boating

December - the busiest month? by Jerry Gillham

December felt hectic busy with more and more people on station - the vegetation and rodent monitoring teams, scientists studying soil and flora around the retreating glaciers. All had their own specific requirements regarding accommodation and movement around the local area.

Our zoologist Kieran headed off to Stanley to visit the dentist so I helped cover some of his work. At this time of year the key job was visiting the fur seal beaches at Maiviken to take photographs every other day. Upon his return he counted all seals.

Our zoologist Kieran headed off to Stanley to visit the dentist so I helped cover some of his work. At this time of year the key job was visiting the fur seal beaches at Maiviken to take photographs every other day. Upon his return he counted all seals.

The new team got on with their duties including learning the boat handling and regulations. Here the doctor Cat and boating officer Jim power away from the Nordenskjold Glacier.

The new team got on with their duties including learning the boat handling and regulations. Here the doctor Cat and boating officer Jim power away from the Nordenskjold Glacier.

It was difficult to relax with so much work so I had to make a real effort to get away. Fraser and I got out to Sorling Hut on the Barff Peninsula one afternoon. As it looked a nice evening we headed off straight away to climb Montebello, a small but interesting peak with a challenging ridge near the top.

It was difficult to relax with so much work so I had to make a real effort to get away. Fraser and I got out to Sorling Hut on the Barff Peninsula one afternoon. As it looked a nice evening we headed off straight away to climb Montebello, a small but interesting peak with a challenging ridge near the top.

The 800m+ Black Peak to the right and Nordenskjold Glacier to the left.

The 800m+ Black Peak to the right and Nordenskjold Glacier to the left.

The next day was one of the best I have had on South Georgia. We got up early and headed up Ellerbeck Peak, one that we attempted in September but were turned back by thick cloud. The views down on the glacier and interior of the island were breathtaking.

The next day was one of the best I have had on South Georgia. We got up early and headed up Ellerbeck Peak, one that we attempted in September but were turned back by thick cloud. The views down on the glacier and interior of the island were breathtaking.

It was another challenging mountain, with a fair bit of scrambling.

It was another challenging mountain, with a fair bit of scrambling.

Pretty much 360 from the top.

Pretty much 360 from the top.

I think this is one of my favourite photos.

I think this is one of my favourite photos.

From the top we dropped down and across Sorling Valley, through two passes, walking quickly but it was a long way. Our plan was to get picked up on the east side of the peninsula as the boats were out, dropping off the rodent team. I had my radio on so could hear all their discussions about where they were landing, how much kit they had.

Dropping down into Ocean Harbour we met builders Adrian and Dale who were hard at work fixing the door to the hut.

Dropping down into Ocean Harbour we met builders Adrian and Dale who were hard at work fixing the door to the hut.

Fraser cooling down inside the hut.

Fraser cooling down inside the hut.

A day or two after that we headed out for another night off station. This time we decided to bivvy over at Sappho Point, so setting off after work we walked over to Maiviken and up over the ridge. There we encountered a big bank of sea fog. We continued, taking our time going down an unknown slope to a location we couldn't see until we got there. Then we couldn't find any fresh water that wasn't occupied by seals so ended up walking round for what felt like hours. Still, it was a good night and the next morning the sun woke us up with the view we had hoped for.

A day or two after that we headed out for another night off station. This time we decided to bivvy over at Sappho Point, so setting off after work we walked over to Maiviken and up over the ridge. There we encountered a big bank of sea fog. We continued, taking our time going down an unknown slope to a location we couldn't see until we got there. Then we couldn't find any fresh water that wasn't occupied by seals so ended up walking round for what felt like hours. Still, it was a good night and the next morning the sun woke us up with the view we had hoped for.

Another night I bivvied out with Becky, Roger and Charlotte. We walked the few hours over toward Curlew Cave and found a spot with a great sunset.  (photo by Roger Stilwell)

Another night I bivvied out with Becky, Roger and Charlotte. We walked the few hours over toward Curlew Cave and found a spot with a great sunset.

(photo by Roger Stilwell)

The next morning Charlotte and I dropped down to the cave before heading back for work. It would be a good place to camp out but not in peak seal-breeding season and we could barely get into in because of the territorial residents.

The next morning Charlotte and I dropped down to the cave before heading back for work. It would be a good place to camp out but not in peak seal-breeding season and we could barely get into in because of the territorial residents.

Pre-Christmas we had the traditional decorating of the church, complete with mince pies and mulled wine.

Pre-Christmas we had the traditional decorating of the church, complete with mince pies and mulled wine.

Posing for xmas photo number 1.

Posing for xmas photo number 1.

Xmas photo number 2, in our bar prior to dinner.

Xmas photo number 2, in our bar prior to dinner.

We all chipped in to cook dinner, which was spectacular. Boating officers Bob and Jim took responsibility for carving the meat.

We all chipped in to cook dinner, which was spectacular. Boating officers Bob and Jim took responsibility for carving the meat.

