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South Georgia Newsletter, December 2005

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Work Starts at Discovery House


Discovery House. Photo by Javier Fernandez

Discovery House was first built as the shore base for the Discovery Science Expeditions. It had several uses but became a carpenters’ workshop for the British Antarctic Survey in 1970. The man who first used it in that capacity, Scobie Pye, is now back on the island and once again the historic building is being used for carpentry. Scobie and his two colleagues who are somewhat jocularly calling themselves The Global Boardwalks Company, are prefabricating a boardwalk for Prion Island in the Bay of Isles. It is designed to allow access to the upper part of the island without disturbing the seals, burrowing petrels and albatross for which the island is so well known.


Flight to Check on Volcanic Eruption

Mount Belinda on Montagu Island in the South Sandwich Islands is erupting. It lies about 2,000 kilometres from mainland Antarctica. It is first time that researchers have had a chance to watch an Antarctic lava flow in action. The Commander British Forces South Atlantic Islands has offered Richard McKee of the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands the opportunity join one of the regular maritime patrols that visit the area. This will allow the GSGSSI to assess the exact extent of the eruption and some of the potential impacts. John Smellie, a volcano expert at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, also hopes to hitch a ride over the island. Although satellite images are useful, a fly-by will provide a much more accurate picture of the terrain. The island, which is about 12 kilometres across, has so far expanded by about 0.2 square kilometres, or roughly 30 football pitches. Meanwhile the melting ice sheet is pouring huge quantities of water into the ocean.


Arrival of FPV Sigma, Visit of Darren Christy Looking at Rat Eradication Sites (9/12/05)

The South Georgia Government has recently employed Darren Christie as Habitat Restoration Officer. He arrived in South Georgia on FPV Sigma on 9 th December to spend a week getting to know the variety of habitats present in the local area. He was very pleased with his visit saying that he was able to see about four times more than he had expected. As well as field trips he also assisted the base Doctor with the setting of rat traps, baited with their favourite peanut butter and lard mix, underneath the main building. The new “Ratman” had secured his first victim by the following day.

Rat Droppings. Photo by David Nicholls.

Abstract of the Impact of Rats:

The impact on some bird species of the introduction of the brown rat since the late 1700s has been severe throughout the length of the island. Evidence of the rat burrows, nests and runs can be found up to 3 km from the shore. The dense tussac grasslands provide a favourable habitat with their roots, along with insects, kelp and carrion offering an all year around supply of food. The density of rats around disused whaling stations is greater than elsewhere. With no predators on South Georgia, apart from the Brown Skua, rat numbers are controlled by food supply. Ground nesting birds, and their eggs and chicks, are preyed upon by rats and this has had severe impact on the distribution and size of populations of the South Georgia pipit, pintails, prions and blue petrels. In general these species have been forced to nest on the smaller rat free offshore islands.


Trip to Husvik and North of South Georgia Island for some Base Personnel on Board HMS Endurance

Overflight and landed on glacier. Photo by Javier Fernandez  
Sarah Clarke, William Reid and Richard Johnson on board the Endurance. Photo by Javier Fernandez

On 13th December HMS Endurance arrived at King Edward Cove, this time Richard Johnson, Sarah Clarke, Steve Artis, William Reid and Javier Fernandez were on board to sail to some whaling stations in South Georgia. We could land at Husvik where we were just a few hours onshore; here the navy made aircraft operations to restore the external fabric of the Husvik Manager’s Villa and Radio Shack.

Later on we had the chance to see Stromness and Leith Whaling Stations from the ship, it was a sunny day and the sea was really calm. Then, we sailed to the north of South Georgia just to Bird Island, but there was a stop before for us. James, an officer from HMS Endurance, asked us if we would like to fly over the Brunonia and Ryan glaciers and we accepted. It was just fantastic. Landing on the glacier in front of Warburton peak was a particular highlight.

On board HMS Endurance we met two excellent people, Tony Hall from Coach House Publications and Kevin Schafer, he is a professional natural history photographer and writer, whose work has appeared in all of the most respected science and nature magazines in the world including National Geographic, BBC Wildlife, Smithsonian and G.EO. He was the 1997 recipient of the Gerald Durrell award for photography of Endangered Species. Trained as a sea bird biologist, he has travelled to all seven continents to document wildlife, conservation and eco-tourism issues. His book Penguin Planet, received the 2000 National Outdoor book Award.

During her deployment to South Georgia this year, HMS Endurance completed surveys south of Annenkov islands, in Cumberland Bay East, Moraine Fjord and Royal Harbour. She also did some surveying in Cumberland Bay West. She put all the BAS parties ashore on Annenkov Island, Cooper Bay and on Mount Paterson. HMS Endurance also unloaded all the Norwegian stores at Husvik for the February and March South Georgia Trust refurbishment programme.

