Monthly Archives: April 2015

South Georgia – The next era

March 2015

South Georgia, Antarctica, Humber RIB, Cumberland East Bay

Thats me behind Emma in the RIB (I’d left my camera on the jet boat and Ian had taken a couple of shots for me) with the Nordenskjold Glacier behind. We are getting more and more days with scattered low lying clouds now we are moving into winter. I’m aware some people think I’m on holiday here and while I admit I have a great job, however it’s not without dificulties …

South Georgia, Antarctica, HUmber RIB leaky sponson

If you’re looking at this thinking ‘isn’t that the inflatable part of the boat? It’s not meant to have water in it, is it?’ you’d be spot on. The RIB’s are past their best and are taking up oodles of time keeping them going. This sponson was taking in water from a mysterious location so I got an old scalpel from Emma (doctor) and started cutting back the rubber straiking to try to find the location of the ingress… bingo! Hopefiully it’s the last time I have to do that, I think the boaties next year will have a new RIB, maybe even two!

South Georgia, Antarctica, birthday cake

It was Erny’s birthday early in the month so Emma made him a ‘poo-pipe’ cake. Erny looks after, as well as mechanical stuff, the sewage treatment on base.  He can often be found on the beach rodding the poo-pipe, (on particularly bad days with a pick-ax), to make sure it’s flowing properly. Little Erny above is holding his pick-ax – we tried to put him on the cake but he started to sink into the ‘poo’… which is quite fitting really. And yes, that is sweetcorn on the cake.

South Georgia, Antarctica, Commonwealth day 2015

March the 9th was Comonweath Day and we, along with another 720 locations raised the commonwealth flag at 10am local time. There is a chance this photo might be presented to the Queen in the coming weeks. Not sure if that will be the case however since you may notice Erny (far left) is wearing his poo-pipe gloves.

South Georgia, Antarctica, plaster cast

Emma took advantage of some fine March weather to teach us how to put casts on, it’s quite a messy job so doing it outside saves lots of cleaning up afterwards.

South Georgia, Antarctica, plaster cast

Steph has a leg cast put on by James, with a helping hand from Emma, while Erny puts an arm one on Adam.

South Georgia, Antarctica, plaster cast

Steph returned the favour and put an arm cast on James. While James was away on holiday I put this on Facebook to stir some trouble.

South Georgia, Antarctica, Rat eradication project

Tuesday the 23rd of March 2015, ‘a date that will (not) live in infamy!’  The ratty team dropped the last bait pellet and completed the largest rat eradication program that has ever been undertaken…anywhere. Eradicating the rats could allow ground nesting bird numbers to sky rocket by over 100 million over the coming years. I’m sure in years to come this will be seen as big an event in the history of South Georgia as the end of the whaling days – a new era has begun. Yes, I do mean one hundred million.

South Georgia, Antarctica, MV Pharos

The Pharos takes up position near Coral Bay, (not one of her usual anchorages), where she could put the builders and materials ashore to replace the old hut.

South Georgia, Antarctica, Coral bay hut

The new hut dwarfs the old one even before the roof is on. We dropped by to pick up Andy and Kelvin who have been walking the Barff looking for dead birds – Skuas are particularly fond of the rat bait and have suffered as a result. However, as most of the ground nesting birds have suffered with the rats for nearly a hundred years, it’s only a short lived problem of the skuas. Sometimes you have to take a step back before moving forward.

South Georgia, Antarctica, King Penguin chick

King penguin chicks aren’t quite as cute as the Emperor chicks, I think most people imagine cute Emperor chicks when they hear penguin chick. I had gone over to Penguin river after work one day to film myself answering a question for a teacher friend who’s class were covering some Antarctic stuff – I think I’m better behind the camera, it took me about 20 takes to get a 2 & 1/2 min answer done without messing it up. On the way back I went to see the kings at the river, most years the chicks don’t survive. After a lot of rain or snow the river swells and the chicks are washed away, the adults never seem to learn – the expression ‘bird brain’ may have originated with penguins. However this year they have moved to slightly higher ground so they might just survive.

