South Georgia Newsletter, February 2008

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Royal Navy Locates Antarctic Wreck of Cruise Liner

Press Release issued by: Fleet Media & Communication


The Royal Navy ice patrol ship HMS Endurance has located the wreck of the cruise liner M/S Explorer, which sank in Antarctic waters last year.


HMS Endurance is in Antarctica undertaking hydrographic survey and mapping work; providing support to the scientific work of the British Antarctic Survey and carrying out other tasking to deliver the UK’s responsibilities under the Antarctic Treaty. The charting work contributes to the safety of shipping in the region - work which is of particular significance with the increasing number of cruise liners visiting in the Antarctic. Apart from the sinking of the Explorer, HMS Endurance herself went to the assistance of a cruise liner – the M/S Nordkapp - when that ship struck a rock and was holed early last year.


The Foreign and Commonwealth Office requested that HMS Endurance undertook a search for the wreck of the Explorer to ascertain its position, assess the likely condition of the vessel on the seabed and observe any ongoing fuel seepage or other evidence of pollution.


After an initial unsuccessful search earlier this month, Endurance re-visited the area and carried out a systematic search of an area ten kilometres by five using a multibeam echosounder. The seabed in the search area was flat and featureless, but a contact was detected at a range of 4373m from the reported sinking position of the vessel. When compared to the reported sinking position of M/S Explorer this was broadly consistent with the direction of the prevailing current.


The wreck’s position is at the north-west end of the Bransfield Strait, and was located at a depth of approximately 1130 metres. The actual location is at 620 24.2929’ south 570 11.7748’ west.


Using the highest resolution available to the sonar system, the ship judged that the wreck appeared intact – although a small fuel oil slick was observed on the surface. Sea state conditions made it impossible to assess the scale of this, but if possible the ship will return to the site in better conditions to carry out this task.


After processing and examination, it was assessed that the contact was 127 metres long – similar to the sunken Explorer, which measured 122 metres. The width of the contact was considerably greater than the beam of the vessel, but this could have been due to the vessel not lying upright on the seabed, compression of the structure on impact with the seabed and possibly for technical reasons with the sonar beamwidth.


Due to the flat and featureless nature of the seabed in the vicinity, the absence of other similar contacts and the intact nature of the sonar image it is highly likely that this is the wreck of M/S Explorer. Additionally the scour that normally builds up around wrecks after a period of time on the seabed was absent, suggesting that this was a new feature.


It was judged that the depth of the wreck showed that it presented no hazard to shipping. Apart from the oil slick, no debris was seen in the water and no debris was observed on any of the land in the vicinity of the wreck visited by personnel from HMS Endurance.


Both the FCO and Ministry of Defence consider that finding M/S Explorer has highlighted the wider role and primary purpose of the Endurance in supporting the aims and principles of the Antarctic Treaty system.


Side scan MV Explorer
Side scan MV Explorer




Husvik Villa Renovations

Report and photos by Stig-Tore Lunde


View of Kitchen as it was.
View of Kitchen as it was.

External restoration of the villa at Husvik was carried out in 2006 by a group of Norwegian craftsmen. In mid January (2008) a group of Norwegians were back again to complete the work, this time on the interior. It is the South Georgia Heritage Trust which has paved the way to make this voluntary work possible at the old whaling station.







Norwegian private enterprises and public authorities have contributed funds to enable this work to be performed. The cruise companies “Hurtigruten” and “Abercrombie of Kent” provided transport. Also, transport by FPV “Pharos” was an important contribution from GSGSSI.


All rooms are now redecorated with newly painted walls and ceilings. Three rotten windows were replaced. Apart from this a full three dimensional survey of the villa at Strømness was made.


During the final week the Norwegians were visited by seal researchers from the Sea Mammal Research Unit of St Andrews University, who are frequent visitors to Husvik. The house is now restored to a standard which it has not had for many years.


During their stay the group visited many places that are named after persons who participated in the industry Norwegians carried out almost 50 years ago.


