Nov 10 - The South Orkneys
When we last left it, it was 2nd November and the James Clark Ross was getting ready to set sail for Signy Base. It was not to be though, with strong winds pinning the ship against FIPASS and a dangerous swell not far outside the harbour. The weather thus had its way and the JCR was forced to stay berthed for another day and a half. Therefore, it was actually just after 8am on the 4th that we finally cleared the berth and headed back out of the Narrows, into Port William Sound and back out into the open ocean. Surprisingly, given the devilish weather of the past few days, it was only in moderate swell and to decreasing winds that we headed south-east, in the direction of the South Orkney Islands and Signy Base.
It was less than 24 hours until the first sighting of ice from the JCR this season was noted. Thus, in the early hours of 5th November, this large berg passed well out of sight to stern, before most on board had even stirred. Throughout the passage south was an obvious gradual drop in air and water temperatures, though the wind continued to die down and the swell eased away to almost nothing. Ice was significantly more evident by the evening of the 6th and the final passage into sight of Factory Bay, our final destination, in the early hours of the 7th was to an audience of beautifully formed old bergs. The ship was anchored in place by 730am ready for a hard day's work from all individuals on board.
Within only half an hour or so, the Cargo Tender was in the water and ready for action. The first trip to shore was with the new base crew alone, allowing work to start on the all important generator. If this was working by the end of the day then they would be able to spend their first night of many in their new home. This left those still on ship to start preparing for the transfer of all cargo and supplies to shore. The crane was ready and waiting after lowering the boats and it was only a very short while later that the cargo tender was loaded up and ready for the first drop off to base. Along with the cargo itself, on the tender were a number of members of the ships company. Their role was to help out with the safe and efficient man-handling of cargo off the tender and to appropriate storage on base. By the end of the day all cargo was ashore, there were many aching limbs and, most importantly, there was a working generator. Summer at Signy was thus able to start.
And so, by about 5pm, the many aching limbs and bruised bodies returned to join those that had been working cargo on board all day. A beautiful sunset, over snow covered mountains was much appreciated, after a well deserved evening meal and this was soon followed, for most, with an equally deserved long night's sleep.
Dawn heralded the start of a crisp, bright and pefectly still day. The cargo tender and inflatables had a number of drop-offs of oil, water and other goods to various depots, to all be put in place by the new base members. At the same time, a number of members of the ship's company headed ashore to assist in digging out rubbish at base, iced in since the end of last season. With a great deal of effort a skip was filled within a couple of hours, ready to be transported back to the ship later that day.
After the morning's work came the opportunity for the visiting BAS staff to get a flavour of the backdrop and wildlife that give Signy such character. In the most astounding weather conditions an hours walk from Base took a lucky 12 of the ships company to Gourlay point. Here they were able to view the begining of the season at the local penguin colony. Some of the Adele Penguins were already sitting on eggs, while the Chinstraps were yet to lay. Also around the colony, basking in the sunshine, were Weddell, Fur and Elephant Seals
And so at around 330pm the new residents, with visiting staff, were able to share a pot of tea with Captain Elliott on his last ever visit to the base, 38 years after his first in 1967. With waves of goodbye at the quayside, six individuals were left on their own in their new home, at least until the arrival of the RRS Ernest Shackleton next month.
In clear skies, at 5pm, the anchor was lifted and the ship departed for it's next port of call, King Edward Point at South Georgia. The trip back north, away from the South Orkneys, though, was not to be as easy as the journey in. Thick fog quickly descended and this, in association with thick pack ice forced a change to the planned route as can be seen below. It was not until after lunch the next day that open ocean was present in all directions and the ship was heading at full steam for KEP.