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King Edward Point Diary — December 2011

December is a busy time of year down here on South Georgia, being the height of summer. One of the tasks this month was a project to improve the mapping of the neighbouring Barff and Busen Peninsulas.

This required a trip round to Stromness bay, so one fine Sunday we loaded up the Jet boat and launched the RIB “Luna.” Stromness is outside of Cumberland bay our usual area of operations, so it was a rare opportunity to see the old whaling stations at Stromness and Huskvik, all be it a distance due to the asbestos hazard.

Thanks to some skilful boat handling and careful route choice through packed seal beaches, we visited all the costal sites before Adrian and Keiron were dropped at Stromness for a few days work further inland. The weather started to turn as the day went on so, discretion being the better part of valour, we made a run for home through some interesting seas.

Luna returning from Stromness (Photo Sam Crimmin)
Luna returning from Stromness (Photo Sam Crimmin)

We had visits from two very different ships: the Bark Europa a square rigged ship originally built in 1911 in Hamburg came in to visit the old whaling station at Grytviken. First serving as a light ship on the Elba, she has been sailing the southern ocean and beyond since 1994 as a sail training vessel.

Bark Europa (Photo James Wake)
Bark Europa (Photo James Wake)

The HMS Montrose, a Type 23 frigate also visited as part of a routine patrol. The embarked EOD team took the opportunity to remove some of the unexploded ordinance around Grytviken, a legacy from the ’82 conflict. The BAS launches provided a ferry service to help get the crew ashore for a look at the wildlife and whaling station.

HMS Montrose and Harbour launch Pipit  (Photo Alistair Wilson)
HMS Montrose and Harbour launch Pipit (Photo Alistair Wilson)

Christmas Eve saw everyone enjoying a candle lit carol service in the Whalers church in Gryitviken. The conventional carols and readings were complimented by Pat Lurcock’s version of “The night before Christmas” and the now traditional South Georgian 12 days of Christmas. (Less partridges in pear trees, more penguins and seals).

Gryitviken Carol Service (Photo Alistair Willson)
Gryitviken Carol Service (Photo Alistair Willson)

Christmas day breakfast fell to me; my first attempt at croissants made a significant dent in the station butter stocks, something to practice through winter perhaps. Christmas dinner was a communal affair, mince pies provided by the heritage trust, veg by the fisheries scientist and meat by tech services. In the end the table was groaning under the weight of food and wine and a fine time was had by all.

Gryitviken Church (Photo Alastair Wilson)
Gryitviken Church (Photo Alastair Wilson)

Secret Santa resulted in another display of the hidden talents on station; I received a handmade book about the mountains of South Georgia. Amongst the others were; a Quill pen and ink well, a South Georgian survival kit, and a tea cup big enough to swim in.

The Nordenskold Glacier (Photo Alastair Wilson)
The Nordenskold Glacier (Photo Alastair Wilson)

Before my current role as Base Commander took me to the heady world of spreadsheets and scrubout rotas, I worked at Rothera as a mountaineer, guiding scientists in the field and providing field training. I quiet couple of days provided an opportunity/excuse to get out of the office and introduce Tommy and Alastair to the dark art of glacier travel.

Alistair in Crevasse (Photo Tom Whitfield)
Alistair in Crevasse (Photo Tom Whitfield)

Matt Boat and Katie kindly ran us round to the snout of the Nordenskjold glacier in the jet boat. After a fairly comic shore landing in our tender “Dotty”; the smallest but possibly finest boat in the KEP fleet, we trudged up the lateral moraine and found a spot to access the glacier. Tommy and Al got a chance to build anchors, pulley systems, climb out of crevasses, and more importantly learn how to avoid them in the first place. The torrential rain dampened our pants but not our spirits, but soon enough it was time to return to station for tea and medals.

Glacier training (Photo Alistair Wilson)
Glacier training (Photo Alistair Wilson)

December also saw the arrival of a team of Norwegian scientists from the Bjerknes Centre for climate research in Bergen. They collected cores from some of the surrounding lake beds; this can then be used to examine past climate.

The small team did a huge amount of work in a short period of time: shifting 200kg’s of raft and core-ing equipment up hill and down dale is no mean feat. In the end they were very pleased and managed to collect some extremely scientific mud.

There has always been a strong association between South Georgia and Norway. In 1911 the majority of whalers at Grytviken came from southern Norway, while the British Magistrate lived here at KEP and kept an eye on things

The Norwegian invasion continued, Hot on the heels of the Bjerknes team was the arrival of two Norwegian reindeer experts, here to advise the government on the upcoming Reindeer eradication project.

As well as providing good advice and some fine meat for us to sample, they also taught a few people a valuable life lesson: don’t arm wrestle a 6’ Sammi reindeer herder if you need to use your arm in the next week.

Valuable advice I’m sure you’ll agree,

James Wake