South Georgia Newsletter, November 2010

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

Introduction From The New Commissioner

Nigel Haywood started his tenure as Commissioner for South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands on October 16th. He says “I am delighted to have been appointed as Commissioner. It will be a new experience for me, as I have had no dealings with South Georgia or the South Sandwich Islands up until now. But I have recently undertaken an MSc in Biodiversity Conservation, and so I am especially looking forward to playing whatever role I can in supporting the important scientific and conservation work being done in the Islands. I am particularly keen to ensure the continued excellent cooperation between the GSGSSI and other organisations active in the area, most notably BAS and the SGHT. The challenge for us all is to strike the right balance between, on the one hand, the conservation, and, where necessary, restoration of a unique and important environment, while, on the other, accepting that human activities, whether tourism or fishing, are essential. Carefully controlled human activity increases awareness of the environment, helps conserve it, and, importantly, helps finance the conservation.”

The Commissioner will visit South Georgia as soon as he can, and, as a keen runner said that, should his first visit happen to coincide with the annual half-marathon, “it would be ideal!”

Fishing And Shipping News

The month started with a very busy day on November 1st as the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) ship “RRS James Clark Ross” came alongside for just one day to do the main annual resupply of the King Edward Point (KEP) station, known as relief. The off-load of stores and on-load of cargo and waste was performed very efficiently, with two cranes working simultaneously from the decks of the ship and the big team of people at KEP on hand to move boxes and loads to and from areas around the base and start unpacking food and other supplies for the year ahead.

A years worth of food is delivered to the food shore during 'relief'.
A years worth of food is delivered to the food shore during 'relief'.

It only took a day to resupply the station at KEP for the year.

Thirteen cruise ships visited the Island during the month. The vessel “Le Boreal” made her first visit to the Island so Government Officer Keiron Fraser joined the ship for two days to inspect and oversee her operations.

Seven yachts visited during November, six on charter, two of which were acting as support vessels for expedition groups: a mountaineering expedition and a kayak expedition (see below).

“Le Boreal” makes her first visit to the Island
“Le Boreal” makes her first visit to the Island

Visit Of Asbestos And Heritage Experts

A survey of asbestos risk was made in all the whaling stations to establish the current risks from asbestos contamination and other hazards. Tommy Moore of Thames Laboratories made the survey for GSGSSI and will present a report assessing the current dangers from the asbestos that was used and stored in the stations. The last survey was done in 1999. The new survey was necessary for GSGSSI to assess their current and future policy on allowing access to surrounding areas.

GSGSSI also invited conservation archaeologist Michael Morrison to take advantage of the presence of a qualified asbestos inspector to enable safe access to the stations. Michael was asked to assess the cultural heritage significance of the stations and report to GSGSSI, advising them on options for management of the stations in conservation terms.

Michael is a Senior Partner in a firm of architects, 'Purcell Miller Tritton and partners', which specialises in conservation of historic buildings. He has developed an interest in polar archaeology since he was employed by the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust (NZAHT) to visit and produce a conservation plan for Shackleton's hut, Cape Royds Antarctica. During the visit he was able to inspect several other historic Antarctic huts in the area. He is now the British representative on the International Committee on Monuments and Sites Polar Heritage Committee and a member of the UKAHT. More recently he was invited to look at the old BAS huts on the Antarctic Peninsula. One thing he has come to realise through this work is that: “Practically no building can tolerate having no use. Putting a building into use is crucial if you want to keep the building.”

Before visiting, Michael had assumed there would be possibilities for some management to conserve significant areas of the stations, but actually he found the situation “too far gone to do anything much, even if anyone did have masses of money available for conservation of the stations. The asbestos risks and state of collapse of many of the main structures are serious hazards to anything being done at all.” he said, “I was not prepared for how big the scale of the problem is. Previously I have been looking at Antarctic huts with a few extra buildings, these sites are minuscule in scale compared to what I am seeing in South Georgia even at the smaller stations.”

