King Edward Point Diary – October 2014

31 October, 2014

Greetings from the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia where spring has finally sprung.

September finished with the visit of two warships and then on the 1st October our fisheries biologist, James McKenna, joined a fishing boat for a few weeks to act as an observer.

With James leaving we were down to 7 on base so we went from very busy to very quiet. The Nathaniel B Palmer (a ship with the American Antarctic Programme) called in but the weather meant that she couldn’t stay or land anyone ashore so it was a very fleeting visit.

The weather wasn’t to last though and fohn winds arrived that melted all the snow within the space of 48 hours.

The quiet wasn’t to last for long either as on Sunday 5th October the FPV Pharos SG arrived at King Edward Point, bringing with her the summer museum staff and the GSGSSI Maintenance team. The sudden influx from 7 to 17, and the sudden arrival of vehicles, made for a bit of a shock and there were moments that the jetty was so busy with traffic that I lived in fear of someone being run over. The sudden influx of new faces and the disappearance of the snow heralded a very sudden change from winter to summer and it all took a little bit of getting used to!

The Pharos SG carries mail to and from KEP and this time she brought 24 bags of mail, a huge amount. Most of this was first day covers that needed cancelled, playing postie over the winter months is also part of my role at KEP. The first day covers and new stamps celebrated the history of reindeer on South Georgia and I spent several days in the post office cancelling all the envelopes, the ink takes at least 12 hours to dry (it is usually left for 48 hours here) and so soon every available surface was covered.

The Pharos SG also brought back our entries from the Falkland Island Craft Fair. It is a tradition that each year the base send in some of the midwinter presents that have been made; past years have seen KEP do very well for prizes and so the pressure was on for this year to live up to expectation. As a team we did well in the competition; our resident mechanical genius Matt Hooper is also a metal work genius and he swept first and second prizes in the metal work category for two models of boats found here in South Georgia – the Dias and the Petrel. (The Dias is currently in the news as she was formerly the Viola, and is the last remaining Hull Steam Trawler of her type. She was converted to a minesweeper during World War 1 and is the focus of fundraising at Hull Maritime Museum to allow her to be restored.) Matthew Phillips and I did well in the photo competition, and everyone who entered crafts received an award.

The sunshine and spring weather also heralded the return of the wildlife and this King Penguin made an appearance one sunny day, at which point he was promptly photographed many times by every passing person. Although there has been a little bit of wildlife around over winter it has been nothing like it was last summer and it has been amazing to see the seals and penguins return.

Three times a year an Albatross Survey is carried out on Prion Island. This month Matthew Phillips and I were lucky enough to go with Daniel Johnston, the higher predator scientist, to count the Wandering Albatross chicks. The chicks are magnificent, majestic and totally ridiculous. I loved them all and the three of us spent much time taking photos as well as counting the nests. This year there were 29 chicks which is apparently a good result.

As if the arrival of the summer staff wasn’t shock enough, the first cruise ship of the season arrived on the 23rdOctober and brought lots of visitors to Grytviken. HMS Clyde also arrived and berthed at KEP. Just in case we thought it might be summer after all, the snow arrived to remind us that it isn’t summer yet.

Light mantled Sooty Albatross have also started nesting, and the fur seals are starting to return with this chap one of the first alpha males to be seen on the beaches.

The month ended with a Halloween party where for dinner I served everyone slime, brains, witches’ hair, maggots and ghosts. Best costume of the night definitely goes to our sparky, Chris.

And finally, despite it being a busy month on base with lots going on, this month has really been all about the elephant seal pups. The first one on base was born on the 24th September and the pups feed for a mere three weeks before the mother heads back out to sea. This month has therefore seen more pups, growing pups, and weaned pups. They are all utterly adorable, totally ridiculous and completely gorgeous. I hope the following photos make you love them as much as I do.

Until next month.

Julie Hunt

KEP Doctor