South Georgia Newsletter, June 2010

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

Habitat Restoration Project Given The Go Ahead

GSGSSI have announced that, following stakeholder consultation, conditional approval has been given to the South Georgia Heritage Trust (SGHT) for the first phase of the Habitat Restoration Project.

Three conditions have to be met: A minimum of two helicopters are to be used throughout the project, although an exception can be made for the Greene Peninsula, where a single helicopter operation will be acceptable; SGHT are required to take out adequate insurance to cover all aspects of the project; and detailed documentation, including risk assessments, biosecurity plans, oil spill response and search and rescue plans, will need to be submitted to GSGSSI for approval.

The first phase of the project is expected to start in February 2011 and aims to eradicate rats from the Thatcher, Mercer and Greene peninsulas. It is a major undertaking and, if successful, should result in a dramatic increase in the numbers of ground nesting birds in these areas.

See the original announcement here.

Habitat Restoration Project Under Way

Having received conditional approval for the first phase of the huge Habitat Restoration Project (see above), SGHT has mobilised Project Manager Tony Martin to get the project under way.

The task is to eradicate invasive rodents - the rats and mice which have devastated the terrestrial ecology and seabird populations of South Georgia over two centuries - from the whole of South Georgia. This will be achieved by spreading rodent bait pellets by helicopter over the entire land area where they occur.

Two helicopters will be used throughout the operation, both for safety and because the scale of the task is greater than could be achieved with a single aircraft. The helicopter baiting will take place between mid-February and mid-April each year - after the breeding season of most birds and before the first heavy snowfalls of winter.

The Project will be in two parts. 'Phase 1', starting in 2011, lasts two years and is a limited-area trial with follow-up monitoring. Rats will be eradicated from the land between two large and currently rat-proof glaciers on the central north coast - the Nordenskjöld and Neumayer glaciers. The cleared areas will include the Thatcher Peninsula (the land around the settlement at King Edward Point/Grytviken), the adjacent Greene Peninsula, and the ‘Mercer Peninsula” either side of Mercer Bay. The total land area to be freed of rodents in 'Phase 1' is more than 150km² . This is a small proportion of the land area of South Georgia, but substantially larger than Campbell Island - the largest island ever cleared of rodents until now. 'Phase 1' will be used to prove the methods used are suitable in the extreme South Georgia environment and assess the impact on non target species.

'Phase 2' follows over the next three years, commencing February 2013, to clear the remainder of the Island, incorporating any improvements in methodology or strategy suggested by the results of 'Phase 1'. As the areas to be cleared are further from Grytviken, remote field camps will be established, supported by a yacht.

There is a ten-person field team for 'Phase 1', each of whom was chosen for their expertise and experience in a broad range of fields, all of them essential for success in this operation.

Info: SGHT website

'Phase 1' clearance area  in green. Photo SGHT.
'Phase 1' clearance area in green. Photo SGHT.

Consultation On The Future Use And Carriage Of Heavy Fuel Oil

As South Georgia is a habitat for millions of seabirds and mammals, as well as supporting globally significant populations of endangered albatross species, GSGSSI is concerned about the scale of the environmental impact that a heavy fuel oil (HFO) spill would have on the coastal environment and the challenges involved in responding to a spill in such a remote location.

In March 2010 the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) Marine Environmental Protection Committee (MEPC) adopted the amendments to MARPOL Annex 1 on the use and carriage of heavy grade oil on ships in the Antarctic area. This will effectively ban the use and carriage of HFO by private and commercial vessels in the Antarctic Treaty Area from August 2011.

Following this announcement a consultation document has been prepared by GSGSSI to consider the future use and carriage of HFO by vessels operating within the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands Territorial Waters. This considers the risks posed by HFO use and carriage as well as the ramifications of an HFO ban for commercial operations, both fishing vessels and cruise ships in SGSSI waters.

Options considered in the document include: not implementing a ban in line with the MARPOL amendment; fully implementing a ban within SGSSI Territorial Waters; or alternatively implementing the ban whilst facilitating some degree of limited access for HFO use and carriage in Cumberland East Bay over a limited time frame. This would enable some existing vessel operations time to make modifications in order to meet the requirements of a ban.

The consultation document on the future use and carriage of HFO by vessels operating within the SGSSI Territorial Waters can be downloaded here.

In order to allow time for this subject to be discussed during the course of meetings being held in September, comments on this document are requested by the end of August (email here).

