And so the day came when I had to leave Bird Island. In the end it was quick but incredibly hard. One tender-load of incoming goods (fresh veg, technical parts, post) and one going out (waste and recycling, us and our luggage). We waved goodbye to the four new winterers, our last view was of them in a big group hug before teared eyes and heavy fog hid the base from view.
|Goodbye Bird Island, look after it for us.|
Heartbreaking as it was we had to pull ourselves together quickly to climb up the ladder onto the side of the ship, the RRS Ernest Shackleton.
|Up the ladder, knowing that a fall will either land you between ships or on all the waste & recycling.|
Onboard we tried to distract our sorrows with a coffee on the bridge, rescuing a disorientated diving petrel and then down to lunch. Specifically the colours, variety and freshness of the salad bar.
|Remembering the upsides of the real world.|
We had hoped for clear views of the island as we set off but as we stood out on deck we laughed at how infuriating the place can be as only the tips of the lowest headlands projected from the grey clouds.
|So much for farewell views of the island.|
Thankfully in the preceding days we'd had some beautiful clear skies and sun. We'd finished off the ringing of the southern giant petrel and grey-headed albatross chicks, I'd completed a long-held ambition to walk the length of the island along the spine, taking in the five major hills, and we'd popped down to the bottom of the macaroni penguin colony. Even after two and a half years there were still new experiences and sitting at the base of Big Mac while all the penguins charged past and leapt into the sea felt significantly different to past experiences watching them all pile out onto the land. Maybe it was pondering my own departure.
|Macaroni penguins heading off to sea.|
|The view of Bird Island from the very top, looking across Bird Sound to South Georgia mainland and, off to the right, Willis Islands.|
We had expected a slow trip round to King Edward Point on the South Georgia mainland, but within a few hours, just after darkness had fallen, we were there. That meant a reunion with various friends but most excitingly Steph, the B.I. albatross assistant from my first year and a half. It was great to see her, now working there as the predator scientist, and the next morning she took around the coast to Penguin River where there was a small group of king penguins with a few large, fluffy, brown chicks. It was a beautifully sunny and warm day and we got great views of the mountainous interior of the island as well as the wildlife yet to depart for the winter.
|King penguin chick looking much too warm in all that gear.|
|The chick getting a careful preen from an attentive parent.|
|Curious about my rucksack which, as I've used for work, no doubt smells of penguin already.|
|The true king of South Georgia.|
In the afternoon we got further chance to explore the pass over to Myviken and Grytviken, the museum, the church and Shackleton's grave.
|Petrel had, in earlier times, been used to deliver supplies to some of the first teams to set up a base on Bird Island.|
|Abandoned whale processing plant.|
|Does whale oil have a sell-by date?|
|So different from Bird Island; we took a path (a path!) up the tussack-free slope (walking is so much easier here).|
|We could not believe how clear the skies were. Compare to the earlier photos looking back at Bird Island.|
|One of this years fur seal pups reclaiming whale-bone relics outside the museum.|
|The mirror-calm waters of Gull Lake.|
That evening there was a big barbecue celebrating the beginning of winter for the K.E.P. staff. Departing along with us were around 40 others; summer staff from the museum and representatives of the South Georgia government, builders and the restoration project team that had completed the (hopefully) final stage of the rat eradication project
|Loading up the helicopters.|
|King Edward Point the following morning, taken from the cross Shackleton's men erected in honour of The Boss. Beyond the K.E.P. accommodation towers the ship that bears his name.|
Before departing the following day we managed an amazing excursion as one of the boatmen kindly took us out across the bay to the base of the nearest glacier. We approached carefully, creeping through the broken chunks of ice, getting ever closer to the huge wall of blue-white slabs and cracks. Stopping the required safe distance from it we bobbed around for a while admiring its size, worrying about the extent to which it has retreated in the last decade and waiting for chunks to fall off.
|Cian, Steph and Jess - family day out!|
|Approaching the glacier; the boatman's view.|
|A pair of shags skirting the edge.|
|Too large and impressive for a photo to do it justice.|
It was a great way to end our time on South Georgia and as we headed off that evening, waving to the small team of eleven left ashore, we had all decided to enquire about jobs down there.
|Looking back to the jetty and a colourful goodbye.|
There were some rough seas on the way back but by now I know how to deal with them to avoid seasickness: make sure you've a bottle of water and plenty to read or listen to and stay in bed. By then end of the second day I was able to make it down to grab a very quick bit of food and by the third, when the swell had calmed down a bit, I was able to help out cleaning in the kitchen and get out on deck where we saw a couple of distant whales and some dolphins swim right under the pointy end.
End of part one.