He described his week long visit as “fleeting” as it gave him only a day to get a snapshot of each of the stations. At the end of the visit he said, “The state of the stations means the most sensible approach is to continue the sort of recording done by industrial archaeologist Bjorn Basberg in the past.” Michael said he would like industrial archaeologists to widen their studies in South Georgia to include the social history of the sites, not just the workings of the main stations. He would also like to see a study of how the whale processing techniques changed during the periods the stations were in operation, and how that changed the stations - how they were built up over time. “When you look at the factory areas it is clear they have been added to and adapted, as have the other station buildings.” he said.

Summing up he said he did think there may be the odd thing that could be taken out of the stations and conserved, but the main thrust of any work should be to record what is here before it becomes too late. He would also like to see work done to allow access to the stations to the wider public. By that he did not mean letting people wander through the asbestos riddled tumbledown remains but rather to record the stations and publish the data on websites, DVDs and other media .

Now he has been here he says he “..absolutely hopes to keep an interest in South Georgia.” He had had ”an exhilarating ten days, and would love to visit again despite the long sea journeys involved in getting here”.

He would use the long journey out to start his report to GSGSSI on his findings.

Ground-Breaking Diving Expedition

Scientists from the Shallow Marine Surveys Group (SMSG) were delighted by the success of their ground-breaking expedition to survey the marine flora and fauna of South Georgia. The shallow marine life of South Georgia is very poorly known with only six sites previously surveyed by diving.

Based on the “FPV Pharos SG” for the three-week expedition, the scuba divers surveyed 46 sites over three depth zones along the north coast of the Island and collected 2270 specimens of marine invertebrates. Specialists working with the group collected an additional 120 sponge and 160 seaweed samples. Project Officer Dr Paul Brewin remarked: “This was an awesome opportunity to gather information about this unique environment. I am looking forward to spending the next year analysing the data collected and examining and describing the specimens”.

Scuba diving scientists work surveying the seabed.
Scuba diving scientists work surveying the seabed.

Giant kelp forests and trailing algae dominate the seabed, providing a habitat for stripy topshells, giant red sea spiders, limpets, colourful sea slugs, and a variety of starfish. Beautiful overhangs and rock walls were also encountered, covered in a vibrant array of sea squirts, anemones and sponges. Cameramen for the trip, Steve Brown, Steve Cartwright and Dion Poncet, not only gathered quadrat photos for later analysis of species cover but also took some amazing footage of the playful fur seals, which accompanied the team on every dive. The seals were especially inquisitive during the three-minute safety stops.

Specialists Dr Emma Wells (algae, Wells Marine) and Dr Claire Goodwin (sponges, National Museums Northern Ireland) joined the group for the expedition. Emma noted “Although the diversity of algae is less than some other nearby areas such as the Falkland Islands, due to the isolated nature of South Georgia there are a number of interesting endemic species”. Claire was particularly excited to encounter volcano sponges in shallow waters. She explained “These belong to a group of sponges called glass sponges which are normally encountered only in depths over 200m, due to the fjordic nature of the South Georgia environments we found them here in only 8m”.

Some of the colourful underwater life in the coastal waters of the Island. Photo Jude Brown.
Some of the colourful underwater life in the coastal waters of the Island. Photo Jude Brown.

The team of eight volunteers spent eleven days surveying down to 18m, (a depth restriction imposed for safety reasons), as well as completing some intertidal surveys. Settlement plates were also deployed in three locations to determine if invasive species are present. Dive Officer Judith Brown said “The team coped well with the icy waters, with temperatures down to 0C at some sites. We spent a total of 64 hours underwater without incident’. Dr Paul Brickle, Chairman of the SMSG, reflected “The expedition surpassed expectations due to unusually calm weather, the professionalism of the dive team and the outstanding support of the “FPV Pharos SG”’s officers and crew. Outputs from the survey will include geo-referenced information on species diversity which will be essential for future marine management”.

