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29 October 2000 - No Relief at Bird Island

RRS James Clark Ross: Diary entry, October 29th 2000

Noon Position : 53 degrees 55 ' South, 38 degrees 51 ' West
Distance travelled since Grimbsy: 8782 nautical miles
Air temperature @ noon: 1.0 degrees Celsius
Sea temperature @ noon: 2.1 degrees Celsius

On Tuesday 24 October we sailed past our next scheduled stop, Bird Island. This British Antarctic Survey station is notorious for its difficult cargo relief, and the weather windows required are few and far between. After having a quick look to see if the conditions were really as bad as we anticipated, which they were, a change of plan saw us heading for King Edward Point on South Georgia. However on arrival there the visibility was very poor, with winds gusting to gale force, so we spent the night just off the Point. Despite this, the contractors involved in the new building programme at King Edward Point were able to get ashore with the help of the Army, who collected them in their boats during a lull in the weather.

The contractors taxi service Building snowmen - what Antarctic personnel get up to in their spare time on the ship

The contractors taxi service

What Antarctic personnel get up to in their spare time on the ship

The following day the weather had settled a little and allowed us to tie up alongside the jetty. All the cargo that had just been loaded a few days previously in Stanley, plus a lot extra from the UK, had to be unloaded, which kept most people busy for the next few days. Thankfully the weather was fantastic, and after the initial risk of avalanches, due to recent heavy snow falls, was over, it was possible to get out and about. Regular trips to Grytviken, the old whaling station round the bay from King Edward Point, and the South Georgia Museum were made.

Grytviken Whaling Station Grytviken was the first whaling station to be established in the Antarctic and was up and running well into the 1960s. Now it is falling into ruin, but the history and atmosphere of the place is kept alive in the museum, located in the old whaling station manager's house. This is run by Tim and Pauline Carr who have spent the last eight years in South Georgia and have made the exhibit a wonderful record of South Georgia history, wildlife and commercial heritage. The nearby graveyard is the resting place of Sir Ernest Shackleton, and many tributes to him are found in the church pictured below.

Grytviken Church The grave of Ernest Shackleton

Grytviken Church

Shackleton's Grave

Hamberg Glacier All the station personnel still with us were getting itchy feet having been on board for at least a week! and so one energetic group joined the Carrs on a very early morning ski/snow-shoe trip over to Gull Lake and beyond. Other activities have included snow boarding and a trip out with the resident marine on the rigid raiders down Moraine Fjord to the Hamberg and Harker glaciers.

The fight umpired by a sheathbill (Bird in left corner!) South Georgia's wildlife was as spectacular as the dramatic scenery. The local resident elephant seals were as charming as ever, and just on our doorstep a few hundred yards from the jetty. At present there are lots of pups around, and as usual the bull seals were as protective over their "harems" as ever. Some fantastic photos were taken by Rag (3rd engineer) of a fight between two bulls.

For the less squeamish there were plenty of penguins, both kings and gentoos, and also fur seals just around the bay at Penguin River.

King penguins out for a stroll Fur seal posing

King penguins out for a stroll

Fur seal posing

All the cargo had been unloaded by Friday morning, at which point we headed back to Bird Island to see if the conditions were any more manageable. On arrival at the entrance to Bird Island Sound it was apparent that things were still unworkable, although it was possible to launch two inflatables with the Bird Island personnel and essential cargo, namely fresh fruit and vegetables. As the weather forecast showed that the required weather window was certainly not going to appear for the next few days, the decision was made to start the ship-board science programme planned for the area.

Approaching Bird Island Icebergs patrolling the sound

Approaching Bird Island

Icebergs patrolling the sound

Launching the inflatables Bird Island personnel all togged up

Launching the inflatables

Bird Island personnel all togged up

The last few days have seen a start, a finish and a further start to the two-day science programme, as heavy weather forced us to heave to, therefore leaving the proposed route to ride out the heavy seas. We shall have more on the planned science next week from the science team on board.

Weekly diary entries