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Nov 07 - Round the Sub-antarctic Isles

Update 07 November

Noon Position : lat 53 54.7S, long 37 33.9 W

Air temperature @ noon today : 2.4 degrees C

Sea temperature @ noon today :  2.2 degrees C

Wind: Direction WNW, Force 5/6

Round the Sub-antarctic Isles

This week has seen us travelling the Southern Ocean in the most fantastic weather.  When we arrived at Bird Island John Dudeney was heard to comment that, in his vast experience, it was the first time he's ever seen it looking so sunny!  It was 6 am ships' time when we arrived at the jetty just outside the base on Bird Island.  There we were greeted by the five over-winterers, all looking a bit startled at the presence of so many different people to talk to.  Their solution?  A breakfast barbecue!  This meant that at any one time a large number of people had their mouths full and couldn't talk to them!  Conditions were perfect, sunshine and flat calm, so as soon as possible cargo was started.  350 barrels of AVTUR needed to be put ashore.  They were loaded onto the cargo tender, ferried across, lifted off by the little crane on the tender and then each barrel had to be rolled up the jetty to the store.  The store was a wooden platform created behind the main base building, maybe 100 metres from the jetty.  Many people pay a lot of money to go on management courses involving obstacle courses and mud, we would have done them proud.  First roll your barrel past the Fur seals on the jetty, then along the metal grids.  A sharp turn at the top of the slight slope will test your steering ability, then missing the corner of the base building, onto the wooden planking.  Don't fall off because you and your barrel will land in the seal slurry!  Two small steps with a ramp and if you are really lucky (it helps if you are a girl!) one of the lads will help with the last bit onto the platform.

Barrel rolling across the mire; photo L.Handcock (so how come we had time to take the photos, then?!)

John Dudeney, the deputy director who is retiring this year, rolling his last ever barrel for BAS; photo S.Morley

It was very important to walk slowly back to the jetty, if you were too keen you ended up with more than your share of barrels to roll.  Unloading went very well and it was very satisfying to see the last barrel rolled into place.  There were still other things to unload and cargo continued well into the evening, by which time the nice sunshine had gone and there was thick snow.  We were all very glad to stop for the evening and delighted to be able to ask the base personnel aboard for a celebratory dinner.

King Edward Point

The next morning the ship continued along the North coast of South Georgia, again in good weather with fantastic views.

North Coast of South Georgia; photo L.Handcock

We arrived at King Edward Point shortly after lunch.  These over-winterers have visitors from the fishing vessels and are more accustomed to company, nonetheless they were happy to see us.  Again, cargo takes priority, although it is a much simpler affair.  The ship is able to tie up alongside and there is a JCB to do the heavy lifting on the quayside.  Those of us not needed were therefore able to do a little exploring during our stay.

The base on King Edward Point lies across the bay from Grytviken.  Grytviken is an old Norwegian whaling station and much of it is being preserved.  A leisurely stroll will take you to the museum there.  This is full of old whaling artefacts, information on the natural history of the island and if you're really lucky tea and cakes with Tim and Pauline, the curators.  Further round the bay is Ernest Shackletons' grave, the chance to pay your respects to an heroic explorer.  For those with the energy, you can climb the hill and walk to Penguin river.  Here there was a small group of King penguins looking particularly unimpressive as they are mid-moult!  On the way back towards the ship it is nice to visit the church at the back of Grytviken.  This was re-consecrated in 1999 and standing in the bell tower gives a fine view across the old town.

Grytviken; photo L.Handcock

Of course, during all of this time the science has been ongoing.  The divers have been busy in the water looking for clams, fish and limpets.  (For more information see last weeks' diary page.)  This has been very hard work due to low visibility in the water created by algal bloom, related to the fresh melt water pouring off the glaciers and is early this year.  Despite this they were able to collect the fish and limpets that were needed for the project, although the clams are proving harder to find.

Leaving again....

The Sparky, in an effort to make a liar of me, has been off skiing again.  He thinks that this is actually the best ski resort in the world and not Signy, as I falsely claimed last week.

  photo M.Gloistein

So we are once again on the move.  Back to Bird Island to drop off the last load of cargo, then bound for Stanley once more. The question is, will the weather hold?

Sunrise at King Edward Point; photo A. Liddell