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02 Dec - South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands

RRS Ernest Shackleton Diary


Position at 1200 (UTC - 3 hours): 57°59'S  23°03'W (Approximately 90NM east of Saunders Island)
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: 9264.8NM

Current weather: 
Wind:  SWxW x Force 5
Barometric pressure: 1005.7  mb
Sea state:
Air temperature: 0.9°C.
Sea temperature: 0.0°C.
Vessel pitching and rocking, heavily at times. Snow showers, occasional fog.


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.


Monday, November 26, was windy. A steady blow throughout the day with gusts of up to 85 knots. A vessel working her way down the island reported waves of 15m. All in all not a very nice day. However it did not stop those onboard from getting out and having a walk around. Since the Ernest Shackleton last visited in March of this year, there has been further damage and collapse to the old whaling station at Grytviken, and this has now been closed off to all visitors by the South Georgia Government.

King Edward Point Base, South Georgia.Tuesday saw a change in the weather and this meant that staff onboard were able to go ashore and help resolve a number of problems at the base. Like Bird Island the base has a limited number of personnel and it welcomes the help of passing personnel on the BAS vessels.



During the course of our stay a number of tourist vessels arrived and departed, none staying for too long, just enough time to get all the passengers ashore to look around the museum, visit the graveyard and also the memorial cross for Shackleton. Around the foreshore were numerous elephant seals and several penguins and all seemed perfectly at ease with the work being carried out at the base.

By Thursday morning all was completed and we departed the berth. We did have with us the base commander and the boatman from KEP, along with their boat Alert as we had one final task, to place a mooring in Jason Harbour. This is required in case the weather changes whilst the base boats are out and they need shelter. Also at Jason Harbour is a small refuge hut.

The weather on Thursday was beautiful with light winds and a clear sky. This afforded all onboard some spectacular views of South Georgia. Time now to head for Halley.

With Halley Base in position Latitude 75°35' S, Longitude 26°30' W, Brunt Ice Shelf, Coats Land, one would think that the best way to get there would be to head south from South Georgia. Whilst this is the shortest route, it is also the hardest as the concentration of sea ice in the Weddell sea at the moment is very high and the Ernest Shackleton would have a lot of trouble trying to make headway against it. The chances are that we would get stopped for some time amongst it all.

A NOAA satellite image showing the vessel and surrounding areas This satellite image, taken at 1552 UTC today, shows the location of the Ernest Shackleton in relation to the South Sandwich Islands and Halley. Also shown are Neumayer Base (German), SANAE (South African Base). Although there is cloud on this image, it is also possible to see some of the vast areas of sea ice between us and the base.



Over the past few days the ship has been talking, via HF radio, with Neumayer and SANAE bases, as well as with Halley. The German vessel Polar Stern has just left Cape Town, and is expected at Neumayer on December 12, whilst the South African vessel SA Agulhas is due to sail from Cape Town on December 07. It is our intention to remain in contact with the bases and vessels as much interesting information can be obtained in this manner.

The plan for getting to Halley is to head east from South Georgia and pass the South Sandwich Islands (which we did late on Friday night, passing between Candlemass and Saunders Islands late on Friday night), to position 60°S 010°W, from where the ship will then head due south until reaching the pack ice. Once that has been reached, the Captain will then have to decide on the best approach based on all the information that he has to hand. Fortunately the ship is equipped with satellite receivers that track polar orbiting satellites that relay live pictures to us, and if the area that we are interested in is cloud free then we can get a good idea of just what is ahead of us. The Conning Tower will also come into play, as it is higher than the Bridge it affords a better view of ice conditions ahead. More on ice navigation once we enter the pack.

Just before we head across to 60°S 010°W, the vessel has been tasked to undertake four days of collecting scientific date. Fitted onboard is a Ship's Three Component Magnetometer, which is a small device that measures the earth's magnetic field. This changes with position and our sensor will detect these changes and all the data is then saved to a PC, from where it will eventually get back to Cambridge for analysis. The magnetometer work is due to take four days and involves us running along lines of latitude for 157 miles, then south for 15 miles before returning back on the new line of latitude.


South Georgia:

The island of South Georgia lies at approximately 54°South and is about 170 km long and ranges in width between 2 and 30 km. The island is spectacular in that it consists of a large number of snow-capped mountains and has been described as 'the Alps in mid-ocean' and is in fact the summit of a partly drowned mountain range. There are two principal mountain ranges, the Allardyce and Salvesen. The highest peak is that of Mount Paget at 2934 m and there are twelve further peaks of more than 2000 m.

