South Georgia Newsletter, May 2010

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

Family Saved From Sinking Yacht

The rescue launch approaches the stricken yacht. Photograph MoD Crown Copyright.
The rescue launch approaches the stricken yacht. Photograph MoD Crown Copyright.

A family was saved by the Royal Navy after their yacht hit a small iceberg and started sinking on May 7th. The 18m yacht “Hollinsclough” was on passage from South Georgia to Cape Town, South Africa, when the accident happened. Aboard were Carl Lomas and Tracey Worth (also known as Lord and Lady of Hollinsclough) and their two young daughters Morgause and Caitland. The £500,000 yacht “Hollinsclough” has been the family's home for the past five years whilst they travelled 16,000 miles around the world.

As reported in last month's newsletter, the family had already turned back once after trying to depart South Georgia. On that occasion they had damaged their autopilot and wanted to make repairs before trying again to make the 20 day passage to Tristan da Cunha or Cape Town. Once the repairs were made, they ended up waiting at the island for another couple of weeks for a good weather forecast to try the long passage again.

Bad luck struck again when the yacht was 300 miles north-east of South Georgia. The boat was hove-too in poor weather overnight when the yacht struck a growler, a low lying and difficult to see piece of ice, which pierced the hull. The family raised the alarm via the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in Falmouth, UK. Luckily Royal Navy vessel “HMS Clyde” was on patrol in South Georgia waters and was quickly despatched to assist. The ship raced for eighteen hours through the night and in strong winds and heavy seas to reach the floundering yacht.

Talking to the 'Daily Mail' after their ordeal Mr Lomas said that they hit the growler despite having sophisticated radar and scanning equipment. He was on watch in the cockpit at the time: ‘It was pitch black”, he said, and hitting the ice sounded like “marbles clattering around a frying pan or being dropped on a glass table. It was the worst sound I had ever heard in my life. It seemed like an hour but it probably lasted for about 10 seconds.” The iceberg ran under the entire length of the yacht, tilting it to one side. “Morgause was thrown clean out of bed but Caitland was strapped in and slept through much of it. There was a lot of screaming. None of us had ever had an experience like this.”

At first Mr Lomas and his wife could see no sign of damage in the fibreglass hull and thought they had had a lucky escape, but by daybreak the yacht was taking water and becoming unstable. At midday the boat broached – blown over flat with mast in the water - in a 40 knot wind. The boat righted itself after about five minutes but had taken on a lot more water. The family began bailing with electric and manual pumps and buckets. Now, seriously afraid that “HMS Clyde” would not reach them in time, they prepared for the worst and inflated the yacht’s two life rafts.

“HMS Clyde” arrived just in time at 12.30 on May 8th, by which time the yacht was lying very low in the water. The ship's seaboat was quickly launched to assist. Mr Lomas described later how – whilst they had freezing water lapping round their legs and their yacht was being torn apart by 20 ft waves and howling winds – a Navy officer climbed aboard yacht and said: “Good afternoon, how can we be of assistance?” Aboard the rescue launch was Lieutenant Robert Satterly. “When we approached the yacht we were relieved to see that there were four people alive and well. The yacht had sustained severe was clear that the family had been through quite an ordeal. Unfortunately nothing could be done to save the yacht and we were just glad to get them back to the ship safely.”

Safely aboard the “HMS Clyde” the family watched their yacht sink. “It was like losing a member of the family,” said Mr Lomas. “The captain sounded a long salute of honour on the foghorns as she went down. The girls were crying.”

The family travelled with “HMS Clyde” to the Falkland islands from where they flew home to the UK.

You will find the original Daily Mail article here.

Wildlife and Protected Areas Bill Available For Comment

GSGSSI is undertaking a review of current legislation with a view to replacing old Falkland Island Dependency legislation with new laws that are specific to the Territory.

Given the global significance of the native wildlife of South Georgia, the development of modern legislation to protect this wildlife is a high priority. A draft version of the Wildlife & Protected Areas Ordinance is now available on this website for stakeholder/public consultation.

