15 Weekly News 14 February 1999

Dear all,

Our summer break draws to a close with HMS Dumbarton Castle due to pick us up tomorrow (Monday 15th Feb) and return us to King Edward Point, where Pat will once more take up the the reins as Marine Officer in time for the end of the tourist season and the start of the fishing season.

With the cemetery project complete we have made the most of this last week, getting out and about a bit. Luckily the weather colluded. On Monday we donned rucksacks and walked to Carlita Bay in Cumberland West Bay to stay for the night in the old hut there. By the time we found that the hut had been blown off it’s base, and that some of the planks in two of the walls were missing, it was a bit late to walk three hours back to the hut at Husvik. Instead we scavenged around the beach and found most of the planks and those along with some handy rocks (one commodity never lacking on the island) were used to fill in the larger holes. The wind picked up in the night and howled around us, shaking the hut somewhat, but we were cosy in our sleeping bags.

As we walked along the beach before turning in we came across a female Weddell seal. These usually live down in the Antarctic but there is one small breeding colony on SG, in Larsen harbour at the Southeast end of the island. She was huge and had the most beautiful piebald colouring. She was very wary of us and slipped into the sea to be confronted by an inquisitive elephant seal and after a short stand-off, during which she made some fascinating growls, she swam away leaving him wondering where she was. We don’t see Weds very often so that was a real treat. Well worth the windswept night in a ruined hut.

The next day,on our way back to Husvik, we walked further along the beach toward the gigantic Neumayer Glacier that sweeps down from the hinterland. There was a lot of ice in Cumberland Bay West that had broken off the front of the glacier and we saw and heard many more lumps falling off into the water. Washed up on the beach were some tiny krill. These shrimps are the kingpin of the Antarctic food web and grow to about 5cm. These, however were only about 1cm and thus very young.

The next day we returned to Gulbrandsen lake. The lake is still filling with water and there is a lot of ice floating in it. Instead of going down to the lake we continued uphill, hoping to get to a ridge with a good view over the Konig Glacier and surrounding mountains. Pat got to the top of the ridge but it was holding back cloud and all that could be seen on the other side was the glacier edge almost vertically below him.

On another day we visited the King penguins at Olsen Valley. There are about seventy six adults sitting on eggs or chicks. The chicks are mainly very newly hatched and very small, bald and wrinkly. The last of last season’s chicks is still standing there, moulting out of his brown fluffy down to reveal his adult plumage. A good day, with good light, for some close-up pictures of the tiny chicks as they occasionally poked their heads out from underneath the feathery paunch that protects them as they perch on their parents’ feet. And if only Pat had loaded the film correctly he might have got them. Still it takes a while to get used to a new camera and eleven years is obviously not long enough.

Our longest hike, seven hours worth, was on the sunniest, warmest day so far – Saturday. We went around the headland to Stromness and back to Shackleton’s waterfall behind the station. From there we climbed up to the col, reversing his route down a little way into Fortuna Bay where we once more sat and enjoyed the mountain and glacier view. We then went a little way along the side of the ridge to the col that leads down into the back of Husvik where Sarah showed her improved scree running techniques off as we dropped back down towards home.

The wildlife around the hut consists mainly of fur seals at the moment. The pups are getting more active and are moving around the bay, away from their natal beaches. The mums still seem to find them somehow and there is the occasional feed going on. The little pond in front of the villa is full of youngsters swimming around and chasing each other. They like chasing. Five king penguins tried wading across this morning but the only one who bothered coming very far was soon surrounded and had to fend the pups off with well aimed pecks. Skua has also had plenty of time to get used to avoiding the pups. He can walk along, looking like a man in a storm with his head and shoulders down and hands clenched behind his back, just fast enough to keep ahead of a playful pup. They soon get bored and go and look for something else to play with. Or to sleep. There’s a lot of that going on as well.

The reindeer can sense Pat’s intentions and are keeping well away. We had Spam carbonara for dinner this week. The only time he has been allowed to get near was when carrying a tripod and camera. Canny beasts – no wonder there are so many of them.

The rest of our time this week has been spent packing. The ship is coming tomorrow and most of our gear is already boxed up ready to go. Not sure if we are.

We had a visit from another ship, the Saint Brandan, who has come down to drive new pilings at the very dilapidated jetty at Grytviken. The piles to be used were on the beach at Leith, left over from the days when the whaling stations were active. Sarah has been having humorous, if obvious, radio conversations with Roddy, the captain, about how his operation to remove the piles from Leith was going. He visited this afternoon for a cuppa and chat whilst waiting for a lull in the busy comings and goings at King Edward Point. The warship, the BAS ship RRS James Cark Ross, a cruise ship with more Norwegian relatives and ex-whalers, are all there today and the chances of Paul the poor harbourmaster having time to hoover the Post Office before we get back tomorrow afternoon are looking pretty slim.

So this is the last of our missives from the colonies for now. It’s back to civilisation, King Edward Point, and pen and paper now.

Over and out.

Pat and Sarah

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