Group photo: from left: J.Colin Poole, Eirik Myhre, Hans Kristian Røkenes, Thorfinn Myhre and Henrik Kulms.
Group photo: from left: J.Colin Poole, Eirik Myhre, Hans Kristian Røkenes, Thorfinn Myhre and Henrik Kulms.
The newly renovated and much improved kitchen.
The newly renovated and much improved kitchen.



















Paleodrake – IPY 2008

The International Polar Year (IPY) was launched on March 1. 2007 and spans a two-year period. During this time research resources and funding from over 60 countries will be coordinated in an extraordinary initiative to increase our knowledge about the Arctic and the Antarctic. The International Polar Year 2007-2008 is likely to be the largest international research collaboration ever undertaken.


As part of this, a Norwegian scientific team have recently visited South Georgia to undertake field work looking at climate variables across the Drake Passage. Team Paleodrake’s (Paleoceanagraphic and climatic variability on decadal to millennial timescales across the Drake Passage) principal objective was to recover lake mud core samples from different sites around Cumberland Bay. Ultimately the core will improve understanding of how glaciers on South Georgia interact with changing climate conditions.


Jostein preparing raft ready for sampling Gull Lake.
Jostein preparing raft ready for sampling Gull Lake.
Rock sampling
Rock sampling



Gull Lake and Hamberg Lakes were successfully cored. The Paleodrake team also visited and successfully recovered core samples from Carlita Bay and Godthul. Transporting equipment and a large raft to these sites proved challenging. Gull Lake, above Grytviken proved the easiest of the two places to reach using vehicles from Morisson, however, reaching Hamberg Lakes was more of a problem. KEP Boatrmen provided a towing service across King Edward Cove to Penguin River, where the Team proceeded to pull the raft the remainder of the way up the river.


Towing raft up Penguin River to Hamberg Lakes
Towing raft up Penguin River to Hamberg Lakes



Whilst here, Øyvind, Jostein and Bjørn treated the Base to a Norwegian meal followed by a highly amusing silent movie made in 1926 and a viewing of a more contemporary music video.



Fishing and Shipping News

A variety of shipping this month has kept Government Officer Emma Jones and colleagues busy. Fishing trawlers, cruise ships, several yachts and the Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxillary have all passed through.


Korean trawler ‘In Sung Ho’ reached their total allowable catch of Icefish and left the fishing grounds. Chilean trawler ‘Betanzos’ arrived for inspection and licensing soon after and is reporting good catches.


Yachts ‘Brilliance’, ‘Wandering Albatross’, ‘Porvenir’, ’Traversay lll’, ‘Pelagic’, ‘HMSTC Discoverer’, ‘Vision’ and ‘Sheenanstar’ have all visited Grytviken.


Not long after leaving the Island, news reached us that ‘Brilliance’ on passage from South Georgia to Cape Town encountered problems with its mast 500 miles South West of Tristan Da Cunha and 800 miles from South Georgia. The yacht was in danger of dismasting, and the crew, Mike and Iris Clelford, both from Cornwall, were worried that the mast might punch a hole in the hull. Everyone on base was most relieved to hear that the couple, having sent out a distress call, were rescued safe and well.


‘HMSTC Discoverer’, a joint services training yacht, arrived with 15 people onboard as part of the ’Leadership through the Atlantic’ programme. Over a year the yacht Discoverer will sail the Atlantic, from the Antarctic to the Arctic and all the sweltering heat and humidity of the tropics in between. The programme takes selected young soldiers at the end of their initial army basic training who have never sailed before and provides a unique and challenging opportunity for further personal and leadership development. This group was making a round trip to the Falkland Islands and after spending several days based in Grytviken exploring the local area and helping out with maintenance on the cemetery fence and military crosses, departed to explore new localities around the Island. While they were here, they paid special tribute to Gary Green, a young British soldier serving in the Royal Signals Regiment who lost his life in South Georgia in 1986. Just before Gary died, he posted a special furry penguin that played Christmas tunes back to his family. It was their wish that this soft toy be returned to South Georgia. The crew on board ‘HMSTC Discoverer’ placed the penguin in the church beside the plaque with Gary’s name on.