Support for the survey was provided by the 'Darwin Initiative' and GSGSSI with assistance from the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, British Antarctic Survey, the Shackleton Scholarship Fund, Byron Marine Ltd, Neil McKay Ltd, and Sulivan Shipping Ltd.

One of the scuba team, Paul Brewin, remains at KEP for a fortnight to study the local intertidal zone and work up some of the many samples.

The Shallow marine Survey Team who had such a successful visit to South Georgia.
The Shallow marine Survey Team who had such a successful visit to South Georgia.

The scuba diving scientists at work underwater and some of the colourful life they documented.

Obituary: John Heaney Of The South Georgia Surveys

John Heaney, South Atlantic Island surveyor and oilman, died on November 3rd aged 79.

John Heaney took part in the South Georgia Surveys. He was born on February 26th 1931 in Burma whilst his father worked in the Indian Army. The eldest of four children, he would grow up to be widely travelled; the family also lived in Kashmir.

Despite a shaky school performance he did well enough in early education to go to Cambridge University to read Mechanical Sciences. He trained as a topographical surveyor during his National Service and was a young man of just twenty when he volunteered to join Duncan Carse's first 'South Georgia Survey' team. The team set out to map South Georgia, and the glacier they were camped on when he turned 21 was named after him, the Heaney Glacier.

On his return from South Georgia he planned a survey expedition to Gough Island (Tristan Group) but illness prevented him starting out with his own expedition. Whilst the expedition started out without him, he married Catherine Haller and on recovering his health was able to join the survey team later.

On return from Gough Island, John joined the company Shell. It was the start of a 30-year career in the oil business. His first appointment was as an “Exploitation Engineer” in West Pakistan; his oil work took him to many countries including Venezuela, the Middle East and Brunei.

In 1972 he returned to Britain to work on the early development of Shell’s North Sea oilfields. He had a special interest in safety, not only of the oil operatives but also of the local environment, keen to minimise the negative impacts of industrialisation around the Shetland Islands. His final appointment was as Deputy Managing Director in Nigeria in 1977.

John retired from Shell in 1979 to take over the family fruit farm at Wakes Colne, Essex, but his interest in oil did not stop there. Soon he set up a new and successful oil company, Saxon Oil.

In later life John and his wife lived in Pebmarsh. He is survived by his wife and by their son and daughter.

Info Telegraph and To see the original Telegraph obituary click here.

“Canberra” at South Georgia in 1982. Photo from
“Canberra” at South Georgia in 1982. Photo from

Obituary: Dennis John Scott-Masson

Dennis John Scott-Masson, Commander of the troopship “Canberra” during the 1982 conflict, died on November 16th aged 81.

Born at Carshalton Beeches on December 12th 1929, his father and his grandfather were officers in the Merchant Navy and Dennis (or “DJ”) was educated at Pangbourne College before joining 'Shaw, Savill & Albion' as an apprentice in the troopship “Empire Deben”. In 1950 Scott-Masson transferred to “Ranchi” of the 'Peninsular & Orient', a company he stayed with for the rest of his career.

He first served on “Canberra” in 1964, when he was Chief Officer, and was subsequently Staff Captain before two spells in command. He was in command of this ship on April 2nd 1982, on the final leg of a world cruise, when he received a cryptic message asking for his time of arrival at Gibraltar, a port not on the itinerary. Soon afterwards he rendezvoused with a small launch to embark a group of men who briefed him about an “interesting assignment”. It was the day after the Argentines had invaded the Falkland Islands. Dennis was soon in Southampton supervising work on “Canberra” to fit her out for war. Helicopter pads were welded over the decks, hundreds of tons of military stores were loaded and she sailed for the South Atlantic on April 9th, with 40 and 42 Commandos, Royal Marines and 3 Para on board.

