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14 Dec - Grytviken

Date: Sunday 14th December 2003.
Position @ 1200 Local, (GMT -3): 56°30 South 17°44 West.
Next destination: Halley
ETA: PM Tuesday 23rd December 2003.
Distance to go: 1716 Nautical Miles.
Distance sailed from South Georgia: 654 Nautical Miles.
Current weather: Overcast, Good Visibility, Occasional Showers.
Sea State: Large.

Wind: South Easterly 26Knots.
Barometric pressure: 996 mb.
Air temperature: 1.6°C.
Sea temperature: 0.9°C.
Ship postition map. Click to see position map.

This Week on ES

It's been yet another fun packed adventure of a week on ES. We made it to Bird Island in beautiful weather and managed to complete relief without any problems. The weather remained good and there was the opportunity for those of us that wanted to walk over the hill to the Macaroni Penguin colony at 'Big Mac'. This entailed several different stages of enterprise, the first and most dangerous being getting off the jetty and up the 50m beach to the base. This might not sound too hard but we were at BI for the very peak of the Fur Seal pupping season so the beach was home to several thousand of these toothy little monsters, each determined to defend it's territory.

 Fur Seals at Bird Island. Click to see image.

Once the beach and the Fur Seal infested tussock behind had been negotiated safely, we were into bird territory. I think everyone who went up the hill was impressed by the size and number of the birds and Bird Island is certainly well named. We saw Giant Petrels, Macaroni Penguins and Skuas in their hundreds and thousands but the highlight for me and most of the others was the Wandering Albatrosses. These huge birds are the stuff of seafaring legend and to be able to see one up close was a truly memorable and extraordinary experience. Please excuse Craig's camouflage in the picture!

 Craig with a Wandering Albatross. Click to see image.

After the excitement of Bird Island, we steamed overnight along the north shore of South Georgia to the Base at King Edward Point. Here we received another warm welcome and, once the cargo was unloaded, there was another opportunity to go exploring. The old whaling station of Grytviken is just around the bay from KEP and whilst the station itself is currently closed for the removal of asbestos, it is still possible to visit the museum and the church and to see a lot of the rest of the station from a safe distance.

 View of Grytviken. Click to see image.

One of the "must-do's" for any antarctic aspirant in Grytviken is a visit to the grave of Sir Ernest Shackleton to pay homage to "the boss".

After a very late night partying with the residents of South G., we left in glorious weather finally bound for Halley. This was our last stop and our last opportunity to see grass and rocks and land for as much as two and a half years. I'm sure that everyone on board was aware of this as we steamed out of Cumberland Bay and into the wide blue yonder.

Diary of Tom Waller ETO-L (Ship's Electrician)

Much has happened since I left the British Antarctic Survey Base at Signy in the South Orkney Islands. We sailed for 3 days North crossing the Antarctic convergence in near perfect weather, the first time in years with no fog and mist to slow us down and arrived at our most northerly station (54° South) King Edward Point, near the old Whaling station of Grytviken. Though as far south as the Midlands of England is north, the climate of South Georgia is very harsh, with a sea temperature seldom above 3°C, the air temperature falls to -15°C in the winter and seldom climbs about +3 in the summer, giving the islands a permanent snow and ice cover. With no Gulf Stream to warm up the Antarctic the climate is severe even this far north and with the sun high in the sky, sun block is a must as the ozone layer is very thin this far out from the pole.

The whaling station was first set up in the mid 1880's by Norway who's explorers found this natural harbour and soon filled the shoreline with try-pots, huge cast iron vats which were carried aboard the whaling ships to render down and prove the whale blubber. Grytviken is Norwegian for "Bay of Pots". The base got it's church back in 1912, though the whaler's were not a God fearing lot and the priests did not stay long. The church however has been maintained for B.A.S. and military use ever since and passing cruise and adventure cruise ships call past and give sizeable denotations to the upkeep of the church, and museum at Grytviken and spend lots of cash in the British Post Office at King Edward Point, where they also get their Passports stamped and can purchase more unique gifts such as first day covers, paperweights and coins.

