Monthly Archives: February 2016

South Georgia – Royals, the rich and famous

January 2016

Another busy month here and quite an unusual one as well. We had my first sighting of whales in the bay, three or four humpbacks we think. They were too far away to get a decent photograph unfortunately but maybe it’s a sign of things to come.

The lone reindeer that was spotted on the Busen Peninsula last month was shot in the middle of the month after we took a couple of boats round to Husvik (one of the old whaling stations) to drop Simon (Government Officer – also ex army officer) and Jen (Government Environmental Officer) to shoot him. He was a very healthy young male whose meat is now in our freezers.

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One of the streams that flow into Gull Lake. Although I’d lost the bet with Erny about the percentage of water in the lake the month before, we were all happy to see it continue to fill, for reasons I’ll come back to.

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The fur seal pups are now running about the beaches like a bunch of mis-behaving teenagers. This little guy was halfway along the track between KEP and Grytviken, we nicknamed him ‘Tiny’. One of the smaller pups I’ve seen but its mother was coming in every few days to give it a feed.

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The weather has been a little disappointing so far this summer (typical Brit complaining about the weather eh!) but occasionally the light can be quite nice.

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Katie taking a well deserved rest at the top of Glacier Col, Mt Paget in the background.

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I took my telephoto lens up to the col in the hope of capturing some snow petrels (no luck there) but I used it as an opportunity to get a closer look at the summit of Sugartop. The summit (2323m) is only 7k away, as the crow flies, from the Col – tantalisingly close!

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Regular readers might remember Seabourn Quest from last season, she’s the largest ship we get – about 450 passengers. She’s also one of the most lavish ships we get in. Often the ships request the scientists from base go on-board and give science and ‘life on base’ talks to the passengers. I think it’s safe to say Seabourn has the best equipped lecture theatre of all the ships that come in.

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It’s such a busy day that the museum and post office ask for help from whoever can spare the time. Katie and I offered to run the post office on the ship. Partly because we knew we would get invited to lunch – a fresh salad is worth it’s weight in gold. The ship also has a dedicated coffee bar with barristas so we were all over the caramel latès.

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The World is a ship like no other. It has no passengers per se, it does have residents though. It’s home to the rich and famous who would like a mobile home, apparently there are some who live on-board all year round but most come and go when they can. They buy their apartment and can decorate and furnish it as they like, apparently apartments go for as much as $10million and the annual upkeep fee is $400 thousand. We were invited on-board for drinks and to talk to the ‘residents’. We were asked (politely told) not to take photos of residents and not to put any photos on social media. The residents vote on places to go year by year and work out their itinerary that way.

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The latest addition to the visitor attractions at Grytviken is the newly opened post office and Shackleton exhibition, where there are prints of some of the classic Hurley photographs. The new attraction is in the slop chest (from the Norwegian Sloppen chest) which is where the whalers would go to get supplies – a little like a newsagent or 7-11. To open the new building we had a very special guest…

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Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal (AKA Princess Anne) is the patron of the South Georgia Heritage Trust (SGHT) and was last here in 2009, when she opened the hydro. We were told to keep her visit quiet, hence why I couldn’t say last month, but we were well briefed in the weeks leading up to the visit. Everyone had a part to play on the day. She was due to spend the morning at KEP meeting the government and BAS staff while touring the base. The afternoon was opening the slop chest and having a whaling station tour before the opportunity to take a walk or a private boat tour of Cumberland Bay. She did say “I can’t say I’ve ever opened a slop chest before”. Specifically, my roles were to escort her husband Admiral Laurence from KEP to Grytviken after they had finished the tour at KEP. After talking to him for a minute or so I discovered they have a boat on the west coast of Scotland and they know the islands very well. He mentioned Rona (just to the north of Raasay, both of which featured in a blog post a few months ago) and said he knew the island and it’s manager well – I couldn’t hold back a smile as I said “I was there talking to Bill a few months ago”. This discovery made the walk round a little less daunting. They later decided to take up the option of the private boat trip around Cumberland Bay.

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My other role was to be official photographer for the day. I had to take a few photos with HRH and various groups of people. Here is the one with all the BAS, government and other VIPs who came down. Truth be told, this isn’t my kind of photography – it’s like herding cats! This was the second attempt as I messed up the timer on the first shot… I thought it was set for ten seconds but actually it was set for two!

