10 Weekly News 10 January 1999

Dear all,

Sarah’s special honey and medicinal brandies did the job and we are now back to our full healthy selves again. With the Christmas break behind us we walked around to Stromness to start on the next cemetery. The walk around was a little less stressful than before. Either we are getting braver with the fur seals or they are getting tired toward the end of their breeding season and ignoring us. Summer is getting into full swing with the reindeer fawns growing fast and the adults shedding their light winter colours in favour of a darker, thinner summer coat.

The cemetery work at Stromness is going well. The existing fence of 4″ pipe and chain was in a state: the chain had fallen down in places; some pipes were rusting through; others had tilted over in the soft peaty bog. We replaced those pipes that needed it, dug up and replaced the wonky ones, packing the holes tightly with plenty of rock and stones that we quarried from the nearby scree slopes. Once all the pipes were upright Pat cut them to a uniform height and cut notches in the tops for the chains to rest in. He does not want to work indoors with computers any more. His true vocation is a travelling angle grinder operator. Cutting metal in the great outdoors. Heaven would be the contract to reduce the whaling stations to four inch squares of metal. Showers of sparks. It’s a heavy bit of kit and he will have forearms like Popeye.

Sarah meanwhile has been working on the large headstones. Brushing them down, filling in chips and cracks with cement, wire brushing the iron crosses on top ready for painting, and digging the overgrowth back from the concrete around the graves.

Any day now we expect a visit from the Commissioner for South Georgia, who is also the Governor of the Falklands in his spare time, on board a cruise ship that is also bringing relatives and ex-whalers from Norway so it would be nice to have the job done for their arrival. Not least because we will be able to bum a lift to Husvik for all the tools and our camping gear while they are here.

The accommodation here at Stromness is better than we thought it would be. We have taken over a well insulated room upstairs in the old bathhouse. This building has been reasonably maintained and was used by the British Antarctic Survey a while back when they were doing some fishy work in the Bay. Hence it is known as the ‘Krillton’. Despite much evidence of heavy rat infestation we have not had any unwelcome visitors. Careful waste management and food storage should keep it that way.

We have had some welcome visitors though. The cruise ship ‘Professor Sergei Vavilov’ was once a Soviet scientific research ship but their main research programme came to a halt at the end of the cold war and along with a number of similar vessels she now takes groups of forty or so tourists to the Antarctic. We found an old friend Julio Preller sitting on the beach with the rest of the cruise staff swigging champage and eating Toblerone whilst watching the main party of passengers walk across from Leith. His instructions to the guide were misunderstood and the crocodile made it’s way to the beach route (with fur seals) instead of staying on the high road. Julio seemed remarkably unconcerned for the safety of his passengers which can only show his great faith in the leadership of the guide.

It was a glorious sunny day and we were lightheaded after a plastic cup of champagne and two beers on an empty stomach. We gave ourselves the rest of the day off, tidied the tools away, scrubbed ourselves up and went on board for the evening’s barbecue and the chance to collect a few compliments from people who remarked on how neat the cemeteries at Leith looked. We had lots of chats with people who were seeing our island for the first time and were able to remind us how beautiful and special it is. It can be easy to get blase about having herds of reindeer grazing around you as you work.

The real treat has been to stop for a cuppa and a bar of chocolate mid afternoon. There is a gentoo penguin colony behind the cemetery and we went and sat next to it as we had our break. The chicks are getting quite big now and need so much food that both parents have to spend all day out catching it. We watched one adult regurgitate 18 gulletloads of krill into the eager beak of it’s chick. The chick kept worrying for another until the adult pinned it’s head to the ground until it stayed there. With neither parent left behind to protect the chicks, they gather together into creches for safety in numbers from the pair of skuas who are always nearby and ready to pick off any weaklings.

The skuas have a chick of their own to feed. If we get too close they dive bomb us. It is a scary sight to see the big bird coming straight at you sharp end first and a stick stops them hitting you as they veer away at the last moment. Sarah saw a pair of webbed feet paddling the air amongst the grass and thought they had brought a penguin chick from the colony for lunch. Closer inspection showed the feet to belong to Skua Jr. who was stuck on his back, cast as they say in the sheep world. Once Pat was in place with his combat spade to provide air cover, Sarah got in close enough to turn him back up the right way and off he scuttled whilst Mum and Dad were screeching and diving most indignantly. No gratitude. We could picture them grumbling to each other later : “And we had just got him down too.”

The other welcome visit was from HMS Sutherland. She has come from the Falklands to resupply the Garrison at KEP. In fact most of the garrison are changing over so there will be new faces when we get back in February, and new names to learn. Bless her Socks, Cotton two of, size small, Andi the outgoing commanding officer sent us round a mountain of fresh and frozen goodies along with the latest crop of mail. It’s a race against time to get through the spuds, bacon, sausages, eggs (18 dozen!), leeks, pears, bananas, tomatoes before they go off. We’ll end up with hyper-vitaminosis. We are eating like kings and not missing compo one bit.

The inevitable result of a surfeit of fresh stuff after a diet of tins and dried is well worth it.

The run of good weather finally broke today and we only got a couple of hours work done before the wind got too strong to be safe outside. The wheelbarrow took off at one point. An enforced Sunday afternoon indoors has allowed us to reread the mail and even reply to a few letters. And of course tuck back into the bananas.

So that’s our news. We are both fine and enjoying ourselves. Hope you are.

Love from Pat and Sarah

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