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King Edward Point Diary — January 2006

Antarctic Diaries
January 2006

Well this time last year I had just finished work in South Wales and was starting my run into working for BAS. Of course 2 months holiday recovering from the NHS were required before starting with BASMU down in Plymouth in April. I arrived in South Georgia at the end of October and how time has flown. I was once an avid diary reader, trying to get an insight into life down here, and the people. So I hope all those followers out there enjoy my entry.

 

Work

 

Now the NHS seems so far away as I sit in my lovely surgery. Not only do I have my own office, but my own pharmacy, 2 bedded hospital and 8 budding assistants who will always come to help me with out a moan or a groan at anytime of the day.

I mention this as my first patient for the year arrived at 11pm on New Years Eve aboard a yacht. The infallible RNLI and coastguard combination of Rick and Martony kindly gave up their night to be my assistants. So after transfers, x-rays and plastering we finely joined the others in the bar to belatedly toast in the New Year.

So New Years day I forwent my planned jolly. I spent my day re-plastering, and organising logistics, this time helped by the science medical team of, Will and Sarah. Fortunately, the yacht had an amazing French cook, so every visit to the jetty was worthwhile! I finally ate my last cheese and ham croissant and waved them off to Stanley the following day. But 10 days later I was yet again calling on the services of the boatmen to provide a boat ambulance service to pick up a patient off a fishing vessel. We don�t have a blue flashing light for the jet boats or the JCB, but maybe I�ll ask BAS for one. Think it would add to the drama of the King Edward Point Hospital and Emergency Services!

24/7 this doctor business! (Will Reid)
24/7 this doctor business! (Will Reid)

I clocked up a total of 19 patients this month. Not sure what has happened since last years doctor Jenn left, but this is busy! Yes, I know for all my medical friends out there that you probably see this many in one clinic, but that�s why I�m here not back at home!
The only person who has been really unwell this month was me. Unfortunately, picked up flu off one of the cruise ships and had to put myself to bed for 3 days with a fever. I was the perfect patient even if I do say so myself!

Our Topgun style boatmen!(Jamie Watts)
Our Topgun style boatmen!(Jamie Watts)

Doc school this month was common eye problems, and everyone walked around base with one orange eye for the day after practising putting drops in.

 

Science

 

The first weekend in January we waved goodbye to Jamie and Will as they were put onboard Dorada for the Ground Fish Survey. Will kindly gives a report of their trip�.

January saw two members of the science team at King Edward Point join the FPV Dorada for the biennial South Georgia groundfish survey. The aims of the survey were as follows; to assess the standing stock of mackerel icefish; refine methods for estimating icefish biomass using acoustics; examine the strength of the juvenile toothfish year classes that will become part of the fishery in the coming years; and to tag juvenile toothfish at Shag Rocks. In order to accomplish all this we had a team of eight scientists, two different nets; one to fish in the water column and one to fish on the ground- and only 20 days around Shag Rocks and South Georgia.

Examining the catch in the fish pond, photo J Watts
Examining the catch in the fish pond, photo J Watts

The survey started well in relation to last year. In the first haul of the day we caught just as much icefish as we caught during the whole of last year�s survey. This was followed by a bumper catch that evening, totalling just over ten tons. Catches for the rest of the survey did not reach the ten ton mark again. However, these were in stark contrast to last years in terms of the size distribution of the fish caught. This year�s catches covered the majority of year classes, with icefish ranging from 15 to 52 cm in length. The majority of these were in the 24 to 30 cm bracket. The large fish were not left to waste. A number of good-sized fillets were prepared for the folk on base to enjoy through the winter.

Shag Rocks, photo Will Reid
Shag Rocks, photo Will Reid

Icefish were caught all around South Georgia and the Shag Rocks. In January they are aggregate to the north of the island where the main feeding grounds occur. The other important fish that we were aiming to catch was toothfish. As mentioned earlier we were looking to examine the year class strength of the juvenile toothfish. These are most abundant at the Shag Rocks. We spent a number of days trawling in this area. The weather once again was good to us and lucky for me this year I got to see the Shag Rocks. These are triangular rocks that project out of the sea. They are a truly spectacular sight.

We finished our work at Shag rocks with two short trawls to tag juvenile toothfish. The toothfish were brought on board, delicately removed from the net and lowered in baskets into the fishpond. They are then transferred into a holding tank containing sea water to try and keep them alive. Ones that were lively and in good condition were selected for tagging. The total length and weight of the fish were measured before two numbered tags, one on either of the dorsal fin that runs down its back, are injected into the fish. We now know the size and weight of the fish caught at a certain location on a certain day. The fish are then released down a shoot into the water, ideally, away from any hungry birds.