South Georgia was probably discovered by Antoine de la Roché who sighted it in 1675 whilst on passage from South America to France. The next recorded sighting was in 1756 by Gregorio Jerez on board the León.
It was in 1775 that Captain James Cook arrived and on 14 January one of his midshipmen, Thomas Willis, saw land which was eventually named after him (the Willis Islands at the western end of South Georgia) and named the land in honour of His Majesty King George as Isle of Georgia. As part of his report on the island, Captain Cook made mention of the large numbers of elephant and fur seals and this soon came to the attention of the sealing industry and so started what was to become a somewhat bloody period in the history of South Georgia. Due to the very secretive nature of sealers, many records of the earliest activities are not known, however there are some references that date back to 1786. One vessel, Aspasia, collected some 57,000 fur seal skins in 1800/1801 and whilst this was a large number for a single ship it does give some idea of the slaughter that took place on the island. Sealing would continue, in several waves, for the next 100 years and in 1881 there were regulations put into place to control and protect the seals by giving a closed season between 1 October and 1 April.
The first whaling station was established in King Edward Cove in 1904 and between then and 1965 South Georgia was one of the most important places in the world for the whaling industry. There were whaling stations in seven harbours on the island and during the period some thirteen floating factories were also used. In 1965 the whaling stations were abandoned and whilst at Grytviken a caretaker was employed until 1971, the stations were never reopened and have now become derelict reminders to the past. During the period 1904 to 1965 a total of 175,200 whales were taken at South Georgia compared with 1,432,862 recorded as being taken from Antarctica between 1904 and 1978.

Grytviken and King Edward Point

Grytviken means 'Pot Cove' and is so named for the sealers trypots which were discovered there. It is probably the best harbour on the island, being a bay within a bay and is the site of the first whaling station, which operated continuously from 1904 through to 1962. The Grytviken cemetery is the final resting place for Sir Ernest Shackleton, who died on board his ship Quest in King Edward Cove on January 5 1922.

King Edward Point is located at the mouth of King Edward Cove, and was used as a British Antarctic Survey base between 1 January 1950 to 1 January 1952 and 13 November 1969 to 3 April 1982. Following the Falkland Islands conflict of 1982, King Edward Point was taken over by a small garrison of British troops and it was not until March 2001 that the survey re-established itself on the island with the building of a new base at King Edward Point. The position is Latitude 54°17' S, Longitude 36°30' W. The new station will provide biological research on the marine living resources surrounding South Georgia and will complement the long-term research at Bird Island.


South Sandwich Islands

The South Sandwich Islands group consists of a chain of islands, connected by a low submarine ledge, forming an arc in a N and S direction between the parallels of 56°18's and 59°28 S, and between the meridians of 26°14'W and 28°11'W. The South Sandwich Islands were discovered by Captain James Cook, in HMS Resolution, who first sighted Southern Thule on 30 January 1775. The Islands, from North to South, are:

Zavodovski Island: This is a single volcanic cone, approximately 9 miles in circumference and some 550m in height. The crater is in constant eruption with hot smoke and sulphuretted hydrogen having been observed issuing from it.

Leskov Island: This is the smallest of the group, with a flat summit, precipitous on all sides.

Visokoi Island: This is also a single volcanic cone. From most directions this appears as a rounded mass with a steep coast.

Candlemass Island and Vindication Island: These two islands lie some two miles apart from each other and are separated by Nelson Channel. Candlemass has two peaks, Mount Andromeda and Mount Perseus, and there is a volcanic cone, known as Lucifer Hill.

Saunders Island: This island is roughly crescent shaped. In the middle of the island there is Mount Michael, a glaciated but active volcanic cone.

Bristol Island: The island was first sighted by James Cook and is separated by Forster Passage from;

Belingshausen, Southern Thule and Cook Islands: These islands form the most southerly of the group. The Russian explorer Fabian von Bellinghausen landed on Zavodovski in 1819.

.....and finally, The Hawaiian Islands were originally called the Sandwich Islands!


Forthcoming events: Finish the magnetometer work then head for 60°S 010°W, turn south for the pack ice. Also, XBT launching.


The next update will be written on Sunday December 9 and should be published on Monday December 10.

Mike Gloistein
ETO(Comms)