There then followed some weeks of exercises and drills off Ascension Island before sailing into San Carlos Bay to disembark the troops as part of the Task Force.

The ship was then ordered to sail for South Georgia to rendezvous with the “QE2”, also acting as a troop ship. Three thousand Guards, Ghurkhas, and Blues and Royals were transferred in one day – a feat of great organisation and energy, and soon “Canberra” was back in 'Bomb Alley', San Carlos.

Later the vessel embarked POWs bound for Puerto Madryn on the Argentine mainland before returning to collect the Royal Marines for a triumphant return to Southampton. In 94 days at sea, “Canberra” had steamed over 25,000 miles, carried some 5,000 troops, repatriated over 4,000 POWs, and treated 172 wounded soldiers and sailors. Scott-Masson was awarded the CBE and made ADC to The Queen.

He married Annie-Marie Grisar in 1958. She survives him with their two daughters and three sons.

You can read the original Telegraph obituary here.

Info Telegraph.

The Future Of The Reindeer

By Fiona Lovatt

The future of the reindeer, introduced to South Georgia about a century ago, has often been discussed. Solutions have ranged from 'doing nothing' to complete eradication. They are alien animals, which some would argue have no right to be on the Island, and they cause considerable damage to the vegetation, with consequential impacts on the environment and native species. On the other hand, they are a tourist attraction and their long isolation from their Norwegian ancestors makes their genetics interesting, and means they were not polluted by the Chernobyl accident.

Earlier this year, the Government put out a stakeholder consultation document about the future of South Georgia's reindeer. There were 58 responses, of which about three-quarters agreed that non-native animals should be eradicated. Should management go ahead, then shooting was seen as the preferred method of control, and a majority would want to see recovery of products such as hides, meat and antlers.

On September 23rd, a meeting of interested parties was held at Kew Gardens and I was invited to attend. After summarising the results of the consultation document, GSGSSI Environment Officer Darren Christie emphasised the three reasons why reindeer management had to be urgently addressed:

  • The reindeer have considerable impact on native species over a large proportion of the most vegetated parts of the island;
  • Glacial retreat will soon allow the reindeer to spread into new areas;
  • Reindeer must not be present during the proposed rat eradication phase in 2013 as they would eat the bait. This would jeopardise rat eradication and the reindeer would be poisoned with unacceptable consequences to their welfare.

For these reasons, it seems likely that eradication of both herds of reindeer will be undertaken and ideally this would occur before 2013. The meeting discussed the heritage, cultural and potential scientific value of the reindeer, as well as issues such as how public relations should be managed. Should a cull go ahead, the decision on the method will depend primarily on welfare issues, though there must be due consideration of practicality. In reality it would probably be a combination of aerial and ground shooting, though ground shooting would be preferable.

Recovery of commercial products may be possible and it was agreed that removal of carcasses would be important for environmental reasons and because carcasses could cause an increase in the number of rats.

The SGHT has been discussing monitoring the restoration of vegetation after rat eradication. The point was made that programmes would need to be in place before any reindeer were removed so that baseline data would be available.

I have conducted research on the reindeer of South Georgia over a number of years and pointed out that there would be interest from researchers in using this opportunity to collect a comprehensive selection of samples for a project that would consider genomic-environmental interactions.

Whereas the rat eradication is being funded and undertaken by the SGHT, GSGSSI expects to pay for any reindeer cull assuming the cost is not prohibitive. The cost could be up to half a million pounds.

It was recommended that a sub-committee should be formed specifically to discuss further practical details associated with the management of the reindeer.

The discussion was regarded as very fruitful and will help GSGSSI prepare a decision on the future of the reindeer, which they expect to publish in the new year.

(A version of this article first appeared in the South Georgia Association Newsletter)

Visiting The Singing Weddell Seals

By Kicki Ericson

Having obtained special permission from GSGSSI, and with strict biosecurity protocols in place, when we arrived in Larsen Harbour in the evening of September 11th we thought we were late. Our ambition was to experience the Weddell seal breeding season, with a private hope of witnessing a birth.

