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04 Feb - South Georgia to the 'Larsen Cemetery'

RRS Ernest Shackleton Diary

Position @ 1200 UTC - 3 hours: 63°51' South. 031°37' West.
Next destination: Halley, Brunt Ice Shelf, Antarctica.
ETA: Noon, 07 February 2001.
Distance to go: 711.0 nautical miles (approximately).
Total Distance Sailed: 16978.9 nautical miles (Since departing Hull, England on 19 October 2000).
Current weather: Unpleasant. overcast, miserable with mist and drizzle.
Wind: Easterly Gale Force 8.
Barometric pressure: 988.6 hp/mb.
Sea state: Rough - rocking and rolling.
Air temperature: 0.5°C.
Sea temperature: 0.2°C.


We set sail from Cumberland Bay for Bird Island in the late afternoon of Monday 29 January, but not before spending a very pleasant start to the week alongside enjoying all the hospitality that King Edward Point could offer. When I say 'pleasant', I mean"pleasant". The weather was unbelievably wonderful. The crescent island of South Georgia acted as a big barrier to the prevailing weather coming from the west so on the east side of the island, the mountains formed this big screen resulting in clear skies and sheltered coves with beautiful colours and striking vistas with only a trace of the foul weather spilling over the very tips of the mountains. A truly remarkable phenomenon.

Satellite map of weather around South Georgia. Click on image to enlargeAs can be seen in the image taken from our satellite machine, the 'yellow' cloud spills around the island leaving a the blue of the dark ocean visible around the east coast and King Edward Point.

Sunday 28 January was the day the 'passengers' left the ship. The guys from Morrison's were shown their accommodation on the base - and very basic it was too - but no sooner had they arrived, they were given the DAY OFF. Unlike the ship where the duties go on seven days a week all year around. The base allow their workers to work a six day week and use a day off to explore their surroundings. And that is what they did. Sunday saw a bunch of newcomers to South Georgia wander over to Grytviken for- what I am sure will be - the first of many sojourns around the island. It was a glorious day for a walk to begin with and an invading shower of drizzle could not even dampen the spirits. The shower soon dissipated and the warm sun broke through again soon after.

Sunday evening allowed the King Edward Point members a chance to come onboard for a drink and to socialise. Tim and Pauline Carr, the curators of the Grytviken whaling museum, were also invited on board for a civilised meal and glass of wine. It was another evening of relaxed convivial company and very much enjoyed by everybody. I do love Base visits ! I guess the only 'downside' was that there was a Quiz Nite organized up in Shackleton House and I don't think it was very well attended due to the presence of the big red ship at the end of the jetty. So 'Sorry' to Shackleton House for spoiling your activities.

Monday 29January had even better weather. It was perfectly tropical. Sun, blue skies and warm temperatures. However, the work was going on apace so there were fewer tourists around the island that day. Even those who visited the old whaling station were doing 'work related' visits. Bob the Chief Electro-Technical Officer had a quest. For some time Bob had been offering to recover artifacts from the whaling stations that we visit and restore them for display in the museum, and after a few weeks of enquiry he was given the 'go ahead' by the trustees of the Grytviken Museum.

Music cartoonHe's busily doing nothing, working the whole day through,
...trying to find lots of things not to do ...

Not so. Robert Roullier has a mission. On Monday he visited the old whaling station in search of an item to rescue, and found it in the old 'Coppersmith's Coal Shed'. It was a pump. A particular pump. A Twin Cylinder Vertical Steam Water Pump Circa ... well, we are not sure 'what circa'. The whaling station closed around 1960 when the pump was last used. The only identification we can find on the body of the thing is the manufacturer's label and a designation 5 x 5 x 6 which was probably the stroke and capacity. The pump, serial number 14398, was made by Thomas Lamont & Co Ltd, Engineers of Paisley, Scotland. But to what use was it put ? That we cannot answer either. Bob, along with his engineering colleagues, are working patiently to restore the machine to full operational capability but by memory and deduction rather than by design. If anybody out there can provide plans, drawings, instructions, manuals for this beastie we would be most pleased to hear from them. The engineers are familiar with these pumps being used on board ships, but can only speculate to what use they put it at the old station.

Bob in action. Click on image to enlarge The Pump itself in a stripped-down state. Click on image to enlarge The restorer at work in the workshop. Click on image to enlarge

Click on the images to see Bob in action, the Pump itself in a stripped-down state, and the restorer at work in the workshop.

On a positive 'note', Bob has been able to strip the pump down which was quote 'surprisingly easy' and to date has managed to get it operating using compressed air as the driving force instead of steam. He suggests that it is in good condition and must have been well-maintained in its day. It is a really impressive piece of engineering and interesting to watch this contraption go through its cycle with the pistons going up and down. It will make a really great exhibit at the museum especially when its 'working parts' can be viewed in action through perspex covers. All it requires is a little further tender loving care and a good few protective coats of paint. On the successful completion and installation of this in the Grytviken Museum, I wonder what will be next. ?

