South Georgia Newsletter, June 2012

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- Disclaimer: This newsletter is not produced by GSGSSI; it does not necessarily reflect their views.

Potential BAS Merger With National Oceanography Centre

A possible merger of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) with the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) was announced on June 7th by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the umbrella organisation for both organisations.

NERC say they intend to continue to operate scientific bases in South Georgia and Antarctica. It is considering a merger of the scientific and logistics management of marine and polar science delivered through the BAS and NOC and according to the NERC website, a unified marine and polar headquarters would “deliver a single management function whilst retaining the identity of the existing centres as component parts.” All the existing BAS and NOC sites, at Cambridge, Southampton, and Liverpool, would remain without the need for significant relocations of staff. NERC claim that the merger would “better exploit the many scientific and operational synergies between marine and polar science” through combined scientific and logistics management and administration of NOC and BAS.

“More integrated management of increasingly expensive major research infrastructure, especially NERC's four research ships, may achieve further savings through improved opportunities for partnership and cost-sharing with the international marine and polar sciences communities,” NERC states. It is the Council’s intention to “increase the excellence and impact of NERC's marine and polar science whilst continuing to operate its scientific bases in Antarctica and South Georgia, and retaining the current level of activity in that region.”

The potential merger will be further considered in December and in the meantime NERC will be consulting its staff and wider stakeholders on how best to implement the proposed changes “in order to increase both the excellence and impact of NERC marine and polar science.”

(Info NERC)

White Paper: The Overseas Territories

The UK Government has conducted its first review of the Overseas Territories (OTs) since 1999 and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has published a White Paper entitled ‘The Overseas Territories’. The Paper, which was published at the end of June, has a forward by UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, in which he states that “The United Kingdom’s 14 Overseas Territories (OT’s) are an integral part of Britain’s life and history…We see an important opportunity to set world standards in our stewardship of the extraordinary natural environments we have inherited”.

UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague, described the strategy set out in the White Paper as a strategy of re-engagement, building on a former White Paper in 1999 ’Partnership for Progress and Prosperity’, and that the new Paper demonstrates the importance the Coalition Government attaches to the OTs. “As well as having a responsibility to ensure the security and good governance of the Territories, we want the Territories to be vibrant, flourishing communities that proudly retain aspects of their British identity”, he said.

There was wide consultation during the review and the result is a Paper that focuses on the security of the Territories, their economic development and their natural environment. South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, along with The British Antarctic Territory and British Indian Ocean Territory, are described as “extensive Territories many times the size of the UK, including some of the world’s best preserved environments and the world’s largest Marine Protected Areas.”

With 14 very different OTs in all, most of which have a permanent human population, not all aspects of the new White Paper are relevant to SGSSI. But SGSSI, with its major populations of seabirds and mammals, is described as: “Internationally recognised for its biological importance” and the South Sandwich Islands “represent a maritime ecosystem scarcely modified by human activities.”

According to the Paper; “The UK sees its responsibility for the defence, security and safety of the Overseas Territories as a core task of Government. We will continue to ensure that our sovereignty over the Territories is defended against all challenges…In the South Atlantic, British forces will maintain a defensive military posture to defend the Falklands and other British islands. There will be no weakening of the Government’s resolve.”

The Paper also recognises that small and isolated Territories are vulnerable to natural and man-made disasters - in particular air and sea accidents and environmental disasters such as oil spills – and that the emergency services in a small Territory can be overwhelmed by a major incident. It states that the UK Government recognises its responsibility to support a Territory facing a disaster.

On page 45 of the report SGSSI is given special mention in the section on ‘Cherishing the Environment’. It states: “We will continue to support the Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands’ environmental stewardship of the Territory, including through tough environmental and biodiversity protection measures, effective fishery and tourism management and, where feasible, the eradication of non-native species to restore the natural habitat of South Georgia.” In another reference very pertinent to GSGSSI, the Paper’s conclusion states that the UK Government “has taken new initiatives to improve our stewardship of the rich environmental assets in the unpopulated territories.”

The white paper is published as a 128 page report. You can download the White Paper from the FCO website here.

