Monday, December 19, 2005

KEP, Hound Bay and Bird Island

After a couple of days sailing we arrived at King Edward Point. I was on cleaning duties in the morning so didn't get to go ashore straight away. KEP is quite a small base like Signy, but just round the corner is the remains of an old whaling station, looking very strange, huge buildings and rusty old boats in the middle of the lovely scenery. Very interesting to walk round though, and imagine what it would have been like at it's peak. There's a small museum there covering a lot of the whaling history, along with a very detailed history of Shackleton's voyages, and some artefacts from his ship. Further round the bay there is a whalers cemetery, where Shackleton is also buried. Again there were more seals and penguins, although these seals were a bit more territorial, and believe me they can move pretty rapidly when they want to!

Grytviken whaling station and cemetery

Some fool suggested a game of football in the afternoon, quite interesting on a pitch that was either rocky or a marsh depending where you stood. There was a large tourist ship in as well so there were lots of rich Americans in matching red jackets, not sure what they made of the game.... In the evening the base hosted a barbecue, with the boat shed being converted in to a bar/disco/buffet/refuge from the cold.

The following day we were just round the corner at Hound Bay, where we were dropping off a science team. Considering it was only about 5 people for 3 months there was an incredible amount of cargo to move ashore so everyone was involved. This involved getting the cargo and several people into a landing craft, which then went ashore to be offloaded. While the cargo was manhauled from the landing point to the camp, I was detailed to dig a square hole, as deep as I could go. I can now proudly add Antarctic Toilet Engineer to my CV.

Reindeer at Hound Bay

Next we were a little further round to visit Bird Island, just off the tip of South Georgia. Again we were mostly shifting cargo ashore. This relatively simple task was made much more difficult by the local seal population. They completely covered the small beach and most of the jetty. On arrival we were each issued with a 'bodger'. This very technical name actually refers to a broom handle, which is used to fend off aggressive seals. As it was breeding season there were a lot of boisterous males about. We had an interesting time, two people trying to pull a cart load of cargo across a shingle beach, surrounded by a phalanx of bodger wielding bodyguards. Things weren't made any easier when the handle on the cart broke, but luckily the base handyman effected a quick repair and we were soon underway again. We were also lucky enough to see a seal being born, I half expected to look round and see David Attenborough with a film crew.

Swimming seals

Back at the ship, my new cabin mate had unwittingly nicked my bed. Not wishing to wake him up at 2am I decided to take the recently vacated top bunk, and in my efforts to leap athletically up for a well earned nights rest I promptly broke the table. Oh well, something to do tomorrow.


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