Members of the Far Flung Tiger Expedition on board HMSTC Discoverer. Photo by Ainslie Wilson.
Members of the Far Flung Tiger Expedition on board HMSTC Discoverer. Photo by Ainslie Wilson.



‘HMS Nottingham’ and ‘RFA Gold Rover’s visit was hampered by strong winds gusting to 45 knots. However, company from both ships were able to get ashore, and greatly enjoyed long days with the opportunity to explore further than just Grytviken. Locals were treated to lunch onboard both ships and Shack Villa was the venue for tea and cakes and tales of daring-do and tips on hypnotising various types of animals!


Gold Rover facing 45 knot winds early morning. Photo by Sarah Greenwood.
Gold Rover facing 45 knot winds early morning. Photo by Sarah Greenwood.


HMS Nottingham. Photo by Ainslie Wilson.
HMS Nottingham. Photo by Ainslie Wilson.





Bird Island News

By Gorfou, Zoological Field Assistant at the British Antarctic Survey Base at Bird Island


Robin leaving Bird Island after more than two years…
Robin leaving Bird Island after more than two years…

What is the news from the North end of South Georgia this month ?


A new writer for the Bird Island bit in this newsletter, with me taking over from Robin who left Bird Island on the 10th after more than two years taking care of albatrosses, pintails… and us who stay behind. At the moment he’s probably somewhere in warmer latitudes swimming with turtles or having an exotic cocktail with a pretty girl in the shade of a palm tree.










The JCR also took Claire and Helen back to the real world. Claire had spent 3 months here helping all of us with penguin work as well as seals and albatrosses, and Helen who was here just one and a half months, had enough time to discover and enjoy all the wildlife… and I am sure she will miss the friendly BI fur seals.


Ewan on the top of Cave Crag where he’s studying black browed albatrosses. (picture took from the Base).
Ewan on the top of Cave Crag where he’s studying black browed albatrosses. (picture took from the Base).

With just seven of us on Base… Oh no, six only, one of us is living in his second home, a nice bright orange tent on one of the most exposed hills to the wind, Cave Crag, together with a few Giant Petrel chicks. He’s the Man, Ewan a PhD student, who’s studying Black browed albatross foraging trips using tiny GPS tags. In February, when chicks are left alone and need lots of food while growing, parents have been down as far as the South Orkneys for a 10-12 day journey.









For the other field assistants, February has been the month when we’ve been weighing lots of BI inhabitants. It started on Main Bay at the beginning of the month in snowy and windy weather; between all of us we lifted 109 fur seal pups with a total weight of 1143.8 Kg. Since then, most of them have moulted their black fur for a very soft grey one. Thanks to mum fur seal who regularly comes back with a rich milk to feed her pup who had spent the last few days hanging around improving its swimming, squabbling with others seals and sleeping. Is it not an easy life that ?


A few days after, on a sunny Sunday afternoon we went to Johnson beach to weigh 100 Gentoo chicks (or 528 Kg of down and feathers). And later in the month at Little Mac it was the turn for 100 Macaroni chicks (just 335 Kg). Now they’ve all left or almost all towards the unknown ocean. No tries for them; the first jump is the definitive and good one, some of them still with down on their head looked like a punk from the eighties. While Gentoo chicks with their smart looking suit are still hoping for a last meal before moving farther than the cove where they’re taking time to discover their new environment.


Punk from the eighties (Macaroni chick), smart Gentoo chick and moulted fur seal pup. (from left to right).
Punk from the eighties (Macaroni chick), smart Gentoo chick and moulted fur seal pup. (from left to right).


On the morning of the 7th we were all very surprised to find between 10 and 15 cm of unexpected snow giving to BI a winter looking before its time. The Birds were also surprised, perhaps more than us. Some Southern giant petrel chicks were unfortunately buried alive under the snow.


