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15 Dec - Bird Island and KEP

Date:  Sunday 15 December 2002
Position @ 1200 (UTC -3): 55° 09'S 029° 49'W - en route to Halley
Next destination: The "Creeks" at the Brunt Ice Shelf, Halley (conditions permitting)
ETA: A 'Book' is to be arranged to guess the actual arrival time at Halley, - so take a guess ?
Distance to go: 1991.8 NM
Total Distance Sailed this Season: 8796.9 NM

Current Weather: Very foggy. 1.1 NM visibility
Wind:  NW x 10 kts
Barometric pressure:  1009.8 mb
Sea state: Slight
Air temperature:  2.6°C.
Sea temperature: -1.0°C.
Click here for ships track


It is hoped that next week (or shortly thereafter), we will be welcoming a particular celebrity onboard RRS Ernest Shackleton. If anyone out there sees Mr.Claus - first name 'Santa', please extend our cordial invitation to join us onboard at any time. Meanwhile, it was the turn of this Tibetan-looking character to make an appearance on the bridge of the Shackleton. From Tibet to the Antarctic and the web-cameraman was on the scene to capture the occasion!! Don't take my word for it - see for yourself!!

From Tibet? Click to enlarge

Gavin Francis, Ship’s Doctor

At the end of last week we were sailing north from Signy and the South Orkneys, on our way to South Georgia. This body of water, the Scotia Sea, can be one of the roughest crossings in the world, but we were very fortunate with calm seas and blue skies. Most of us took the opportunity to do a spot of sunbathing on the Monkey Island, which is the deck on top of the Bridge. I say "sunbathing" only in the loosest sense, in that it was too cold to expose anything more than a few square inches of your face! We passed some colossal icebergs on the way north, including one 7 miles long. Another one 43 miles long lay out of sight over the horizon to the east.


The first visual sight of an iceberg is usually on the radar screen - if it's big enough, but not so with the beast we met on the way to Bird Island. Our first representation was seen from space. Our satellite image facility onboard was the first to spot the 7-mile long berg and we managed to keep a screendump of the graphic for posterity. These were shot around 15.00 hours ship's time at 58.43 South and 044.08 West en route.

Icebergs seen from space - Click to enlarge Iceberg seen from the Bridge - Click to enlarge

Above: An iceberg seen from space (L), and an iceberg seen through the bridge windows. Notice the large 43 mile berg is visible to the East, but only on the satellite image. Click the images to enlarge them.

By Tuesday morning we had arrived at Bird Island – a small island just off the western cape of South Georgia itself. Some essential work on the communications of the base was to be done, and so Phil Locke, Chris Salmon and Ian Parsons pulled themselves out of bed at 4am to go ashore. There were a few hardy souls on deck to see them off through the fog. Though we couldn’t see the island, we knew we were close by the thousands of sea-birds and fur seals in the water around the ship.

Phil, Chris and Ian head to Bird Island - Click to enlarge
Phil Chris and Ian going off to Bird Island
Click to enlarge

In the May of 1916 Ernest Shackleton crossed the same sea (though he left from Elephant Island on the Peninsula, not from the South Orkneys).  It took him and his men 14 days in the James Caird, navigating through a hurricane and with very little food or fresh water.  On May 8th they at last sighted land:

"We gazed ahead with increasing eagerness, and, at 12.30pm., through a rift in the clouds, McCarthy caught a glimpse of the black cliffs of South Georgia, just fourteen days after our departure from Elephant Island.  It was a glad moment.  Thirst-ridden, chilled, and weak as we were, happiness irradiated us.  The job was nearly done.

But all of the next day they couldn’t land, caught up in horrendous winds they were down to their "last ... pint of hairy liquid....the pangs of thirst attacked us with redoubled intensity." The day after that the wind at last relented, and they navigated into a narrow cove of King Haakon Bay and found a stream. "A moment later we were down on our knees drinking the pure, ice-cold water in long draughts which put new life into us. It was a splendid moment."

For more details about the Ernest Shackleton Expedition, click on the link to Shackleton's History.