IAATO Address

GSGSSI Executive Officer, Richard McKee, covered many topics when he addressed cruise ship operators at the annual meeting of IAATO (International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators) in Turino, Italy, in June. For full details please refer directly to the text of the presentation (link below)

IAATO members were reminded of the importance of always referring current information and documentation which is available on the website. Members were also advised again about the visitor fee increases for coming seasons, which IAATO members were first alerted to in March. From the start of next season the visitor fee will increase by £5 to £105. Harbour fees also increase by 5%, the last increase being 7 years ago.

Looking ahead, to the start of the 2011/12 season there will also be a 50% additional supplementary charge to the visitor fee for visits extending longer that 72hours, which will come into force in July 2011. An important point to note is that a proposed policy on a fixed one month time limit for the period covered by visitor fees will also come into force at this time. This policy has been deferred by 12 months, from the coming season to the start of the 2011/12 season, in order to align it with the supplementary charge for visits lasting longer than 72 hrs.

Visit applicants are requested to refer to the Information for Visitors to South Georgia 2010 booklet (JULY 2010 version) for details of these charges.

Richard McKee told the meeting that progress continues to be made with the legislative review process. The 'Wildlife and Protected Areas (WPA) Bill' will replace outdated wildlife protection legislation. It will provide protection for all of the Territory’s native wildlife, the provision to declare 'Specially Protected Areas' and 'Marine Protected Areas' and, where appropriate, for species to be listed as 'Specially Protected'. GSGSSI thanks IAATO members for their responses to the WPA consultation.

As there were 8 reports of minor bird strikes on vessels last season, GSGSSI reminded operators to implement mitigation measures thoroughly and to respond quickly in the event of a bird strike. Visit permit holders should be aware that under the new Ordinance it will be an offence to intentionally or recklessly kill, injure, capture, handle or molest a wild bird or a protected wild mammal. If a bird strike occurs in future as a result of negligence and inadequate measures being in place to prevent it, or if operators fail to respond appropriately to an incident, then the GSGSSI may be bound to refer the incident to the GSGSSI Attorney General for possible prosecution.

IAATO were told that a specific Prohibited Areas Bill is being drafted as a result of continued reports of incursions into closed areas, specifically around the old whaling stations.

GSGSSI will review the limits of the closed areas around the whaling stations after an asbestos survey is undertaken in the areas in October and November. An Antarctic heritage surveyor will also assess the current state of the station buildings at the same time. GSGSSI cannot afford to undertake any further remediation work at the former stations, but they hope the survey will enable heritage organisations to identify structures and artefacts which should be prioritised for future restoration and preservation work.

IAATO were also briefed about visitor management arrangements during the planned SGHT rat eradication programme from February to April 2011. Members were advised that as a result of the planned 'Habitat Restoration Project' and the need to ensure the safety of visitors and local staff throughout the operation, areas of Grytviken whaling station will have to be closed to visitors during flying operations. GSGSSI hopes that visitors will support the work and accept any inconvenience as a small price to pay for the removal of rats and the return of many thousands breeding birds to the Island. Vessels will still be able to visit Grytviken during helicopter operations, and access to the museum, church and cemetery will not be affected. Visit permit holders will receive specific briefing information and a new Site Visitor Management Plan from GSGSSI prior to the start of the season. During the actual eradication work period, Government Officers will be in daily contact with IAATO vessels to keep them fully apprised of the daily flying programme.

Richard McKee relayed the GSGSSI's thanks to IAATO members for their support and efforts to implement biosecurity policy and protocols. Biosecurity protocols in the future are going to be a key element in ensuring that rodents are not reintroduced to an area which has been cleared.

One outstanding problem at Grytviken and KEP is the spread of the invasive plant, wavy bittercress. Despite efforts to eradicate it, this has continued to spread on KEP and on the lower reaches of Brown Mountain. To try and prevent the further spread of seeds, some large areas of ground are now closed to visitors. The GSGSSI Environmental Officer is currently working closely with other agencies overseas to formulate a strategy for the next phase of response to attempt to eradicate this plant.

