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South Georgia Newsletter, October 2006

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Visit of “HMS Dumbarton Castle”

“HMS Dumbarton Castle” has been a regular visitor to South Georgia over the years. The Navy offshore patrol vessel, currently based in the Falkland Islands, is small enough to come alongside the jetty at KEP, a berth she had to give up at short notice this time.

The ship had calm weather for the journey from the Falklands to South Georgia, but heavy snow started soon after they arrived and the crew had to work in shifts all night to dig the deep snow off the decks to ensure it did not affect the ship’s stability. The next afternoon the ship’s horn was used to recall the crew when heavy snow persisted increasing the risk of avalanches in the local area.


“HMS Dumbarton Castle” drops anchor as she approaches the KEP jetty.


A group from the Resident Infantry Company (RIC) from the Falklands were aboard and they and a few volunteers from the ships crew undertook cold weather training with a Mountain Leader whilst the ship was in KE Cove. The RIC were later deployed to patrol the Island whilst the ship continued its patrol by sea.

The bad weather prevented the British Antarctic Survey vessel “RRS James Clark Ross” (“JCR”) working at Bird Island, forcing it to change plans and arrive early at KEP where it needed access to the jetty to work large amounts of cargo. As a result “HMS Dumbarton Castle” sailed a day earlier than planned.


Just before she left some of the ship’s crew took up the challenge to replicate the traditional midwinter swim and made a good splash in the jetty area.




Our brave boys!


New Ship “HMS Clyde” for South Atlantic

”HMS Clyde” before she was launched. Crown Copyright 2006

A new ship “HMS Clyde” was due to be officially accepted by the Royal Navy this month. The ship will replace both “HMS Dumbarton Castle” and “HMS Leeds Castle” as patrol ship for the Falkland Islands and should arrive early next year.

“HMS Clyde” is the first ship to be built in Portsmouth Naval Base for nearly 40 years. In a new venture the ship, which is owned by VT Group, will be on charter to the Ministry of Defence for five years after which the MOD will have the choice to return her, extend the charter or purchase her outright.

The 80 metre, 1,850 tonne, vessel will have a crew of 36 (six officers, nine senior rates and 21 junior rates) accommodated in single and twin cabins with en suite facilities, and accommodation for a further 20 people. The ship also has a 30mm gun and a flight deck capable of accepting helicopters up to the size of the new Merlin aircraft.

Information for this article sourced from www.royalnavy.mod.uk


The South Georgia: Plan for Progress and Initial Environmental Evaluations

South Georgia: Plan for Progress, Managing the Environment can now be viewed here.

The Initial Environmental Evaluation for Proposed Reintroduction of Hydro Electric Power at Grytviken is available here.

The Initial Environmental Evaluation for Proposed Installation of a Boardwalk on Prion Island can be viewed here.


Nigel Marven Walks with Penguins


A curious King Penguin gets in on the act with Nigel Marven during filming at St Andrews Bay.(Both photos by Marie-Paul Guillaumot)

  The Image Impact film team film a Light-mantled Sooty Albatross with the yacht “Le Sourire” in the bay below.

Nigel Marven is currently on the Island filming for a five part wildlife series called “Penguin Safari” which will be broadcast in the UK on Channel 5 in the run up to Christmas, and internationally on Animal Planet.

Nigel’s programme “Prehistoric Park” has only recently aired in the UK, and many will remember his amazing “Walking with Dinosaurs” shows.

There are seven in the accomplished “Image Impact” filming team. Nigel is Presenter and Producer, one of the two Cameramen, Mike Pitts, worked on the “Blue Planet” series, and one of the two editors, Dave McCormick won an Oscar for his work on the Wallace and Gromit film “Curse of the Were Rabbit”.
The team’s ambitious goal is to film and edit the five programmes during the seven and a half week trip. More normally film footage would be edited in specialist facilities once they got back to the UK.

