Monthly Archives: October 2014

South Georgia – Lots of skiing and two Royal Navy ships

September 2014

What a month! The first three weeks of the month saw some of the best weather we’ve had all winter. In stark contrast the last week has seen some of the worst, something thats becoming predictable… anyone else noticed there is always some poor/extreme (some outdoor friends would say great!) close to the equinoxes? I noticed it when I worked in the Hebrides, off Scotland’s West coast, and it seemed to follow suit in Hong Kong when I lived there… and now South Georgia.

Not only has the weather been giving a varied performance but my workload has done something similar. The fishing season continued to keep me busy boating until the middle of the month, when it then suddenly dropped off and has now left us with only two ships in the area. After a week or so of keeping myself busy doing odd boating jobs (the boat shed has never been cleaner!) and keeping out of trouble, the last week of the month has been particularly busy. I have one of the Jet boats in the shed for servicing and we had two Royal Navy ships in over the weekend. Typical, you don’t see one for 4 months and then two arrive within hours of each other!

South Georgia, Antarctica-1

I told myself off a while ago for not taking my wide angel lens out often enough. I’m glad I did this day, the perfectionist in me isn’t happy as it’s not 100% square on to the bow but hey-ho it’s still an interesting angle

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Julie contemplating leaning against the bulb for the photo. The problem wasn’t leaning against it, it was trusting whoever had the helm not to ‘crab’ the boat out and drop you in the water. The scars on the bulb are from the anchor chain when it gets wrapped round after the wind has changed.

South Georgia, Antarctica, skiing, snow

On the way to Hodges bowl Daniel developed some trouble with his ski binding (the thing that attaches the ski to the boot), this gave James a few minutes to do some snow art…

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Daniel managing to keep his bindings in working order despite the odd hold-up.

South Georgia, Antarctica, skiing, black diamond skis.

Half way up the west side of Mt Hodges (the base is on the other side) taking our skins off and getting ready for the fun part!

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Daniel takes a tumble but wastes no time getting back up and on the move. So little time he didn’t notice the snow on his ass… what would his mum say!?

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I took the chance to dart up the side of the bowl and onto the top of ‘Orca’ peak for a view down the other side into King Edward Cove and Cumberland Bay East. The buildings at Grytviken whaling station stand out nicely with the snow, the buildings at King Edward Point just visible at the entrance of the cove.

South Georgia, Antarctica, Nordenskjold Glacier

The Pharos arrived and quickly left to go on patrol for a few days, before heading down towards the Nordenskjold Glacier to take some depth soundings.

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The Pharos was back alongside at KEP a few days later. Many of the crew are Chilean and the 18th of September is Chilean independence day so we had them up in the bar for a few drinks. This little device (top left) has caught many people out who visit. There are a few bad ways of blowing and there is one good way, get it wrong and you get a face full of talcum powder. Billy from the Pharos was initiated and took it well… even on his second and third attempts. Julie and I (the only Scots on base) spent most of the night watching the BBC news website ‘live stream’ on the Scottish referendum on the big screen in the bar, slightly unsociable but I think everyone understood. I wasn’t allowed to vote as I am in ‘the British Antarctic Territory’.

South Georgia, Antarctica, ships, Sugartop

‘Zefyros’ was the last ‘reefer’ of the season and left us around the middle of the month and the bay has felt really quiet since. Mt Sugartop is the obvious peak.

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Jo heading down one of the bigger pilot ladders. As it was nice and calm I let James pick her up – it also gave me a chance to get a shot of someone coming down. This was also Jo’s second last ladder as it happened. After three seasons as a Government officer on South Georgia she’s leaving…

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Having a final Saturday night celebration over at Carse House  (one of the GO’s residences) for Jo. James and Daniel tear up some moves on a dance game on the Wii… if you watched the out-takes on our 48hr film you might find this photo amusing… if not convincing! (for the record I’m joking) Nearly all of us had a go, James was worryingly good though.