The petrel, Grytviken, South GeorgiaBob, there's this old ship in the harbour ... ???

Monday was the day of departure and the crew took an eleventh hour opportunity to stretch their legs before we departed at 1700 hours. Antonio went for a stroll up into the hills behind the whaling station, Wendy went for a jog across the 'saddle' in Maiviken direction, and Andy (Third Officer) sprinted on up towards the heights of Mount Hodges... 'way to go, Andy' !

...way to go... cartoon Andy ... gone !!

After departure from King Edward Point, it was a leisurely overnight steam along the coast to arrive off Bird Island in the early hours of Tuesday morning. Unfortunately, all that 'westerly weather' had built up quite a swell at the north-west tip of the island and so launching the work boat off Jordan Cove was impractical. Instead the Captain moved the ship back to the eastern side of Bird Island in the vicinity of Elsehul Bay. From here Tula could be launched in the relative shelter of the island and access the base through Bird Sound, pictured below.

The approaches to Bird Island station through the sound.  Click on image to enlarge I also took some photographs of Tula and the FRC being launched, but since they also appear a little later in the text, I have just included the one shot of the approaches to Bird Island station through the sound.

The call at Bird Island was very productive. In three trips of Tula into and out of Bird Sound, all the cargo and waste was uplifted and the boats recovered by 1700 hours. Each trip took about two hours there and back with man-handling operations at each end - hence the amount of time required to complete. But the weather was kind and the Captain was able to hold the vessel on-station with thrusters throughout that time. No need to drop the anchor.

At 1700 hours, we set sail for the western side of the South Orkney Islands. The intention was to recover a free-floating buoy (M.Y.R.T.L.E) reported off the western approaches to Signy. Through our daily contact with sistership RRS James Clark Ross, we agreed that RRS Ernest Shackleton would first attempt to locate and recover the POL Buoy with James Clark Ross providing a 'back up' recovery plan if we failed to locate it. However, over the next days, the ship encountered steadily increasing winds and swell which dictated a more southerly course in order to ride out the gales. The effect of this was to put us to the east of the South Orkneys by Thursday 01 February which was 60 nautical miles removed from the last reported position of the buoy. It was decided to take advantage of a 'lull' in the weather to visit Signy, deposit the FIDs and cargo and then retrieve the buoy afterwards.

Like all special groups, scientists have developed a complicated jargon all of their own, so specialised that biologists don't understand physicists and no one understands geologists!  Add to this the new words generated in Antarctica to describe the unique features of life there and you have a new language.  As long as I can remember the newsletters from the bases have had to have explanations of "special" words inserted in brackets so that those reading them at home are not completely baffled.  Almost fifty years ago Walter Sullivan wrote ' The landscape is so alien that a completely specialised vocabulary is needed to describe it'.

Where could you find out what "smoko" or "molly" means, and how come there are "elephants" in the Antarctic?  What are "FIDS" and why don't "rookeries" contain rooks?  Now you can find out!  Dedicated research by an Australian woman, Bernadette Hince, has resulted in the publication of "The Antarctic Dictionary - a complete guide to Antarctic English". And it isn't just an ordinary dictionary either because she has included more than 15,000 quotations to show when and how particular words were used. For reasons I am not really clear on she has also included Tristan da Cuhna and the Falkland Islands in the scope of the dictionary so you can learn about "smooth time" and "roughies" as well.

I found quite a few terms I had never heard before that are used by the Australians or the Americans.  Who knew that "toasted" meant too long in the Antarctic? I am sure I have seen "sago snow" but had never heard the term before.  And then there is the noun turned into a verb! A "quad" is a four wheeled one person motorbike used by several countries; but thanks to the  Australians we now know that people do not drive them around, they "quad around"!

The book is published in Australia but I hope that it gets seen by a wide range of "expeditioners"  so that the those wonderful arguments on base about what a word means can start all over again!

Author David Walton - BAS

At the risk of repeating ourselves (which, of course we NEVER do), here is a re-run of the BAS-famous Glossary of Antarctic Terms published last season, but still as pertinent today as it has ever been.  This ties in nicely to the piece written by David Walton.

Glossary of Terms - An Antarctic Dictionary.