IAATO were told that GSGSSI continues to support the albatross and petrel survey work undertaken on Albatross and Prion Islands by Sally Poncet and 'South Georgia Surveys' (SGS). An important element of this survey in recent years has been monitoring for any impact on the breeding success of wandering albatrosses following the construction of the Prion Island boardwalk in 2007. SGS observations so far suggest the boardwalk has not affected breeding success, so much so, that in order to assist IAATO members on the few occasions when access to Prion Island is constrained due to the scheduling of vessels, GSGSSI will now allow two vessels a day (IAATO category 1 vessels, with fewer than 200 passengers) to visit Prion Island, each for a maximum duration of 5 hours. GSGSSI will continue to fund the SGS survey work and will monitor the results closely for any signs of impact on albatross breeding success.

GSGSSI again thanked IAATO members for their continued assistance in reporting incidents and sightings of any animals suffering from illness to GSGSSI and for their help in providing berths on occasions for GSGSSI staff and contractors to travel to South Georgia.

You can download the full GSGSSI address to IAATO here.

'Wrecks & Hulks' - New Stamp Release

A set of four stamps featuring some of the wrecks and hulks around South Georgia's shore was released on June 25th. The release date was chosen to coincide with the midwinter full moon. The photographs used on the stamps were taken by Thies Matzen, who also wrote the text below...

There are over sixty wrecks and hulks around South Georgia, most of them scuttled and sunk, some still visible. Except for a submarine and two modern fishing vessels, nearly all took part in the sealing and whaling industries.

The South Georgia wrecks and hulks fell victim to uncharted waters, unpredictable weather, and - at the end - to the decline of the whales. Catching one’s eye in the vicinity of the former whaling stations some appear now to be taking a long winter’s rest. To best portray this solemn sleep the vessels were photographed in winter at full moon.

The two riveted, iron-hulled, three-masted sailing vessels “Brutus” and “ Bayard” served as coaling hulks: “Brutus” (built 1883 in Glasgow, 76m long, 1686 tons) in Prince Olav Harbour, the “Bayard” (built 1864 in Liverpool, 67m long, 1335 tons) in Ocean Harbour. At the beginning of South Georgian whaling, prior to WW1, such cargo vessels that were exclusively propelled by wind became redundant world-wide, and were cheap to buy.

Once purchased, “Brutus” was loaded with coal and then towed from Cape Town to Prince Olav Harbour by four whale catchers. A century later, as seen on the First Day Cover, she is still placed where she was deliberately beached, off Pig Point, slightly tilted, with only one of her original three masts standing.

Forty nautical miles [74 km] to the South East, in protected Ocean Harbour, that extraordinary epoch of sail can still be sensed in the present posture of “Bayard” (60p stamp). On June 6th 1911 she was moored at the coaling pier at the north side of the bay when a severe gale caused her to drift across the harbour on to rocks. Today a near complete cover of tussac grass and a colony of blue-eyed shags occupy her decayed decks, which once - in an earlier life - used to regularly carry Indian labour to the South Seas or the West Indies.

The much smaller vessels, “Karrakatta” (95p stamp), “Petrel” (£1.15), “Albatros” and “Dias” (70p stamp), carry a less worldly air. The first three were whale catchers, two later sealing vessels – in the case of “Dias” solely as a sealer - they stood at the core of South Georgian modern whaling and sealing industry. The catchers carried the gunners to the grounds to find and harpoon the whales. They towed the carcasses to the whaling stations.

The prominent “Karrakatta” in Husvik was built 1912 in Norway’s Akers Mekanisk Vaerksted, as an early type of vessel whose hull shape changed very little over the years. Most of the whale catchers measured between 32-35m long and had narrow, easily driven hulls. Capacity varied between 178 and 245 tons, increasing as time went by to accommodate more powerful engines.

At the end of each whaling season, when the stations reduced to a small maintenance crew for the winter, these catchers used to be left in South Georgia’s more sheltered bays. Close to their respective stations they were moored alongside each other, separated only by huge fenders, heavy hawsers secured them to the shore against the winter storms. When whaling finished in 1965 these highly specialised vessels had outlived their purpose and many were scuttled off South Georgia.

“Karrakatta” escaped this fate. She had early found an ingenious calling as a coal-fired boiler. Just beyond a small headland, that separates Husvik’s whaling station from its two slipways, she had been hauled out of the water on slipway number one. From there her steam boiler would power the adjacent engineering workshop that maintained the fleet on slipway number two. A square entrance cut into her iron hull allowed access to her boiler room and a lagged pipe – still visible - carried steam to the nearby buildings.

