The Journey South / by Jerry


Sunday 11th November, 4pm. Half the BI team (Tamsin, Hannah and I) gather in BAS HQ in Cambridge and get on the minibus. On the way we think it's really funny to send Steph a massive long list of things we've forgotten and ask her to pick them up (bread, cheese, balsamic vinegar, watermelon, socks, shower cap, fax machine, stepladder, bowling ball and shoes (x2), christmas tree... you get the idea).

By 8pm we're at Brize Norton where we meet up with Steph (who hasn't got our requests) and Craig, who we've only just met there and then. By 11 we're on the plane and heading South, enjoying their cheap and nasty drink and meals along with the handed out iPads.

Monday morning. Two hour stopover in Ascencion while the plane refuels. We spend this time standing around inside 'the cage', a fenced off bit of tarmac preventing us going anywhere while the low cloud prevents us from seeing much of anything. Still, we try and enjoy our last bit of warm weather.

Monday afternoon. Arrive in Falkland Islands and discover if anything it's even warmer here! Our journey Stanley is by another minibus, this time one that loses part of the side of it half way along the big dirt track. In Stanley we get straight onto our ship, the RSS James Clark Ross (JCR). The cabins are comfortable, there's three 3-course meals a day and the bar prices are incredibly low. After a meal onboard we head into town and find a pub full of British flags playing 80s tunes on the video jukebox.

A broken bus in the Falklands

Tuesday. We were due to depart in the morning but plans change and we get an extra day ashore while they test the lifeboats. After various safety and evacuation drills we again headed into Stanley. As with yesterday it takes us ages as we're stopping all the time to look at the gulls, vultures, ducks and a few dolphins. It was still really hot so we grabbed lunch from the supermarket and sat with an ice cream under the whale-bone arch. After a little gift shop browsing we were about to head off to find a penguin beach when a landrover pulled up and it's occupants informed us we had to be heading back to the JCR.
Looking towards Stanley

The whale-bone arch in Stanley, with us posing near it, thinking about ice cream.

The ship had to pull away from the jetty to allow another, with a medical emergency, to come in. So we went and sat in the bay for a while. From up on the top deck, the 'monkey deck' we could see everything around us – Fulmars and Giant Petrels especially. Just before tea we spotted the tiny, black and white, Commerson's Dolphins feeding very close in. Me running round and Hannah screaming was the first of our daily tellings-off for being over excited. The day signed off with a partial solar eclipse.
RSS James Clark Ross

Wednesday. After what seemed like an eternity of lifeboat drills we finally headed off. As we pulled out from Stanley we could see a group of penguins, probably Magellanic, on a distant beach. We were also joined by our first albatrosses – Black-browed – but all too soon ran into a big bank of wet fog. Later that evening we got our first Wandering Albatross, standing out as being absolutely massive, even amongst all the other huge birds.

Black-browed Albatross

Thursday and Friday. Daily life on the boat consisted of getting up for breakfast, going out on the monkey deck to look at the birds, tea break, birds, lunch, birds, tea break, play a game or something, birds, dinner, birds. It was a nice crossing with only a small feeling of sea-sickness mixed with the lethargy from taking anti-sickness pills. On the Friday evening, after having Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses flying close most of the day, we saw our first seals. Out on the moneky deck we looked down at increasing numbers until we came across a feeding frenzy that must have contained 300-400 individuals, all popping up, diving and porpoising through the water. Shortly after we passed them there was a distinctive whale-blow in the distance, followed by several more closer in and finally a (probably Minke) whale surfacing just in front of us.

Pair of Light-mantled Sooty Albatross in a brief synchronised display flight.

Saturday. We'd been up on deck in the morning looking out for land, but gave up because of snow, fog and cold. Then, about 11, someone came into the bar and announced 'we're there'. Bird Island looked ominous and intimidating – low cloud with steep, snow-covered slopes leading up into it. The five of us, plus our luggage, were taken ashore in the little Humber ribs to meet the current occupants, those who'd just over-wintered; Ruth, Jon, Jen and Rob, as well as Jaume who'd come down a month earlier. We were shown around base and tried to settle in as the excitement welled up at seeing the beach covered in male Fur Seals (a few females and even a few puppies close by the jetty), Gentoo Penguins (and one ill-looking King) standing around looking confused and various albatrosses circling overhead. The captain decided it was too rough to do any real unloading so were had the afternoon to get to grips with our new home, an afternoon during which the sun came out and we were able to enjoy and gin and tonic on the jetty.
Welcome to Bird Island: (l-r) Hannah, Jaume, Jen, Steph, Ruth, Craig, Rob, Jon.
(kneeling) me, (setting up her camera so absent) Tamsin.

Jerry.

It's a very small amount of internet we've got here so I won't be putting up too many pictures on the blog. Instead I'll try and regularly post some here.