Larsen Harbour, at the southern end of South Georgia, is special in many ways. It is a steep sided fjord, geographically distinct from most of South Georgia. It is also the only known place on the planet where Weddell seals have established a colony on land; they normally breed on Antarctic fast ice.

The only information we could rustle up about this unique seal population was from fellow yachties: Sally Poncet, Tim and Pauline Carr, and the Kiwi yachtie Gerry Clarke who had found 95 adults, 18 live pups and 3 dead pups on Sept. 4th, 1985.

The second Weddell seal we came upon on our first day ashore was very plump and I had just finished saying to Thies “she still looks pregnant”, when I noticed an extra pair of tail flippers between hers. She was giving birth before our eyes!

Weddell seal pup with it's mother. Photo Thies Matzen.
Weddell seal pup with it's mother. Photo Thies Matzen.

The next day we witnessed a vicious fight between a male and a female. Although it was the male who had bounced over to the nursing female, it was the female who initiated the quick attack, aiming to bite her visitor in the belly and throat.

The loveliest experiences were seeing how sweetly mother and pup interact. Adult Weddells rarely lie closer than 10m to each other, but a mother will not let her pup stray farther than a few meters before she herself follows. When the pups are about two weeks old the mothers start coaxing them into the water, giving them their first swimming lessons in the shallows. They vocalise to each other with lowing and bleating noises.

At first we only heard their famous singing through our hull. The most common male vocalisations sound like a toy rocket and like hammering. Later I was able to record one of the males singing on the snowy beach. The females we heard gulped, chirped and whistled.

In the time spent in Larsen, I made many censuses of the hauled-out Weddells , as well as establishing positive identification of each individual. Weddells like to go for a swim, and not all adults were all hauled out at the same time.

When we arrived, along with the pup we saw born, there were only two other pups in the entire bay, along with 16 hauled-out adults. Near the end of our stay I counted 21 hauled-out adults with a total of 7 pups born. However one of these pups died.

In total I was able to identify 20 female and nine male adult Weddell seals. The last pup was born on October 11th, making the pupping span about five weeks. Why the population size has dropped two-thirds in 25 years and why only seven of the 20 females gave birth this season are questions worth pondering.

The birth of a weddell seal and the amazing vocalisations of female and male seals whilst resting on the snow. Footage Kicki Ericson

Round The Island In Twenty Days

Four Norwegian kayakers set off from King Edward Cove on November 12th to attempt to circumnavigate the Island. The journey was Simen Harig's dream; he always knew of the island as his father had worked here in the early 1930's, first as a sealer and later as pig-man. Simen started planning the journey more than ten years ago, but life got in the way when he married and had children, but the idea was not forgotten and he started finding people to join him. He had worked with Tormod Austring on an oilrig in the North Sea, Tormod had not paddled until two years ago. Sigrid Henjum worked with him in his kayak business, and Dag Marius Ammerud is an old friend. They got their kayaks delivered to the Island by the cruise ship “Fram”, and chartered the yacht “Pelagic” as a support vessel.

The kayakers check through their kit on the jetty at Grytviken.
The kayakers check through their kit on the jetty at Grytviken.

Speaking to them the day before they set out, whilst they were checking through all their gear, they said safety was their main focus; they had good kit and wanted to come back safely and were aware that the cold water and the katabatic winds were their biggest dangers, because of this they planned to paddle very close in-shore when they could.

Next day the locals were up early to wish the paddlers luck as they set out at 6am. They made a good start, covering more than 32 km that day, despite being slowed by thick fog. They camped the first night near Prince Olav and quickly realised they would have to learn to sleep with the noise of thousands of fur seals as their neighbours if they were to get any rest.