The scenery is just stunning and the wild life - well my first trip ashore was at Bird Island our first port of call before King Edward Point where we have a small summer station. It is the Fur Seal mating season and hundreds of thousands of them sprawl over the beach and foreshore, covering our landing jetty and forcing us to wade ashore up a shallow stream bed. They can get a little feisty and aggressive at this time, so we are all armed with a short stick and told to tickle their whiskers if they look like they are going to attack you. The males are very territorial and see humans as a threat so you do have to take care as a seal bite is a very nasty thing indeed. With a guide from the base we (a party of 3) made our way to higher ground and the nesting place of the giant Wandering Albatross, as immortalised in the poem "The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner". These gentle giants mate for life and produce just the one egg a season. Like all the wild life of the Antarctic regions they have no fear of man and you can approach very close indeed before they will show any sign of annoyance. They first tagged all the mating pairs back in 1982 and they are mostly all still alive so they live to be at least 30 and many suspect go on to live for 50 or 60 years due to the long time the chicks take to mature into adults .Like the seas around here, this is uncharted waters. For we simply don't know how long a Wandering Albatross lives and where it travels during its 8 months at sea. Attempts to track them so far have all failed as no battery pack can last long enough before they return to mate again. One opened it's giant wings for me, the 3 metre span took my breath away, and I forgot to take a photo, such was the beauty of it's display.

Mixed in with the Albatross was the Giant Skua, another giant sea bird and again very tame, and rather clever. Many have been quick to learn that Base personnel will feed a bird on demand and many of the BAS bases have a pet Skua or Skuas who will walk right up to you and demand food and eat it out of your hand. We were visited by "George" when at anchor off the Signy Islands base. He used to have a mate "Mildred" but nothing has been seen of her this season so far. George just flew the half mile offshore to our cargo deck and sat there demanding food from all who passed. He would show his displeasure in no uncertain manner if you did not give him a small offering!

At KEP we have taken on fuel and a new Doctor and a few hours ago started our long journey south, deep in the Weddell Sea to our most southerly base, Halley on the actual Ice shelf of Antarctica itself and only about 1000 miles from the South Pole. In the old whaling station of Grytviken, the whole ships crew visited the final resting place of our vessel's namesake. Sir Ernest Shackleton really has the best view in the world from where he was laid to rest.

Kind regards, Tom Waller ETO (L) RRS Ernest Shackleton British Antarctic Survey

Inserting a VHF repeater Mike Rooney Style

The Mission - To Install a new VHF Repeater upon Snow Hill, Signy

1303z Wednesday 13th August

During a routine training course at BAS HQ, intrepid agents (Mike) Rooney and (Jeff) Cohen were approached by M (Steve Bremner) with details of a highly covert mission."The window for successful completion is 3 days no more", said M. "I take it that the usual rules apply, sir?" queried Rooney."You know the drill men, if you're captured BAS will deny all knowledge of your existence". "Absolutely, no point in going at these things half-cocked is there sir?" commented Rooney. M handed the agents two Manilla envelopes containing details of the mission, contacts, false identities etc. "Looks like a pretty straight forward job Agent Rooney", commented Agent Cohen, "Board the Shackleton at Immingham, lay low for several weeks, hit Signy at dawn, then out". "We'll have to play this one a little close to the chest Agent Cohen, remember the Helsinki job in '85? That was just a little too close for my tastes" replied Agent Rooney. "I'll board the Shackleton at Immingham, you rendezvous at Montevideo, arouse less suspicion that way" added Agent Rooney."Good plan. I'll contact you on route if there are further developments", said Agent Cohen.

1437z Monday 27th October

Agent Rooney boards the RRS Ernest Shackleton at Immingham. Friends and family apparently accompany him. They are in actual fact, highly trained agents from BAS HQ, helping to reinforce his deep cover. The journey to Montevideo passes without incident. One or two fellow passengers appear suspicious of Rooney's odd behaviour. He fakes bouts of severe seasickness to throw them off the scent.