40 people crammed in the dining room, cheers!

40 people crammed in the dining room, cheers!

July part 1 - Petrel, SAR and boating by Jerry Gillham

Despite it feeling like a quiet month in the aftermath of midwinter and still in the midst of the cold, short days it turns out quite a bit happened in July, or at least I’ve got plenty of photos from what did happen. So I’ll split the months blog into two.

The month started with a fun ascent of Petrel Peak, Fraser, Paddy, Vicki and I fought our way through the snow and occasional ice patches to reach the summit.

Kicking steps up the snow slope, it never looks as steep as it feels when your legs doing all the work.

After the climb out the valley you hit a fairly flat bowl. Petrel has two peaks, the most interesting and photogenic is the pointy one directly ahead of us in the middle of the photo.

Fraser contemplating the route to the summit. Petrel looks impossible from virtually every angle. From here we headed up to the ridge on the left, along and up that, then below the peak itself and back at it from the far (easier) side.

Up on the ridge, Petrel looks closer and marginally more accessible, but that ridge to get there gave us some problems and needed quiet a lot of route-finding and doubling back. Paddy's photo. Note July has been a month for experimenting with facial hair - this look is certainly better than one that will feature in July part 2.

Vicki and Paddy looking at something in the distance. In the background is the higher of the two Petrel Peaks (by a couple of meters); covered in loose rock and ice and not much of a fun climb even in good conditions, we decided this day it wasn't worth it.

Paddy, Vicki and I ascending the pyramid summit. In the summer we were amazed at how simple this route turned out to be. With snow and ice it was a little tricker. Summit height is about 600m. Fraser's photo.

We didn't hang around at the top as we could see the clouds closing in. It didn't start to snow until we were down in the bowl and approaching familiar ground. Still, the hard snow on these steep little slopes were good for a) sliding down, practicing ice-axe arrests and b) getting some good practice walking in crampons, as here. Fraser's photo.

Search and rescue practice is an ongoing training exercise. We’ve done a few tabletop scenarios and doc schools but this was the first time we put them all together and went out in the field. To complicate matters the casualty in this session was the doctor and I was pretending to be a visitor meaning Vicki, as deputy station leader, was responsible for co-ordinating the incident while Kieran was the lead first aider. They, and everyone involved, did extremely well and Fraser was safely recovered all the way back to the surgery. Even though you know these are only practice sessions they are still always stressful as there is a lot to remember. However well it goes there are always things you learn and little improvements you find you can make. There are so many different factors that could occur there is no one fix-all response so you have to do a lot of dynamic planning and responding and best reason for doing these practice sessions is to give you that confidence and ability to keep a calm head in a real emergency.

Fraser had 'broken his leg while playing on the old whaling station'. I was sent out as the quick response, taking the bike and pedalling round to meet him with a big orange blanket and some warm clothing. Shortly afterwards the main team arrived and splinted his leg up.

As we could have an incident anywhere off station we practiced bringing him back on the boat. Loading him from the jetty was relatively simple - next time it might be a RHIB pick up and mid-water transfer.

With several people managing holidays on separate peninsulas and the krill trawlers (which need inspecting by the government officers) there has been quite a bit of boating this month.

This was a weird day to be out - the snow fell so heavily it was sitting in a layer on the surface of the sea. Clearing it off the boats took a while but driving through it was simple enough...

... until it got sucked up into the cooling system and the engine overheated. Kieran watching on as Matthew fixed it.

One last thing Matthew wanted to do before departing was test whether he could take the jet boat into Moraine Fjord. This channel, although it is over 100m deep in the middle, can be just 4 or 5m and forested with kelp at the mouth. Normally we only take the RHIBs in there but with one due to go out for servicing we need to have a plan to use the jet as a back-up boat in case of any problems. So, with permission from Cambridge, we set out one sunny day on a test run.

Cutting through the line of kelp, hoping not too much gets sucked up into the jet units.

In front of the Hamberg Glacier. We kept our distance in case of calving events but didn't catch any. Shortly afterwards we did get a leopard seal swim past, checking us out.

Stepping out the boatshed door on 19th July it took me a moment to work out what was different, then I sussed it - the sun was shining on my face while I was on station. Although we don't get anything like the full days of darkness that's expected further south we are in the shade of Mount Duse, so it can be two months without the sun on base. Feeling it's warmth again is something special.

Tied up alongside here is the Fisheries Patrol Vessel, coming in to pick up pax and post in between searching for illegal fishing.

Back working with the Giant Petrels by Jerry Gillham

Working with the giant petrels was my favourite part of the job on Bird Island. Now I'm management and there's not so many of them nesting in the vicinity of King Edward Point it's rare I get to enjoy their aggressive / serene / maniacal / ridiculous behaviour. So when it got to the time of year for Kieran, the higher predator scientist, to go through their nesting grounds weighing and measuring the chicks I of course volunteered to help.