Shaking It Up

Diagram showing the earthquake close to the southern tip of South Georgia and the main tectonic plates nearby. Image USGS.
Diagram showing the earthquake close to the southern tip of South Georgia and the main tectonic plates nearby. Image USGS.

An earthquake measuring 4.6 on the Richter scale occurred less than 100km off the south eastern end of South Georgia on June 16th. The earthquake was centred at 55.610°S, 35.365°W 165 km, putting it just 165km SSE of the nearest inhabited spot at Grytviken.

The South Sandwich Islands have been seismically active as usual and there have been four larger earthquakes - 5 on the Richter scale or over. The first, measuring 5.3, was on June 1st at 60.496°S, 25.686°W, 169 km SSE of Bristol Island. Two earthquakes measuring 5.1 occurred on June 9th and 10th. The first was at 60.360°S, 26.644°W, 147 km south of Bristol Island; the latter at 55.955°S, 27.618°W, 86 km NNW of Visokoi Island. On June 17th one of 5 occurred at 56.954°S, 26.499°W, 51 km ESE of Visokoi Island.

A lesser earthquake of 4.7 hit 58.017°S, 25.601°W, 124 km NNE of Bristol Island on June 5th.

Fishing And Shipping News

Krill Trawler in for inspection and licensing. Photo Alastair Wilson.
Krill Trawler in for inspection and licensing. Photo Alastair Wilson.

June started with five licensed longliners fishing in the SGMZ, and one in the South Sandwich Islands zone. The SSI vessel soon re-joined the main fleet bringing it up to the full complement for this season of six. Poor weather in the second week of the month hampered fishing efforts, reducing catches, though they improved when the weather did. Several toothfish vessels sailed to Stanley, Falkland Islands, to make midseason transhipments and to take bunkers and resupply before returning to the fishery. Two other vessels called into Cumberland Bay on June 25th to tranship bait. By the end of the month all six vessels were fishing in the SGMZ.

The first krill trawler of the season was inspected and licensed on June 15th, with another trawler licensed on June 22nd. Early krill catches have been very good.

Profile Of An Aerial Rat Exterminator

A New Zealand local newspaper printed an article about the immensely skilled helicopter pilot Peter Garden, who has been so key to the success of the South Georgia Heritage Trust (SGHT) Habitat Restoration Project so far. A slightly shortened version of Marjorie Cook’s article in the Daily Otago Times is below .

Retired agricultural helicopter pilot Peter Garden (65) is one of New Zealand's keenest rat exterminators. Since the death of his wife Margaret from brain cancer several years ago, Mr Garden has been travelling the world, dropping poison-laced pellets from his helicopter on rat-infested islands. He obtained his fixed-wing pilot's licence in 1965 and his commercial helicopter qualifications in 1976.

New Zealand is a world leader in rat eradication, through the work of the Department of Conservation (DoC), the Forest and Bird Society and the late conservationist Dr Don Merton. Mr Garden's relationship with DoC and Dr Merton were important ones and helped create the work opportunities he enjoys today.

Over the years, he has gleaned an in-depth knowledge of rats and rat behaviour. "I started this type of work in the mid-90s. To give it a broad term, it is called habitat enhancement or habitat restoration. A lot of habitats around the world have been seriously damaged by human intervention, and a lot of it by invasive species. The most invasive species of all is the rat. Rats have been responsible for untold thousands of exterminations, including humans," Mr Garden said.

One example of a rat-inflicted human "extermination" occurred centuries ago on the unfortunately-named Rat Island, Aleutian Islands, where Mr Garden recently worked. Brown rats arrived on the 15km-long, 5km-wide island in the late 1700s, as a result of a Japanese sailing ship wreck. The Aleuts relied on their walrus-skinned kayaks for hunting and travelling, but the rats ate the kayak skins and, deprived of their means to hunt, the people starved to death, Mr Garden said. For obvious reasons, Rat Island earned its name in 1827 from a passing sea captain, but recent habitat restoration projects by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and two private trusts, The Nature Conservancy and Island Conservation, have enabled the island to be declared rat free and revert to the Aleut name, Hawadax.

New Zealand's first island rat eradication occurred because Dr Merton wanted to relocate the world's rarest parrot, the kakapo (there are about 126), from Fiordland to a safe breeding area on Codfish Island, near Stewart Island. That could not happen before DoC had eradicated Pacific rats.

