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23 Jan - Bird Island

Date: Sunday 23 January 2005
Position @ 1200 Local (GMT): 54°03'0 South, 038°05.5' West. Off Bird Island
Next destination: Remaining in vicinity of Bird Island throughout
ETA: Working at Bird Island for the immediate future
Distance to go: 0 nm
Total Distance sailed from UK: 14797.3 nmiles

Current weather: Stormy, overcast with wind and rain
Sea State: Rough sea, low swell. Riding comfortably off South Georgia
Wind: NNE, 45 kts gusting 50 kts
Barometric pressure:997.4 mmHg
Air temperature: 5.8°C
Sea temperature: 2.5°C

Ships postition Click on Image to see the Position of Shackleton.


As the last webpage was being published, the RRS Ernest Shackleton was back to sea.  We departed the Port Stanley on the Monday morning very early. By 0630, the ship was passing through The Narrows and out into Port William and the South Atlantic. But we were not the only early risers that morning.  Not only was the cruise liner, the ‘Amsterdam’ entering port, but on the way out to sea, we passed by RRS James Clark Ross, who was equally heading for Stanley.

The first sign of the JCR was a ‘big blob of white’on the horizon. This was their Invsat, Satellite dome. Unlike the Ernest Shackleton, whose dome is neatly placed below the conning tower level amidships, the James Clark Ross has it stuck proud high above the superstructure. It looks akin to some giant lollipop balanced precariously on top of the mast ! There was no mistaking the arrival of the dome on the far horizon.  It was some minutes later that the James Clark Ross too hove into sight !!!

JCR Click on the Image to Enlarge the Lollipop !

This was the first coincidence of the two ship’s being in the same place since the UK in the Summer, but alas we had to disappear just too soon to spend any time alongside together. However, we will both be in the Falklands together again around 15th March, so we will be seeing the sistership again at that time.  Meanwhile, here is a picture of the closest point of approach as the two ship’s passed by.  The Captain’s had words on VHF radio and camera flashes passed between to the two vessels.  Then we turned the corner, headed for Mare Harbour and left them all behind.


Wavey Davey was ashore in the Falklands and admits to having had a little too much to drink in his ‘off hours’.

He therefore joined ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’

I asked him recently ‘how it was going’ ???

‘Fine’ he said.  ‘I’m not drinking any less’, he admitted, ‘ but now I do it under an assumed name’ !!! :o)

When Davey turned up on the bridge one morning this week, his hair was all over the place and I made the mistake of asking if he was having ‘a bad hair day’ ? He said he hadn’t washed it !  He had been put off because earlier in the week he had taken his Kilt and washed it.  It shrank. Now he just couldn’t do a fling with it ?!!!

Boom Boom !

Around at Mare Harbour, the Shackleton was due to take on bunkers. It took only a matter of about 4 hours to transit to East Cove and tie up alongside the Jetty there. Then the re-supply vessel, the Seabulk Condor came alongside and tied up to our Port side to refuel us. The afternoon was spent alongside and fuel enough to take us to Halley and back was pumped directly from the Condor to our refuelling station on the Port Side.

In the evening we departed Mare Harbour after the brief call which only allowed a couple of hours ashore for some of the FID’s who were not at work that afternoon.  Having departed the civilization of the Falklands, we officially started the ‘last leg’ of the trip for the Graham Chapman crew.  The next time we should see the Falklands will be our ‘getting off date’ in Mid-March.

Apart from a hold full, full, full of cargo and tanks full, full, full of fuel, we also took onboard more personnel. Morrison’s are the contractors who will construct the new base at Bird Island, so we embarked 14 of them. Plus we will need additional hands on decks and on the bridge during the 3 week offloading period at South Georgia, so 2nd Officer Ian Heffernan joined us having only gotten off the Shackleton back in November.  Two other BAS personnel were Derek Jenkins and Mark Blaby who are A/B’s from the James Clark Ross.  Because we are going to be using the JCR cargo tender ‘Rockhopper’ we needed the additional manpower to operate it.  And finally we welcomed onboard Zoe Bromage and Stacy Land, fresh out of Cadet School !  Zoe and Stacy join us for the next few weeks as additional officers for the bridge team.

Unfortunately at the time of ‘going to press’, they have not produced details of their career histories for me to include here. We hope to feature the 2 cadets in a future edition as soon as I can extract the necessary information !

The weather from Mare Harbour to South Georgia could have been better, but it was largely all ‘on the beam’ and so presented no problem to impede our timely arrival nor give too many problems with seasickness.  From Tuesday through to Thursday evening we travelled uneventfully to the East and made a first call at King Edward Point on the east side of the Island. At KEP we had yet more cargo to take onboard. We collected heavy plant vehicles that were to be used during the Bird Island relief, and we also traded some of our passengers.  We embarked 6 and disembarked 6 persons during our stay alongside the jetty in Cumberland Bay.  We arrived on the Thursday evening to a warm welcome from the Base and also passed by the Cruise ship Marco Polo which was in the bay for visits to the old whaling station of Grytviken.  As the moon rose that night, the sky was clear and the blaze of lights from the Cruise ship illuminated the Cumberland Bay and occasional bergs which had blown in to the sheltered anchorage.  In the morning, bright and early, the Cruise ship had vanished along with the moon.

Friday dawned on King Edward Point, and a nicer day you could not hope for.  It was beautiful.

KEP Click on KEP to enlarge the panoramic view.