As well as getting up close with the birds it's a good excuse to get across to a a few less-well-travelled parts of the island.

Kieran approaching a giant petrel chick. Hopefully by this size and age they're past the point of vomiting to defend themselves, instead relying on their massive beak with which to bite you, but that's by no means a rule true to every bird. The trick is to approach and grab it quickly, minimising stress and ensuring minimal handling time.

Me in front of the Lyell glacier. These photos were taken at Harpon, a bay and hut over the other side of the peninsula from King Edward Point. It's about a two hour walk and the first time I'd been over that direction. It was also one of the first really snowy days we had though for most of it I wasn't as cold as I was here. Once down at sea level however we had the cold winds coming in off the ocean mixing with other cold winds coming down off the glacier.

With the boats in the water I was able to swap Kieran for Vicki (fisheries biologist) for the walk back. Away from the coast it warmed up again and as the sun dropped we got some great views down on the Lyell glacier. Normally this is all covered in debris, a dirty brown colour, but with a fresh fall of snow it looked dramatically white.

A sunnier day on the Greene Peninsula and I got hands-on with the birds again. I'm not putting any weight on the bird, merely using my legs to keep it still so I can measure the beak and then weigh it. These chicks aren't far off fledging and getting the weight of chicks at the same stage each year is a good indicator of the general health of the population, obviously in a summer of abundant food they'll be heavier and more likely to survive that first winter.

As with much of the work I used to do the predators at the top of the food chain are studied because it is a simple way of getting an idea of the health of the whole food web, but these measurements will only form a data point on a long term (decades-long) study into trends.

Bill measurements are used to determine sex with males having longer ones, in some cases over 100mm. 

Another day, a cold one again, heading out to the Greene Peninsula. It's only a short journey across by boat and up a fjord with a very shallow moraine entrance, so only suitable for the RHIB. The first job of the day was to get ashore and retrieve a VHF that one of the team had left on the beach the previous week.

Down the end of the fjord we took the opportunity to have a closer look at the Hamberg Glacier, unlike the Lyell which is large, dirty and sprawling through a valley this one is jagged, white, bleak and squeezed between a couple of rocky peaks.

 

Jerry

It's been a while... by Jerry Gillham

It's been a busy few months, and for a long part of it we were without any comms as the phones and internet went down for about six weeks. But I've now got a bit of time in the evenings to try and catch up with my blog.

It's the start of winter now; there's a bit of ice in the bay, the fishing ships are around and there's currently only nine of us on station. We're having to draw the blinds around 5:00 in the afternoon and people are starting to get on with making midwinter gifts.

Here's a few photos from earlier in the year, I'll try and put up some more soon.

Erny (mechanic / temporary boating officer) and Kieran (higher predator scientist) checking out an impressive iceberg. Taking the boats past the ice and down towards the glaciers is fantastic, especially when you get these big ones with their crazy shapes. On a calm day you can hear the fizzing and cracking of the tiny air bubbles in the ice all around you.

Fraser (doctor) on the top of Petrel peak. We pretty much came straight up this one, walking up the snow rather than scrambling up the scree. Petrel has two peaks, the other, slightly higher one is a not-so-nice balancing act up some crumbly rocks but this one, the more spectacular looking, is actually really solid and pretty simple.

With Bob (mechanic), Thies (yachtsman / builder) and Fraser up one of the many no-named peaks within our travel area. To the right of the picture, covered in debris is the Lyell Glacier and before that the deep green Lyell Lakes. The central peak behind us is False Minden, a peak just over 1,000m that is right on the edge of our travel area. Thies had done it before but no one else had and it was very tempting.

Matthew (boating officer), Dave (electrician) and Kieran up the top of Anderson Peak on a cloudy day. It cleared up enough to give us some nice views down towards Maiviken.

Matthew investigating an ice cave that has reduced in size dramatically since he first came down in 2013. Then you could stand up in the entrance, today you can just about crawl through a tunnel if you don't mind getting your knees a bit muddy and your back a bit wet.

This was shortly after the day on the no-named peak when we decided we'd head out early and attempt False Minden.

Fraser and Thies high up False Minden. Although Thies had climbed this peak before he kept changing his mind about the route, often saying we should have done it slightly differently. Still, without his guidance we'd probably have turned back.

Nearing the summit and feeling the height as we looked down on the top of the glaciers. It was such a warm, sunny day we'd had to repeatedly fill up our water bottles in streams.

Looking down on Hamberg Lakes and Hestersletten. The colour of these glacial lakes amazing, as is the way it changes as the water filters from one to another.

Fraser moving along the top ridge, with Mount Sugartop looking close enough to reach (though actually another 1000+m of Himalayan-style ascent).

Stopping for a quick lunch break on the top, looking down on Lyell Lakes. This turned into a pretty epic 10 hour day but was worth the tired legs, sunburn, cut hands and knees (some of that scree is sharp stuff) for the views.