South Georgia, Antarctica, oil soil response

No it’s not one of those banana things you tow behind a boat you see in the Mediterranean (though that’s a good idea!). It’s an oil spill response ‘boom’, there is a skirt underneath the inflatable section that hangs in the first foot of water to trap any oil that might be spilled. The idea is to get it out of the water into a ‘fast tank’ (the black square to the right of the blue container in the background) where it can be contained and then put into empty barrels etc.

South Georgia, Antarctica, oil soil response

The next step is to deploy the ‘skimmer’ which is attached to a pump that sucks up whatever is on the surface and then pumps it out the end of another length of hose and into the fast tank.

South Georgia, Antarctica, Junction valley

We are getting weekends back now that things are quietening down. Ian, Erny and myself headed out for a walk with the intention of doing a peak near the top of ‘Glacier Col’. Last time I was up there it was winter, and given the view is spectacular, it was about time I went back.

South Georgia, Antarctica, Glacier col

There was several feet of snow last time I was here, just before we got to the top of the col (500m+ above sea level) I had commented to Erny that it felt amazingly mild.

South Georgia, Antarctica, Glacier col

Well that was clearly a stupid thing to say. Minutes later it was blowing about 30mph, snowing, and felt like the temperature dropped about 15 degrees. We decided not to do a peak from there and to head back down.

South Georgia, Antarctica, gul lake

Sure enough by the time we were close to gul lake it was brightening up again! There’s something about autumn (not that we get leaves falling from trees here – because we don’t have any) light that is really nice to photograph in.

South Georgia, Antarctica, Bark Europa

On our return we found the Bark Europa in the bay. She was built in Germany in 1911 as a lightship for the river Elbe in Germany. She was refurbished and had 3 masts added over a nine year refurbishment before going to sea in 1995. A Bark (or Barque) is a tall ship with at least three masts and is different from a schooner or a brigantines tall ship because of the rigging. If you look closely at the masts you can tell the fore and main masts are ‘square sail’ rigged, probably what you would imagine most pirate ships to look like, while the mizzen mast (closest to the stern) is rigged ‘fore and aft’

South Georgia, Antarctica, Grytviken, Bark Europa

The white building on the left – Nybrakka – had some TLC from the builders last year and as good as it is, it is almost too clean now and spoils the atmosphere of the whaling station at Grytviken. Anyway by this point the light was really nice and I managed to get the green ‘cherry picker’ hidden behind one of the old oil containers.

South Georgia, Antarctica, Bark Europa

I don’t photoshop anything in or out of my photos but the stern of the Pharos in this shot would be a contender if I did. If my earlier explanation about masts didn’t make much sense have a close look at this photo and you should be able to tell the difference between the one at the stern and the other two.

South Georgia, Antarctica, Bark Europa

We were lucky enough to be invited on board at night for a BBQ and a few drinks. Before we were fed and watered we were given a tour of the ship; the wheel has been replaced in the bridge/wheelhouse with a small joystick on the panel (in front of the row of red buttons).

South Georgia, Antarctica, Bark Europa

Below deck is well appointed and the cabins are cosy but spacious enough. Her compliment is a very impressive 64! Though on the longer, more remote trips they take less passengers as food storage becomes an issue. It was also a last chance to say farewell to Rachel (blog editor the last few months) who is spending about 30 days on board as the ship heads for South Africa. The week before we said goodbye to Sheri who also departed on one of the tourist ships. It’s looking like the numbers on base will take a kamikaze-esque trajectory in mid-April, dropping from 40-something to 11 in the space of a few days!

South Georgia, Antarctica, Wilson's storm petrel

Wilson’s storm petrels seem to be more common this year, perhaps the baiting of the Thatcher Peninsula two years ago is responsible. They dance (or patter) and dip on the water’s surface to feed. I thought terns were hard to catch but the way these things dance makes their movement totally unpredictable.

South Georgia, Antarctica, Wilson's storm petrel

Finally managed to get a decent shot of one; there were about 40 very average and/or out of focus shots before this one – not a great ratio (but that’s one of the beauties of digital photography!) This is also about as far in the water as you’ll see them, their dancing on the water’s surface is unlike any other bird I’ve seen. I have some footage that should make it into the next short film.

