South Georgia Newsletter, November 2008

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Busy Fortnight Planned For “HMS Endurance”

“HMS Endurance” arrived in the South Georgia area at the end of November and has a busy work period planned. Alongside its usual work charting and surveying, the ship is supporting several other enterprises. A small party of Royal Marines was dropped off at the north of the Island to attempt the Shackleton crossing. A 19 strong team of students and leaders on a BSES Expedition was dropped off in the Bay of Isles area. They group will be camping whilst conducting various science projects, including wildlife surveys and mapping of glacier fronts, and will train in mountaineering techniques and ice travel skills.

Seven BAS scientists and support staff are also based aboard the ship and will be conducting geology, lake coring, mapping, and wildlife surveys.

On November 30th the ship’s helicopter was used to assist the removal of debris from two BAS huts that had been demolished in the Mt Hodges area.

There are two separate film crews aboard. One is making a documentary about the ship for ‘Channel 5’; the other is a BBC Wildlife film crew filming footage for the ‘Frozen Planet‘ series due for broadcast in 2012. (There are currently two further BBC film crews around the Island, supported by charter yacht “Golden Fleece”, who are filming for the same series.)

The artist Rowan Huntley, a landscape painter who specialises in mountains, is also aboard. She has been awarded an artist's residency funded by the Friends of Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI), which led to the opportunity for her to join the ship for a month. To find out more about the painter visit

Royal Marines start the Shackleton walk
Royal Marines start the Shackleton walk
The helicopter from “HMS Endurance” carried loads down after the demolition of two field huts on Mt Hodges. Photos Royal Navy
The helicopter from “HMS Endurance” carried loads down after the demolition of two field huts on Mt Hodges. Photos Royal Navy

Tourism Survey

Two researchers, who are part of a joint Research Project by Victoria University of Wellington (New Zealand) and the Sub-Antarctic Foundation for Ecosystems Research (SAFER) spent three weeks at South Georgia in November for the start of a tourism monitoring project for the South Georgia Government. The project has several objectives including providing baseline data to assist the development of Management Plans; monitoring people and wildlife interactions at a range of visitor sites and observing and recording passenger behaviour ashore (where passengers go, what they do, how they utilise interpretive materials available, etc).

During this trial and evaluation phase of the project the researchers set up various forms of monitoring, including asking some tourists to wear a GPS logger whilst ashore. The data from these is downloaded and analysed to show where they went, how they moved around the site and how long they spent at various locations.

Project Leader Malcolm Macfarlane was very pleased with the early results and said the first phase went better than expected. The researchers observed a range of visitor behaviour between different ship visits. A second team will arrive in January to continue with the survey, which will again include the use of questionnaires to assess visitor knowledge, expectations and satisfaction It is hoped that the project will run for up to three years.

“HMS Iron Duke” Patrols

“HMS Iron Duke” was on patrol in South Georgia waters this month, and was accompanied by “RFA Black Rover”.

“HMS Iron Duke” has a Lynx Mk 3 helicopter which was used to scout ahead of the ship as it approached the Island to spot icebergs. The ship surveyed areas to the east of the Island including the whaling stations in Stromness Bay, using the opportunity for navigational training.

Both vessels anchored in Cumberland East Bay during the patrol and landed their ship’s personnel to Grytviken and King Edward Point (KEP) to enjoy walks, wildlife, sightseeing and some local hospitality. The ship’s company of “HMS Iron Duke” have been busy over the past seven months with tasks including disaster relief operations and counter-drug patrols. Commander Mark Newland, said: "The Atlantic Patrol Task is a challenging and hugely rewarding deployment. Patrolling the Island of South Georgia has been wonderful; it is truly a magical place. I am delighted to be here. Bringing the ship’s company to South Georgia is a wonderful reward for all their efforts."

Some lucky members of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) group at KEP were invited to enjoy a helicopter flight over the Island.

”RFA Black Rover” is now returning to the Falkland Islands, while “HMS Iron Duke” continues patrolling activities.

Info: Navy News.

”RFA Black Rover (left) and “HMS Iron Duke” in Cumberland Bay.
”RFA Black Rover (left) and “HMS Iron Duke” in Cumberland Bay.

Shipping News

November was a busy month for shipping around the Island.