This Ordinance is intended to provide protection for all of the Territory’s native wildlife, to enable the declaration of Specially Protected Areas and Marine Protected Areas and, where appropriate, for species to be listed as Specially Protected. The Ordinance is in six parts:

  • Part I of the draft Bill is a preliminary section, which includes definitions of terms used in the Bill.
  • Part II addresses the Protection of Wildlife.
  • Part III deals with Specially Protected Areas (SPAs) and Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). SPAs protect areas of land that are important ecologically, geologically or scientifically and will require management plans. MPAs would be designated to protect flora, fauna, habitats, geological features or heritage in the marine environment.
  • Part IV addresses conditions under which a permit may be granted for activities that would otherwise be a contravention of this legislation.
  • Part VI includes provisions in relation to offences under the ordinance and repeals the Wildlife and Protected Birds Ordinance of 1913 and the Falkland Islands Dependencies Ordinance of 1975.

In particular GSGSSI ask that the following questions be addressed:

  • Do you agree there is a need to rigorously protect the wildlife of South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands through legislation?
  • Does the Ordinance provide sufficient protection for the native wildlife of the Territory? If not, how could the legislation be strengthened?
  • Are the criteria under which SPAs and MPAs can be designated adequate?
  • Are there any aspects of the Ordinance that you consider to be unnecessarily restrictive?
  • Comments need not be limited to answering the questions above.

Please get all comments on the draft legislation to Darren Christie by June 30th. You can indicate if you wish your comments to be treated confidentially. GSGSSI will respond to all comments. Responses will be sent directly to the individuals concerned and a summary will be posted on the GSGSSI website.

The PDF document for consultation can be downloaded here.

Fishing and Shipping News

May has been a busy month in the South Georgia Fishery, which opened on April 26th .

Four longliners visited Cumberland East Bay (CEB) on the 1st and 2nd, three for inspection and licensing and one to swap government observers. All 9 licensed longliners were fishing in the zone during the month. Catches have been good.

The South Sandwich Island Toothfish Fishery was closed when the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for the area was completed.

One longliner had an emergency situation when the engine room partially flooded. Two other fishing vessels diverted to assist if needed but within a few hours the ship had rectified the problem. No mayday was issued.

The winter krill fishery got under way with the arrival of two krill trawlers in CEB on the 10th and 11th for inspection and licensing. Initial catches have been good.

One reefer visited CEB on the 18th and 19th to conduct a crew exchange for one of the fishing vessels.

Four yachts have been around the Island during May: The ill fated “Hollinsclough” departed on May 3rd (see above); a single handed sailor aboard private yacht “Restless” departed the Island bound for Cape Town; a charter yacht departed bound for Uruguay. Yacht “Wanderer III” remains at South Georgia and will overwinter for a second year running.

Fishing ships in CBE.  Caption: Photo Keiron Fraser.
Fishing ships in CBE. Caption: Photo Keiron Fraser.

“HMS Clyde” On Patrol

“HMS Clyde” in the King Edward Cove. Photo Robert Paterson
“HMS Clyde” in the King Edward Cove. Photo Robert Paterson

Royal Naval vessel “HMS Clyde” has been on patrol in South Georgia waters and called in for a two day visit to Grytviken on May 4th.

The vessel's 38 crew and a handful of invited passengers enjoyed walks ashore and visits to the museum and post office, as well as boating trips in the bay. There was also a small but enthusiastic turnout for the football match played on a snow covered pitch late afternoon on the 5th.

Several people from KEP accepted an invitation to join the ship when she sailed on the 6th for Fortuna Bay. It was during this trip that the ship was suddenly diverted to assist a sinking yacht 300 miles away (see above). The ship returned on the 9th to drop off the KEP staff by boat transfer before departing for the Falklands.