A BAS SLEDGE - Small Wooden Cargo Sledge
A GERMAN SLEDGE - Big Steel Cargo Sledge
A WARM DAY - Anything above -20.0 degrees C
BANANA BELT - The Antarctic Peninsula
BEAKER - Muppet Scientist
BERGS - Big Section of Shelf Ice
BERGY BITS - Mini bergs
BOG CHISEL - Ice Crack Probe, The Symbol of a G.A
BONDU - Shelf Ice
BRASH - Strips of Broken Sea Ice
BULLDOZER - Big Yellow Shovel
CAT - Sno-cat Snow Tractor
CRAWLIES - Blowing Snow that Snakes along at Ground Level
DINGLE - Good Weather - blue skies
DOO - Skidoo - snow bike
DOOMIX - Fuel for a doo
DRUM LINE - A Marked Route on the Ice Shelf
FID - A BAS employee down south
FIDLET - A FID in Training at HQ
FIELD TRIP - Working 'jollie' (see Jollie)
FLOES - Stretches of thick Sea Ice
GASH - Waste (the most important thing in life !)
GASHMAN - Cleaner
GRIFTER - Sewage Pump
GRIPS - Photographs
GROWLERS - Mostly sub-surface bergs
G.A - Crevasse Finder / Tour Guide
HINGE - Point at which the Continental Ice floats to become Shelf Ice
JOLLIES - Good Time - non-working Field Trips
KING FID - The BAS liaison representative on board ship
KLATCH - (Personal) Belongings
MUNCH - Dehydrated Meat Granules
MUPPET - See 'Beaker'
NUTTY - All Varieties of Chocolate Bars and Sweets
PACK - Sea Ice
QUEEN FID - Politically Correct King Fid
SAWDUST - Dehydrate Cabbage
SCHED - An HF Radio Contact or Email Transfer
SEA SMOKE - Mist Given Off by the Freezing Sea
SLACK - Poorly Done
SMOKO - Tea Break
SPRINGER - A Summer Worker who arrives before the main hoards
THRUTCH - Something Difficult or Awkward
TO BLAT OFF - To take lots of Photographs
TWOTTER - Twin Otter Aircraft

View of South Georgia.This is South Georgia.

The continuing story of the POL Buoy.

Approaching Signy from the east, we were surprised to find a vast number of sizeable icebergs in the area. As the Captain said, this was the 'Larsen Cemetery'. This alludes to the break-up of the Larsen Ice Shelf to the east of the Antarctic Peninsula and its subsequent scattering around the southern oceans. Just check-out the shapes and sizes of some of the bergs we discovered en route to Signy ? Click on images to Enlarge.

Tobias on the Monkey Island. Click on image to enlarge Bergs, Bergs everywhere, and not a drop to drink ???... Click on image to enlarge A big Tabular berg. Click on image to enlarge

Tobias on the Monkey Island, 'Bergs, Bergs everywhere, and not a drop to drink ???...' and a big Tabular.
Click on the images to enlarge.

We arrived at Signy too late in the afternoon to do any serious cargo work, so from 1730 hours, we prepared the Fast Rescue Craft and sent the remaining three transit passengers ashore along with our resident Dr David Walton. David spent the night on Signy and off with him, went the mail and fresh provisions. The following morning we launched Tula to take the cargo and waste from Signy station and intended to finish working about lunchtime in order to allow sufficient daylight for a trip to collect the POL buoy away to the west. It transpired that the morning of Friday 02 February was glorious with fog, but fine weather to work the cargo. Click on Tula to 'work that cargo'.

Tula by the side of the Shackleton. Click on image to enlarge Tula by the side of the Shackleton. Click on image to enlarge

Tula by the side of the ship after completing the work at Signy.
Click on the images to enlarge.

By lunchtime the cargo work was indeed finished, but so was the good weather. Drizzle, mank and deteriorating visibility put the whole buoy recovery option into question. With so many of those large bergs and the associated smaller debris around it was felt that the remaining daylight and reasonable weather conditions would be better-utilized in getting clear of the ice and running ahead of the encroaching 'lurky low' expected to 'explode' to the north of us. So at 1200 hours, the ship headed out of Borge Bay on an easterly heading and away from the buoy. Radio calls to RRS James Clark Ross ensued and plan Mk II was put into operation. Captain Chris Elliott agreed with the plan to attempt to pick up the buoy themselves around February 8 when they were on the northbound transect to Signy to do some Sounder Calibrations.

Having left on Friday for a direct route, our new ETA for Halley station would be Wednesday afternoon on February 7. Nothing memorable happened for the remainder of the week. It was heavy seas, northeasterly swell, Gale 7 or 8 winds, and bumpy nights at sea all the way. The Captain allowed as smooth a passage as possible by running ahead of the storm and altering the heading marginally out of the swell. But there was little change throughout Saturday and Sunday. Roll on Wednesday, Halley, and a chance to moor up alongside one of the optional 'creeks' at the ice edge.

Forthcoming events : Arrive at Halley and hopefully to moor up to the ice at one of the Creeks (to be confirmed).

Contributors this week : Many thanks to David 'man of words' Walton, and Bob 'restorer' Roullier.

Diary 17 will be written on 11 February 2001 and should be published on 12 February 2001.

Steve B 04 February 2001

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