Fourteen tour ships visited, and three military vessels. The BAS research vessel “RRS James Clark Ross” (JCR) called at Bird Island and KEP for the annual base resupply. Though intending to sail that evening, the ship was forced to stay overnight at KEP on November 21st when strong westerly winds pinned it alongside the jetty.

Six yachts arrived, three of which were on charter to filming groups or mountaineering expeditions. On November 14th a storm was expected and seven yachts were in KE Cove, six of them moored three-deep at the jetty at Grytviken.

Cruise ship “Prince Albert II” entering King Edward Cove.
Cruise ship “Prince Albert II” entering King Edward Cove.

Centenary Of Letters Patent Stamp Issue

A new stamp issue celebrating the ‘Centenary of Letters Patent’ was released on November 30th. The issue has four stamps and a First Day Cover and marks the Letters Patent of July 21st 1908 that formally defined South Georgia as part of the Falkland Islands Dependencies.

The 27p stamp depicts “H.M.S. Sappho” which asserted British authority during a visit to Grytviken in 1906 to monitor the activities of the newly establish whaling station there.

The 65p stamp shows the Magistrate's Residence on KEP in 1912.

The 90p stamp is a portrait of James Innes Wilson, who was the first Stipendiary Magistrate from 1909 to 1914; and the £1.10 stamp is of the ship “S.S. Coronda” which brought the first Magistrate to the Island.

The First Day Cover sports the current South Georgia crest and a postmark based on the old crest of the Falkland Island Dependencies. Andrew Robinson designed the issue.

To purchase, visit the website:

Remembering The Wars

Two special acts of remembrance were carried out on Remembrance Sunday.

Rev Kathy Biles, the Vice-Rector of Christ Church Cathedral, Stanley (Falklands), was travelling aboard the cruise ship “Clipper Adventurer” visiting that day. She led a service, including a minutes silence, in the Whalers’ Church at Grytviken. This was followed by a ceremony to ring the bell of the “Viola” aboard the ship.

Government Officer Pat Lurcock rings the “Viola” bell aboard the ship.
Government Officer Pat Lurcock rings the “Viola” bell aboard the ship.

“Viola”, now known as “Dias” was a Hull trawler requisitioned during WW1 to act as a patrol vessel. Many other similar vessels were requisitioned, and 128 Hull trawlers were lost in the Great War. “Viola” survived unscathed, despite being involved in the sinking of 2 German U-boats, after which she was renamed and headed to South Georgia to work as a seal catcher. The bell of the “Viola”, currently on loan to the South Georgia Museum, was hung on the deck of the ship and rung by Government Officer Pat Lurcock as an act of remembrance.

Info: BBC Humberside

South Georgia Museum Update

By Curator Elsa Davidson

Steve Massam in his workshop with the completed Wandering Albatross.
Steve Massam in his workshop with the completed Wandering Albatross.

The 2008/9 season has got off to a flying start here at the Museum with a huge number of visiting ships in the first few weeks. We’ve got a new team this year and everything seems to be going very well indeed. One of the main projects for this season is completing the Carr Maritime Gallery which we hope to open fully in January. Earlier this month we received our star exhibit, a replica of the “James Caird”. It was delivered by the Quark ship “Akademik Shokalskiy” and was manoeuvred into Grytviken on top of two zodiacs with the builder, Bob Wallace, nestled on the deck. The weather couldn’t have been better and it was a great day for everyone at the Museum.

For the first month of the season we had the taxidermist Steve Massam in residence. He has now completed his outstanding Wandering Albatross specimen and has also finished a Snow Petrel which is on display in the Prince Room.

The Museum team have all been getting involved in documenting the collection and archives which is another big priority for this season. We’ve all been working away logging data, photographing, marking and condition reporting, so hopefully we’ll be close to having everything recorded by the end of the season.

We have a few new artefacts which have recently gone on display including a mounted photograph of the Royal Marine detachment of “HMS Endurance” in 1982 which was donated by Keith Mills, a pair of waterproof mittens which belonged to Duncan Carse and a tinsmith’s anvil which was sent from the Falklands but was originally used at Grytviken.

The “James Caird” replica rigged outside the Maritime Gallery.
The “James Caird” replica rigged outside the Maritime Gallery.

The unconventional arrival of the “James Caird” replica and the boat’s builder Bob Wallace.

Irish ‘Beyond Endurance’ Adventures

A team of Irish expeditioners, led by adventurer Pat Falvey, arrived aboard the cruise ship “Ushuaia” to attempt the Shackleton Crossing.