Floods, Dam Collapse And Landslips

A large amount of damage was caused in the KEP and Grytviken area by torrential rains overnight on May 6th and 7th. The rainfall was measured at 136mm (5.35 inches). Previous wet days in April and May of this year have seen precipitation of around 20mm.

As a result of the run-off there were floods and several small landslips and washouts.

Most of the damage was around Grytviken whaling station. The worst flooding was in the area of the old football pitch behind the whaling station at Grytviken. A small defunct dam at the base of Mt. Hodges had burst and water and several hundred tonnes of rock and debris cascaded down onto the pitch. The stream flowing past the church was partially diverted into the new water course. Other streams in the area also changed their courses.

The track between KEP and Grytviken was damaged and partially blocked by landslides.

Staff from KEP spent several days carrying out urgent repairs. Debris was cleared from the main track and repairs made to a culvert. Attempts were made to divert the flow of water onto the football pitch back into the main stream past the church. More work will probably be necessary at a later date.

The dam that burst. Photo Keiron Fraser.
The dam that burst. Photo Keiron Fraser.

Rain stops play. Photo Robert Paterson
Rain stops play. Photo Robert Paterson

London 2010 Festival Of Stamps

The 'London 2010 International Stamp Exhibition' was held over eight days in May at the Islington Design Centre, London. The South Georgia Postal Officer and Postmaster were at the exhibition. The vast show was visited by people from all over the world: philatelists, dealers, manufacturers, agents, designers - indeed people involved in all aspects of the postal business. The Stampex is only held every ten years and this show's theme was 'King George V'.

Queues to attend the London 2010 International Stamp Exhibition.
Queues to attend the London 2010 International Stamp Exhibition.

South Georgia Postal Officer, Sarah Lurcock found collectors were keen to meet her. Her presence at the show had been highlighted in philatelic journals, with one billing her as the Postal Officer from furthest south who would be attending the show. She was kept busy stamping and signing collectors covers and answering questions.

'Pobjoy' are the UK agents for South Georgia, Falkland Islands and Ascension Island stamps. The company had an attractive stand to promote and sell stamps and covers from all three territories. Sarah, and Postmaster for the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands and British Antarctic Territories, Moira Eccles, based themselves on the 'Pobjoy' stand where a special show cancel was available to cancel the South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands souvenir sheet of 10 different stamps that had been released to coincide with the exhibition. The sheet marks a century of stamps used on South Georgia since the Post Office opened in December 1909, and was widely praised for its beauty and relevance with its “stamp on stamp” theme. Each of the stamps in the sheet represents one decade of postage stamp used on the Island and King George V features on some of the early designs.

Asked about her presence at the show Sarah said: “A show like this comes round so rarely that I have not attended one before, so I really didn't know what I was letting myself in for, but it has been really enjoyable. When people realised I actually live and work on South Georgia they had lots of questions about life there and how the postal system works. I wanted to be at the show both to promote the collecting of South Georgia stamps and to learn from philatelists what attracts them to certain issues. I was also asking them what they thought about the recent South Georgia stamp issues. I have been thrilled to hear so many compliments - it seems we are doing a good job keeping up the quality of the stamps and finding interesting and relevant themes for new issues.”

Postal Officer Sarah Lurcock on the Pobjoy stand.
Postal Officer Sarah Lurcock on the Pobjoy stand.

At the heart of the Stampex was competitive showing of philatelists' collections on a theme. These were displayed in frames, and there were so many entries that the many hundreds of frames had to be changed over half way through the show. One competition entry with South Georgia content was entitled “A Whale's Tale” by Lesley Marley. It told the story of whales and their exploitation. It was a last minute entry due to another intended exhibitor having to pull out when his display was stolen a week before the show, Lesley therefore will have been thrilled to have won a gold medal for her display.

The competition frames.
The competition frames.