“Penguin Safari” should appeal to all ages and will follow the lives of various penguin characters including Terry and June the Gentoos, Charles and Camilla the King Penguins and Basil and Cybil the Macaronis! The programmes will also include some of the Island’s history, and footage of the British Antarctic Survey science teams working at Bird Island and King Edward Point.

Unfortunately technical problems with the editing equipment are dogging the team so far, a problem they hope to solve when new editing equipment arrives by ship early next month. The same ship will take out some of the early rushes so sound, music and commentary can be put on in time for the first broadcast soon after the filming team gets back to the UK.

The charter yacht “Le Sourire” is the team’s transport, accommodation and editing suite for the project. The family run yacht comes complete with children Marie-Lou and Theo who are active members of the crew and who seem to be enjoying following the activities of the film crew closely.


Tourist Season Starts


Charter yacht “Golden Fleece” in front of Mt Paget.

  “Valhalla” was the first yacht of the season.

The summer tourist season started this month with the arrival of five yachts and the first tour ship of the season.

First arrival was the charter yacht “Valhalla” on October 10th, followed by three other charter yachts: “Golden Fleece” with a group of climbers aboard; “Pelagic Australis”; and “Le Sourire” with the “Image Impact” filming team. Private yacht “Ada II”, skippered by famous French yachtswoman Isabelle Autissier, also arrived and will be spending just under a month around the Island. Some of the early visitors, especially the climbing group, were pleased to find so much snow left as they were well equipped with skis and snowshoes, those without such equipment were more confined to coastal areas as the deep rotten snow inland made travel on foot almost impossible.

The first tour ship of the season, “Nordnorge” with 260 passengers aboard arrived on a windy day on the 26th. The ship got us off to a flying start as she is the biggest ship of the season. She will return towards the end of the season in March.

Nine tour ships are expected during November.

Krill trawler Saga Sea returned briefly on October 15th to drop off logbooks and samples on her way back from searching for krill further south.

The first cruise ship “Nordnorge” did not have great weather for her visit to Grytviken.


Second Summer of Fieldwork for the ACAP Petrel Survey

The South Georgia ACAP Petrel Survey will start the second summer of fieldwork in November. The nine-person field team, under Project Leader Sally Poncet of “South Georgia Surveys”, will spend a second summer based on charter yacht “Golden Fleece” to continue GSGSSI commissioned survey work on White-chinned and Northern and Southern Giant Petrel populations on the Island.

Long-term monitoring sites for White-chinned Petrels will be established at a number of sites including Bird Island, Albatross and Prion Islands, Grytviken and Husvik.

At the end of the two year-long project up to date figures for the three species and detailed knowledge of their breeding habitat will be available. There will be a system in place to enable long-term monitoring of these species and to provide Government with information on which to base decisions to ensure adequate protection of their breeding areas.

The field team will continue the Island-wide censuses from the boat and on shore. Sites that will be visited include remote and rarely visited offshore Islands like Annenkov.

Last summer ACAP Petrel Surveys fieldworkers visited over 100 areas around South Georgia, walked over 600Kms, counted 6,800 pairs of Northern and 4,000 pairs of Southern Giant Petrels, and plotted the position of each nest site on GPS.

Ellen MacArthur who visited South Georgia as one of the Surveys field workers last summer produced two TV documentaries about the survey.


“Save the Albatross” Stamp Issue

The stamps and First Day Covers in the new “Save the Albatross” issue.

A new “Save the Albatross” stamp issue, featuring four stamps and a miniature sheet, and two new First Day Covers designed by Richard Allen, were released on October 18th.

The stamps highlight work of GSGSSI in helping to protect albatrosses and petrels and feature the logo of BirdLife International who will receive a donation from sales. Over 25 BirdLife International/RSPB issues have been released in this series in various countries.

The four stamps are a: 24p Black-browed Albatross; 45p Southern Giant Petrel; 50p White-chinned Petrel and 75p Wandering Albatross.