Mr Garden helped with aerial bait trials on two small islands in Foveaux Strait, using new aviation GPS technology and coagulant bait products. "We successfully eradicated rats from those two islands without knowing too much about it. We refined our techniques and eradicated rats from Codfish. The guys in DoC's Southland conservancy then thought they would try eradicating rats on Campbell Island," Mr Garden recalled.

Conservationists working on a project to save the very rare magpie robin in the Seychelles Islands consulted Dr Merton about their project, leading to an invitation to Mr Garden to work on a rat eradication project there. "Don said, 'You are not going to get anywhere with them until you kill the rats'. So we successfully eradicated rats in the Seychelles. "That was before we did Campbell Island. From there, it built up momentum," Mr Garden said.

He has also helped kill rats in Fiordland and Lake Manapouri, in South Georgia, Alaska and on several Pacific Ocean islands.

Each mission is a major logistical exercise in getting equipment, fuel and people to remote islands far from mainland services. Mr Garden took a five-day, 1400km journey by sea from the Falkland Islands to South Georgia last year to join "Team Rat", led by Professor Tony Martin, for the SGHT. Mr Garden was employed as flight operations manager and because of the island's remoteness. Mr Garden flew a twin-engined Bolkow B0105 five-seater chopper built for Jackie Onassis and more recently used as an air ambulance in Hampshire, UK. Having twin-engine capability was a distinct advantage when working in inhospitable terrain and despite its 30-year vintage, the Bolkow was "like an axe that's had five new heads and two new handles. It had been kept in good order".

Mr Garden said South Georgia could be treated piece by piece, because large glaciers subdivide the land and rats cannot cross them. Poisoned bait was dropped in February and March 2011. In May last year, Mr Garden dropped bait on three unoccupied island groups in the Pacific Ocean: Palmyra Atoll, the Phoenix Island group and Henderson Island. On all three missions, Mr Garden was employed as chief pilot for a multi-agency operation funded by various authorities and trusts and directed by the Island Conservation trust's Alex Wegman, of the United States. Because of access issues and remoteness, two Bell Jet Ranger helicopters worked from the deck of the “RV Aquila”, an Alaskan crab boat captained by Kale Garcia, of Seattle. A heli-deck was built on three shipping containers and bait bags were filled on lower levels. Helicopter fuel was also stored on board. The Bell Jet Ranger was chosen because of its reliability. "Because we are in remote areas, we don't have the opportunity to get in parts and engineers, so we need something that doesn't need much maintenance. Also having two or three choppers cuts out the risk of having aircraft down for maintenance and the operation is not held up," Mr Garden said.

Palmyra Atoll is under US sovereignty and its collection of islands sports an abandoned World War 2 airstrip, roads and causeways and other structures. Black rats (Rattus rattus) have been eating Palmyra's sea birds and their eggs for about 200 years, so were bombed with 50 tonnes of poisoned pellets at a rate of 80kg per hectare. This is about double the application rate for other places, because indigenous land crabs eat the bait too, although their cold-blooded metabolism means they are not affected by the poison. Unintentionally poisoning other species is a big concern for rat eradicators, and unfortunately, some birds do die. It is a damned if you do, damned if you don't scenario, with scientists prepared to take some collateral damage for long-term gains. Even so, steps are taken to protect birds. On Palmyra Atoll, scientists captured bristle-thighed curlews (about 7000 left), one of the world's rarest curlews, and godwits, and released them when it was safe. In the Seychelles, all 36 very rare magpie robins were also put into custody, with happy consequences. "They bred in captivity, so they released more than 40 birds by the time we had finished," Mr Garden said. The magpie robins now number about 170 and have come off the critically endangered list.

In March, Mr Garden was in the Caribbean to bait Desecheo Island, 22km off-shore from Puerto Rico, and survey another island near Antigua, for future rat eradication. The rat team flew to Desecheo every day from their mainland base at a disused nuclear power station, because the island's rocky shore prevented a ship-based operation.

Soon, Mr Garden will be on Wake Island, halfway between Hawaii and Japan. Later this year, he has more work to do in Alaska and South Georgia. All up, Mr Garden is away killing rats for about seven months each year.

