Apr 19 - Towards the Tropics
Noon Position: lat 53 05.3 S long 43 11.7 W (193 nautical
miles from Bird Island)
Distance Travelled since Immingham: 24028 Nautical Miles
Air temperature: 3.0°C
Sea temperature: 4.3°C
The JCR this Week.
This was our final week south of the Antarctic convergence. We are now steaming towards Stanley for the last time, heading for home via the warmth of the tropics. It has been both exciting and sad, seeing the lovely islands of South Georgia again, and saying goodbye to friends who are staying for the winter.
However, we have had a good week, with a successful three days of cargo operations and time in hand for our return to Stanley. There was even time for some "jollying" for a lucky few and a sunny KEP-style barbecue.
Bird Island relief
From Signy we headed through the now-expected bad weather to Bird Island. We were thankfully allowed a reprieve from the weather and set off early to the island to collect the last remaining cargo and waste items. These were quickly loaded, and the winterer's supply of fresh food was packed away into fridges and freezers. All the work done, the four winterers were invited aboard the ship for a meal and some entertainment while the rest of us kept the Aga burning in the cosy base and awaited their return.
Sarah, on returning from the ship laden with gifts from the crew of videos and DVDs to watch over the winter, proclaimed, "Next time I'll wear a dress!"
As ever on Bird Island, the wildlife is the greatest attraction. The base work is part of an ongoing project, monitoring the life and reproductive cycles of the albatross, penguins and seals. Some of their work ties-in with marine biology undertaken from the ship, such as the seal and penguin feeding patterns which were used to target areas for fishing during JR96. The base staff comprise a seal assistant, a bird assistant, a penguin assistant and a facilities engineer. This year we leave Sarah Robinson, Isaac Forster and Chris Green doing the science and Alex Cottle keeping the place ticking over. They won't be lonely though, with so much work to do and so much wildlife all around them.
Just hours after leaving the island, we heard that the freezer with all the fresh food had broken down. This disaster was rectified on our return from KEP, having, by an amazing stroke of luck, picked up an electrician called JD from KEP. JD originally installed the freezers 3 years ago, and was able to pinpoint and sort the problem in the time taken for Sarah to bake all on board a very tasty carrot cake! Thanks Sarah.
Science Bit In The Middle: Grass and Bugs
Science never sleeps, that's the motto at BAS. And so it was, just when we thought it was all over, that Judith Dickson (ex Signy) piped up: "I need to collect some grass samples from Bird Island and South Georgia, for DNA studies". Naturally, Judith's winning smile and the attractive prospect of walking the length of Bird Island to "pick a bit of grass" meant that a few of us volunteered willingly.
However, we were somewhat unprepared for the absolute perfectionism required of us during the grass picking. No brown bits, no mud, no bugs, no roots, no dry bits, no bent bits.... 20 stalks of perfect grass from each of 10 sites!
Ben, a BI local, led us up through the bogs of Bird Island to Top Meadows, the only place where the grass grows in abundance on this waterlogged island. It is quite a skill, deciding which bit of mud is safe to stand on and which is bog or seal wallow, and neither Mike nor myself have yet mastered it.
Ben, Mike and Judith picking grass for Marc, who is no doubt sitting in his warm lab at home with his feet up, drinking hot tea; not that I'm bitter about my cold fingers, my frost-bitten toes, the rain dripping down the back of my neck, no.............
Once we had found our grass, we sadly discovered that we couldn't pick it without removing our gloves...... which is never a happy thought in Antarctica! Several hours later, "picking a few bits of grass" had turned into a labour of love. However, in spite of the mud, the cold and the wet feet, a great day was had, made perfect by a short walk further to the "Big Mac" penguin colony which is home to 70,000 macaronis penguins.
The grass has been packed away for transport back to the UK, but we have other charges to care for on the way home. Ben's bugs: beetles and mites from Bird Island as well as some moss and a few hundred springtails from Signy are all being returned to BAS for further analysis. These have been left in my care..... as it was deemed that, being responsible for the health and welfare of the crew qualifies me for the job of looking after these tiny creatures!
Last call KEP
Our task at KEP was a simple one: to load the heavy plant from the AWG camp who have been cleaning up the whaling station this summer, to load the waste from the camp and the base, to refuel the base and to exchange one boatman for 37 builders. Simple.
I hid in the hills for the whole process, but apparently it went very well.
The base at King Edward Point lies in King Edward Cove, a mile from Grytviken whaling station. The AWG camp is at the far end of the whaling station and the personnel living there have laboured hard all summer to make the station safe, removing hazardous materials and securing loose roofs etc. The work has been carried out on behalf of South Georgia Government and will mean that for the first time for many years, visitors will be able to walk among the remains of the buildings, which will form a life-size museum to the whaling industry and the lives of the many people who lived and worked there.
At the far end of Grytviken stands the whaler's cemetery, where Sir Ernest Shackleton lies buried. His gravestone, made of Scottish granite was erected in 1928, six years after his death. It is inscribed with Robert Browning's words, "I hold that a man should strive to the uttermost for his life's set prize".
South Georgia has a full and vibrant history, from the whalers to Shackleton, military occupation and, since 1969 the presence of BAS scientists. At the peak of the whaling era the island's population was over 2000. Now there are twelve: the marine officer and his wife, and ten BAS winterers. Pauline and Tim Carr, the museum curators are currently enjoying a holiday in the Canada, but will be returning before the end of the winter to boost the numbers to fourteen. There aren't many of us who don't envy their idyllic life on this beautiful island.
News of Shackleton's death was relayed by the steam ship Albuera, whose men were able to send the message home as soon as she came within range of a wireless station. Modern communications still use radio and for this purpose a radio antenna is present at every one of the BAS bases. At South Georgia, our Radio Officer Mike Gloistein was able to make use of this facility and "talk" to people all over the world using Morse Code.
A final thought ...
This time in Stanley, we say goodbye to Dave Gooberman, the mate. He has been with BAS for six years but is now leaving to take up a new job as ship's inspector in his home port of Douglas, Isle of Man. We wish him all the best, he will be missed.
Dave Gooberman the mate, as we'll remember him. Click to enlarge.
Next week....... homeward bound.