The second day South Georgia showed her true colours and gave them harder conditions with strong offshore winds. This made crossing the mouths of the fjords risky, as there was a danger of being blown out to sea by the strong katabatic gusts. After a few days the fast pace they set out at was beginning to take its toll. Sigrid started suffering from cramps while Tormod and Simen were both suffering from water and blood blisters.

November 16th was a long, hard day for the team fighting their way forward against strong headwinds stroke by stroke. The stormy weather assailed them as they rounded North Cape, with katabatic winds reaching gusts of 55mph. And the fur seals were also getting noticeably more aggressive as the breeding season progressed, making landing to camp hazardous. The team were aware a seal bite, with its risk of bad infection, may end the adventure. Encounters with seals both on land and in the water pepper their reports on their daily blog. Indeed one kayaker had to proceed with paddles remodelled by fur seal bites after fending off attacks.

By the 18th, now on the south side of the Island, the team tried to get used to the 5m waves they knew would be the sort of conditions they could expect on this wilder side of the Island. They set out but were forced to retreat as breaking waves beyond the shelter of land almost overturned Simen and Dag, leaving no option other than to find another safe harbour.

Setting out again next day they made good progress despite a poor weather forecast, but by lunchtime needed to seek refuge at Elephant Cove to repair one of the kayaks that had been battered along the way. What promised to be a sheltered spot proved far from it. The kayakers had to bind their kayaks together and doubly secure tents to keep them from flying away in the winds. Elephant Cove became a trap. The winds, large waves and poor visibility kept them there for three days.

Back to paddling on the 21st they had Holmestrand in their sights. The weather seemed better, but soon they were once again faced with 55mph headwinds and a very choppy sea; they stopped at Nilse Hullet.

The hold-ups due to bad weather led the team to develop the “get-up-at-the-crack-of-dawn-and-paddle-as-though-your-life-depends-on-it” strategy, they covered huge distances at times.

Disaster nearly struck on the 25th when an elephant seal crushed Sigrid's kayak in the middle of the night. Rushing out of the tent Simen chased the seal off but the kayak was already badly damaged. They spent the morning making repairs - the kayak was brought into the tent heated with two camp stoves to help set the glass fibre. By afternoon they were back on the water paddling hard to get some kilometres in before a predicted storm. They made Diaz Cove by that evening. They raced ahead next day but the storm was upon them and huge waves built causing two of them to roll. Eventually they had to retreat to safety and wait the storm out at Ranvik. The wait there allowed time for further repairs to the damaged kayak.

When the weather had abated a little they set out for the tricky passage around Cape Disappointment, the southernmost point of the Island. They admitted that none of them had paddled in sea conditions like those they met that day. They described it as a “chaotic kayaking experience” and were glad to camp that night in Smaaland Cove.

Time was beginning to run short and they decided to push themselves to paddle longer each remaining day; getting up at two the next morning they set out once more into what they hoped would be the calmer waters on the north side of the Island. The tactic paid off.

On the 28th they spent 13 hours at the paddles and covered 16km.

Once again plans were nearly upset next day when one paddler became briefly stuck on a reef when a large wave left him high and dry sitting in his kayak on a coastal rock. But the weather had the last say; confining them in their final camp at Luisa Bay for the vital day. So, twenty days after setting out, the triumphant team paddled in to Grytviken at 9.30 on December 1st to find the low clouds lit orange by the flares set off to congratulate them and welcome them back by those on shore. They had thought they might beat the fastest time to circumnavigate, 13 days set by a kayak team in 2005. They did not manage that but they are the third kayak team to successfully circumnavigate the Island and claim to be the first “unassisted” group to kayak round the Island.

There was a regular expedition blog with photos kept during the circumnavigation, you can read it here.

The kayakers hugged the coast where they could for safety reasons.
The kayakers hugged the coast where they could for safety reasons.