There is always someone keeping watch out on deck to make a note of how many don�t make it. We only lost one fish to the birds surrounding the boat. This was a 40 cm fish that a wandering albatross swallowed whole! When the fish is caught again in the future we will know how much it has grown over a given time and if it has moved from its original catch location. This is important information needed to manage the toothfish fishery around South Georgia.

Tony holding a toothfish, photo J Watts
Tony holding a toothfish, photo J Watts

From the Shag Rocks we moved back to South Georgia and began to make our way down the south side of the island. Last year the survey did not go round onto the south side so for me it was my first chance to see this side of the island. The coastline on the south side is more rugged than the north, with more snow still on mountains and glacier and after glacier running into the ocean. You could definitely feel a bit more of a chill in the air on the factory floor while we were working on this side of the island. The coastline is at the mercy of any storm coming out of the Drake Passage and heading for South Georgia. Having seen this side of the island my respect for the kayakers who circum-navigated South Georgia last year has increased as well as my respect for any yatchy that dares take their boat round there. Although the scenery is amazing the ground for fishing is absolutely frightening. The ground is not at all suitable for a groundfish survey as it is rocky and uneven. Some sites were fished but we moved down the south coast quickly and round Cape Disappointment and onto better ground.

It was on the south side that I saw my only whale sighting of the trip. This was a great disappointment as there is nothing better at sea than seeing a whale. It wasn�t even a proper sighting. It was blow of water a good couple of hundred metres off the port bow. I couldn�t even tell what species it was. There are definitely whales out there as this week (as I write this it is 13 February) a large number of whales have been sighted near the Shag Rocks that included 12 to 18 blues whales, 6 fin whales, some minke, 10 sei and a few humpbacks. So they are out there but just weren�t around to see us.

Will & Jacek dissecting icefish, photo Jamie
Will & Jacek dissecting icefish, photo Jamie

When we completed the biomass estimate the plan was to examine some more specific work on the mackerel icefish. This involved the use acoustics to refine ways of estimating abundance and also to examine the vertical behaviour of icefish. Unfortunately due to bad weather at the end of the survey we only got one day out of three worth of fishing.

All in all the survey was successful. We got our biomass estimates and the majority of weather was good. That and we kept our fearless leader happy by letting him win the penguin tossing competition. Which just leaves me to say a big thanks to the crew of FPV Dorada for all their help and hard work over the survey.

Blimey, these Scientists really do know what they are talking about! I will add at this point that no real penguins were actually used for the little known sport of �Penguin Tossing�!

So in the boys� absence Sarah our chief scientist recruited anyone willing on base. Plankton sorting suddenly became interesting to those not normally seen in the rough lab, and our guest sorter for the month was Sally Poncet. I helped Sarah with the crabs and Senior scientists Rick was a proud father of 9 �ickle� baby crabs before he gave them their freedom, releasing them back into the sea.

 

Base Life

 

The summer month of January has seen most of base out and about. The weather has been very variable with some record days of 22 degrees, allowing for a couple of very pleasant dinners on the back porch, and then others of cold miserable rain/sleet. We have as per usual had some very windy days. The nights have already started to draw in, and we had the pleasure of some lovely lenticular sunsets.
January the second saw the first tsunami crisis of 2006 (and hopefully only!). There was much excitement on base when we heard the South Sandwich Islands had experienced an earthquake of 7.5 on the Ritcher scale. We had all of course been sound asleep when this occurred but awoke to much excitement.

Click image to enlarge
Click image to enlarge

Lenticulars from base (Charlotte Routh)
Lenticulars from base (Charlotte Routh)

The front of the base sits about 10m from the waters edge and images of a huge wave taking us out caused much talk. However, our resident geologist Ali assured us that we didn�t need to pack our bags and head to the hills and thankfully she was right! I checked out the readings off the Hope Point seismic station and an impressive tremor had been recorded. Peak of the month was Orca, which is on the lower Hodges ridge. Aptly named as it resembles the dorsal fin of an Orca, Christine and myself started the trend of this climb which is a good �after worker� giving great views of Grytviken.

 

Trips

 

Christine, Jamie and Javier started the January trips with a spell over at Rookery to see the Macaroni penguins. The chicks had hatched and they had an enjoyable trip despite Jamie�s orange lycra leggings! Ali and Asty followed them on a trip to Hound Bay to see the field party. And also to have words with Tom who gave Jamie the orange lycra leggings! Ali relived her days as a geologist, and took her GA of old Asty (now working at the museum) with her for the trip. They had fantastic weather, and a stunning last day with views of the Nordenskgold.