After pausing at Bird Island, we left on RRS Ernest Shackleton, continued along the northern shore of South Georgia. Our next stop was the Administrative and Fisheries Research Centre at King Edward Point, Cumberland Bay. Most of us had never seen South Georgia before, and we were treated to a beautiful day for our first view of it. The mountains rise up to 3000 m and glaciers spill down their slopes into the sea, calving icebergs. They looked as if the Alps have been sunk into a turquoise ocean, leaving only the highest summits and sheerest peaks visible.

South Georgia - Click to enlarge
South Georgia’s northeast coast as we steamed alongside
Click to enlarge

The original Ernest Shackleton had no such easy route along the island – he and two companions (Frank Worsley and Tom Crean) had to leave the James Caird behind and cross these mountains and glaciers with no mountaineering equipment and no real knowledge of how to get through to the whaling stations on the other side of the island to get help for the others. No one had ever crossed the island, and it was considered inaccessible by the whalers.

They set off at 2am on Friday the 19th of May, using an adze to cut steps in the ice, and without snow-shoes or crampons. Twenty-eight hours of torturous mountaineering later Shackleton saw the "twisted wave like rock formations of Husvik Harbour" and heard the steam whistle bell summoning the whalers to work in the whaling stations far below them. It was winter, and they were walking in darkness much of the time.

Rock formations of Husvik Harbour recognised by Shackleton
Click to enlarge

It was another eight hours of punishing descent through ice-fields and over precipices before they reached the shore of Stromness Bay. They used their last rope to make the final descent. "The rope could not be recovered. We had flung down the adze from the top of the fall, and also the log-book wrapped in one of our blouses. That was all we brought, except our wet clothes, from the Antarctic, which a year and a half before we had entered with a well-found ship, full equipment and high hopes. That was all of tangible things. We had seen God in His splendours, we had heard the text that Nature renders. We had reached the naked soul of man."

It was only another mile and a half along to the whaling station of Stromness. There they found the Manager’s house where the Manager of the station, Mr Sorlle didn’t recognise them. "Our beards were long and our hair was matted. We were unwashed, and the garments which we had worn for nearly a year without a change were tattered and stained." Shackleton spoke to Mr Sorlle:

"Don’t you know me?" I said.
"I know your voice," he replied doubtfully. "You’re the mate of the Daisy."
"My name is Shackleton", I said.
Immediately he put out his hand and said "Come in. Come in."
"Tell me, when was the war over?" I asked.
"The war is not over," he answered. "Millions are being killed. Europe is mad. The world is mad."

The Managers House today - Click to enlarge
The Manager’s House at Stromness Whaling Station today
Click to enlarge

King Edward Point is in the next major bay to the east of Stromness, Cumberland Bay. It is next to Grytviken, another abandoned whaling station and the place where Shackleton himself is buried. He died in the bay on his way to undertake another Antarctic Expedition in 1922.

Grytviken in 1914 - Click to enlarge Grytviken today - Click to enlarge

Above: Grytviken in 1914 (left) and Grytviken now


Oh No! It's Davey again. Back this week with another awful offering.....

Did you hear about the inflatable boy, who had an inflatable Headmaster, at his inflatable school ???
One day he went into school and with a particularly sharp stylo, he stabbed his Headmaster.
With a particularly 'pointy' pencil, he stabbed the school wall.
Then he turned his pen on himself and sunk it deep into his arm.

He was called before the Headmaster who had stern words with the boy.
'Not only have you let me down, not only have you let the school down... but you have also let yourself down !!!'

(Editor : I'm sorry - I only print them !).

We put in there and for those not involved in discharging cargo or taking fuel, they had Tuesday afternoon to walk around the shore. Next was a return to Bird Island to undertake the unloading of cargo, scientists and support staff for the summer season there. We knew that we would be back to King Edward Point after the Bird Island relief, but it was good to have a few hours to stretch our legs and some of those not working took the opportunity to visit Shackleton’s Grave. While all the whalers graves face east, Shackleton’s faces south.

