Oh how glorious to be in summer, proper summer, I’ve not had this for a while! I returned from deepest darkest winter in the Falklands just over a
week month ago, just in time to catch the start of this amazing weather, I couldn’t face wearing jeans so went hunting for my summer clothes: I had one pair of shorts, that I could no longer fit over my backside, and that was, apparently, it. I resorted to borrowing my mums shorts for the day and then went and raided the two clothing shops in Sherborne that don’t cater to middle aged ladies who lunch. £380 later and I have a summer wardrobe, which includes dresses!! (I am a habitual jeans wearer, in fact I have worn nothing but jeans unless forced into a pair of shorts by excessive heat for the last gods know how many years. In the Caribbean when I was on the cruise ships, I had shorts as uniform, so was ok, and was so used to the heat that I was fine in jeans when I went ashore, or had that one pair of shorts for the beach!) Anyway, this is not a fashion blog so I’ll stop talking about clothes!
First of all, I feel I owe an apology, I went off making wild promises about blogging by email from the ship, and yes, I have failed utterly to do so. The problem is, I’m not allowed to tell you where we are, what we are doing or where we’re off to next. It’s all very secret squirrel, and makes trying to write something without giving stuff away a tad difficult, especially this trip as we were off to dry dock. We go to Punta Arenas in Chile for dry dock, and to get there we have to go through Argentine waters. (I’m not going to give you a history lesson here, if you have to ask why that’s a problem, use google). So we don’t advertise the fact we’re coming, we report in as required by maritime protocols etc, but it’s always a bit of a tense time until we’re through. Nothings ever happened and I doubt it ever would now, but the events of 1982 are still pretty fresh in the memories of many.
We didn’t go to dry dock immediately mind you, we had a few other things to do first; primarily a patrol, but before that we went north of the Falklands to do some buoy work. These buoys are the ones we deployed at the start of my first trip, they are acoustic listening devices that are placed at various levels under the sea to monitor the sea life in the area. The job this time was to recover them so the technicians could service them, and then re-deploy them in the same place. We had a few days to achieve this is as we weren’t sure whether the weather would be favourable. As it turned out, we had some lumpy seas on the way up to the site and then glorious sunshine and clam seas for the work, enabling us to get all 5 buoys recovered and re-deployed in one day. (Team B wins again!)
It was a quick turnaround after that and straight down to South Georgia for patrol. The weather down in SG was still very pleasant at that time (April) and I got to see what the island looks like in late summer (only the big mountains are covered in snow!). After patrolling the 1000m contour line around the island we went back to King Edward Point and picked up some of the BAS team for the albatross survey on Prion island. Prion Island is one of the major wandering albatross breeding sites and every year they (the scientists) go and check how each nest is doing as they (the birds) return to the same nest site each year. Having not ever been to Prion Island I was extremely keen to do the drop off on the zodiac and have a chance to look around. There was a party going on on the beach: the penguins kept to themselves, but as usual, the fur seals were more, er, well, plain unfriendly. I took one of the paddles from the boat with me, for two reasons: a) there’s a lot of kelp on the beach, thick slimy rotting kelp, and you can’t help but walk on it, it’s that or get a bit too close to a fur seal for comfort! So I needed it for balance. And reason b) fur seals. I’ve probably mentioned before what evil savage little bastards they are, but if it’s not yet been made clear, these animals scare the bejezus out of me! For good reason. If you get bitten by one (and it happens) you have to scrub the wound out with a toothbrush, they have a selection of bacteria living in their mouth that would, in all likelihood, kill you if untreated, or at very least you’d lose the limb. They are vicious, aggressive, territorial buggers and ugly brutes to boot. Ok, the small ones are actually quite cute and would probably only gum you, but a full size male charging at you is when you really, really want a big stick with you!
There is a board-walk path which leads up to the top of the island and I left the Bosun with the other paddle at the zodaic while I took a stroll, accompanied by a few South Georgia Pipits, herding baby fur seals and being hissed at by the older ones who popped out from behind every bit of tussock grass along the path. At the top I was treated to some stunning vistas of the main island, and several wandering albatross sitting on their nests, mostly with their backs to me of course, but one was eventually kind enough to turn their head, allowing me to get a photo of more than just a white shape! Photographic desires fulfilled, I returned to the zodiac and drove back to the ship, a task made much more difficult than it should be by swathes of kelp.
We popped in and out of KEP quite a few times that trip, taking people to various parts of the island to count birds, or make repairs to some of the buildings at the other old whaling stations. The good weather kindly remained with us, and when we weren’t at sea, we had time alongside during which we made a good start on chipping and painting the 20 tonne crane, which is no small job! On Sundays however we get a half day, and I decided to take advantage of the beautiful sunshine and go for a long walk. I went with one of the girls from the base, partly because I didn’t really know where I was going, but also because as Winnie-the-Pooh says; It’s so much friendlier with two! We walked around the cove, past Grytviken and along the stony shore, scrambled over the rocks of the headland and along the beach before cutting through the tussock grass to reach Penguin River. Unsurprisingly we met some penguins there, not many, but more than I’d seen together up close before. Most of the penguins who venture ashore at KEP are Gentu penguins, and I’ve only seen a couple of solitary King penguins, so this was quite special for me and I snapped away like an excited paparazzi. We left the river and scrambled up a very steep slope, during which I had to keep stopping to take more pictures as the full vista of Penguin River and the glaciers behind emerged. We strode over the flats of Mt Brown, bouncing almost on the soft spongy ground and admiring the variety of plants, mosses and lichens growing in the more boggy areas. We also came across the remains of an Argy helicopter that crashed there during the war (Falklands, not World War!), riddled with bullet holes and missing all the major components, but not looking like it’s going to disappear any time soon. From there we walked over to the dam, where I was mesmerized by the mirror perfect reflections of the hills for a while before realizing it was going to get dark soon and making our way down the steep “track” back to Grytviken and home. It took us about 4 hours, and I’ve even taken the time to make a picture of where we went.
Incidently, Google maps have updated their satellite images of SG, and the detail is fantastic, they’ve even marked all the tracks (Even on Bird Island, where 4 BAS scientists live studying birds), and have labelled the small islands, so you can now go and have a look at the places I’m talking about in detail (Sadly they’ve not taken their camera car there yet!) Look up South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, otherwise you get the Georgia next to Azerbaijan!
Well that pretty much covers the first month at work, and in the interests of a) publishing this before I go back to work, and b) not making a post that’s so long you get bored and give up, I’ll put this up now and talk about dry dock in another post at a later date. (Next week, maybe??) Meanwhile, I have also been busy putting more pics up on flickr, I’ve got as far St Petersburgh on the Balmoral (5th cadetship trip, less than 2 years ago!) And am going to make a concerted effort to get on with a load more in the next few days.
Edit: All pictures fro this trip are now up on Flickr!