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Dickie and Julie give Jo a send off from the wharf. The Pharos had left the wharf early as we were expecting bad weather and she didn’t want to be stuck alongside so we took Jo out to the Pharos for her journey home. She’s leaving to become the new Captain/Master of the RRS (Royal Research Ship) Discovery. She’ll be missed but we might just see her down here again some time soon.

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The great weather continued past the middle of the month. Chris and Julie spent a couple of nights on the other side of the Thatcher Peninsula at Harpon. We took advantage of the weather to pick them up in the boats and show Chris some of Cumberland Bay West (CBW). The crew from one of the fishing ships also took advantage of the weather to come ashore and look about the museum. They had to pull up at KEP and walk the 1k round to the museum as the ice was too thick in the bay for their little boat.

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Daniel taking the helm as we head round to CBW.

South Georgia, Antarctica, Cumberland Bay West, jet boat

With the wide angle lens on I managed to sneak round onto the bow for a photo.

South Georgia, Antarctica, Harpon hut, Cumberland Bat West

Having picked up the holiday-makers, I ran some supplies up to the hut and took some photos. I was here in June and there were many, many different shades of grey on show and not much else, so it was nice to get some colourful shots.

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A quick one inside looking out the window towards the Lyell Glacier. The cooking and light facilities in-front of the window – simple living.

South Georgia, Antarctica, the three brothers, RIB, Humber.

From the hut we headed up towards the front of the Neumayer Glacier. The ‘Three Brothers’ make an impressive backdrop here.

South Georgia, Antarctica, Glacier, Jet boat

Daniel perched on the bow of the Jet boat getting a shot of the glacier from a safe distance.

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So the GPS on the boat shows our position and the red line is our heading. If you’re unfamiliar with charts the orange stuff is land and glacier, the blue stuff is shallow water and the white stuff is deep water. Our position here is about 8k from the front of the glacier on the chart… Still doubt climate change!?

South Georgia, Antarctica, milky way, jet boats.

With the clear nights I got out and had a play with some ideas I had for shots. I had to leave the shutter open for 13 seconds on the camera here to get the milky way. If you’ve been on a boat you know they don’t normally stay still, which would make the stars blurry, luckily the boats were held fairly still by the sea ice around them.

South Georgia, Antarctica leopard seal pup

Leopard seals are probably my favourite thing (maybe even more than lager) and I’d always wondered about their pups. Apparently it is very rare to see them. So to see a juvenile was something special, practically outside my ‘pit’ room window too. I think he is less than a year old but still not something you want to cuddle! They are about a meter long when born and are “lethal at 8 months, and I do mean lethal!”… one for movie buffs to work out.

South Georgia, Antarctica, skiing.

More great weather over the weekends meant more skiing! I was determined to get some decent action shots. Dickie, James and Daniel were happy to model, just a shame they insist on wearing black all the time!

South Georgia, Antarctica, skiing.

Dickie and James make there way down the bowl with ‘Petrel’ peak behind. Hodges is the dominant peak in the ‘U’ shaped bowl made up of 5 peaks.

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Credit where credit’s due… Daniel has a very, very dark blue jacket on here.

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‘Dotty’ at 2.3m is the smallest boat in the fleet and has been neglected somewhat recently. So I was keen to get her out to stretch her ‘3 horse power engine’ legs. I also wanted to have a look at the flares etc in the tsunami shelter at Gul lake. So Dickie and I took advantage of the continuing weather to go on a mini adventure. He’s very pleased with the sunglasses he found in the field store a while back.

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Landed at Grytviken beach. Out of a boat suit and into ski gear. The base is hidden behind the Pharos on the other side of the bay

South Georgia, Antarctica, Skiing.

Dickie making his way up Gul Lake track, not that you can see the track at this time of year.

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If there is a tsunami we are meant to walk 1.5k up here from base to escape… not sure how thats going to work. Apparently last year there was a tsunami warning. The only reason they got it in time was because a Royal Navy warship was in the bay and they passed it on to base; before darting out to open water herself. I think it was eventually recorded to be a 20cm tsunami!

South Georgia, Antarctica, Tsunami Shelter.