Rick Millar at Shackletons grave - Click to enlarge
Halley Communications Manager Rick Millar at Shackleton’s grave
Click to enlarge

NOW YOU SEE IT, NOW YOU DON'T, or rather... now you DON'T see it and now you DO !!

Spot Bird Island!! Click to enlarge Fog at Bird Island - Click to enlarge Fog at Bird Island - Click to enlarge

Above: Suspiciously thick fog at Bird Island (left) and the real thing! (center and right). Click the images to enlarge them.

Bird Island relief was undertaken in usual Bird Island weather; thick fog. Although, having said it once, and at the risk of repetition, I'll say it again, - South Georgia weather is very, very changeable. One minute, we cannot see the beach , and moments later, it's a beautiful summers day by anyone's standards (Editor).

The fur seals occupy the whole beach, even living underneath the base itself, but climbing a hundred metres or so up the hillside means escaping not only the smell of the fur seals (once smelt, never forgotten) but also the noise of the mothers and pups calling to one another.

Bird Island station - Click to enlarge
Bird Island and the beach in a rare sunny moment – by Peter Riou
Click to enlarge

Apart from studying the fur seals, there are two other biology programmes by BAS scientists at Bird Island; studying the Albatrosses and the Macaroni Penguins. We had the opportunity to visit "Big Mac", a Macaroni colony on the northern cliffs of the island where recent counts estimate 30,000 pairs of penguins are breeding this year.

Macaroni penguin - Click to enlarge
Macaroni Penguin
Click to enlarge

The hills in the interior of the island are dominated by peat moor and tussock grass, where the Wandering Albatrosses are currently waiting for their partners and beginning to nest. Some of the young males were displaying, while others sat patiently on their nests.

Albatross on nest - Click to enlarge
Albatross on nest with Shackleton in the background
Click to enlarge

We stood off Bird Island on Wednesday night while Maggie Annat, the Base Commander carried out a hand-over and field training for the new staff, and then we were off back to King Edward Point again.

The Shackleton and King Penguins - Click to enlarge
The Shackleton and King Penguins
Click to enlarge

After a sight of South Georgia earlier in the week, it was fantastic to get the chance to spend a day and a half in King Edward Cove, and most people used the chance to get out into the mountains. We were only tied up at the quay a couple of hours when skiing up to a nearby pass to watch the sunrise was suggested, so after a couple of hours sleep we assembled at the gangway at 1am. The climb up was magnificent, and at the top we were rewarded with a spectacular sunrise. We were all back down for a well-earned cup of tea by 5am!

Sunrise over Cumberland Bay - Click to enlarge
Tim Carr, Penny Granger, Andy Whittaker, Gavin Francis and Alasdair Reid with sunrise and Cumberland bay behind
Click to enlarge

Some others from the Shackleton went on trips up Mount Hodges, and over to Maiviken. It was a glorious time, and for those of us heading down to winter at Halley, our last chance to see some mountains (or, in fact, any kind of exposed rock!)

Maiviken - Click to enlarge
Maiviken by Peter Riou
Click to enlarge

We’re at sea again now, heading east to get around the Weddell Sea ice, and will gradually turn south towards the pack-ice over the next few days. Hopefully, we’ll get into Halley around Christmas!

Gavin Francis

Thought of the Day: If swimming is such a good, healthy and slimming exercise... why are all the whales in Antarctica so FAT ???

Forthcoming events: Fire the Shackleton webpage editor and shoot Wavey Davey for the quality of his jokes. Then push onwards to the East where at about 10.0° West. The ice images and satellite images show a trend of open water, polynyas, and breaking pack ice. At this longitude it is hoped we can turn directly South and work the pack into the leads reported around Stancombe Wills and the Brunt Ice Shelf on route to Halley.

During the week, the FID's onboard have a full itinerary of training and lectures to keep them busy in preparation for Halley and the forthcoming sea ice relief.

Contributors this week: Many thanks as always to Dr.Gavin, to photographers Pete Riou, Rick Millar, and Steve Buxton, and to British Antarctic Survey for far too many experiences to write up in one single week's webpage!

Diary 13 will be written on 22 December 2002 and should be published on 23 December 2002

Stevie B