Of all vessels associated with South Georgia’s whaling or sealing, “Dias”, “Albatros” “Petrel” were the last to remain in service. They are among Grytviken’s major maritime remnants in what used to be a busy harbour. While working as sealers it was usually one of these that lent logistic support to scientific programmes as well as establishing Bird Island’s scientific station. Sometimes they maintained the link to the Argentine meteorological station on the South Orkney Islands. Living conditions aboard were said to be the roughest imaginable, with continuously wet bunks and virtually no ablution/washing facilities for weeks on end. To their last days they were skippered by Norwegians such as Captain Ole Hauge, who had an unrivalled knowledge of South Georgia’s vicious, uncharted waters. For decades the skills of men like him assured their return to Grytviken. After whaling finished the abandoned vessels became over laden with snow and sank at their moorings during a particularly severe winter.

For many years “ Dias” and “Albatros” formed a dynamic pair of criss-crossing masts and crow’s nests at the jetty. During the major redevelopment of Grytviken’s whaling station in 2004 they, with “Petrel”, were hauled ashore. These days their bows are surrounded, not by water, but gravel and stones, which, beneath the winter snow, might be imagined as being ice.

These and other South Georgia stamps can be purchased from the Philatelic Bureau, Falkland Islands , their South Georgia page here.

Fishing And Shipping News

Nine longline vessels continued to fish for toothfish through June. One vessel sailed to Stanley, FI, to offload some catch.

In the first half of the month one trawler fished for krill.

One reefer visited Cumberland East Bay to conduct transhipments with two of the fishing fleet.

One yacht remains overwintering on the Island.

Shackleton Scholarships Announced

Three of the four latest Shackleton Scholarships, announced in mid-June, were awarded to projects with strong South Georgia links.

The Shackleton Scholarship Fund was set up in 1995 to commemorate the lives of two remarkable men, Sir Ernest Shackleton and his son Lord Shackleton. Each year several scholarships are awarded.

The artist Bruce Pearson has been awarded a Shackleton Scholarship to assist in his project 'Troubled Waters'. (See newsletter archive, November 2009). Mr Pearson’s work produces visual art forms which explore species, habitats and broader conservation issues with an aim to raising environmental awareness. This particular part of the project will concentrate on seabirds, particularly albatross and the dangers they face within the fishing industry. In return for his funding Mr Pearson has agreed to donate two pieces of artwork, these may be auctioned with the proceeds being donated to relevant charities in the Falklands and South Georgia.

A second award was granted to Adam Howe, a Falkland Islands photographer, for a photographic project on South Georgia. The project, entitled 'Familiarity in a Foreign Landscape', aims to explore the association of all areas of the South Atlantic and produce conceptual images which could be used widely in marketing many industries. Mr Howe will hold an exhibition of his finished work and have pieces available for purchase. Adam is currently doing a BA Honours in Photography at Southampton Solent University.

The third award went to Dr. Claire Goodwin, a sponge taxonomist, who will be working with the 'Shallow Marine Survey Group' on a project to survey the northern coast of South Georgia.

The fourth award went to a shearing instructor to visit the Falklands.

Bird Island News

By Claudia Mischler, Albatross Field Assistant at the British Antarctic Survey Station, Bird Island.

Photo  Claudia Mischler
Photo Claudia Mischler

June here on Bird Island was a fantastic month. Winter finally decided to join us one night, pleasantly greeting and surprising us in the morning with a nice thick snow layer shortly before mid-winter. It’s amazing how the white stuff changes everything – the wanderer chicks went from being white blobs scattered randomly across the brown landscape, to completely disappearing behind their now camouflaged fluff. Only their squeaky begs for food point you in the right direction of where they continue to sit and wait patiently on their nest. Most are growing very quickly with feathers starting to surface, most notably on the head.

A young wandering albatross chick tries out its wings.

Eriksson, the BBC wanderer chick, is unfortunately having a hard time keeping up with the speedy growth of the other chicks. Erika, the female, has not been seen since the loss of her satellite tag (PTT) signal, so it’s sadly not looking good for that family.

The mollymawks have left the island for the winter – I was lucky enough to spot a grey-head adult that was looking for a fledged chick in one of the colonies at the beginning of the month, but I likely will not see any more until their return in September. The last grey-head chick fledged on the 23rd, leaving behind nothing except silent colonies filled with empty snow-capped nests.

