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South Georgia to Punta Arenas

South Georgia to Punta Arenas

Starting with Science

Antarctic krill are a vital part of the Southern Ocean food web, forming a link between phytoplankton and air breathing predators, such as whales and penguins.

The island of South Georgia is home to large colonies of Antarctic Fur Seals and several species of penguin and flying bird. These animals rely on krill as the main part of their diet. Their survival and breeding success are linked to the amount of krill in the sea surrounding South Georgia.

Krill are frequently seen in dense aggregations, known as swarms. These can be from tens to hundreds of metres across. It is believed that krill congregate to avoid being eaten and to help them feed. The RRS James Clark Ross has a scientific echosounder that creates acoustic images which are used to calculate the amount of krill available for predators to eat. During cruise JR140 acoustic images of krill were recorded at the same time as seal and bird sightings to examine how krill predators behave. This helps scientists decide how predators find krill and will assist in conservation plans to reduce the effect of krill fisheries on South Georgia based predators.

To enhance ship based echosounders an upward looking echosounder was installed on a tow fish pulled alongside the RRS James Clark Ross. This allowed acoustic data to be observed in shallow water depths, which are inaccessible to conventional echo sounders mounted on the bottom of the hull. This will allow examination of how predators that are unable to dive more than a few metres underwater interact with krill.

The Western core Box (again)

Now with Martin Cox

And thus it was that the new year was to be seen in whilst undertaking the Western Core Box, which, given weather it would normally throw at the James Clark Ross, was not much of a prospect. Things cleared beautifully (relatively speaking), though, after a rather rough start and so, dispite the rather dank and dreary weather, the New Year was celebrated on calm seas. It was around 11pm that the whole of the ships compliment, crew, officers and scientists began to congregate for the ritual festivities. The ships bell had already been given a thorough polish by Kieran, the engineering cadet, who's duty it would be to ring in the new year as the youngest person on board. The old year was to be rung out, as per tradition, by the oldest on board, this year, quite appropriately, to be undertaken by the Captain himself. The clock was counted down over the radio by the 3rd mate on the bridge and all, bar the few on duty, saw the New Year in to the sound of the JCR Bell, all on ! the ship's forecastle. Despite calmer seas, it still wasn't the most pleasant of evenings, so soon afterwards all retired inside to celebrate the New Year in a warmer environment. Not for all, though, was this the case, since the next scientific CTD station was due at between 1am and 2am.

All on board waiting to ring in the New year Picture by Pete Enderlein
All on board waiting to ring in the New year Picture by Pete Enderlein

The Captain ringing the ships bell with Kieran waiting his turn to follow (Picture by Pete Enderlein)
The Captain ringing the ships bell with Kieran waiting his turn to follow (Picture by Pete Enderlein)

The ship finished the last day of the WCB and after that it was into the calmer waters of Rosita Harbour. This is a large stadium like bay with a huge Fur Seal Colony spread out all around it's rim. The reason for heading in here on the last science afternoon of the cruise was to allow the scientific compliment to calibrate all the acoustic equipment that was being used to study Krill. We arrived in the harbour late afternoon to very high winds. That evening all the apparatus was set up to allow work to start early the next day. The next day was beautifully calm, if a bit on the dismal side. This made to a beautifully eery backing to the days work with the continual sounds of young seal pups in all directions and countless numbers playing all around the ship. Late in the morning, during the calibration work, the Captain took the opportunity to attempt to visit the team who were working on Albatross Island, only a stone's throw away from where the ship was sitting at anc! hor.

The captain and Deck Cadet aboard one of the ship's Humbers
The captain and Deck Cadet aboard one of the ship's Humbers

Heading off to Albatross Island in the distance
Heading off to Albatross Island in the distance

Looking in to Rosita Harbour from the ship
Looking in to Rosita Harbour from the ship

It was late afternoon when the ship left, but work continued so as to finish the scientific cruise that day. In total, four moorings were visited that evening, and it wasn't until the early hours that scientific staff and crew had finished and could retire to the saloon for a quiet drink before bed.

The ship was thus now steaming west in the direction of the Falklands, and then on to Southern Chile. It was the 5th of January that had been schedule for the traditional End of Cruise Dinner. Nibbles in the bar, with all the officers in full blues, was followed by a wonderful meal of roast lamb, and then by a speech for Captain Elliott by Pete, the PSO, after which everyone retired upstairs. There was more planned for the evening, though, and from 8pm the officers all slowly disappeared, heading for the crew bar. It was only a week until the Captains very final pay-off and the evening had been prepared for him downstairs. And so, with only Dave, the chief engineer, left upstairs with the captain, having been 'entertained' by the PSO, as requested, the captain was escorted downstairs for his leaving presentation from the ship and an evening with the whole of the ships crew.

The Presentation for Captain Elliott (Picture by Nick Dunbar)
The Presentation for Captain Elliott (Picture by Nick Dunbar)

Gerry and Tom (2nd and 3rd engineers) togged up for the occasion (Picture by Nick Dunbar)
Gerry and Tom (2nd and 3rd engineers) togged up for the occasion (Picture by Nick Dunbar)

It was on the 7th that the JCR was due to arrive in at Punta Arenas. It was at at 10am that the Punta Arenas Pilot was brought on board via one of their own boats. He was to stay on for the whole of the 7 hour passage into Puerto Montades, just a few mile to the north of the city of Punta Arenas itself. The ship was to be accompanied on route by countless Commersons's Dolphins and a number new of species of South American bird. It was at 16:30 that the ship was to make it's final approach into the harbour and was all fast on berth just 30 minutes later.

Arrival of the Punta Arenas Pilot
Arrival of the Punta Arenas Pilot

Commerson's Dolphins seen from the Forecastle
Commerson's Dolphins seen from the Forecastle

It was to be another busy stop in and a real alteration in the ship's general make-up with all but a few of the crew and scientific compliment to change over. Everyone was to have just one or two nights left on board, with many getting the chance to have one run ashore, still as members of the crew, on that first saturday night in port. The scientific compliment were all to change over the next day, with many much worse for wear from the night before, as were the new geophysics team from their 30-hour plus flight from the UK. The deck crew completed the cargo work, getting all stocks of food and science equipment on board. They themselves would be paying off, after their 3 and a half months on board, the next day, when the big change in ships life for the season would really start.