Monthly Archives: March 2015

South Georgia – defiance, marathons and regattas.

February 2015

Things have been getting back to normal on base, slowly but surely, that’s not to say there haven’t been some interesting comings and goings.

The ‘rattys’ got off to a good start while we had the good weather, as I write this they have baited just over 54% of the areas they are targeting but have been slowed down by recent poor weather and the snapping of a blade in high winds! I should add it was on the ground at the time and the engine wasn’t running – I don’t think any of the pilots, engineers and rest of the ratty team have seen a snapped blade due to wind strength before. That’s left them with two of the three helicopters operational with the third helicopter living in my boatshed.

South Georgia, Antarctica, Mercer bay, Hanging glacier

Early in the month we picked up Andy and Kelvin from Carlita after they had spent a week or so at Husvik looking at invasive plants. This gave us the opportunity to head down to Mercer Bay which feeds into Cumberland West Bay.

South Georgia, Antarctica, Geikie Glacier

The Geikie Glacier has retreated in recent years. A chart I have from the late 1950s shows it about a mile further out (well behind where I’ve taken this photo from) and about 300m of vertical ice where the front is in the photo – my guess is the front is about 70m now.


A quick crew change gave Mark, James’s boss, an opportunity to have a bit of fun in the smaller and nippier RIB.

South Georgia, Antarctica, Harker Glacier

James and Mark take Luna back through Cumberland West Bay on the way home. You can make out Harpon hut if you look directly up from the bow of the RIB. The Harker Glacier in the background could easily be mistaken for terra firma. It was covered in soil, rocks and stones years ago by one big landslide apparently.

South Georgia, Antarctica.

A sign of how good the weather has been… the water on the left here is typical seawater and the milky looking water on the right is a mix of seawater and glacial melt water. I’ve seen lines like this in the water before but much closer to the glaciers, this is near the mouth of Cumberland Bay and several kilometres from any glacier.

Antarctica, South Georgia, Antarctic Tern

I didn’t head out with the intention of getting more tern shots but the juvenile caught my attention when he started making a right racket, I didn’t work out why until the parent suddenly came into shot with some food.

Antarctica, South Georgia.

Can you guess what it is yet? Might be a gentoo, king or Macaroni penguin – gentoos have pinky coloured feet though don’t they?


None of the above! It was a shag going for a dip. They like to wait about on the wharf’s capping when not flying or swimming.

South Georgia, Antarcica

The child in me can’t help but think that the shag at the front here is trying to protect his friends dignity as he picks his own bum – childish I know but the pose is great.

Antarctica, South Georgia, Shag

They pose in some intriguing ways just before they take off.

Antarctica, South Georgia.

It takes a bit of momentum before they get properly airborne, often using their feet to help propel them forward.

South Georgia, Antarctica.

Some more fine boating weather. I’d actually be happier with some cloud around to fill up the landscape shots, just as well there are some mountains around instead.

South Georgia, Antarctica.

We were on our way to drop Andy off at Sorling so he could set up some cameras to hopefully catch some rat footage before their demise. You can just see one of the helicopters near the top of the shot here. After droping the boys of at Sorling we were going to have a quick look at the front of the Nordenskjold Glacier before heading home. When we radioed into base to say ‘All ok, ops normal, heading to the glacier, next call in 15min’ we had a unusual reply…’pipit, pipit, return to base immediately, you have been re-tasked’. This was from Simon who is ex-Army, which might explain the formal wording of the transmission. We returned to base and were summoned to the Government Officers office.


Upon arriving there we found Simon and Kelvin in the office preparing two of the reindeer shooters rifles. My kneejerk thought was the Argentinians were about to invade (they invaded SG before invading the Falklands in 1982), once the absurdity of two blokes with sniper rifles holding off a full scale Argentinian invasion dawned on me I began to think of other reasons, while Simon checked the loading mechanism of the rifle, the only thing it could be struck me – reindeer! Sure enough one of the ratty helicopters had spotted three big males on the northern Barff Peninsula. After coming up with a quick plan we refuelled the boats, loaded them up with the kit and headed off to the Barff again. The guys spent an afternoon on the peninsula and nearly had them but the helicopters spooked the reindeer earlier in the day so they ran at the first sign of peculiarity. The weather the following day was too poor to boat in (don’t get your hopes up if you’re a Rudolf fan – it doesn’t have a happy ending) so the reindeer had a final peaceful day before Simon and Kelvin managed to track them down, shoot them and put an end to the reindeers’ defiance…we think. We managed to get a lot of the meat back on base and have had a few meals out of it already.

Antarctica, South Georgia.

The nights are drawing in again and the milky way is becoming more and more visible on the good nights. I headed out one night (partly because I’m sharing my room with someone whose snoring can be fairly…impressive) to get some shots and try some stuff out. The white light here is the Pharos as it sits alongside the wharf.