A seventeen strong party landed at King Haakon Bay in high winds on November 14th. The expedition got underway and headed toward Shackleton Gap whilst the winds increased to above sixty knots, giving the party a taste of the challenging conditions ahead. Team members had prepared for the expedition with training in the Irish Kerry Mountains and Norway.

Gear was carried on sledges and the sledge pullers were exhausted when they camped for the first night under the towers of the Trident Mountains. The next day very low visibility made navigation difficult and they had to backtrack a couple of times after taking the wrong route. In his Blog, expedition member Niall Foley wrote: “The wind was blowing very strong and we needed every ounce to stay focused on following the faint figure ahead trudging along like a line of ants into the abyss of whiteout. We were here for adventure and South Georgia was living up to its name…God it felt like hell for a while!!”

The tired party were rewarded with the first clear skies of the journey once atop the Trident Ridge, giving views down over Antarctic Bay. In descending, two of the sledges escaped and narrowly avoided being lost.

Though the weather improved for the third day, there was more adventure when an unroped expeditioner picked a bad place to stamp the snow off his skis, and unwitting broke the snowbridge he was standing on, falling deep into the crevasse below. Luckily the crevasse sides were pinched together partway down, which caught and held him until a rescue was achieved.

Late on the third day the party reached the beach at Fortuna Bay; some camped there, others took advantage of the possibility of a shower and proper bed on the ship anchored in the bay. Next day they were joined by several others from the ship to complete the journey to Stromness.

Looking back on it a sunburnt and ice-nipped expeditioner said he had had too casual an attitude to the expedition, it had been harder than he was prepared for. Another said it was: “more than an adventure”.

You can read more and see the photos on the website

The ‘Beyond Endurance’ expedition experienced difficult conditions during the crossing. Photo ‘Beyond Endurance’.
The ‘Beyond Endurance’ expedition experienced difficult conditions during the crossing. Photo ‘Beyond Endurance’.

Bird Island News

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

Everything is going very fast on Bird Island at the moment … too fast when it’s your last summer!! Northern Giant Petrels, which were incubating their eggs last month, are now brooding a tiny copy of themselves with white grey down in place of feathers. Gentoo Penguin chicks are also hatching in all the colonies around the island when the other breeding species of penguin on Bird Island, the Macaroni, has just finished laying their second egg. Big Mac colony, where 80-thousand Macaroni Penguins are trying to shout louder than one another, is the noisiest place on the island; two people can hardly hear what are they saying to each other when they are a few metres apart.

Northern Giant Petrel brooding a chick just a few days old.
Northern Giant Petrel brooding a chick just a few days old.

The other noisy place on the island is the beach in front of the base. At the beginning of the month a handful of Antarctic Fur Seal males were sharing the beach with a few Gentoo and King Penguins. Now there are more than one hundred males holding territory, and females and pups are growing in number everyday.

Freshwater Beach on November 1st (right) and on the November 30th (left)
Freshwater Beach on November 1st (right) and on the November 30th (left)

On the meadows more than half of the Wandering Albatross chicks have fledged and the last will probably fly off at the first opportunity, particularly if it’s windy. As chicks are leaving the island where they were born 11 months ago, adults are coming back for a new breeding season after 1 year wandering the Southern Ocean.

Reunion of a Wandering Albatross pair.
Reunion of a Wandering Albatross pair.

On November 23rd the “JCR” called at Bird Island to deliver all the dry and frozen food, and all the fuel and bits and bobs we need to run the base for the year ahead.

The two new winterers, Stacey my replacement and David the new technician, arrived at the same time, accompanied by the new Base Commander Dicky. We all shed a little tear for Felice who left the island on the “JCR” after twelve months working on BI…he will be back soon to his homeland Australia. Now with 8 of us on the base and the BBC film crew staying on board the yacht “Golden Fleece” for another 2 weeks, plus all the bird and seal activities around the island, there is no time to get bored!!

South Georgia Snippets

An advert has been placed on this website for a Senior Executive Officer to administer South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. The main role is as Director of Fisheries, but also includes oversight of tourism and environmental management. Applications for the three year post, which is based in Stanley (Falklands), should be entered by December 15th.

Executive Officer Richard McKee visited the Island this month. He travelled as the Government Observer aboard the new (to South Georgia) cruise ship “Prince Albert II”. He disembarked at KEP for a two day visit to liaise with other members of the Government team and to see the progress of the Morrision International projects. He also visited the SGHT employees at the Museum and met with the new and old BAS teams at the base at KEP. He was accompanied by his wife Miranda.