South Georgia, Antarctica, Wilson's storm petrel

Until I looked at the day’s photos on my computer I had no idea about the yellow webbing on their feet. I’m not sure if they are camera shy but they really didn’t like facing it.

South Georgia, Antarctica, Giant petrel

Giant Petrels (or ‘Geeps’ as we call them) are rapidly becoming my second favourite animal down here. They, like the Wilson’s storm petrels, are ‘tubenoses’ which means, unusually for birds, they have a good sense of smell which they use for finding food. There are two distinct types of GPs – northern and southern. The difference is the colour of the tip of the beak. Northern have a red tinge (left) and the southern have a green tinge (right)… the easy way to remember that is to think of traffic lights.


South Georgia, Antarctica, Giant petrel

Clearly there was something dead in the water that was providing a feast for them. There’s something prehistoric about them, perhaps the pale blue eyes some of them have. I believe the different eye colour is random and bears no significance to them being either southern or northern.

South Georgia, Antarctica, Giant petrel

Occasionally tempers flare and fights break out. They aren’t fond of sharing food no matter how much there is to go around.

South Georgia, Antarctica, Giant petrel

I suppose when you have your head buried into a fur seal pup carcass you don’t want to be sharing it with anyone else!

South Georgia, Antarctica, Giant petrel

The tail feathers at a 90 degree angle are a show of aggression and a warning to the others. They don’t take much time getting the best morsels out.

South Georgia, Antarctica, Giant petrel

Yum, yum! Think this might be my shot of the month. Shows the character of the GPs quite well I think. If you’ve been paying attention you should be able to tell the difference between the two in this shot!

South Georgia, Antarctica, earth hour 2015

Saturday 28th at 20:30-21:30 was WWF’s ‘Earth hour’ You might have heard about it. If not, the idea is you turn off all power for an hour and help the planet out. All the BAS bases took part in this, I was told off for pointing out that our power is hydroelectric, which is ‘green’, therefore our participation a little pointless. Seems it’s the thought that counts though!

South Georgia, Antarctica, jet boat, Cumberland East bay

It’s not a bad office. We are still running-in the new engine we put in a few months back but are now at the stage where we can use the full range of the engine. About 10% of the time we need to run the engine at wide open throttle (WOT). We had her up to just under 32 knots the other day coming back into the cove.

South Georgia, Antarctica, King Edward Point

Winter is coming! We are starting to see peaks sprinkled in snow as the clouds lift off them now. The last week or so in March has felt much colder, we’ve had some ‘grease’ ice (a very thin layer of ice on the sea) in the bay on a couple of mornings. I’m hoping we get a good early start to the winter this year – I have unfinished business on my skis before I leave.

Speaking of leaving, it’s looking like a late August departure for me. That will be just over 21 months here by the time I leave – please don’t ask me what I’ll do when I get back! I think I’ve earned a month or two holiday to begin with… after that, who knows!

I still haven’t received mail, if you send something down it will probably be on the next Pharos. Given it’s a fisheries patrol vessel I’m not allowed to talk about dates as potential poachers might be reading this! Having said that we should have our next post by the end of next month.

Finally… Some new people subscribed last month (thanks!), a number of them mentioned a particular person when filling out the ‘interests’ box. I believe it was The Kinks who sang ‘Give the people what they want’. Who am I to argue with that…

Regular readers will remember a brass device that lives behind the bar. It has caught out just about everyone who’s attempted to blow into it to spin the Catherine-wheel on top. Blow correctly and it spins, blow incorrectly and you get a face (mainly the eyes) full of talcum powder. It has made a fool of Captains of Navy warships, senior management from the UK’s Foreign and Comonwealth Office and just about anyone who’s spent more that a few days at KEP (me included) over the last 6 years or so.

South Georgia, Antarctica, Giant petrel, King Edward Point bar

I must say I’ve not seen persistence like this before. Most people get a tiny bit of powder out and stop to reassess before trying again. I think Emma emptied her lungs and the chamber of powder before stopping.

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