South georgia, Antarctica.

As ugly as it is during the day, the comms tower adds a lot to night shots. For the photographers out there I dropped my colour temp right down to 2,800 for these night shots which makes the colours a little softer I think.

Antarctica, South Georgia.

My mother has been nagging (putting it politely) me to include more penguin shots. So here’s an unusual one of some king penguins at night. It’s a 10 second exposure which means any movement makes things blurry but I quite like the effect.

Antarctica, South Georgia.

A slightly different angle this time with the moon and milky way in the shot.

Antarctica, South georgia.

In the middle of the month we said goodbye to some of the visiting scientists. Things didn’t seem to get much quieter as there was still plenty going on and another two red and white ships were still in the area.


HMS Protector was in for a visit so that gave a good opportunity for some boat training, as we helped them ferry people to and from shore.

Antarctica, South Georgia.

Ian has the knack of ‘crabbing’ the jet boats alongside ships pilot ladders now. Protector is a good one to practice on as she doesn’t have anything above that could catch the mast etc.

Antarctica, South georgia, RSS Ernest Shackleton, HMS Protector

If you were thinking Protector looks a lot like the BAS ship Ernest Shackleton you were right! Here they are together, a rare sight I believe! Protector is slightly bulkier than the Shack. When they were planning Protector they asked the Shack crew what they would do differently if it was built again and then incorporated most of the ideas into Protector. The boat on the right of the picture is Protector’s version of our jet boats, just slightly updated and used for survey work.

South Georgia, Antarctica, Half Marathon

The highlight of the SG sporting calendar arrived in February – the South Georgia Half-Marathon. We had a total of 16 participants this year, competing in three categories – walkers, runklers and runners (runkling is a mixture of the other two categories). The course is 18.60 kilometres or 11.5 miles, not a proper half I hear you say? Mountain marathons, half or full, will give you some distance back as there is elevation to add to the equation. The SG half includes nearly 800m of elevation gain and less than half the course is on path or trail. I’ve done a few of these in other parts of the world, including a 50k, and can say that this is the most brutal course I’ve done.

South Georgia, Antarctica.

Here go the runners (starting 2 hours after the walkers and 1 behind the runklers). Micky, myself, Simon and Hugh from left to right. Micky was second last year with a time of 2hrs and 6min, I was well out of podium places in 2hrs and 43min, Simon was 2hrs and 20min (we think) and Hugh didn’t manage to run as there was a ship in so had to run the post office. However Hugh ran the marathon at several Commonwealth Games representing the Falkland Islands and had a fairly epic battle with Martin Collins (SG Chief Executive), on a slightly shorter course here, a few years ago, coming in in 1hr 45min and only a few seconds between the two of them. Simon won the Kandahar marathon a few years back when he was in the Army and has been training hard this summer, so a fairly strong field despite its numbers. Late winter last year I’d shocked myself to see that I was 95 kgs or 15 stone when I got on the scales (that’s heavy enough to be a heavyweight boxer! Though I didn’t have the physique to go with it) – it’s very easy to put on weight here with fresh bread everyday and a massive (free) food store at your disposal. So I decided to start being careful with how much I ate, counting calories and training. Since then I’ve lost 14kgs or just over 2 stone. A few months ago I thought a sub 2hr time might be possible, nearly 45 min faster than last year, but recent injuries and ‘man-flu’ made me re-think that in the week or two before the race. My goal on the day was 2hr 10min.

South Georgia, Antarctica, Half marathon.

Here I am with a couple of kms to go and well on my way to smashing my time from last year. I’m working quite hard to close a gap of about 200m on Micky here, I’d taken a tumble a short while before and was struggling to get back into a rhythm. The vest is one I wore in 2013 when my three brothers and I ran the Edinburgh Marathon as a relay team raising money for charity in memory of our friend ‘Ferg’ who had sadly passed away the year before. We came in 9th out of about 600 teams. I’ve added my SG Half-Marathon race details from my watch below.


I wasn’t able to close the gap on Micky. I did get it down to about 50 meters but had given myself too much to do. My training in the last month or two wasn’t great as I’d had 3 weeks of man-flu over Christmas and New Year then at the start of February I had shin splints. I’m usually able to near-sprint the last 100-150m of a race but couldn’t this time. Maybe the tumble and long runs I’d done in the week leading up to the race, in an attempt to make up for lost mileage, had taken more out of me than I thought. I’m still delighted with the sub 2hr time (last year that would have been good enough for 2nd place). Simon came in first with a time of 1hr 48min and 5 sec with Hugh 3-4 min behind that in second place. Having spoken to Hugh afterwards he thinks a sub 2hr time here would be about 1hr 30min on a road half Marathon.