Norwegian stores being dropped at Husvik.
Husvik stores in helicopter.


Ellen McArthur joins ACAP Petrel Survey

Ellen McArthur at KEP’s bar. Photo by Javier Fernandez  
Golden Fleece and Tara V yachts at KEP Cove. Photo by Javier Fernandez

On 22nd December yacht Tara V arrived with the famous yachtswoman Dame Ellen MacArthur on board. At King Edward Point, Ellen met biologist Sally Poncet and was transferred to the Golden Fleece which would initially be their base. Ellen and the people from both the yachts spent their time visiting the old whaling station and the museum, where she met the Carr’s. During her visit, some of us were lucky enough to meet her. Capt. Nick Lambert RN of HMS Endurance offered her the opportunity to fly in one of their aircraft over the island to give her a better impression of the whole and to permit her camera man to get some aerial footage. Next morning, Ellen was given a tour of the base by acting Base Commander Steve Artis.

Dame Ellen’s principal reason for this visit is supporting the Save The Albatross Campaign and she is doing so by assiting Sally Poncet and her team with a survey as part of GSGSSI’s commitment to ACAP (the Agreement for Conservation of Albatross and Petrels). For further information and latest news, you can visit: www.teamellen.com

RFA Grey Rover - Final South Georgia Visit (Oct 2005) (by Shaun Jones, Captain RFA)

  RFA Grey Rover bids farewell. Photo by Shaun Jones

RFA GREY ROVER conducted her final visit to South Georgia in October 2005. The weather was particularly favourable and so the ship was able to spend 2 days anchored off Gryvitken to land leg stretchers, explore the site, and visit the Museum as well as re-discovering old friendships from over 20 years of visits by RFA vessels. The remainder of the visit was spent conducting coastal navigation exercises in the vicinity of Nordenskjold, Stromness, Leith, Husvik and another anchorage off St Andrews Bay. Regrettably we then had to head west back to our usual stomping ground of the Falklands. Very many thanks to Pat Luker for facilitating such a superb visit as well as Tim and Pauline Carr for passing on their knowledge of the islands and novel mementos of the visit.

GREY ROVER has been a familiar face in the South Atlantic as an element of the reassuring Royal Naval presence in the area but is sadly leaving Royal Fleet Auxiliary service after 36 years. As ever, the visit was much enjoyed and firmly remains the highlight of any RN/RFA deployment to the South Atlantic


"International South Georgia Expedition 2005" (by David Nicholls)

BSES at the Lyell/Geike Glacier Col. Photo by David Nicholls

“The International South Georgia Expedition December 2005 returned to the Falkland Islands on board HMS Endurance having been unable to ascend the peaks Quad V, Marikoppa, Fagerli and Paulsen due to poor weather conditions in the Allardyce Range. The British Schools Exploring Society Expedition of 8 persons led by David Nicholls spent 15 days waiting for a window in the weather. They established a camp on the Lyell Glacier at 1,200 feet (400 m) by 13 December and stocked it with 6 days of food and fuel. The 14th of December was a clear and calm day but unfortunately it was very warm which caused a number of wet snow avalanches. Despite waking at midnight to clear weather it was considered not safe to climb in such conditions –the peaks looked magnificent! The weather deteriorated and by 16 December the team was back at base camp beside Cumberland Bay West. The team visited Grytviken on 18 December while waiting for a break in the weather. Sadly only wind, and wet snow was experienced up in the mountains. A promise of good weather came in for the 24 and 25 December. The Paulsen team (Jean & Paul Paulsen and 3 French Guides) led by Francois Bernard arrived on the yacht Tara V on 22 December and headed straight up the Lyell Glacier. The BSES team moved up on 23 December on different weather to their forward camp. They awoke at 1 am and left their camp at 3 am in strong winds and poor visibility. The BSES team arrived up at the Paulsen camp at 5 am to bid the team “good morning” and then went over a col and down to the Geikie Glacier. A tricky section required an abseil rope that was left for the Paulsen team as they were just starting to descend the col. Both teams met together at the bottom of a small icefall that leads up to a long gulley and the South Georgia Plateau. Unfortunately the weather was very poor with wind, snow and limited visibility. Both teams decided it was not sensible to proceed in such conditions. The BSES team returned to their mountain camp and the Paulsen team pitched a tent to wait to see if the weather was going to improve – it did not. The BSES team intended to have a second attempt on Christmas day if the weather improved – it remained poor. So both teams descended; the Paulsen team returned to their yacht TARA V and had a scrumptious dinner; the BSES team returned to their base camp to enjoy a Christmas hamper, two excellent bottles of wine and two Christmas puddings. The BSES expedition did achieve two of its objectives. The 6 young persons involved all gained additional mountaineering experience in serious mountain terrain and additional leadership experience to prepare themselves for taking part in future British Schools Exploring Society Expeditions.