The £2 miniature sheet has two £1.00 stamps featuring a Black-browed Albatross and a White-chinned Petrel set into a scene showing Ellen MacArthur and her yacht “B and Q” in Cobblers Cove with "Golden Fleece", the yacht used for the ongoing ACAP Petrel Survey in Ocean Harbour beyond.

One First Day Cover has the four stamps on and costs £2.70, the other has the sheetlet and costs £2.80. Both envelopes have a design of a Wandering Albatross in flight.


SGHT Event:“An evening in the Antarctic”

Report by Alison Stewart, the Director of the South Georgia Heritage Trust.

The South Georgia Heritage Trust (SGHT) began its UK fundraising initiative with an Antarctic evening in London on September 28th. The accountancy firm Charles Russell hosted the event, which was chaired by Howard Pearce C.V.O. who had just retired as Commissioner for SGSSI.

Howard Pearce began the evening by introducing SGHT and the speakers to the well-attended venue, his first duty as the recently appointed Chairman of the Trust.

Despite the warm and sultry weather in the capital, Simon Wethered, one of the Charles Russell consultants, continued the presentation with some images that were soon sending a shiver down the audience’s spine. He had ventured to South Georgia and the Antarctic on board the tour ship “Explorer II”. Simon captured fantastic shots of Drygalski Fjord up close from the ship’s bridge, as well as stunning images of the wildlife at both locations. The audience were particularly delighted when Simon introduced his shot of South Georgia’s “spaghetti” penguins, and corrected him with a united shout of “macaroni”!

The next presentation was by Dr. David Wilson, the great nephew of Dr. Edward Wilson, who perished with Captain Scott on their return from the pole in 1912. David had been on board “Explorer II” with Simon, and featured in Simon’s photos wearing some very fetching waterproofs. David gave an edited but comprehensive account of the fascinating history of South Georgia.

The final presentation was an update on the work of SGHT’s projects, by Professor John Croxall. As the Chair of BirdLife International’s Global Seabird Programme, John provided a knowledgeable discussion of the Island’s wildlife and the Trust’s habitat restoration programme, aimed at re-introducing threatened birds to South Georgia’s coastline. The presentation can be viewed on the SGHT website at www.sght.org.

All the presenters managed to be both entertaining and timely; possibly due to the fact that alcoholic refreshments were to be served at the end of the presentations. The audience then enjoyed mingling and eating the wonderful canapés provided by Charles Russell, completing a very enjoyable evening that generated several donations and new supporters for SGHT.


Duck Project Needs Visitor’s Help

A ringed South Georgia Pintail. Photo by Tony Martin

The South Georgia Pintail is the world’s southernmost waterfowl species, and is vulnerable to extinction by virtue of its tiny range and small population size.

With the prospect of future aerial baiting of areas of South Georgia to eradicate rats, it is imperative to learn more about these special ducks in order to ensure they are not harmed.

In an attempt to understand better the range and movements of the duck population, around 300 ducks were ringed at Bird Island last summer. More will be ringed in mainland areas soon too.

The coloured plastic rings should be easy to spot and the project co-ordinator Dr Tony Martin of BAS is asking tourists and other visitors to the Island to help by reporting sightings of ringed ducks. Each ringed duck has a metal ring and a unique combination of up to three coloured plastic rings, one of which has a number on it. Anyone seeing a ringed duck is asked to report it to the Government Officer or their Tour Leader and, if they can record the colour sequence and possibly the number, they will be rewarded by being told as much as researchers know about that duck, where and when it was ringed and where it has been seen since.

The reports will help to build up knowledge about seasonal duck migrations, lifespan and populations size.


Toothfish Egg Rearing Success at KEP


The scientists at KEP have had an exciting time watching fertilised Toothfish eggs develop in the aquarium.

