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
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.
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.