Besides scattering their snowshoe-like footprints across the meadows, the giant petrels continue to occupy themselves with some serious nest building. Unfortunately for them, the snow covered most of their newly built bowls thereby forcing them to start again, only for the next big snowfall to hide all their efforts once more. One lone giant petrel chick was spotted on Bottom Meadow in the middle of the month – it looked fine and healthy, but must not have felt the fledging urge yet.

The gentoo penguins are turning the ice pink with their krilly waste, and walking on the beach has become a tricky act. Even the athletic abilities of the sheathbills seem to have changed from graceful strides to the wobbly insecurities of a skater standing on ice for the first time. The odd chinstrap and king penguin have been seen alongside the gentoos, and an isabelline (light coloured) gentoo decided to spend the night.

Fur seal numbers fluctuate greatly with a few large males holding territory filled with a harem of young males. Overall, the seals seem to be enjoying themselves, slipping and sliding down the hills like children on a waterslide. Small elephant seals are seen daily scattered along the beaches, snoozing away like they don’t have a care in the world. The snow brought other visitors as well – we had at least one leopard seal a day for over a week right around mid-winter. For those of us who have never seen leopard seals before, the visit from these amazing creatures was a welcome treat! Temperatures have unfortunately warmed up and the snow is rapidly disappearing, taking the leps with it. But we are hopeful for more winter-like weather as we still haven’t gotten the chance to take out the skis, snowboards, or snow-shoes.

Mick taking ID photos of a sleeping leopard seal. Photo Claudia Mischler
Mick taking ID photos of a sleeping leopard seal. Photo Claudia Mischler

South Georgia Snippets

The second edition of the 'Habitat Restoration Newsletter' is now available to download on the SGHT website Articles include profiles of the ten members of the 'Phase 1' field team; an interview with Chief Pilot Peter Garden; photographs showing the very real threat from retreating glaciers; the tragic story of what happened when rats invaded Big South Cape Island, New Zealand; and an opportunity to help raise funds by sponsoring a hectare.

Whilst South Georgia is trying to get to grips with some of its introduced species, it turns out a tiny insect from the Island is thriving elsewhere. Dr. Kevin Hughes and Professor Pete Convey told the IPY Science Conference held in Oslo, Norway, this month that a tiny fly (a chironomid midge) introduced to Signy Island, South Orkney Islands, from South Georgia in the 1960s is thriving there.

The midge was introduced during a scientific experiment to see whether plant transplants from South Georgia to Signy would survive. The midge larvae survived in the soil on the island, whereas most plants that were introduced at the same time did not (those that did survive were removed). Millions of the fly larvae (up to 410,000 fly larvae per m²) continue to thrive in the soil on Signy Island. The adult fly has only remnant wings and cannot fly; but the species has spread up to 220m away from the introduction site.

A very small worm (an enchytraeid) that was also introduced at the same time has survived in only very small numbers.

Scientists are monitoring the spread of the alien species in order to gain a better understanding of how such species affect the native ecosystem.

Info BAS: See the original article here.

Sadly things are not going well for the BBC 'Frozen Planet' albatross family we have been following the past couple of months. The mother bird Erika was last tracked on May 12th near the Falkland Islands. Possibly the tracking device had fallen off, but she has not returned to feed the chick Eriksson since then. The father has kept up his regular feeding trips but the chick is now measurably smaller than neighbouring chicks.

You can follow the story here with weekly updates on the birds at the nest, or see the parents tracks on the map here.

The building of an extraordinary yacht made from recycled plastic bottles was inspired by a visit to South Georgia. The weird looking vessel is now on a voyage from San Francisco, N. America, across the Pacific Ocean to Sydney, Australia. Aboard the yacht is environmentalist David de Rothschild and his intrepid crew Jo Royle, David Thomson and Olav Heyerdahl. Also aboard is National Geographic filmmaker Max Jourdan and Myoo Media’s Vern Moen.

So where does South Georgia fit into all this? David de Rothschild wrote: “A few years ago, I realized a childhood dream -- weaving in and out of icebergs, as a pink dawn rose over a forest of glaciers, on the sub-Antarctic Island of South Georgia. After more than two months at sea, we had arrived to embark upon a voyage only a handful of sailors had successfully achieved: to circumnavigate the Island of South Georgia and visit the Antarctic facing shores of the south-side. After a couple of weeks sailing along the northern shores, it was time to turn the corner. We began exploring the south side of the Island, the windward facing shores of the notorious hostile Southern Ocean...One day, wrapped up in so many layers that my waddle could have been mistaken for that of a penguin, I was taking a stroll to explore South Georgia's remote shore line. I scrambled round the headland and down onto a small cove to be faced with a staggering accumulation of marine debris. This sight broke my heart, literally bringing a tear to my eye. How could we, as intelligent human beings, allow ourselves to have such a far-reaching impact on a land that doesn't even feel like it belongs to the human race? An area that only a handful, if anyone, has ever stepped foot on. What on earth are we doing to the planet if how we consume has an effect here, miles from any populated town?