Live Toothfish were brought in by longliner “San Aspiring” on August 20thand their eggs and milt were stripped and mixed in the aquarium. Some of the eggs were successfully fertilised, as were a proportion of those delivered already mixed by the “San Aspiring” Observers. Signs of development were watched and recorded throughout September, and on October 12th (Day 54 of development) a larva hatched from one of the eggs.

Previous attempts to raise fertilised eggs in the laboratory here have not been successful. Despite the very small success rate this time, the knowledge gained from monitoring the developing eggs has given the KEP scientists a better understanding of the early development of Toothfish eggs and larva, and will hopefully help future attempts be more successful.

The Toothfish larva that hatched. Photo by Sarah Clarke    


Bird Island News
Report by Helen Taylor who is a vet and one of the resident scientists at the BAS base on Bird Island.


Black-browed Albatross coming in to land at their colony. All photos by Helen Taylor

  A pair of Blackbrows at their nest.

The worst storm of the winter coincided with the arrival of the BAS ship “JCR” enabling us to enjoy a few more days of winter, but after a short detour to King Edward Point, the ship returned and we welcomed the new arrivals onto base. An American team is here to study the male Fur Seals – some weighing in at around 200kg – who have started to return to the beaches to defend a territory for when the females come back to give birth to their pups.

October is also a busy month for the birds – both the Grey-headed and Black-browed Albatross have been busy courting and laying eggs whilst the first Macaroni Penguins were spotted – on time as usual – on the 18th of the month. The Gentoo Penguins are ever watchful to defend their eggs from hungry Skuas, whilst the Northern Giant Petrels have endured heavy snowfall followed by a rapid thaw during incubation, often filling the nest with icy water.


The wanderer chicks are busy exercising their newly feathered wings and can be regularly seen making little jumps with their eager flaps and we expect the first of them to fledge next month.


A well-grown Wanderer chick with Willis Island behind. Photos by Helen Taylor


Duncan Carse Bust Appeal

An Appeal has been started to raise £3500 to purchase a bronze bust of adventurer, surveyor and broadcaster Duncan Carse and bring it to South Georgia.

In the UK he was better known as a broadcaster, and more specifically as the voice of “Dick Barton Special Agent” but in South Georgia he is known as the expeditioner and surveyor who led the South Georgia Surveys and made a very significant contribution to the Island. The incredibly accurate work carried out by Duncan and the South Georgia Survey teams between 1951-57 led to a new map in 1958 that has been the basis of all maps that followed, only recently superseded by satellite imagery. The maps, which proved especially important during the liberation of the Island in 1982, are still used today.

Duncan Carse bust in terracotta by Jon Edgar.


Duncan Carse made 8 expeditions to South Georgia. He first visited the Island in 1933 as part of the Discovery Investigations, returning in 1936 as part of the British Graham Land Expedition. In 1961, after the four South Georgia Survey visits, he returned alone to live on the south coast as part of a “personal psychological experiment”, a venture that turned into a survival exercise after his hut was washed away by a freak wave. His last visit was in 1973, when severe weather prevented him retracing the Shackleton crossing. Despite the Island not always treating him kindly, he never lost his enthusiasm for South Georgia.

The slightly over life-size bust will be given to the South Georgia Museum to mark the relationship Duncan Carse had with the Island, and to highlight the achievements and work of Duncan and the men of the South Georgia Survey. The bust is worth £6000, but the artist Jon Edgar is charitably disposed to getting the bust “home” to South Georgia.

The Duncan Carse Bust Appeal has had generous support from the South Georgia Association and the Government of South Georgia. If you would like to contribute you can send a cheque made out to: “The South Georgia Association”, and write “Duncan Carse Bust Appeal” on the back of the cheque, and post it to: The SGA Hon. Treasurer, Mr K.D. Holmes, 3 Capel Close, Oxford, OX2 7LA

Any surplus funds raised by this Appeal will be used in a way that further enhances our knowledge, understanding and record of Duncan Carse and the men of the South Georgia Surveys.