The Coach House Publications Team (Kevin Schafer and Tony Hall) managed with much support from HMS Endurance and BAS to take some wonderful stunning photography and they plan to publish a book by May of which 10 % of the proceeds will go to the South Georgia Heritage Trust.


Phil and Julia Illingworth Visit


For a few days near the end of December, we had the visit of two great people who arrived at Grytviken on aboard a very small cutter 10 mts long, called Illawong (made of steel). Its crew only two, Phil and Julia Illingworth.


Phil and Julia at South Georgia Post Office. Photo by Javier Fernandez

They came from Ushuaia, where the journey took 8 days crossing the Scotia Sea. They will be in South Georgia from November 2005 to March 2006. They said: “It is our first visit to the island and we wish to see as much as possible and as many of the wildlife species as we can. It is so enjoyable amidst the nature”. They have been sailing for the last 13 years in the Atlantic and Indian oceans, as well as the Mediterranean visiting as many counties as possible and meeting local people to learn more about the counties we visit.

The schedule is sail from Ushuaia, Argentina via Staten Island to South Georgia and then return to Piriapolis, Uruguay. After some maintenance work on the boat, they will be returning to Tierra del Fuego.


Jamie and his Particular Support to The Save the Albatross Campaign

The Great Wandering Combover 2006

Jamie Watts, one of the BAS scientists working at King Edward Point is supporting the Save the Albatross campaign by doing a sponsored “combover and a rat’s tail” hair cut. The Save the Albatross campaign has the support of several high profile people including Dame Ellen MacArthur and Sir David Attenborough. It is seeking to make the international fishing community use on the high seas, the sort of mitigation methods that the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands and CCAMLR insist on in our Maritime Zone. If that can be done then the future of the world’s albatross populations will be much brighter. Despite negligible catches of birds in South Georgia waters populations are declining rapidly because the birds forage all around the southern oceans.


Jamie will pledge to grow a complete combover and rat’s tail from side-to-side and vice versa on his head to raise money for this charity. He has had some incredible promises of support. He is happy to look like a complete idiot for a year of his life (or as he says, even more so than usual), for the amounts he can raise for this good cause.

Jamie’s head…. almost covered!!! Photo Javier Fernandez

This idea came about during a conversation between Will, Charlotte and Jamie. So far Jamie has been pledged £1560 if he completes the challenge. The duration of this original idea depends on the speed that Jamie’s hair grows. Perhaps in 5 or 6 months…we will keep you posted!


Sarah’s Farewell and Javier’s Welcome

On 30th November Javier Fernandez arrived at KEP and took over the Post Office, he is from Ushuaia and it’s his first time at King Edward Point. Previously he worked at the Antarctic Unit in Ushuaia until last September, collecting statistical information related to the Antarctic Tourism in the austral summer time. He’s now contracted by the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands and is very glad to be here. He doesn’t know how long he will be on the Island.


Javier at South Georgia Post Office. Photo by Pat Lurcock.

Sarah departed on the cruise ship Explorer II on 2nd December. They had such bad weather that day that they could not land passengers at Grytviken – it was the first time that this has happened to any cruise ship, at least during the past 14 seasons. On their way out from South Georgia, passengers on the ship saw a blue whale and calf, close up, for an extended period.


Activities at Grytviken on December 2005 (By Pauline Carr)


Communion at Grytviken Church Christmas 2005. Photo by Kevin Schafer

I would say there has been a very busy time at the museum and church with six ship visits between 23rd and 27th. Since then there have been six church services - from the cruise ships Endeavour, Explorer, Bremen and Hanseatic. Members of the local community attended a Christmas Eve service at 2300 hours and there was a communion on the morning of 25th December by the Rev Steve Parselle RN, the chaplain from HMS Endurance.


Christmas Tree at the Grytviken’s Church

By December 6th the Christmas tree was completed by the King Edward Point community. Lovely lights and decorations were put all over the church and this festive display was aided on Christmas Eve by mince pies and mulled wine made by Pauline Carr… just delicious!!! Christmas music was played to gladden the moment.


Jo Parker and Neil McAndrew Wedding at Grytviken’s Church

On 27th December there was a lovely wedding at Grytviken church, Jo Parker and Neil McAndrew were the bride and groom, and came to South Georgia on board Explorer II. It was a perfect day; with sunshine greeting the couple as they left the church after a short civil ceremony. This included readings of a sonnet and a poem. Rick Johnson played the American Organ, Nick Atkinson played a Tongan lullaby on the saxophone, the bells were rung to celebrate and their zodiac boat was decorated with white tapes on each side.

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