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Here is the first attempt. It explains why Katie is in flip-flops and short sleeves in the other photo – because it was 20 minutes later and she had to run out of the kitchen as she was preparing Saturday’s dinner. Fair play to HRH for agreeing to have a second one taken, she’s probably sick of posing for photos. Katie’s hair looks nice in this one though! You might be asking what she’s doing, well… I noticed Erny (the old rouge) was holding a cup of tea up in the picture so told him to hide it, Katie helped him out. Now go back and find Erny in the second picture…

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Unfortunately we lost Becky (Doctor) the next day, thanks to an unfortunate incident with a steak knife and an avocado. HMS Clyde was in the area (providing some muscle while HRH was in the area) and agreed to med-evac her to Stanley in the Falklands. Here is a link to her blog, which will tell you more – That meant that I was pretty much the senior medical person on the island – something that I didn’t find as scary as perhaps I should – until a replacement was sent in. Unfortunately we will be without Becky for two to three months while she has physiotherapy on her hand.

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Sure enough the next day I damaged my little finger! Servicing one the the jet units I managed to get it momentarily trapped. I didn’t break it but it was still throbbing the next day. So, remembering what they did in the hospital when I broke my big toe years ago, I got a paper clip and a blowtorch and used the red hot paperclip to put a hole in the nail to relieve the pressure. I was disappointed not to get a spurt of blood as I breached the nail bed but that’s just the side of me that likes gruesome stuff. It did relieve the pressure though.

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Lewis (only other Scot on base) and I took it upon ourselves to run Burns night towards the end of the month. He did most of the cooking and I organised the various speeches.

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We had an extended boating trip to Ocean Harbour to replace the old whalers crosses. Ocean Harbour is near St Andrews – two locations which are in our extended boating area, so a trip there means leaving the relative safety of the bays and navigating along a largely exposed coastline with only a few safe havens. As such we need prior permission from BAS HQ in Cambridge to carry out any trips. Given there is no coastguard, RNLI or – on this particular day – ships of any kind, I’m always a little apprehensive about being so far from base.

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The whaling station is largely gone now, most of it was cleared when it was closed and moved round to Grytviken. There is one building remaining – just visible at the back of the green area here, above Rogers (right) cross.

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Getting the old crosses out and new ones in was easy enough, thanks to the rubbish weather we’ve had so far this summer!

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On the way home we went for a quick look into Hound Bay and St Andrews Bay. Hound Bay had an interesting shaped iceberg grounded near the mouth. Given it’s size and how clean it is my guess is it’s from the continent.

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The last weekend of the month Katie and I managed to escape base for a night. We headed over to Harpon hut which is situated in Cumberland West Bay (one of the few huts that you can’t see base from!)

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It’s still summer here so getting decent night shots is not always going to yield great results. It’s also a bloody pain as you have to stay up late! But it was a clear night so as I went out to brush my teeth I managed to get a shot or two. (It also helps staying up drinking wine!).

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The next morning we left, rucksaks two bottles of wine lighter, aiming to get back to Gull Lake for 2:30pm for what has become a major part of the SG calendar.

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The SG regatta went from having nine craft in it’s inaugural year (last year) to twenty this year.

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Prize for the most original craft goes to Hugh who mounted a toilet brush and holder to an expired fire extinguisher with a black bin bag full of helium for a sail.

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Just as we started the wind dropped and changed direction, sending all the craft back to shore, before it resumed and the race began. My entry (bottom right) was the ‘Jolly Jock’ which had a couple of Tennants lager (a Scottish lager) cans as stabilisers. She made good progress after this photo, making her way into 3rd place for a while, before the wind confused her. She spent 20min or so bobbing about in the middle before a gust capsized her. By this point the wind had spun  nearly 180 degrees and sent 12 vessels back to the beach they started on. Luckily the Jolly Jock had gone far enough that she was blown onto a sanctioned beach and qualified in 8th!

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While all this was going on the Pimms was flowing on-shore. Russ’s woollen hat became a obvious target for the trouble makers. Burnet is the bain of runners on SG as it clings to your socks and is a real pain to pick out – seems it’s fun for throwing at people though.

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