A highlight of the show was a chance to see the world's most expensive stamp, the “Treskilling Yellow”. It was on show with a guard close by at all times. Last time it was sold at auction, in 1996, it fetched nearly three million Swiss Francs. This time the guide price for the stamp was two million Euros. It was auctioned shortly after the end of the Stampex and maintains it's reputation as the world's most expensive stamp, though the exact figure paid was not made public.

Also at the show were many stalls selling modern stamps and dealers selling older ones and old covers. Each day philatelists would chat excitedly about the latest lucky finds - perhaps an obscure and valuable cover at a bargain price found in a unpromising box on a dealer's stand.

Philatelic Societies timed meetings to coincide with the show, including the Polar Postal History Society of Great Britain who had a combined meeting with the Falkland Islands Philatelic Study Group on May 12th. Of special interest was Trevor Cornford's exceptional collection of polar expedition related covers including the Shackleton expeditions.

An offshoot of the Stampex was several post related exhibitions in other parts of London including one at the British Library and the British Museum.

Trevor Cornford shows his polar expedition covers.
Trevor Cornford shows his polar expedition covers.

SG Publications Website Updated

The South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands publications database website has now been extended by the Centre for Remote Environments with research by Professor David Walton. The site can be used to search a bibliographic database of 1521 publications ranging from 1988 to the end of 2008.

The site is located at

Bird Island News

By Mick Mackey, Zoological Field Assistant at the British Antarctic Survey Station, Bird Island.

As with the previous three months, May began with the wandering albatross chick survey. Now that the base is being maintained by the core group of four, the island’s breeding colonies were quartered, and we all in turn investigated the progress of those chicks that had survived the difficult early months. The job was made easier by the prominent size and relative independence of most chicks, which were visible at a distance.

Claudia (Albatross Field Assistant) observed a reduction in overall nest failures during May. Monthly surveys of the wanderer chicks will continue until September.

The wanderer chicks are now easy to see on the nests for the monthly survey.
The wanderer chicks are now easy to see on the nests for the monthly survey.

A reduction was also noted in the presence of the non-breeding birds that have been a visual and audible part of the Bird Island landscape during the last few months.

Claudia also noted that all surviving black-browed albatross chicks had fledged by May 14th. Most of the grey-headed albatross chicks had also fledged by the month’s end, with the remaining chicks likely to leave their nests by mid-June.

Unfortunately it appears to have been another very poor year for the island’s albatross breeding populations.

The last of the southern giant petrel chicks also fledged during mid-May. A meagre total of 18 chicks fledged from Bird Island during the current season. This return reflects very poorly when compared with the previous season, where approximately 130 southern GP chicks fledged successfully. Stacey (Penguin/Petrel Field Assistant) indicated that the low fledging success may be linked to reduced food sources, such as fur seal carcasses.

With most of the island’s fur seal population heading offshore for their winter foraging trips, the start of May also marked the start of the daily search for leopard seals that routinely use the coastal waters to feed - largely on gentoo penguins and immature fur seals. The coastal area is inspected every morning by Mick (Seal Field Assistant) in search of these impressive beasts or indications of their presence (e.g. scats, fresh kills). As yet, no leopard seals have been sighted. However, large male fur seals have been observed in increasing numbers during the last fortnight establishing their territories along the entire transect route.

Large male fur seals are establishing territories on the beaches.
Large male fur seals are establishing territories on the beaches.

Careful note of flipper-tagged fur seals from previous studies have also been recorded. One interesting individual was a 15 year-old female, tagged on BI in 2002 and had not been observed again until this month.

Base maintenance was high on the list of priorities this month. Both the 'Love Shack' (i.e. Fairy Point Hut) and the island’s famous Jetty Toilet received a lick of paint from Joe and Stacey.

Joe painting Fairy Point Hut.
Joe painting Fairy Point Hut.

Over forty MGO barrels were relocated from the rear of Prince House to the front of the Generator Shed to guarantee the ready availability of fuel for the upcoming winter months. A number of indents were also conducted to ensure that the base is provisioned with the correct items in next spring's delivery. Frozen food, dried food, laboratory equipment, technical supplies, medical and dental provisions and recreational items were all enumerated, recorded and reported to Cambridge.