Ali with Nordenskgold Glacier in background (Ali Dean)
Ali with Nordenskgold Glacier in background (Ali Dean)

Will and myself managed a trip over to Maiviken on a lovely sunny evening. This was spent watching the Gentoo colony and the Sooty Albatross flying. The chicks were newly hatched and demanding constant attention from their parents. They were just amazing to watch as the sun set over the hills. Fur seal pups were just starting to appear at the Lake, but the adults were still quite angsty and Will provided a good barrier for me to hide behind. You�ll be pleased to know that at time of writing I have now overcome my fear of fur seals and am quite brave these days!

Gentoo and chicks (Charlotte Routh)
Gentoo and chicks (Charlotte Routh)

After a lazy morning catching up on sleep lost over the Christmas/ New Year period we took a slow saunter back up the hill. As the sun was out we braved the higher lake and took a quick dip. My screams as I surfaced probably echoed over most of the Thatcher peninsula, but it was very refreshing! As we wandered back into Grytviken it was afternoon smoko time, so would have appeared rude not to stop at Tim and Pauline�s for tea and cake. A welcome end to any walk.

The second girly trip of the summer was to Harpon. We were very lucky that a boat trip to West Cumberland Bay a few days previous had allowed us to depot most of our gear, fuel and some gourmet food. A pre trip depot has now become an essential part of any girly trip. Well why carry it! So as we sat eating our cheese, crackers and cocktail gerkins, with a glass of red wine on the first evening watching the sun go down over the Lyell and Neumayer glaciers we contemplated that working for BAS wasn�t so bad after all! The next day we carefully walked along the very edge of our travel limits up the side of the Lyell glacier, with Ali giving lessons on cleavage on the way. Geological cleavage obviously! A lovely day out, with stunning views of the mountains, avalanches coming off them in the afternoon sun. The following day we headed home in the blazing sunshine via sphagnum valley, boulder pass, taking in yet another Gentoo colony on the way. The chicks were creching here but were struggling in the heat, panting like dogs. Shortly, before home we all had a quick dip in Hodges lakes, and of course then stopped at Tim and Pauline�s for cake!

Lyell lake and the glacier to the right (Ali Dean)
Lyell lake and the glacier to the right (Ali Dean)

Evening sun at Harpon (Ali Dean)
Evening sun at Harpon (Ali Dean)

 

The New Carlita Hut

 

This season we have had the pleasure of hosting �Global Boardwalks�. These 3 musketeers are led by Scoobie Pye who is a South Georgia legend. Scoobie worked for BAS as a carpenter wintering at KEP for most of the 1970�s. He built most of the huts around the island some of which we still use on trips. These were originally huts for scientists to run their research from.

Tussock, Scoobie and Ferret (Christine)
Tussock, Scoobie and Ferret (Christine)

From BAS he became interested in rat eradication, and also spent many more seasons on Macquarie Island (Australian Sub-Antarctic). This is where he met Ferret and Tussock. The 3 now work together, and this year have been contracted by South Georgia government. Part of their work this summer was to build a new hut at Carlita Bay in Cumberland Bay West. Scoobie resourceful as ever manage to build the new hut out of bits he had �found�, and it was erected outside base initially.

At present Carlita Bay is out of BAS travel limits for over night stays, so it was felt that all should spend sometime in it whilst we could. Thus, a drinks party was held to celebrate its departure from KEP shores.

But this was only the start of it! A few days later the hut had been dismantled and was loaded onto the RIBs and jet boats for an epic day of boating weaving in and out of ice to Carlita Bay. Eventually, with the help of Tim Carr, and the 3 museum assistants all materials and gear were transferred. So we left the builders to it, but also the party of 4 from the museum that were taking advantage of a gap in the cruise ship schedule for a jolly!

Click image to enlarge
Click image to enlarge

 

Social

 

The first few of this months social events saw me as a none attendee. What I here you cry at home�..that can�t be right! Laid to bed with the above mentioned �flu was my excuse. After missing new years eve, I then preceded to miss drinks to christen Carlita hut before she was taken apart to be taken to her new home, and then I missed the BBQ to officially open the new Tijuca jetty. This was hosted by Morrisons who built the jetty. As per usual a good time was had by all. Morrison�s chef, aptly known as �Andy Chef� managed to bring out the finest BBQ meat on the island. The jetty has been built by South Georgia government to provide a safe landing spot for some of the larger cruise ships launches, and also for the increasing number of yachts we see in the bay to use as a safe mooring.

Drinks in Carlita hut
Drinks in Carlita hut

Burn�s night this year was hosted by 2 of our 3 strong Scottish contingency. Will the only man on the island with a kilt was unfortunately away on Dorada. Asty however, did a fantastic job of cooking up �haggis, neeps and tatties� and allocating anyone with any Scottish connection at all a poem to read. I (having a Scottish boyfriend) read the closing poem; Auld Land Sine. I now know the real words and realised I had obviously no idea for the last however many new years eve�s what I have been singing! After a lovely dinner, Emma took on the unenviable task of hosting the Ceilidh.