Head of southern giant petrel chick emerging from the snow.
Head of southern giant petrel chick emerging from the snow.



Last minute news to tell you that the first wandering albatross chick has just hatched… but this is for the next month.


NB: Hope you have enjoyed that reading… despite the French touch.



Museum News February 2008

Report by Curator Elsa Davidson


A giant Petrel
A giant Petrel

February has been a particularly busy month here at South Georgia Museum. The end of January saw the arrival of Steve Massam, taxidermist, and he has been spending most of his time working on a Wandering Albatross specimen. His specialised work has been the subject of much interest with many people coming to see his progress. His arrival also sparked the start of the ‘Made in South Georgia’ production line. Steve has been teaching Museum Assistants John and Sarah and also the postmistress Ainslie how to make a range of fantastic penguin and seal crafts for the gift shop and the process has been going really well.


A Giant Petrel and male Fur Seal waits patiently for scraps as Taxidermist Steve skins an adult male fur seal which died on the beach at KEP. The skin will be cured and put on display in the museum. Photo by Ainslie Wilson.


The 4th of February saw the arrival of the 'Prinsendam', the largest ship of the season. It was a hectic but fun day and I think the passengers and crew really enjoyed their visit. Manager, Miriam Iorwerth and John took a range of items from the gift shop and set up a small shop onboard while Steve, Sarah and Elsa held the fort on land.


On the 5th February we rang the Viola (now Dias) bell, which is currently on loan from Hull, and observed a minute silence. This was to mark the 40th Anniversary of the Triple Trawler Disaster of 1968 when three Hull trawlers were lost within a space of 4 weeks. Currently displayed in the Bonner room the bell and accompanying ship model will go on display in the Carr Maritime Gallery next season.


Earlier in the month the Museum was used as a venue for a small reception for a group of VIP passengers from the Hanseatic. Champagne and canapés were served in the Bonner room and this was followed by a talk about the history of the Museum and the South Georgia Heritage Trust by the Curator, Elsa Davidson.


VIP passengers from the Hanseatic gather in front of Museum. Photo by Elsa Davidson
VIP passengers from the Hanseatic gather in front of Museum. Photo by Elsa Davidson


Morrisons completed the construction work in the Maritime Gallery earlier this month and it is hoped that a range of display items will be installed in the next few weeks. The ' James Caird III' is currently making its journey South and will be on display in the Gallery early next season.



Hydro Electric Scheme Update

A much wetter, windier season this year has meant that progress on the hydro project has been delayed and is now set to continue on into next summer.


The Morrison FI Ltd team have been racing against time to get as much done as possible to complete the civil works with the short time left to them this season. A trench for the high voltage cable was dug in KEP and a short run of the cable length laid. Ultimately this cable will go all the way round the track beyond Grytviken to the turbine house. The transformer is also now in place in the Generator shed at KEP. The pipeline to carry water from the dam to the turbine house has been laid down the hill, covered over and is nearing completion. The turbine house is well underway, with the roof in place and will be closed in by the time the team leave mid March. Two containers have been converted into tsunami shelters and these will be stocked with supplies and placed within the landscaped area by the dam.


The very steep hillside presented a challenge to those laying the pipe from the dam down to the turbine house. Photo by Ainslie Wilson.
The very steep hillside presented a challenge to those laying the pipe from the dam down to the turbine house. Photo by Ainslie Wilson.
Construction underway on the turbine house at Grytviken. Photo by Ainslie Wilson.
Construction underway on the turbine house at Grytviken. Photo by Ainslie Wilson.















Morrison ‘Dambusters’ on completed Gull Lake Dam. Photo by Ainslie Wilson.
Morrison ‘Dambusters’ on completed Gull Lake Dam. Photo by Ainslie Wilson.






