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Apr 14 - Leaving Stanley

Date: 14th April 2004

Noon Position: lat 58 57.1 S long 42 15.7 W (145 nautical miles from Signy)
Distance Travelled since Immingham: 24028 Nautical Miles
Air temperature: 1.1°C
Sea temperature: 1.7°C

The JCR this Week.

Leaving Stanley was an inauspicious start to this, our final cruise south of the Falklands. We headed out straight into gale force winds and heavy seas, which slowed our progress and made for a very uncomfortable few days. However, as we neared Signy, the weather calmed and the sun finally came out. Easter Sunday was spent bathed in beautiful sunshine, with many on board making the most of their half-day to enjoy the scenery, take photographs and watch for whales.

As we neared Signy, the wildlife became abundant. We were treated to displays of synchronised swimming, whale style, and some very athletic action from the penguins. These birds tend to live in colonies, and will cluster together on the same small piece of ice. At dusk they return from feeding and hop onto their icy home, waiting for the right combination of swimming speed and swell to lift them out of the water and land on solid ice. They often seem to misjudge it, landing back in the water or sliding ungracefully back into it on their bellies.

One iceberg, a million penguins. Click to enlarge. A colony of penguins huddle together on an iceberg. Click to enlarge.

The area around Signy is choked with icebergs. These chunks of glacial ice, which at some time in the past, have broken off from ice-sheets or glaciers, can spend many years floating around in the sea. They may eventually become grounded, and sit stationary in shallow water, like miniature mountains. The bergs are subject to the eroding effects of the wind and the sea, which creates spectacular shapes and patterns, both above and below the water. The erosion may also make them unstable, causing them to topple over or to break up. The difference in colours reflects the different densities of the ice: white ice has a high air content whereas the blue or green ice is very dense.

Green ice. Click to enlarge. Green iceberg. Click to enlarge.

To qualify as an iceberg, the ice must have a height of more than 5m above the water. Anything smaller than this is a bergy bit (1- 5m above the surface) or a growler (< 1m above the surface). Growlers are the biggest danger to the ship as they are usually not seen on the radar and only small parts may be visible above the surface of the water. A growler may have an area up to 20 square metres, the size of a family car, and thus could do a lot of damage if hit by the ship. It is these that the watchkeepers on the bridge are constantly searching for, particularly at night.

The most common icebergs in Antarctica are those calved from the iceshelf. They are often flat-topped and are called tabular bergs. These are 10- 35m in height (above the water) and can vary in length from a hundred metres to a hundred kilometres.

Think we'll go round that one. Click to enlarge. Tabular iceberg. Click to enlarge.

After our scenic journey, we reached Signy on Easter Sunday, and spent the night "parked" among the icebergs at a safe distance from the island. Sunset was spectacular and seemed to last forever as the bergs turned slowly pink, then orange and finally grey before disappearing into the dark.

Oooh. Click to enlarge. Sunset on Easter Sunday. Click to enlarge.

Science Bit In The Middle: JR130, science without scientists.

The absence of scientists on the ship has not prevented science work being carried out. Stand-in principle scientist (the man formally known as Mike the Sparky) conducted, with the help of the three very able seamen, a swathbathymetry survey over 36 hours. This remarkable achievement demonstrates both the ability of the JCR crew to turn their hand to anything, and the ability of the science equipment to work independently of anyone who knows what it actually does.

Congratulations Mike, Tugs, Martin and Kev....... but we're still waiting for our end of cruise party!

Signy relief

It was time to close Signy base, after a full summer of work for them. We arrived in beautiful weather, and maintained position at a safe distance among the icebergs until first light when, as the sun rose slowly over Coronation island, we eased into position and dropped the anchor. The cargo tender was lowered and a small contingent went ashore to help with the loading of waste, and the closure of the base in preparation for the winter.

The JCR in Borge Bay. Click to enlarge. The JCR anchored in Borge Bay, Coronation island in the background. Click to enlarge.

In the Antarctic, all waste materials must be removed, and nothing may be left behind. Therefore everything that the base produces over a season is removed. In the past, there was a bigger base at Signy, with more buildings. These have been removed, but some remains, and is removed, bit by bit every year. There is also evidence remaining of the island's history as a whaling station, in the form of old harpoon heads and other scrap metal.

JCR and the cargo tender. Click to enlarge. Waste. Click to enlarge.

The cargo tender is lowered from the deck. Click to enlarge

Waste is loaded for removal.
Click to enlarge.

The waste was quickly loaded and our wonderful cooks sent ashore a lunch of soup, stew and, best of all, syrup sponge. This was enjoyed al fresco, in the most fabulous setting, and in luxurious warm sunshine. I drew the short straw on the washing up however, as there was no longer any running water on base and it didn't seem quite the done thing to ask for a pair of washing up gloves!

Caviar Jo? Click to enlarge. Richie and Jo enjoying their picnic lunch on the "beach". Click to enlarge.

Little and large. Click to enlarge. No, I am not short, he is just very tall....... Click to enlarge.

After lunch it was time to remove some of the old waste and a skip brought from Stanley was filled with old metal, which had been brought back to base from parts of the island, by the base members through the season. Everything has to be either carried by hand, or towed behind the base's one skidoo, and the process is therefore slow and laborious.

Skip in a ship. Click to enlarge. Steptoe and sons! Click to enlarge.

The cargo tender arrives with a skip on board. Click to enlarge.

Loading scrap metal into the skip.
Click to enlarge.

Signy operates during the summer months only, and is left empty during the winter. In order to protect it from the elements and the wildlife, the windows are boarded up, ventilation shafts closed off and taped shut, the generators are stopped and the water pipes drained. The last and possibly most unpleasant job is the removal and storage of the waste pipe from its usual position, to prevent damage and freezing during the winter months. The "business end" is the one least popular to handle, and that job fell to Hamilton Males. The new boatman, bound for KEP, just happened to be wearing a dry-suit and was thus welcomed to BAS in the friendliest manner.

Simon, Jude and Mike. Click to enlarge. H draws the short straw. Click to enlarge.

Judith, Simon and Mike shutter the windows of the generator shed.
Click to enlarge.

Hamilton realizes a space has been saved for him at the business end.
Click to enlarge.

With the relief successfully completed in a day, the weather turned once more against us. We barely had time to look over our shoulders at the island as we headed north into yet another gale, towards our next job, at Bird Island.

A final thought ...

With the water temperature at a toasty 1 degree above freezing, a few of the "children" amongst us couldn't resist the opportunity for a paddle.

Brrrrrrrr! Click to enlarge. Nutter! Click to enlarge.

Dave Gooberman demonstrating appropriate safety gear, while the doctor makes sure her head at least stays warm!
Click to enlarge.

Next week....... Bird Island and South Georgia relief.