This encounter changed my life; I became driven to understand what effect we as humans are having on the planet -- our life support system -- and just how long the planet can sustain our habits.”

By the end of June Plastiki had been sailing for 103 days, and had covered nearly 7000 nautical miles (nm) closing towards Australia. The yacht is being used to draw attention to the health of the oceans, in particular the colossal amounts of plastic debris, by showcasing waste as a resource and demonstrating real world solutions through the design and construction of the Plastiki.

You can find out more on the Plastiki website

“Plastiki” is constructed using thousands of recycled plastic bottles.
“Plastiki” is constructed using thousands of recycled plastic bottles.

The third edition of the South Georgia Heritage Trust newsletter is now hot off the press and can now be viewed online at

Articles include:

  • Experiences of the Museum team last season
  • Two Honorary Presidents for SGHT
  • Child’s Play at South Georgia
  • Whalers Oral History Project
  • News from South Georgia Association
  • Reconnaissance Trip to Grytviken & KEP
  • Coming soon: Flora Guide and Museum Booklet

Ice in Cumberland East Bay. Photo Keiron Fraser.
Ice in Cumberland East Bay. Photo Keiron Fraser.

The snow has been teasing South Georgia residents throughout the month. Little snow has fallen, and none has accumulated, for the winter so far, so frustrated skiers and snowboarders have been looking to the skies hoping for better. At last, late in the month, a decent amount of snow fell overnight and a cold snap saw ice of about three inches thickness developing on the calm waters of the Cove, but soon the rain started again, so we will have to be patient and hope for better in July.

Snow outside Carse House. Photo Robert Paterson.
Snow outside Carse House. Photo Robert Paterson.

There is little wildlife around at this time of year, though fat fur seals do occasionally haul out. The quieter winter period does let some of us catch up a little with the vast amounts of digital imagery we take in the summer. Ali Massey has produced the beautiful video below from film she took in January of the king penguins at St Andrews Bay.

Solstice Celebrations

The winter solstice was celebrated at the two Island settlements, Bird Island and KEP.

June 21st, mid-winters day, is the shortest day of the year, and is traditionally celebrated with a week of holiday activities. At KEP, this can also be a busy work period with the winter fishery in full swing and science projects to conduct so celebrations were delayed a day or two whilst we waited for the two scientists, Luke and Jon, to return from a spell at sea. For some this meant a double dip in the icy sea. The midwinter swim traditionally occurs on June 21st, but not wanting the boys to miss out, there was a rerun once they got back. Present giving and the traditional evening meal followed, a very enjoyable occasion for all at KEP and Grytviken, with 14 people around the table. The numbers were swelled by guests Thies and Kicki from the yacht “Wanderer III”, and a fisheries observer.

Where work allowed, BAS staff took time off during the week, and more fun was enjoyed with a bar crawl and the weird sports of the midwinter olympics.

The standard of craftsmanship on the midwinter presents seemed higher than ever. There is a photo of all the amazing presents below, but we will show you more details of some of the beautiful objects next month.

In and out quick on the midwinter swim. Photo Thies Matzen.
In and out quick on the midwinter swim. Photo Thies Matzen.

Midwinters dinner at KEP. Photo Thies Matzen
Midwinters dinner at KEP. Photo Thies Matzen

An impressive display of midwinter presents. Photo Ruth Fraser.
An impressive display of midwinter presents. Photo Ruth Fraser.

From Bird Island Claudia writes: Mid-winter was celebrated by decorating the dining room with some Christmas cheer followed by a massive meal. With four of us cooking, we made whatever we desired – everything from turkey and gammon to roast potatoes, vegetables, and bread sauce. Hearing family voices on the annual BBC mid-winter broadcast was a welcome treat, and some serious wood-working talents were exposed during the exchange of presents. The fabulous hand crafted presents were: a cribbage set, a music stand, a Japanese puzzle box, and I had made a mini-model of the base. We also held the mid-winter games, which included the sports: crossbow shooting, tossing the caber, and throwing wellies.