South Georgia, Antarctica.

The sporting weekend continued on the Sunday with the inaugural SG Regatta up on Gull Lake. A few of the guys have been working on some very impressive craft over the last few months. There were some late entries made up of styrofoam, kitchen trays and Cadbury’s Heroes tubs – much to the disgust of the more serious entrants.

South georgia, Antarctica, regatta.

It was a big turn out lakeside with about 90% of the islands population I think. Some people dressing up as proper yachties!

South Georgia, Antarctica.

Hugh, Simon and Ray (left to right) taking the occasion quite seriously.

South georgia, Antarctica.

Jamie (ratty Doctor) and Emma (our Doctor) came in first and second place respectively. Jamie’s craft is some styrofoam with a zip-lock bag as a sail and crewed by a toy rat. Emma’s is a box of Cadbury’s Heroes with a stick mast with a plastic Welsh flag as a sail. She’s Irish so don’t ask me to explain the Welsh flag! The genius of Emma’s craft is the ballast used in the Heroes tub. The Doctor each year at KEP is responsible for looking after the food. Emma realised a while ago that we have 28kgs of Polenta, something we might use a few handfuls of a year, so she has been very keen to get rid of some of it. So in a multi-purpose move she used polenta as ballast.


Once the crafts crossed the lake we moved to the tsunami shelter where someone had brought up Pimms and several glasses. I’m often asked ‘What do you do with free time? Don’t you get bored?” Well, no, I don’t… how could you with a bunch of lunatics like this!?

South Georgia, Antarctica.

Towards the end of the month I managed to get away on Holiday to the Barff Peninsula. Hoping to get over to Rookery Bay to see the Macaroni penguins was the main aim but also to get a hill or two in. We managed to get up one peak behind camp which offered great views over to the Nordenskjold Glacier.

Antarctica, South Georgia.

Emma doing her best Antarctic hero pose with the glacier in the background.

Antarctica, South Georgia.

We made it to Rookery Bay the next day. It involved climbing some fairly steep tussock grass slopes.

South Georgia, Antarctica, Macaroni penguin.

We managed to get to the Macaroni Penguin colony eventually. They are very similar to rockhopper penguins but have a white patch on their throat that the rockhoppers don’t. They will leave land in a few weeks and spend the winter at sea feeding, on krill mainly, before returning in the spring. I’m told they return and depart to the same colony, year after year, within a three day window. That’s an impressive internal calendar!

South Georgia Antarctica.

The colony attracts lots of other visitors as well, mainly ones who are looking for a feed. Giant petrels are always close by ready to jump on anything that’s dead or close to it.

South Georgia, Antarctica.

The other visitor is the snowy sheathbill or ‘shit-chicken’ as they are known by most people who spend time down here. They will eat just about anything and are one of the birds that are likely taking a hit from the rat poison that’s lying around.

Antarctica, South Georgia, Macaroni penguin

Yoga penguin! I’m not sure why their eyes are so red – it’s not rabies. The Macs and rockhopper penguins are the only ones with red eyes we see here.

South Georgia, Antarctica.

“The boys are back in town!” Their yellow feathers are flattened when wet but soon spring back up when they dry out…

South Georgia, Antarctica.

Spring back up like this one! They are about the same size as a gentoo but have way more character, they are known to peck people who get too close and make way more of a song and dance when trying to attract a partner – maybe because they keep them for life.

South Georgia, Antarctica.

Emma found a good spot in the tussock grass to get pictures from, not very well camouflaged you might say but it didn’t seem to bother the Macs. The Macs lay two eggs each year and only one hatches, no one’s sure why, it’s a bit of a mystery as nature doesn’t tend to be so wasteful – having said that the petrels, skuas and shit-chickens don’t let anything go to waste.

South Georgia, Antarctica.

I was trying to get a shot of them porpoising through the water or coming out of the water and onto land but didn’t have the time. It’s quite impressive to see them land in some big surf onto rocks, I kept thinking they’d misjudge it but they never did.

South Georgia, Antarctica, Macaroni Penguin.

Once they were on their feet they were fairly quick to get up and out of the surf zone, a few were caught by the waves and taken back out to try again.

South Georgia, Antarctica. Macaroni Penguin

Yes, I’m sure they are Macs and not rockhoppers.

South Georgia, Antarctica. Macaroni Penguin

“To infinity and beyond!” I thought each one was going to faceplant when they leapt off rocks like this, but they landed perfectly every time.

South Georgia, Antarctica. Macaroni Penguin

“I believe I can fly!”

I’m expecting the post to arrive soon, so if you sent anything towards the end of last year it might turn up in the coming weeks. I’ll update everyone in the next blog post .

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