1359z Thursday 20th November

Agent Cohen boards the RRS Ernest Shackleton at Montevideo. The two agents pass each other without acknowledgement.

0357z Wednesday 3rd December

The two agents meet on deck to discuss the impending mission."We can't be seen together like this Agent Cohen, it's just too risky", said Agent Rooney. "I agree, however, we could appear to be taking iceberg movies whilst we discuss the mission", replied Agent Cohen. "Agreed". "Our contacts on board the Shackleton can get us onto Signy at first light using the FRC (Fast Rescue Craft). We may have to row some of the way to avoid activating the island's alarm systems. Synchronise watches, we go in 24 hrs", added Agent Rooney. "Check", replied Agent Cohen.

At first light on the following day, 4 shadowy figures board the FRC carrying various pieces of unusual equipment. The sea was flat calm and an incredible vista of icebergs, snowy mountains and Antarctic wildlife greeted the 4 intruders. The engines were cut 400 yards from the agreed landing spot to avoid alerting Signy's alarm systems. Agent Cohen and Chris Handy, (Shackleton 3rd Officer) gently rowed the final stretch whilst Agent Rooney and John Harper, (1st Officer) remained vigilant for signs of danger. John handed Rooney & Cohen a set of instructions describing the site and who their next contact would be. The familiar buzz of a distant skidoo appeared at the appointed checkpoint. A snow-splattered figure dismounted from the skidoo and beckoned the two agents over. The mountain man did not remove his goggles at first but uttered a series of apparently random sentences - the agreed acknowledgement the agents were expecting."We haven't much time", pronounced the mountain man "Before we board the skidoo, I need to know who your are, you could have acquired the correct acknowledgment from a dead agent", responded Agent Cohen."Simon Hannimann, GA to Signy", was the reply. "Good enough, lets go, time and weather are not our allies this day", said Rooney.

The agreed site for the installation, Snowy Hill, was a 15-minute journey by skidoo. Agent Hannimann agreed to help and act as lookout whilst the others unloaded the equipment and began construction. The work was extremely arduous as several feet of snow had to be cleared for the new solar panel A-frame. The snow covered a layer of solid ice that had to be chipped away with ice axes to ensure a safe foundation. Time was marching on, our 3 agents were getting anxious that their cover would be blown before the repeater was fully installed and tested. The cold weather was closing in, extremities were becoming numb, senses became dulled. "This is a dangerous time, we are extremely vulnerable now, we must hurry", said the concerned mountain man. "Just a few more connections and the system will be ready", replied Agent Cohen.

Finally, the repeater was completed and tested. The danger was far from over as our 3 agents had to negotiate the difficult terrain back to the agreed exit point without being compromised. As darkness approached, the two agents donned their lifebelts and safety suits. Under cover of darkness, a small inflatable outboard arrived at the concealed cove piloted by the two Shackleton Officers, John and Chris. "That was a close run thing you two", commented John. "I take it the mission was a success?", asked Chris. "We've fully installed and tested the system, everything is set", replied Agent Rooney". Great, now lets get the hell out of here before we're blown", said John.

1207 Saturday 27th December. Halley Base

"That was a great job you two", commented M (using the Red Channel). "Thank you, after all we have to keep the British end up don't we sir?" Commented Agent Rooney. "It's the least we can do to serve Queen, country and the pursuit of science sir", added Agent Cohen. "Of course, there can be no mention of this mission and as a consequence no reflection of this work in your pay either, you know the rules", replied M.

The End.

 Agents Rooney and Cohen at the Repeater. Click to see the image.

Forthcoming Events: Arrival at Halley. This could be next week or next month dependant upon the ice and weather conditions.

Contributors this week: Tom our electrician and Mike "Roonatic" Rooney.

Diary 11 should be available around the 21st December.

I hope you all enjoy reading this, the sea is particularly lumpy today and producing this web page has been a bit of a trial to say the least!!