Currently Joe is in first place, followed closely by Mick, me, and Stacey, but the games are not over yet as mini-golf will be played next weekend to decide the final winner!

It is crazy to think that we are already on our way back to the hustle and bustle of summer, and I'm sure the first ship will be here before we even know where the winter has gone.

Bird Island mid-winter celebrants (l to r: Stacey, Joe (Santa), Mick, and Claudia) show off their mid-winter presents. Photo Mick Macey.
Bird Island mid-winter celebrants (l to r: Stacey, Joe (Santa), Mick, and Claudia) show off their mid-winter presents. Photo Mick Macey.

Race Antarctica

By KEP Base Commander Ali Massey

Winter is trying to arrive at KEP. Today the temperature is -1C, sleet-clouds gather (we’re still waiting for snow!) and the sun no longer hits base, it is late afternoon and the sky is beginning to bruise. Yet even on this grey-weather day Richy is off on a run, Susan and Luke are heading for a walk to Maiviken and it looks very much like Paula and Matt are attempting to ‘break-dance’ their way around the track to the Hydro building. Back on base Robert is getting to grips with the cross trainer whilst I get a few kilometres in on the exercise bike. We’ve not gone on a sudden health-kick; it’s much more competitive - the start of “Race Antarctica”. An event organised by the British Antarctic Survey’s 'Sports & Social Club' in Cambridge. 'Race Antarctica' involves teams of up to 6 people racing 6000km in 2 months – the equivalent distance of crossing Antarctica. Methods are weighted because it’s much easier to cycle 1km than it is to run 1km. Therefore 1km cycling = 1km; 1km running, walking, skiing, cross-trainer = 2.5km; 1km rowing = 3km; 1km swimming = 10km and 1km break dancing = 10km (hence Paula and Matt’s unusual method of reaching the Hydro for the weekly checks). An entrance fee is charged and aside from a small prize for the winning team the money raised is going to the East Anglian Children’s Hospice (

Of the seventeen teams taking part most have opted for the 6000km challenge, three teams however have chosen the ‘Elite’ race and are attempting a return journey making it a 12,000km challenge.

There are currently 11 of us on base and at the start of May when the race was announced 8 of us were interested in taking part. This meant that there were too many for one team but too few for two full teams. No matter – we convinced keen walkers Thies and Kicki from “Wanderer III” (a yacht currently visiting South Georgia) to join in giving us 5 members per team – a little more effort required than if we’d had full numbers but we were up to the challenge.

Two-weeks in and the two KEP teams were pretty even on distance - we’d given up hope of beating other BAS bases Halley (going for the 12,000kms) and Rothera (who had a full team of 6) and were content with a bit of “friendly” KEP rivalry instead. Someone compiled a sheet to record the distances of frequently travelled routes and even short trips to the boat shed (0.4km) and lates/earlies rounds (1km) were being meticulously recorded. Every km counts.

In week three Paula casually mentioned that Les (KEP’s Logistics Co-ordinator) had agreed to join their team. That is Les “racing snake” Whittamore, who cycles 100km or more every weekend and often fits in a hefty run or walk somewhere during the week too! I was beginning to fear our team would start to fall behind. Fortunately Richy managed to convince Martin Collins (GSGSSI) to make up our numbers. Being a very active cycler/runner/swimmer in the Falklands we were feeling more confident about achieving our goal.

Week five and tragedy strikes for team two; our champion walker Kicki sustains a debilitating injury – fracturing her toe in a freak accident. Team numbers are now down to five, though the occasional 2.2km hobble from “Wanderer III” to KEP is still being recorded and is a valuable addition!

At the time of writing (early June) we’re half-way to the finish date and with team one (Paula, Matt, Thies, Luke, Jon & Les) at 3,580km and team two (myself, Richy, Susan, Robert, Kicki & Martin) at 3,463km, both somewhere around the South Pole - it continues to be a closely run race. Halley have been the leaders from the start and are now well on their way home with 8,554km completed, well done boys! There are 99 participants split between the 17 teams and the collective distance now stands at 68,000km. If all the teams are successful in their goal we’ll have gone around the Earth twice by the end of the race!

We must be mad, but then some of us are considering doing it all over again!

The virtual route of the Race Antarctica.
The virtual route of the Race Antarctica.

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