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25 Nov - Bird Island and King Edward Point

RRS Ernest Shackleton Diary

Position at 1200 (UTC - 3 hours): 54°17'S  36°29'W (Alongside King Edward Point, South Georgia)
Next destination: Halley
ETA: Approx. December 16 2001 (but never certain due to ice conditions)
Distance to go: 1313.7 NM (if a direct route is taken, however the figure is unknown, again due to ice conditions)
Total Distance Sailed this Season: 8529.4NM

Current weather: 
Wind:  NW'ly x Force 3
Barometric pressure: 967.2  mb
Sea state:
Air temperature: 5.1°C.
Sea temperature: 2.0°C.

Ships position taken from the regular weather observations (only available whilst at sea,  courtesy of Oceanweather.com). Select "South Atlantic" area and click on "Marine Observations". Callsign is ZDLS1.

The weather on Sunday 18 , whilst in the vicinity of Signy, remained foul for the remainder of the day. By Monday morning there were signs of an improvement and the vessel again entered Borge Bay and the anchor was dropped. No sooner had this been done than the weather once again changed and the it was too bad to deploy the cargo tender Tula. By late morning there was a drop in the wind and our Fast Rescue Craft (FRC) was deployed and did three trips across to the base to uplift the outgoing passengers and a few boxes of cargo. Once the FRC was safely back onboard and the cargo stowed, the Ernest Shackleton made course for South Georgia.

Coronation Island with bergs in viewThe initial route from Signy was through the Washington Strait and with a clear sky and bright sunshine there were lovely views of Coronation Island and a large number of bergs (see picture). Once clear of the islands and into open water good speed was made, although with an uncomfortable motion at times, towards South Georgia. An extract from the log for Tuesday reads 'rough NW'ly seas, short, steep swell, vessel pitching, isolated bergs'.Some of the bergs that we were seeing further north were giant tabular ones which are impressive to see, even from a distance.

The run from Signy to Bird Island is about 500 nautical miles and took 48 hours to complete, with the ship anchoring in Bird Sound at about 1800 UTC. The base works on UTC with the ship remaining on UTC -3. Once the vessel was safely anchored Tula was launched. All the Bird Island cargo was then loaded into Tula and with a number of FID's onboard to help move the cargo, the tender left the ship's side and headed for the base.

When the cargo tender was back onboard everyone settled down for a quiet evening. Not so the Deck Officers, who were keeping a close eye on the ship's position whilst at anchor. In the early hours of Thursday morning the SW'ly swell had increased and the sea state was unfavourable for working/launching small boats. The Captain decided that it would be best for the vessel to move around to a safer, more sheltered anchorage. So, the anchor was raised and the ship moved to Elsehul, a small bay on the northern side of South Georgia and just around the corner from the northern end of Bird Sound, where we had originally been anchored. It is not possible, on this ship, to pass through Bird Sound and so we had to go around Bird Island to reach Elsehul.

Once safely in Elsehul the Fast Rescue Craft (FRC) was launched and took six personnel ashore and returned with three of the base team, who would all have the pleasure of seeing the dentist whilst onboard. Due to the sea swell in Bird Sound it was not possible to run Tula to Bird Island and late in the afternoon the FRC returned the base personnel and collected the ship's personnel so that everyone was in the correct place at the end of the day.

Friday morning proved ideal for usingTula, with a nice calm sea at Elsehul. A shame that there was thick fog and visibility was down to less than a hundred metres! No boat movements in this sort of weather. At about 0830 the fog started to lift and there in front of us was the Akademic Ioffe, a tourist ship, who was entering Elsehul to do some landings on nearby beaches.

The decision was made to run the FRC again into the base so that a larger number of personnel could get ashore and carry out essential tasks. Bird Island Base only has three winterers and eight people during the summer and most of these are scientists which means they then rely on passing personnel to do all the work that is normally taken for granted.

Three runs were made to the base with the FRC during the morning and then early in the afternoon Tula was sent in. Conditions in Bird Sound were just workable for Tula and it would be possible for only the one trip to be made. At 1600 all personnel that had completed their tasks were taken back to the ship onboard Tula and the remainder were to be collected at 1700 by the FRC.

So, there are fourteen people from the ship waiting at 1700 for a lift back. However, the fog has once again descended and visibility is too poor to run from Elsehul to the base. The ship is going to up anchor and head back to Bird Sound. At about 1900 all is set for the FRC to do two final runs to return the weary workers back onboard.

Another night at anchor in Bird Sound, and again the morning comes with strong winds and little chance of running any boats ashore. The decision is made to move from Bird Island and steam around to King Edward Point, at the other end of the island. The distance is only some 70 miles, but in general the weather is better there, with the Harbour Master reporting conditions as being 'calm'!

So, at about 1430 the Ernest Shackleton eased her way into Cumberland Bay and then King Edward Cove, in thick fog and following the Akademic Ioffe, to tie up to the jetty adjacent to the base. Since the vessel last visited in March of this year, much has happened here. The base at King Edward Point has seen its first winter season, the whaling station has suffered more weather damage and is now closed off to all visiting personnel and there is no snow, much to the chagrin of those who had hoped to get some snow-boarding in! However, there are other things to occupy the mind of frustrated passengers onboard a ship, with little to do but eat and watch videos. Within an hour or so of our arrival a number of the FID's got their hiking gear out and headed for Gull Lake, on the other side of King Edward Cove, in the pouring rain, and promptly stripped off and jumped in for a swim!! Not sure what the water temperature would have been, but I suspect that it was very, very, cold!!

Cargo being discharged at King Edward Point,  South Georgia Cargo being discharged at King Edward Point, South Georgia.

The base was holding a barbecue down by the boat shed and there was to be a disco inside the boat shed. The rain did not seem to dampen the evenings entertainment at all.

Sunday morning looked like being somewhat dryer than the preceding day and a start was made on discharging the cargo to the base.

The foreshore around the base is currently home to a number of fur and elephant seals, and those walking around need to keep a watchful eye on the animals and also a safe distance. However, it is possible to get close enough to take good pictures.....

A male elephant seal hauled up on the beach. Male elephant seal hauled up on the beach at King Edward Point. Click to enlarge.

Forthcoming events: Complete the work at King Edward Point, then sail for Halley. There will be some science experiments conducted onboard the vessel during this period and I hope to explain these in the weeks to come.

The next update will be written on Sunday December 02 and should be published on Monday December 03.

Mike Gloistein