Now what she didn�t realise was that BAS train their staff in the art of Ceilidh dancing. It appears that some were paying attention at conference after all! Eventually, the whole bar was dancing although with the boys out numbering the girls confusion did occur at times. It can be quite hard to remember that the mighty beards of the Morrisons lads, are actually on a female on the dance floor! In dance terms that is. Everyone fell into bed exhausted and there were a few aching limbs the next day.

The end of the month saw the return of our intrepid scientists. To mark the end of the science cruise Dorada kindly hosted a BBQ. Icefish from the survey (minus it�s ear bones of course!) was cooked up under a tarp on deck when we saw our first snowfall in a long time. The Chileans on the crew soon were showing off their Latin dance moves. At this point I had one of those strange moments of realisation��as I looked around I spotted not one of the other KEP females. Simultaneously, my arm was grabbed and before I knew it I was salsa dancing on a very slippery deck. But thank goodness! As part of my BASMU team bonding with the other docs we attended Salsa lessons for our time in Plymouth. This however, made me a very popular dance partner for the rest of the evening. For the KEP men reading this, next time save me, or else!

 

Wildlife

 

Wildlife has been abundant this month. The KEP beach has hosted a hundred or so moulting Kings. Providing plenty of entertainment, photo opportunities, but occasionally braying the whole night long outside your bedroom window! They are excused, as moulting is the most stressful time for a penguin when they can go up to 30 odd days without food.

Moulting King Penguins (Charlotte)
Moulting King Penguins (Charlotte)

The Gentoo chicks at Maiviken have provided much entertainment and most on base have popped over to see them a few times, checking up on their progress, and �cuteness�. Fur seal pups are popping up everywhere. Although KEP colony isn�t really a breeding colony we have a couple of pups to keep us entertained with their growling. Over at Grytviken the main concentration is around the cemetery.The elephant seals had mostly disappeared but we are started to see the return of a few who are coming up to moult. They seem huge compared to the furries and absolutely stink!

Any walk here is now not complete without the �attack of the tern�. They are nesting and will dive bomb you long before you get anywhere near their nests.

Ady and Jamie spotted a whale in the bay one morning. After much discussion it was decided it was a southern right. Some on base are still dubious!

The rats appear to have gone to the hills for the summer. They�re not taking the bait, however, not wanting to lose my title of �rat girl� I have still managed to trap a few.

Hey, it's a rat!
Hey, it's a rat!

 

Visitors

 

Sally Poncet joined us on base for a week or so after she had finished the South Georgia petrel survey. Sally and Dame Ellen MacArthur were picked up off Prion Island by a cruise ship. Sally then came ashore to stay for a while and to complete her work. She bought with her a frozen fledgling albatross, which unfortunately had died during her time on Prion. She was concerned that fur seals had attacked it so myself and Sarah our Chief Scientist helped her with a quick external postmortem. We however, chose not to defrost the bird and it had been forwarded to Helen the vet at Bird Island to take a closer look.

Ricky Borthwick facilities manager from Cambridge was also here this month. He came with a list of jobs and went home with an even bigger one. We did however, manage to drag him away from Amos (some computer programme that seems a mystery to most!) and get him out and about on a few walks.

Martin Collins arrived after his field season at Hound Bay, and the Dorada Survey. He was especially pleased to have finished the survey where he was obviously tearing his hair out having KEP scientists on board!

Martin having to make signs for the KEP science team! (Jamie Watts)
Martin having to make signs for the KEP science team! (Jamie Watts)

And of course we must not forget the Ernest Shackleton who popped in and out on a couple of occasions. Our freezer is now fully stocked for the winter with lots of goodies. I enjoyed meeting Petra who is the outgoing Halley doctor, but felt bad when I showed her the surgery and she said she felt like the poor relative visiting!

 

To Wrap Up

 

All in all a good month had by all. The cruise ship season is in full swing and KEP feels like a harbour rather than a remote BAS base some days. The post office is doing very well and my brain can now interchange between pounds, dollars and euros at the drop of a hat. Always nice to work in pounds though. The wildlife has kept us entertained as ever, as well as the stunning South Georgia scenery.

Me at Gentoo colony (Will Reid)
Me at Gentoo colony (Will Reid)

So to finish this letter I would like to say a big hello to all my friends and family back home, and around the world. And please will you all stop getting engaged or pregnant I�m starting to get very confused! So I�ll leave you as I enter the last month of my twenties, and am very happy to be spending it on the beautiful island of South Georgia.

Lots of love,
Charlotte xxx