Richard and Mirand McKee.
Richard and Mirand McKee.

The Morrisons International Ltd team have worked hard all month to complete laying the electricity cable to the new hydroelectric power station, connecting up the turbine and completing work on gabion basket retaining walls at the dam and at the KEP jetty. A further three workers arrived on November 12th, one a turbine specialist and the other two to undertake the removal of two old BAS field huts.

A waterspout formed when the hydroelectric powerstation waterfeed was flushed out before the turbine was connected.
A waterspout formed when the hydroelectric powerstation waterfeed was flushed out before the turbine was connected.

Meanwhile Morrison Construction Site Agent Charlie Keating was featured in the Times newspaper feature “Week in the Life of”. Although the article is about him and his work in South Georgia, Charlie said the interview was conducted whilst he was working at Rothera last year. He has had to put up with some ribbing from the current Morrison crew at Grytviken about the article’s claims of him getting the satellite internet connection working and ordering flowers for their girlfriends…the e mail to the builders camp has not worked yet this season!

Base Commander Tom Marshall was sworn in as Magistrate during a visit to Stanley on November 7th. He and a team of seven other BAS employees then travelled on the “Pharos SG” to arrive at South Georgia on November 12th to take over from the departing team, three of whom had been here for over two years.

Out with the old and in with the new…the new BAS team arrive aboard “Pharos SG”....
Out with the old and in with the new…the new BAS team arrive aboard “Pharos SG”....
whilst Jenn and Charles pack their boxes ready to leave after more than two years on the Island.
whilst Jenn and Charles pack their boxes ready to leave after more than two years on the Island.

Elke and Hugo on their wedding day.
Elke and Hugo on their wedding day.

A German couple who arrived as tourists aboard the cruise ship “Ushuaia” got married in a civil ceremony in the old Whalers’ Church at Grytviken on November 2nd. The bride Elke Sauer was dressed in an elegant ivory satin full length dress with bolero jacket, and the groom Hugo Lipsmeier in a smart dark suit with silver tie. Due to the blustery snowy weather they dressed at the Curator’s Cottage before walking up to the church in wellington boots, changing into wedding shoes at the church entrance. The couple made their entrance to a trumpet solo from the gallery, and a crowd of 100 fellow passengers and locals filled the church for the short ceremony. Afterwards everyone lined up to congratulate the newlyweds and toast them with a glass of champagne. They enjoyed South Georgia confetti (snow) as they left the church.

Elke and Hugo’s wedding in South Georgia.

The sailing of the “QE2” from the UK to Dubai, where she is to become a floating hotel, prompted several stories in the UK press from war veterans remembering her part in the Falklands Conflict. The Telegraph newspaper on November 13th carried a story entitled ‘QE2: a ship full of memories’ about the visit of the “QE2” to South Georgia during the conflict. This interesting article talks of the plush ship’s transformation into a troop carrier, the dangers encountered amounst the icebergs as the ship approached the Island, and the great day when she returned safely to Southampton.

The Letters Patent Exhibition has moved to the Maritime Historical Studies Centre, Hull and will be there until December 24th.

The Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI), Cambridge (UK), has a special display of Shackleton’s diary and other archival material from the Nimrod expedition. The diary, which covers Shackleton’s attempt to reach the South Pole, will have a page turned every week.

SPRI also recently received a series of papers by Denis and Elizabeth Coleman recounting their life on South Georgia during the 1950s and 1960s when Denis served as Administrative Officer. Info ‘Polar Bytes’ Oct 2008, SPRI

The Elephant Seal colony at King Edward Point grew to a good size this spring, hosting around 220 breeding females in two main harems either end of the Point. As the pups were weaned and their numbers dwindled Fur Seals started hauling out to fill the gaps. Many more mature bull Fur Seals are holding territory at the Hope Point end of the Point this year. The first Fur Seal pups were born at Maiviken, the other side of the Thatcher Peninsula, by mid month, but none have yet been born in the Cove.

The King Penguin chick at Penguin River continues to thrive, overlooked by the Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses now nesting in the cliffs.

A Light-mantled Sooty Albatross. Photo Rachel Hadden
A Light-mantled Sooty Albatross. Photo Rachel Hadden

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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