While it usually takes two years to get detailed results from a bait drop, Mr Garden is thrilled by early signs of success on all the islands he has helped treat, and hopes the lessons can be applied to other habitats. "The one thing that has invariably happened in all these jobs is the environment has bounced back very, very quickly. On Desecheo, when the birds came back, they were reporting birds that had never been seen on the island before. They knew they were on other islands ... obviously they had come back for nesting. That was just 10 days after we had finished killing the rats," Mr Garden said.

Mr Garden is now scouting for helicopter pilots with experience flying in remote, difficult terrain, with GPS navigation. South Georgia, particularly, requires pilots who meet strict European certification standards. The next important thing is the right mind-set, he said. "You've got to be able to live in remote environments. It is not always comfortable. Things can get you down quickly. It is important to keep your morale high in these kinds of jobs," he said.

Without a doubt the flying is adventurous.

Original article here.

Shackleton Expedition Support Ship Announced

The Tall Ship Pelican will act as support ship for the Shackleton re-enactment. Photo:
The Tall Ship Pelican will act as support ship for the Shackleton re-enactment. Photo:

Preparations for the 2013 ‘Shackleton Epic’ reconstruction expedition took a step forwards with the announcement that the support vessel will be the beautiful tall ship “TS Pelican “. The announcement was made on June 9th by Honorary Trustee Richard Burn and The Hon. Alexandra Shackleton on board the vessel moored at West India Dock on the River Thames, London, UK.

The ‘Shackleton Epic’ is the centenary re-enactment of Shackleton’s history-making 1916 Antarctic voyage and will be led by Tim Jarvis during January/February.

A “James Caird” replica called “Alexandra Shackleton” after Shackleton’s granddaughter and the expedition patron, will set sail in January 2013 from Elephant Island and attempt to re-enact the crossing of the Southern Ocean to South Georgia.

There is a research element to the expedition as well. In the hopes of generating awareness of the importance of conserving Antarctica’s marine environment, the crew will record the ice melt in the region and Jarvis, who is an environmentalist, will compare climatic conditions faced by his crew with those Shackleton and his men experienced 100 years ago. “Whereas Shackleton’s goal was to save his men from Antarctica, we now find ourselves trying to save Antarctica from man; an unfortunate irony,” Jarvis said.

The ‘Shackleton Epic’ expedition will use 1916 technology, food and equipment to recreate Shackleton’s legendary journey. The support ship “TS Pelican” is almost identical in size to Shackleton’s ship “Endurance” and will provide communications, safety and a filming platform for the expedition. Tim Jarvis said that he felt very confident knowing that the “TS Pelican” would form part of this historic event.

The “TS Pelican” was built in 1948 in France as a double beam Arctic trawler. It has eleven sails and is normally used as a sail training vessel. There are places on board for passengers to join the ship as it sails from the UK to Punta Arenas, Chile before the expedition then afterwards from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, back to the UK.

Once the expedition reaches South Georgia they plan to also recreate the land crossing from King Haakon Bay to Stromness.

Info: BYM Marine and Maritime News

Is Bird Island Really Like That?

The BBC are currently broadcasting a four part radio comedy entitled ‘Bird Island’. The programme is set on Bird Island off the north end of South Georgia.

The main character is Ben who is researching albatross and is described as: “…trapped in an icy hell with one other person, a dodgy internet connection and a dictaphone…” Over four episodes a lonely Ben shares his highs and lows in the form of an audio 'log'.

Written by Katy Wix, one half of the sketch duo 'Anna and Katy', and voiced by Reece Shearsmith (Ben) and Julian Rhind-Tutt (Graham), does this radio comedy bear any relation to life on the real Bird Island? One listener noted that a fur seal that features is made to sound like a sealion, and the writers obviously think BI is a lot colder than it really is, but with references to the local mountain by its nickname “Tonk”, and albatross sounds in the background, there may be some similarities. If you want to find out for yourselves you may yet catch the last episode on the BBC iPlayer here.

Bird Island Diary

By Jon Ashburner, Seal Assistant at the BAS Research Station at Bird Island.