Now that June is almost upon us, the crampons have been fitted and are ready for active duty.

South Georgia Snippets

An innovative approach was used for the Commissioner's annual address to the South Georgia Association on May 21st.

Each year the Commissioner addresses the meeting, talking about the work of GSGSSI in the previous year and what their priorities are for the coming months. In the past the address has been made in person, or otherwise read by a representative from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. This year the Commissioner, Alan Huckle, addressed the meeting himself in a pre-recorded video shown on a large screen.

The South Georgia Heritage Trust (SGHT) has introduced two new logos. The Trust's new main logo uses the letter 'S' and 'G' in a form that suggests a penguin with a chick. The other logo is for the Trust's 'South Georgia Habitat Restoration Project'. The design cleverly morphs from showing a bird in flight with the moon behind it to the head of a petrel.

Both logos were designed by Andy Rice from Andy visited South Georgia ten years ago after working with the SGHT founder, Brigadier David Nichols, as part of a design team from University of Dundee on an environmental design project at the Falkland Islands military airbase.

The BBC continues to monitor the progress of a breeding pair of wanderers, christened Erik and Erika, together with their chick, aptly named Erikson.

Erika made her longest flight since being tagged which shows her just off Stanley, Falkland Islands, but then the track just stops. A note on the website asks: “Has anything happened to Erika? The last data we received from Erika's satellite tag was on May 12th, but the battery voltage of the transmitter has remained stable. This means that the device has fallen off or something has happened to Erika. There is nothing that anyone can do except keep a very close eye on the nest to see if she comes back to feed Eriksson.”

Daily updates on the birds’ progress are available on the BBC’s website here.

The SGHT and South Georgia Museum are looking for specific wildlife photographs and hope you can help. They are working towards the next phase of the 'Habitat Restoration Project' and need high quality photographs of some of the South Georgia birds that are currently under threat and will benefit from the programme. The pictures will be used for publicity purposes, to encourage fund-raising and also possibly for calendars, and other promotional materials. Full credit will be given to each photographer. Do you have good photographs they could use of any of the following?:

  • Common diving petrel
  • Black bellied storm petrel
  • Grey backed storm petrel
  • White chinned petrel
  • Blue petrel
  • South Georgia diving petrel
  • Wilson's storm petrel
  • Antarctic prion
  • South Georgia pintail
  • South Georgia pipit
  • Speckled teal

If you can help please contact Ruth Fraser. Please do not send photographs in the first instance as Ruth is based in South Georgia which only has a low bandwidth.

The inhabitants of Grytviken and KEP were invited aboard HMS Clyde for an entertaining night of penguin racing. Six people donned inventive penguin costumes and proceeded to hop around an obstacle course on the quarter deck of the ship. It was a cold night with snow settling on the nearby shore, but they braved the weather and hopped to keep warm! It was a fun night for all - a great barbecue and entertainment, with money changing hands at lightning speed. A few people dug deep and many lost, but it was all for charity. Profits for the night were kindly donated to the SGHT Habitat Restoration Fund and a generous £110 was handed over to the Trust from the Captain, Steve Moorhouse.

Penguin racing on “HMS Clyde”.
Penguin racing on “HMS Clyde”.
Dawn snow.
Dawn snow.
Winter scene across the Cove. Photos Ruth Fraser.
Winter scene across the Cove. Photos Ruth Fraser.

There is little wildlife left around the shores now winter is well set in. Sadly that includes all the eggs and chicks that we were watching at the nascent king penguin colony at Penguin River.

There is better news from some of the light-mantled sooty albatross nests around the Cove, and over at Maiviken, where some of the young we have been watching have successfully fledged.

Light-mantled sooty albatross on its nest. Photo George Lemann
Light-mantled sooty albatross on its nest. Photo George Lemann

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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