Will “Viola/Dias” Go Home to Hull?


Dias/Viola working as a sealer in 1959.

  Dias/Viola just after being refloated and cleaned during the Grytviken Remediation Project. Photo by Lyle Craigie - Halkett

“Dias” formerly known as “Viola” is one of three whaling and sealing vessels hulks on the shore at Grytviken. She, and the ship “Albatros” lying alongside her, are a much photographed and iconic feature of the old whaling station. But she is an important vessel for other reasons; she is the last of around fifty steam trawlers built for the Hellyer Boxing Fleet in 1906 and the oldest surviving steam trawler in the world with her steam engines still intact. The vessel has had an amazing history; during her career as a working vessel she worked in fisheries, whaling, sealing, exploration and was active in the Great War.

The “Friends of the Viola/Dias” aim to secure the long-term preservation of the vessel either at Grytviken, or possibly where she was built at Beverley or where she had her engines fitted and spent the majority of her fishing life, in Hull. The group has recently been preparing an application to the Maritime Heritage Trust for funds. The City Councils of both Hull and Beverley have invited the group to give presentations on their proposals and progress. Hull have indicated they may like to put her in a drydock at the entrance to what was the fish harbour to show future and present generations how the fishing industry has changed through the ages.

For more information see the website www.viola-dias.org


SGHT Website Updates

Various updates have been made on the South Georgia Heritage Trust website on www.sght.org.
Under the “Latest News” on the home page is a feature on the new signage due to be put in around Grytviken this summer. A set of informational signs containing images and text relating to the whaling station buildings have now completed production. The text and images were provided by South Georgia historian and author Bob Burton, and Bjorn Basberg, Professor of Economic History in Norway, and a Trustee of SGHT. All the new signs can be seen on the website.

A super new website calendar feature has been added to the SGHT website, featuring past “Views of the Month”.

Alison Stewart, Director of SGHT is due to travel to the Island for the first time in November and will be sending updates to her on line diary on the website. Her trip starts on November 12th.


South Georgia Snippets


“Splitnose”, the dominant KEP bull, roaring.

  Bull fight.

Elephant Seals always feature large in October at KEP. Throughout the month we have watched the colony grow, the first KEP pup was born on October 4th, by the 16th there were a hundred females up and by the end of the month the colony reached a maximum of 180 females, almost all with pups. The dominant bull “Split Nose” has held the main part of the harem since he arrived, but there are plenty of lesser bulls hanging around the periphery as ever. By the end of the month fights between the bulls were happening regularly as the first of the pups were weaned and females mated before returning to sea. One hundred and eighty is a good size for the KEP colony, which can be anything from 140-200 females strong.


The pup that was born on the webcam.

  Seals (photographed by the webcam)

A small group of females gathered at the top end of the beach near the webcam, and on October 20th a pup was born on camera.

The White-chinned Petrels returned in the first week of the month and the first Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses were seen out in the bay on October 10th.

As ever at this time of year the unwary have paid for insufficient precautions against the ozone hole with burnt skin. Another especially low ozone period came with special warnings from the ozone experts at BAS between the 6th and the 8th.

As mentioned above the BAS ship “JCR” came in earlier than expected when bad weather prevented them working at Bird Island. Strong winds in the Cove looked like they may prevent the ship coming alongside on the afternoon of the 7th, but they docked successfully after waiting for a lull. A busy couple of days followed whilst the main part of the stores for the base for the next year were unloaded.

Two big snowfalls between the 6th and the 10th topped up the winter snow and accumulated on icy hillsides giving us avalanche conditions for many days after. The main track to Grytviken was closed for days, which coincided with the Navy and BAS ship visits, forcing the visitors to use boats to ferry their people across the Cove to visit Grytviken.