Here is the tsunami shelter.  Two cargo containers with a roof. Inside there is a small generator for lighting and heating, food to last 10 people a month (probably) and plenty of sleeping bags and mats.

South Georgia, Antarctica, Shackleton, Hope point, Grytviken

More clear nights meant I was out in the cold at silly O’clock, this time up at Shackelton’s cross at Hope Point. He died just before reaching South Georgia in 1922, on his 3rd expedition south. He was buried amongst the whalers at the Grytviken cemetery and his men also erected this cross in his memory. If you don’t know who Shackleton was then you need to find one of the many books about him and read it. You won’t regret it!

South Georgia, Antarctica, HMS Iron Duke

As I was saying about the equinox, I’m convinced it causes some extreme weather. It was gusting at 45 knots when the Navy arrived. This is the HMS Iron Duke (great name for a war ship!) just off Hope Point 5 days after the equinox. She’s a type 23 frigate and has been here before. Not sure if in such poor weather though. She can do 28 knots flat out! That’s 32mph or 52km/h!

South Georgia, Antarctica, HMS Iron Duke.

Any visit from a Navy ship is always a good event. We are normally invited on board for a lunch or dinner. We normally repay in kind the next day (if possible) and it also allows the crew to get some shore time and have a look around. It’s a busy time for the ‘Boaty’ (me) as well, as we help out taxiing them from ship to shore and back.

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HMS Protector, the Navy’s ice patrol ship, arrived a few hours behind Iron Duke and took shelter in the cove to run some drills and pick up some equipment… Nothing top secret, just some ethanol from the scientists on base. She’s the younger and bigger sister to the BAS ship Ernest Shackleton, who is a deck shorter. Iron Duke is just visible between the two masts to the right of the boat shed.

South Georgia, Antarctica, HMS Protector

James looking very much like ‘the man about town’ on the back deck of ‘Pipit’ eating an apple Protector had just given us. They were nice to us and gave us a load of fresh fruit and veg from their stores and a sack full of old magazines – still new to us!

South Georgia, Antarctica, HMS Iron Duke, Jet boat

Can’t claim this one to be mine, though I probably make up a megapixel in the photo itself… I’m in the little red and white boat! It’s taken from the Protector as she slipped into the cove. They were kind enough to email it through the next day. We had 20 of the crew over for afternoon tea on the Monday, something that kept everyone on base busy all day. It was all worth it though as Iron Duke gave us two big bags of frozen sausages! Something we ran out of back in April!

South Georgia, Antarctica, male Elephant seal

The Elephant seals have started to return. More come ashore each day and mark the start of spring and the influx of wildlife after the winter season – I’ll talk more about that in the next months post. This is a fully grown male (the big nose is the giveaway) and will fancy his chances of being a ‘beach master’ and controlling a harem of females. A really big male will weigh up-to 4 tonnes!

South Georgia, Antarctica, Male Elephant seal.

Taking this shot I was instantly transported back to my childhood and memories of the movie “Watership Down” and in particular the evil “General Woundwort” – you’d never guess he was evil from his mug shot! (Can’t claim the shot of the General to be mine).


Hopefully back down to a more digestible post next month, for my sake as much as yours!

Next month is going to be a shock to the system… in a couple of weeks time we will have 7 builders and 4 museum staff back on the Island/base. That’s a big jump from the 8 we are down to just now! Not sure how I or the others are going to react to ‘outsiders’ arriving and settling in on our island! Actually it will be nice to have some familiar and some new faces about. Having said that I would take another couple of months of winter right now if I was offered.

Speaking of more winter… I was offered to stay on and do a second winter a while back. I’ve agreed to it, though I’ll be doing the 8 month contract (as Tim did earlier this year) so should arrive back in the UK middle of next summer. That will take my time here to about 22 months without leaving! So I hope you like the blog and will keep reading, it could be interesting watching my mental state deteriorate (further?) during that time!

As always feel free to share with anyone you think might like it. If there’s something you want to know about life down here just ask and I’ll try to answer it.

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