June is the time when Bird Island and its inhabitants get fully settled into the winter; the majority of the summer breeding animals have now left, and our little island is starting to feel strangely quiet. This is a gradual process and not really something you notice until someone asks when you last saw a skua, or you realise it has been over a month since more than a couple of penguins have been seen together, and for me at least, that the fur seal poo which we use for diet analysis is getting increasingly hard to find. This is not a sad time, just another side to this fantastic little rock which we are lucky enough to call our home, and there are still a good few animals around, including some magnificent winter visitors, but more on them later!

The month started as usual with the wandering albatross chick census, the wanderer chicks will not fledge until December, and on the first of each month we check every chick on the island in order to monitor the breeding success. The census brought great news, only 2 failures in over 700 chicks. This is amazing when you think of the conditions they have to survive; perched on their exposed nests enduring the harshest weather the island has to offer, with nothing but their down to protect them from the elements. They are growing incredibly fast too, back in April I could hold a wanderer chick in my hand, but now they are starting to spill out of their nests!

A wandering albatross chick sitting out a cold winter’s day. Photo Jon Ashburner
A wandering albatross chick sitting out a cold winter’s day. Photo Jon Ashburner

The last of the summer breeding birds to leave is the grey headed albatross, and in early June Jen was kept busy with the fledging rounds. These are daily visits to the study colonies to check for failed chicks, and note when the luckier ones have fledged. On June 9th Jen came bouncing back into base after her rounds with the news that the last of her study chicks had fledged! The reason for her excitement is that it meant for the first time since arriving on the island back in October, she will no longer have a daily field work requirement and can finally take a well-earned rest!

A grey-headed albatross chick tests it’s wings before taking its first flight. Photo Jon Ashburner
A grey-headed albatross chick tests it’s wings before taking its first flight. Photo Jon Ashburner

My month has been dominated by those magnificent winter visitors – which are of course the leopard seals. Each day throughout the winter I patrol a selection of beaches known to be leopard seal hot spots, taking photos of any leps I encounter. We use these photos to identify the animals, as they have unique patterns of spots rather like a finger print. Another part of this project is to deploy a small number of GLSs (tiny tracking tags) on the seals to see where these little-studied creatures disperse to during the summer months. This month I was lucky enough to retrieve a GLS from a lep that was tagged last winter, it is very rare that we manage to retrieve these tags, and so we are very excited to be able to see where the seal has been!

A leopard seal thrashing its kill, a juvenile Antarctic fur seal. Photo Jon Ashburner
A leopard seal thrashing its kill, a juvenile Antarctic fur seal. Photo Jon Ashburner

On the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee we were very lucky to get a rare crystal clear night so we celebrated with drinks on the jetty and took a long-exposure photo with light painting to commemorate the event!

Read about BI Midwinters below.

Jon, Jen, Rob and Ruth celebrate the Diamond Jubilee. Photo Ruth Brown.
Jon, Jen, Rob and Ruth celebrate the Diamond Jubilee. Photo Ruth Brown.

South Georgia Snippets

Reindeer eradication preparations: GSGSSI Environmental Officer, Dr Jennifer Lee, continued her familiarisation trip to the Island in early June. She and GSGSSI Scientist Andy Black were dropped by “FPV Pharos SG” at Moltke Harbour in Royal Bay on June 8th to carry out reconnaissance work of reindeer herding routes in preparation for the GSGSSI reindeer eradication project in early 2013. The two scientists were collected four days later once the work was completed.

The Jubilee beacon on the beach at KEP. Photo Alastair Wilson.
The Jubilee beacon on the beach at KEP. Photo Alastair Wilson.

Diamond Jubilee Celebrations: The KEP residents joined in the Diamond Jubilee celebrations by having their own Jubilee beacon on June 4th. As the Queen lit the last beacon in London, South Georgia joined others, such as Tristan Da Cunha, in Her Majesty’s far flung Overseas Territories in lighting their own beacon. A thin layer of snow reflected the warm flames and warm feelings as, joined by the crew of the “Pharos SG”, they toasted the Queen, who was present in the form of a youthful portrait photograph that has hung in the KEP base for many decades.

Rats on Camera: Two cameras have been installed near some of the baited rat-monitoring traps that have been placed in an uncleared (rat-infested) area of the island.