The waters were calm, as was the wind, the sun was shining, the clouds were few and thin and it was altogether a great day for rearranging our cargo and effecting the transfers we needed to make. Some lucky off-duty individuals were at liberty to go walk-a-bout and for Stacy and Zoe, they had the very best of days for their first introduction to Grytviken, King Edward Point, Shackleton’s Grave, the Old Whaling Museum and plenty of penguins, seals and birds.

As we left the Falklands we were on GMT-3 hours, and before we arrived at KEP we had advanced 1 hour to GMT-2 hours. Upon arrival at Bird Island over the weekend, the ship moved the chronometers yet again to GMT in order to be on the same ‘time frame’ as the Base at Bird Island. This would allow us to maximize on the daylight, but meant going down to lunch at 12.00 hours on Saturday lunch and not get back up to the bridge for twenty minutes at 14.20 hours ??? This time-change nonsense can be a very strange business. We can now look forward to 3 nights of  extra sleep as we must retard the clocks back 3 hours to be on the same time frame as Halley when we arrive there next month !

The cargo was soon shuffled and we were ready for sea early that evening.  The intention being to sail overnight and arrive bright and early on Saturday morning in order to start our base relief which was expected to take 3 weeks.

RATS !!!

Rats are a problem. We are not talking the James Cagny ‘Dirty Rat’ variety here, but the larger cousin of Mickey Mouse-type variety !

Rats poster Click on the BAS Poster.

Once upon a time, in a Galaxy far far away ….

… well, it was actually earlier last Century and not too far away from where we find ourselves today off South Georgia, there was a family of rodents. This family of rodents had paid their passage and taken advantage of the immigration possibilities to pack up and leave their homelands in the far North and travel on the luxury cruise Whaling Ships to the new thriving communities of South Georgia.  Lots of little rodents took advantage of this means of transport and, ship’s cats permitting, resettled in the whaling stations that sprung up around the North and Eastern bays of South Georgia. Bird Island was too small to appeal to the majority of Rodent Tourist Agencies of the day and so when British Antarctic Survey set up their Research Base there, they found it to be rodent free. Not so the station at King Edward Point…  Throughout the age, the rodents of South Georgia have flourished.  With no natural enemies (which was why grandpa rodent chose South Georgia as his holiday destination), the colonies grew to a sizeable population. 

And that is the problem.

Today, the rodent population is a real problem for BAS.  The problem is that if any rodents managed to steal away on a vessel calling at Bird Island and got ashore there, they could multiply and populate the island with little offspring.  With no natural predators and a ready supply of Birds eggs just laying around on the ground (the Bird Island bird population have no trees to nest in ?). this could unbalance the very delicate ecosystem with catastrophic results. Hence BAS take the rat situation very seriously indeed.

Before the Bird Island relief, all the ship’s complement were given a thorough briefing of the import of vigilance for rats.  During the cargo swap at KEP, there were officers assigned to Quayside and again onboard, whose job it was to inspect every item for signs of Mr and Mrs Rodent and their family, and to ensure that we are not responsible for running Rodent Tours to the Costa Del Bird Island !

Rats Beware. We’ve got your number !…

Two Vessels Are Better Than One  !

Having left King Edward Point on Friday evening after a superlative day, we steamed out of Cumberland Bay at dusk and straight into the thickest bank of fog !.  The British Warship, HMS Gloucester was in the Bay for the day for a courtesy visit and as we saw the fog rolling in with the dusk, she was blanketed by the stuff until only the dimmest of outlines remained of her sleek shape. With both radars turning, it was slowly, slowly out into the South Atlantic and Northwesterly towards our next call – Bird Island.

Upon arriving the following morning after a short overnight steam, the weather was good for working the relief with the boats.  Not one boat, but two.  You have seen ‘Tula’ mentioned in the annals of these pages before, but now introducing ‘Rockhopper’, the cargo tender purloined from the James Clark Ross for the duration of the Base relief. 

Rockhopper Tula

Above: Click to see the Flotilla.

‘Rockhopper’ was deposited by the James Clark Ross on the 11th January during her call at Bird Island and has been moored in Jordan Cove awaiting our arrival. First off the Shackleton on Saturday was our Fast Rescue Craft, to go and recover the ‘Rockhopper’ whilst ‘Tula’ had to wait until cargo had been shunted about on the decks in order to facilitate her launch. 

Rockhopper Tula

Owing to the amount of cargo we have to land here, and with Rockhopper being a bigger vessel than the Tula, it was deemed that a two-boat operation would be better than one. Here we find the Rockhopper loaded with the first of the heavy plant vehicles that needed to be input to the shore.  The cargo tender was simply run up the beach, the ramp lowered, and the vehicle driven ashore – avoiding the last remnants of the seal population which still litter the beach. Tula was eventually launched and both vessels now have a new home in the Jordan Cove anchorage – thus avoiding the timely deployment and recovery normally associated with Tula operations from the ship.

The Ernest Shackleton’s expansion plans to have a full flotilla of small craft took a step forward this week with the  acquisition of the Rockhopper.  Let’s hope that the James Clark Ross doesn’t ask for her back ?!!!

Forthcoming Events: Bird Island Base rebuild cargo.

Contributors this week:  Thanks to the RRS James Clark Ross for the use of the Rockhopper Cargo Tender simply to give us something to write about in our webpage !

Diary 9 should be written on Sunday 30th January and published on the Monday 31st January 2005.

Stevie B
Comms Officer.