and we said a very sad goodbye to her on a horrible wet and windy day when the JCR came back in to pick her up. Please look after her at BI, she is the best!
Andy has settled in well, and is already enjoying the KEP outdoor lifestyle and boating experience.
The new folk arrived to find us rocking in our chairs. Well not quite this isn’t Halley you know! But the KEP busy summer social scene has commenced in earnest and we are having to re-educate ourselves how to stay up past 10 o’clock and drink more than the quiet beer/ glass of wine that we have become accustomed to over the winter months!
Yachties galore have been hosted in the bar for drinks, and one crew joined us for a pub quiz organised by Serita.
Halloween prompted a BBQ on the back porch, fancy dress of course. Andy came as a pumpkin and much to his disgruntlement has probably earnt himself his new radio handle. Broccoli will have a field day when she returns! And it may no longer be Maverick ‘ringing her phone’. Andy has also bought with him some new fancy Rothera radio talk, but think we are all still to scared of Maverick to dare use ‘Roger Roger’ on the radio! We are all becoming accustomed to ‘passing our message’ though.
Rick (Maverick or Mr Darcey as he is also known to himself) was given a surprise G+T party in the boat shed to acknowledge his stepping down as Senior boatman after 2 years of excellent service. Rick been Rick was more pleased by the fairy cakes I made him, and a case of ‘who ate all the fairy cakes’ followed. He hands the reigns over to Martony.
So I will sign off this newsletter my last one. I have been here a year now and I just don’t know where time has gone. I look forward to squeezing in lots of things in my last 6 weeks, and it will be a sad but exciting day when the Shack picks me up in December for a jolly at sea. Its been a great year so far, and what a place to work! Thanks to all on base who have helped make it so special.
All on base are excited about the new team arriving in a few weeks, for what will be a very hectic end to our time south.
So as per usual love to all my family and friends and look forward to seeing you all in February. I will need to be prized out of my moleskin, thermal, welly combinations, as I am not sure they will work back in hospital!
Yes, I do plan to return to hospital and have no intention of becoming a GP or unemployed the normal path of a disillusioned returning BAS doctor! Well that’s what I say now anyway!