The traps are an experiment to test their efficacy to show rat activity in an area, or to catch rats if the animals were to be inadvertently reintroduced to a cleared area, and the cameras are there to investigate the animals’ behaviour around the traps. So far no rats have been caught in the traps despite evidence that they are close by. When the camera footage was recovered a couple of weeks later, it showed plenty of rat activity near the boxes, though the traps remained empty. Other experiments to see if the traps can be made more effective include baiting with different bait and using snap traps to compare effectiveness in the same areas.

More wax tags have been deployed in baited areas following the Phase One Habitat Restoration Project baiting over a year ago. The tags, which show the impression of the rodents’ teeth when they gnaw the attractive smelling wax, have now been set out in the Corral Bay, Harpon Bay, Curlew Cove and Sappho Point areas and should give a reliable indication of any rodent presence over this wide area.

Wake of Worsley: An all-female team plans to visit South Georgia later this year on the ‘Wake of Worsley’ expedition. Inspired by the courageous example of New Zealander Frank Worsley, the women plan to retrace Worsley's steps over the Island, including an ascent of Mt Worsley. They are all from New Zealand and include the first NZ woman to ski to the South Pole, a school teacher, a doctor and a mother of six. The team plans to arrive in October in the hope the winter snow will still be lying, making crossing the crevassed glaciers easier, and plan to take three days to complete the crossing.

Proper winter hits in time for midwinters at King Edward Cove. Photo Alastair Wilson.
Proper winter hits in time for midwinters at King Edward Cove. Photo Alastair Wilson.

Beware of Avalanches: With more snow falling and accumulating in early June, and very heavy snowfalls towards the end of the month, KEP residents were given avalanche training. The session included methods of assessing avalanche risk and advice about what to do in the event of avalanche. With more snow falling throughout June, field training is now planned to practice some of the theory of how to avoid getting caught out by avalanches and what to do in the event of one.

People moving in the hills need to be aware of avalanche risk. Photo Alastair Wilson.
People moving in the hills need to be aware of avalanche risk. Photo Alastair Wilson.

Rescue Training Put Into Action: Everyone at KEP undergoes regular training for Search and Rescue in case anyone in the small community here experiences difficulties in this remote spot. On June 3rd practice paid off as a base member with a leg injury needed to be evacuated from a hillside above Grytviken. The injured person was recovered to base within an hour, and an X-ray confirmed a broken leg.

Cemeteries Website Upgraded: The Cemeteries website on has been updated. The website now has a simpler menu system and a couple of new features including information about ashes scattered at South Georgia and more related historic photographs.

Pat Lurcock, who writes the website, continues his research into the cemeteries and made a visit to the Scott Polar Research Institute this month to get more details from the historic Magistrate’s records. New information will be uploaded as a result of this in the coming months.

One recent discovery is the obvious misunderstanding of the inscription on a headstone in Husvik. The word “rolighed“ on the stone had been taken to be the occupant’s surname, but turns out to be Norwegian for “tranquillity”!

The KEP Midwinter Photo
The KEP Midwinter Photo

Midwinter Celebrations

KEP: Just like Christmas, the Midwinter celebrations at KEP may now necessitate dieting to make up for the dietary excesses. The celebrations started on June 15th with a dinner party at Carse House and pizza night in the bar the next evening. Next it was the traditional base pub crawl; inventive pop-up pubs included a Norwegian Bar, hosted by Technical services, festooned with Norwegian Flags, and a Vicar & wife's Pimms party at Shackleton Villa. Tums got a bit of a rest the next evening when Electrician Andy gave an interesting illustrated talk on Halley VI. Then there was a day’s rest before the main event on the 21st.

Midwinter Day itself began with the Base Commander James producing an excellent breakfast for everyone. This was needed to provide warmth and energy ready for the traditional midwinter swim which saw eleven folk rush off the beach at Hope Point for the quickest of quick dips.

In and out for the quickest of quick icy dips. Photo John Schutzer-Weissmann
In and out for the quickest of quick icy dips. Photo John Schutzer-Weissmann

That afternoon all regrouped for the giving and receiving of midwinter presents. This year the material of choice to make some outstanding handcrafted items was wood. Presents included handmade skis, a milking stool, a designer chair, boxes, games, frames and books - all made out of wood….oh and a metal clock in the shape of a king penguin.