The new Curator of the South Georgia Museum Niall Cooper, and the two Museum Assistants for the summer, Miriam and Serita, arrived on “HMS Dumbarton Castle”. Niall has a five-week handover with outgoing Curators Tim and Pauline Carr who will leave next month after 14 years living and working on the Island.

The Carrs, along with the BAS folks who will be leaving in the next couple of months, have been making the best of last chances to get out and about on the Island, with skiing trips across to camp at the wildlife haven of St Andrews and around the local area. A favourite day walk has been round the Cove to Penguin River, past the thousands of breeding elephant seals and snoozing weaners, and where Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses are wheeling round the cliffs choosing nest sites.


JCR arrives for the first call of the season.

  “JCR’s” cargo tender is used to transport people to Grytviken avoiding the avalanche slopes.

Other arrivals aboard the “JCR” were the new Base Commander (BC) Andy Barker, scientist Martin Collins and General Assistant Ash Morton.

Martin and Ash will both be involved in various science and field works around the Island during the summer, but their first task was to sledge across to Hound Bay and deploy some tags on some King Penguins.

The two Government harbour launch jet boats took part in familiarisation and training exercises on the 9th and 10th. On the 9th the boats went up to the Stromness Bay area where they dropped Pat and Sarah Lurcock off at Husvik for a few hours so Pat could do some emergency repairs to the roof ridge on the old Managers Villa. The next day the boats headed down the coast the other way in perfect calm conditions to collect the field party from Hound Bay. At the height of the Elephant Seal season there was hardly a space amongst the seals lying thick on the beach to uplift the two men and their equipment. Returning north the boats entered three other harbours and coves to familiarise with approaches. The calm conditions were perfect for spotting a Humpback Whale and calf just off shore.


On the 15th outgoing BC Ali Dean left to become summer BC at Bird Island after two years as BC at KEP. The absolutely appalling weather, with strong winds and sleet, did not stop her getting the traditional KEP send off with everyone waving until the ship was out of sight.




Ali Dean, the outgoing BC, waves goodbye.


The month ended with Boatman Rick Johnson handing over as his role as Senior Boatman to Martony Vaughan who is the only member of the current BAS team staying on after December, and a fancy dress barbeque to mark Halloween.




The KEP witch visited the Halloween barbeque.


The oddest event of this month has to be the mountaineering King Penguin. First spotted a hundred feet up a steep slope near the KEP dam, everyone wondered why he had climbed up there. Then we followed his progress with increasing incredulity over the next three days as he just kept on climbing, right up to just under the peak of Mt Duse, well over 500 metres high. We guess it was easier to just keep going up than to try to come back down the very steep slope, so we were glad to find out that once at the top he continued on and over the pass down to Maiviken the other side!


Pat Lurcock mends the roof ridge on the old Managers Villa at Husvik.

  The snow on the slopes above the track to Grytviken avalanched heavily following lots of late snow.


Check out the View of the Month on the South Georgia Heritage Trust website


'Taxi to the Snow Line' - Mountain Adventures on Nordic Skis

Taxi to the Snow Line

'Taxi to the Snow Line' - Mountain Adventures on Nordic Skis by Guy Sheridan

Just out: a 416 page book including 151 colour photographs and 14 colour maps by Guy Sheridan.

The book includes 'Letter from Grytviken' - the author's personal, factual account as Commander of the Land Forces that repossessed South Georgia in April 1982. It also includes a chapter titled 'Storms in South Georgia' - an account of an attempt to climb Sheridan Peak with the late David Nicholls during the SG winter of 1999.

The book can be ordered direct from Guy Sheridan by post to - Comus, 11340 Espezel, France or e-mail GuySheridan

Cost per single copy is £30 or €44. P&P In the EU £4.50 or €6.60
To USA/Canada £6.40 or €9.40
To Australasia £7.40 or € 10.85

Payment can be either by a UK Bank cheque or a French Bank cheque in Euros.



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