South Georgia Snippets

February continued to be a busy month with visitors coming and going. Pat and Sarah Lurcock left the Island early in the month for their annual leave and they were accompanied on ‘Pharos SG’ by Joe and Kiffer, two Morisson workers. After over two years on the Island, we waved a sad farewell to Martony Vaughan, head boatman and welcomed Tim Hudson as new boatman. When ‘James Clark Ross’ made her last call for the season, nine personnel departed, leaving the base feeling empty and very quiet.


Martin Collins arrived on JCR to spend time with KEP scientists, helping out with stomach analysis, providing motivation and direction for personal research projects and to do some forward planning for the annual fisheries survey.


Dave Ganiford, AMOS systems manager from Cambridge has been on a familiarisation visit to KEP comparing how systems work on our base compared to the other BAS bases. While here, he worked with the Boating Department and Tech services to set up the Planned Preventative Maintenance and Stock System (AMOS). This enables Cambridge to monitor maintenance and stock on a weekly basis and will make ordering more efficient. Dave also celebrated his birthday while here and was treated to a boat trip up Moraine Fjord and to Carlita Bay to collect the Paleodrake party.


Roof of the Greene. Highest point on the Greene Peninsula, looking down into Moraine Fjord and Harker Glacier. Photo by Dr Mike Curtis.
Roof of the Greene. Highest point on the Greene Peninsula, looking down into Moraine Fjord and Harker Glacier. Photo by Dr Mike Curtis.

Dr Mike Curtis and Field Assistant Rob Smith have completed three months field work on various parts of the Barff and Greene Peninsulas. Collecting rocks from sea-level to the highest points they can reach, has seen them ascend over 22500m in total, averaging 396m per day. They have collected 200kg of rock samples for analysis back in Cambridge. The information from these rocks will help in the quest to date the Island. An attempt to climb high up onto Mt Paget to gather samples was aborted at 550m due to adverse weather and depleted rations! A more detailed report can be read in December 07’s newsletter.






‘Sledge Victor’ field party have also come to the end of their season in South Georgia. Dr Iain Staniland and Field Assistant Tom Marshall have been deploying satellite tags on animals at Maiviken and Hound Bay. A total of 29 tagged females have been monitored from Hound Bay and all tags have been recovered. Information received from the tags shows the animals’ foraging patterns and their distribution at sea.


Satellite data collected from tagged King Penguins has been used to guide research ship ‘James Clark Ross’ to the same feeding grounds as the penguins in order to collect fish samples.


Fur Seal Pups were also weighed and these results will be compared against similar pups from Bird Island. From Maiviken, 3 Fur Seals and 2 Gentoo Penguins were tagged to investigate if they use the same foraging areas as those from Hound Bay.


‘Global Boardwalks’, the team on Prion Island, report that the construction of the boardwalk is going well. The weather as always provides a challenge, and living on board sailing yacht ‘Pelagic’ they have on occasion had to move away to seek shelter. Work is going to schedule however, and the team will be leaving the Island early April.



Construction of the Prion Island Board walk.
Construction of the Prion Island Board walk.

On base, the painting of Larsen House continues when time and weather allow; jet boat Prion was brought out of the water for maintenance, the freezer in the food store broke down and required all hands on deck to move the frozen food to smaller freezers around base and Bore Valley Dam received it’s annual clean. Its not all work however and in between jobs there is time to play! A nautical themed party was held at ‘Olafs Nightclub’ in Grytviken with costumes that showed just how much creativity and ingenuity there is amongst base members. Our general knowledge was tested with a quiz night at the Morrison Camp and of course all the tea and cake with the Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxillary!









Ingenious costumes for party goers to Olaf’s night club.
Ingenious costumes for party goers to Olaf’s night club.


High spirits for the Winning Team at Morrison Quiz night.
High spirits for the Winning Team at Morrison Quiz night.


All volunteers on deck for the cleaning of Bore Valley Dam.
All volunteers on deck for the cleaning of Bore Valley Dam.





View of the Month

Don’t forget to see this month’s 'View of the Month' on the South Georgia Heritage Trust website.

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