King Edward Point – July 2011

22 July, 2011

The month kicked off with cold weather and a continuation of our midwinter celebrations — interrupted at the time by shipping and work commitments which often occur outside of normal or easily predictable timeslots! On the evening of Saturday 2nd, we had our midwinter pub crawl. The idea was that small groups of base members would create their own themed “pubs” that we could then wander round through the course of the evening, enjoying diverse takes on the genre, and imbibing rapaciously (though sensibly) of each landlords specialité de la maison.

The themes ranged from jetboat champagne by the jetty, to Olde Irishe in Discovery House, to the provision of chilled fruit vodkas in the scientist’s ice bar, replete with glasses of ice. We visited the “other” South Georgia, by the Caucasus Mountains, where we enjoyed white Russians. Alastair Wilson (penguin & seal biologist) couldn’t bring himself to leave his snow penguin behind so she became his “+1”:

The evening ended in a Technical Services “club” in a storage space near to the water treatment room, which had been skilfully decorated and wired for sound by Tommy & Matt.

Finally, as it was a beautifully clear night with stars blazing, we huddled together outside for the taking of our midwinter photo — expertly put together by Sam Crimmin from a group shot followed by long exposures of the heavens to pick out the Milky Way.

Following the crisp, cold, beautiful period over the June / July handover, there came rain. Lots of it, in short order — it bucketed down for a couple of days, causing significant flooding and large volumes of water in the streams. On a trip to Maiviken the day after the rains stopped, I encountered the Maivatn Lake at bursting point — only with difficulty and some bootless wading did I manage to gain the hut to take the picture below:

Cold again after the rains, I took this picture of ferns by a stream near Deadman’s Pass. They are gradually encased in ice as the spray is frozen over them.

The torrents caused their share of havoc along the Grytviken track, washing significant portions of it away. The damage took the best part of a day for mechanic Matt to sort out using the JCB.

Continuing the seesaw temperature graph theme, we then had another period of good cold weather with a decent dump of new snow. This allowed us to resurrect the habit of going for a skin around the track to Grytviken during the lunch hour, since the light was insufficient for anything of the sort after work. Below, Alastair & Tommy on skis on Tijuca Jetty, Grytviken. I’m taking the picture looking back across the millpond of King Edward Cove to the base on King Edward Point.

At various points during the month some of the keen amongst us took to the slopes in search of decent skiable snow. It has been pretty difficult to find so far this winter, as the aforementioned seesaw temperature graphs have resulted in a reluctance for the snow that does fall to form a coherent base before disappearing. A few half days of enjoyable sliding have nevertheless been had.

The work of our scientists continues of course. Katie (fisheries scientist) left us early on in the month to join the longline fishing vessel “San Aspiring” for a 2 month observing stint. She will remain aboard until the end of the toothfish fishing season on the 31st of August, acting as an independent pair of eyes and ears to make sure that the fishing vessel is adhering to strict conservation rules laid down by CCAMLR (the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources). This document is part of the Antarctic Treaty document and is a key part of the sustainable management of the fishery in the South Georgia Maritime Zone. She will no doubt add some insight into her experiences aboard that vessel, in a future edition of the KEP web diaries…

Alastair Wilson spent part of time this month analysing fish “ear bones” or otoliths to give them their scientific name — the picture above shows these tiny little bones as seen by Al as he’s working and sorting them using a microscope. They are gathered using various sources, one of the main ones for Alastair’s work being Antarctic fur seal scats. He collects these regularly from the Maiviken beach area in order to investigate the diet of the seals — how much and what are they eating? These fish ear bones allow him to work out not only the species but the age of any fish that have been digested by the seals — this adds valuable detail to the overall picture of the South Georgian marine ecosystem, which in turn feeds back into the management of the fishery.

During July we also had a few weekend days when conditions were just perfect for getting out and about. On the 23rd, I headed up with Tom (pictured) onto the ridge dropping northwards away from Spencer Peak toward and overlooking Maiviken. Beautiful clear skies, no wind, cold air holding the dusting of snow together made for a superb day out, and yet another surprising and awe inspiring view of the natural beauty of South Georgia. I always think of days like this when (as is the case whilst I write) it is sleeting outside!

The last weekend of July was spent busy with the annual Antarctic 48-hour Film Festival. Five “elements” which had to be incorporated into every film were revealed late on the Friday. Then our base team, along with 20 other Antarctic or sub-Antarctic bases, flew into action creating a film from conception to upload in time for Sunday night! The elements were:

  • A line of dialogue “…which I imbibed rapaciously”
  • A saw
  • The sound of a dripping tap
  • A chocolate bar stuck to a T-shirt
  • The character “Popeye”

Our film “Popeye the Whaler Man” — can be watched here:

Whilst the bulk of the KEP team were out and about in the sun turning our ideas into reality, I was huddled in my pitroom with a guitar, a midi keyboard, a violin, and my laptop to create the soundtrack. I took as a starting point the theme from “Popeye”, and the Sailor’s Hornpipe, and recorded my original take on those tunes, before improvising a number of other pieces of music which I hoped I would be able to fit into the film… It certainly presents challenges, the process of making a soundtrack for a film you haven’t seen, with a great deal of time pressure. I think I managed it pretty well. I had a little previous experience from the 2009 festival — that time I was writing and recording a soundtrack for the Rothera entry. This year however my old home was the opposition and I couldn’t let my beloved KEP down!

I am pleased to say that we did South Georgia proud by defending the title of last year’s winterers, and winning in the “Best Film” category. To that we added triumph in the “Best Cinematography” category which was most satisfying. A great weekend was had by all and it really pulled the base together.

To finish this diary entry, a pic I took from the jetboat whilst taking one of the Government Officers out to the Korean trawler “Dong San” on a superb still morning. This is the sort of work that makes our lives here so special and unusual — it is easy to forget how unique this life is when you do it day in / day out, but looking back at pictures like this reaffirm it.

Rob Webster

Base Commander