An impressive array of Midwinter presents all handmade at King Edward Point. Photo Alastair Wilson.
An impressive array of Midwinter presents all handmade at King Edward Point. Photo Alastair Wilson.

The Midwinter feast ensued that evening; the highlight being a haunch of reindeer cooked to perfection by the Doctor.

All dressed up for the Midwinter Feast at KEP. Photo Alastair Wilson.
All dressed up for the Midwinter Feast at KEP. Photo Alastair Wilson.

BI – By Jon Ashburner: At Bird Island we started our Midwinter celebrations on the day itself with the Base Commander’s breakfast; Ruth excelled herself with a continental platter of croissants, pain au chocolat, and homemade raspberry jam! Next item on the agenda was the Midwinter swim... Now when I say swim I mean a very quick dash in and out of the sea (owing to the brisk 1oC water temperature) followed by a hasty retreat to our hot-tub, where we supped brandy and enjoyed a celebratory cigar! We live a hard life here! Then we moved inside, donned the glad rags and toasted the shortest day with a glass of champagne before sitting down to our feast. We kept things simple this year with a smoked salmon terrine, followed by a side of roast beef with all the trimmings, and topped off with a fantastic cake decorated with a leopard seal ‘Marzipanimal’! With our bellies full it was then time for the eagerly anticipated exchange of Mid-Winter presents.

BIers all dressed up and about to enjoy our Mid-Winter Feast. Photo Ruth Brown
BIers all dressed up and about to enjoy our Mid-Winter Feast. Photo Ruth Brown

Midwinter present making has all been very cloak and dagger, with everyone scurrying around base crafting their gifts in upmost secrecy. It was well worth it though, as the quality of the gifts was outstanding. Ruth had made a set of hand drawn maps framed in old wood from SSB (the gantry we use to study fur seals during the summer). Rob carved a macaroni penguin; Jen made a fantastic trunk, decorated with a map of BI cast from metal; and I Jon carved a wandering albatross in flight designed to hang on the wall. With the presents exchanged the music was turned up and we proceeded to dance the night away until the wee hours – it was a truly wonderful day!

Wood was also the material of choice for the handcrafted BI Midwinter presents. Photos Ruth Brown & Jon Ashburner.
Wood was also the material of choice for the handcrafted BI Midwinter presents. Photos Ruth Brown & Jon Ashburner.

Next was the BI highland games; so, dressed in tartan we headed out for a series of events designed to test both strength and skill. First was 10 pin bowling, using an old buoy salvaged from the beach and a set of inflatable skittles, followed by the more traditional caber toss using a piece of driftwood. Speed and agility were tested next with the egg and spoon race, then strength with the welly wang. Rob produced a gargantuan wang to win the event, hurling his welly 10m clear of the next best effort! Other events were the spoon dangle, curling (or throwing rocks at a target in the snow), then we finished with crossbow shooting. Champion of the day was Jon.

The Highland Games, left to right, top to bottom; Jon tossing the caber, Jen wanging her welly, Dead-Eye-Jen with the crossbow, a group photo around the target. Photo Ruth Brown
The Highland Games, left to right, top to bottom; Jon tossing the caber, Jen wanging her welly, Dead-Eye-Jen with the crossbow, a group photo around the target. Photo Ruth Brown

We finished our week of Midwinter celebrations with a pub crawl around the base, with each of us converting a room into a themed bar! This year there was a Hawaiian Beach bar in the laundry, the ‘Seal Lounge’ in the spare bedroom, a Biohazard Cocktail Bar and ‘The Dive Inn’. With the DJ playing some great tunes we soon got to dancing the night away once

The annual midwinter broadcast on the BBC World Service had a guaranteed audience of just 44 on all the BAS bases according to the presenter. There were midwinter greetings for all on the Antarctic bases from family and friends back home. Deputy Director of BAS Robert Culshaw also sent good wishes to all; and two special guests, James May from Top Gear and comedian Marcus Brigstocke, sent sage words on keeping safe and warm in the winter advising us to “watch out for leopard seals”.

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