Renowned Mountaineer Returns To Try Again

Renowned mountaineer Stephen Venables returned to South Georgia this month to again try a ski-traverse in the southern mountains. Stephen led a similar trip to the Salvesen Range in 1989, but on that occasion bad weather trapped the party in an ice cave below the Ross Pass for 20 days (You can read about this earlier adventure in his book 'Island at the Edge of the World'.)

For this new attempt, on November 22nd a party of four were dropped ashore at Little Molkte Harbour from their support yacht “Pelagic Australis”. Immediately Stephen could see the difference from twenty years before, he was appalled by the changes in the much depleted Ross Glacier, the lack of snow on which was to make their start on the new journey rather difficult, as they threaded through crevasse mazes. They were pulling pulks and made a bit of a false start, following a route that led into “a horror show of interlocking crevasses.” he wrote in his blog. They tried to press ahead but in the end realised it was better to turn back and try a different route towards the Island's interior. He must have camped below the Ross Pass with some trepidation after his earlier experiences there, but despite poor weather the next morning, things had improved enough by midday for them to move on to camp the second night in a hollow below a nunatak the other side of the Brögger Glacier.

On the 25th the weather was still not great, but the team decided to cross the ridge to the Spenceley Glacier, though, nervous about a threatening sky, they decided to stop early and camp, digging into a snowbank below another nunatak ridge. It was the right decision: “The wind howled, the snow piled up to the tent roof, but we were warm and content inside.” he said.

Next day the weather abated by midday again, so they could move once more, plodding up the Spenceley Glacier on what turned out to be a glorious afternoon. They reached Spenceley Col (the highpoint of the traverse at just over 1200 metres) and enjoyed the descent to their next camp on the Novosilski Glacier.

Yet again the party were pinned down by weather for the morning, but on the trail by afternoon, skiing down onto the main Novosilski Glacier, and travelling in poor visibility on a compass bearing until the clouds lifted in time for a nice descent to camp on the Harmer Glacier.

Now on the homeward run they traversed the Graae and Philippi Glaciers in “wonderful wild country, with splendidly spiky rocky summits in every direction”. They made a final camp above Larsen Harbour. On Monday 29th, after eight days and just under 80 kilometres of travel, they made the steep descent, lowering their pulks on ropes, to the coast where the yacht met them complete with a bottle of champagne. “We all enjoyed the traverse enormously” Stephen wrote, “Alan Scowcroft was by far the most expert skier on the team. Ian Searle has done similarish things in Greenland, but seemed to find this journey more impressive, and as for Ian Calder, who is slightly older than the rest of us, he had never done anything like this before, for him the journey was a triumph.”

You can read the original blog here.

Bird Island News

Summer is a very busy time at Bird island and they have not been able to send their diary this month. Do, though check out the webcam. The beach in front of the science station has now filled up with fur seals for the main breeding season. The webcam updates every half hour, see it here.

South Georgia Snippets

The building team have had a busy month and have now all but completed work to renovate the inside of the Little Villa at Grytviken to make comfortable accommodation for the Museum staff.

Impressively, plant driver Wayne Clausen managed to drive the small digger up and down a very steep slope above the church to reach the reservoir in Bore Valley. The pool behind the dam had largely filled up with boulders and stones in the huge rainstorm of early winter, but the digger made short work digging out tonnes of spoil to increase the water capacity once again. The KEP technical team took the opportunity of the dam being drained to do the regular inspection and cleaning of the dam filters.

The drained dam at Bore Valley after digging out.
The drained dam at Bore Valley after digging out.

Other works Wayne completed were: on the football field to reinstate the old stream water course which had been diverted in the same storm; and to construct a level raised steel topped platform in front of the main workshop at Grytviken to act as a helicopter landing pad for the coming Habitat Restoration Project. The two helicopters that have been purchased for this project will be garaged in the large workshop.

The funnel of the old sealing vessel “Dias” was taken down on November 22nd after inspection showed it was very rotten at the base and liable to collapse and cause great damage to the vessel.

The building team has now started work on the interior of the old Customs House and Gaol at KEP. They have erected partitions to make two main rooms, which will be used to house the emergency stores. The old cells will be left untouched except for installing lighting.

On November 23rd a table top 'Major Incident Plan' exercise was carried out. The exercise scenario was a request to assist a medium sized cruise ship which had suffered a serious engine room fire that subsequently spread to other areas of the ship. The ship was supposedly anchored at the entrance of Cumberland Bay while fire fighting attempts continued and the staff at KEP were asked to assist in the transfer of around 350 passengers, staff and crew to KEP.

The exercise involved several of the KEP staff and others within GSGSSI, Stanley, and at BAS Cambridge. It proved very worthwhile and useful lessons were learned.

Ex Commissioner Donald Lamont visited the Island aboard the cruise ship “Fram”. Donald was Commissioner at the turn of the century when BAS returned to be part of the British presence on the Island and the military garrison closed down. He was on his way to the Antarctic Peninsula in his role as trustee of the Antarctic Heritage Trust on a 'familiarisation' exercise.

Actor Aiden Dooley was travelling on the cruise ship “Polar Star” which visited Grytviken on November 29th. Aiden has been performing a one-man show on the life of Tom Crean (one of Shackleton's men) for eight years, but this was the first time he has visited South Georgia. Despite being tired after doing the Shackleton Hike from Fortuna to Stromness that morning (in costume), he put on a performance of part of the play that afternoon in the old Whalers' Church at Grytviken and the locals were invited to watch. It was a mesmerising performance that transported the audience to a time nearly 100 years ago when three men struggled across the interior of the Island to save their shipmates marooned on Elephant Island. The actor was clearly affected by performing his play on the Island he has conjured up for so many audiences in the opposite hemisphere all these years.

An unusual piebald king penguin visited KEP on Nov 11th. This striking bird had a mottled black and white back instead of the usual all black one, a yellow spot on top of its head as well as on its earpatches, and black spots on the underside of its wings.

The first fur seal pup to be born in the area, and the first gentoo penguin chick to hatch, were seen at Maiviken on November 16th. The last of the female elephant seals have left but the weaned pups are thick on the local beaches. They seem to be mainly nocturnal, sleeping by day and exploring the shallows and playing together in the night.

Elephant seal pup in the shallows.
Elephant seal pup in the shallows.

Bull elephant seal throwing sand. Photo Richy Inman.
Bull elephant seal throwing sand. Photo Richy Inman.

Running Man

Last year's half marathon winner, Richy Inman, seems unaware just how lucky he is to win a place in the coming London Marathon. Reasonably new to running, he has teamed up with experienced runner Hugh Marsden (Museum Assistant) to train for the big event. Now the pair can regularly be seen running on the short 1km length of rough track, or over the hills. ”It's really unusual to get a place in the London Marathon the first time you apply”, Hugh said, “the probability of doing so in the public ballot is very low – literally the luck of the draw.” The couple are training four times a week with a longer run of two hours on a Sunday. “Running here it is not about distance covered,” Hugh said “In the UK in two hours you would cover about 15 miles, but here, because of the difficult ground, we cover more like ten miles.”

Hugh, qualified as a veteran runner for twelve years now, has taken part in the Falkland Islands marathon five times; winning it three times and coming second twice. His young protogee will shortly be leaving the Island and Hugh is keen that he should keep up his training as he is excited by what he thinks Richy could achieve as a runner. “He's got terrific potential - particularly as a fell runner,” Hugh said, ”He has improved greatly whilst we have been training together, improving his fitness, lung capacity and building the right muscles. But he needs to be totally focused for five months. If he trains properly I predict he could complete the marathon in two and a half hours.”

The London Marathon will be on April 17th and Hugh hopes to be there to see Richy run. Hugh himself will be running once again in the Stanley Marathon in mid March.

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