04 Weekly News 4 December 1998

Dear all,

We are now stuck into the work and have got as far as a series of fence posts in place around the first cemetery at Leith.

Following a gloomy start to Monday, the weather cleared up by mid morning so we decided to pack up our rucksacks and head for Leith. We had walked the route before but had not reckoned on fur seals, whose continued population expansion in the area has them cramming on the narrow strips of beach along our route. It is the start of their breeding season and the bulls, who seem huge and dangerous, are defending bits of beach. In some places there were already females with pups and the bulls were being very protective of them. We needed stout sticks and faith in the handy hints from the Scientists on Bird Island as to how to fend them off. Brute force is no good against these boys. Amazingly tickling their whiskers (with the stick) seems to work. At times we were forced to climb into the tussac to get by, but there wasn’t always an alternative to running the gauntlet. We have never experienced seals like this, the ones we see at Grytviken are only little and not territorial. Neither of us enjoyed the experience.

Five hours later we were at Leith, having passed through Stromness.

For months we have wondered where the winter went this year. It has been mild and there has been very little opportunity to get any decent skiing done. Now we know where it went. It has been waiting at Leith for us. We have had snow every day this week. A couple of times it was serious and settled a couple of inches deep. As I write on Friday night the drizzle that started at lunchtime has gone through sleet and is now snow, at least four inches deep on the ground and still falling. The fur seals outside are having great fun sliding around and rolling in it. The elephant seals that have come out to moult are demonstrating their excellent insulation by lying still and letting the wet snow accumulate on their backs without melting.

We, on the other hand have resorted to piling on all our clothing and drinking enough hot drinks laced with whisky to keep us warm and cheerful but not too much – don’t want to have to leave a nice warm sleeping bag to make a trip to the beach in the middle of the night.

The accommodation is spartan. Shore teams of hydrographers from HMS Endurance have built a camp in the old steward’s store over the past few years, and we have taken it over as they have finished their surveys in this part of the island. There is an old pot stove in the middle of the room but attempts to light it resulted in a room full of smoke so we are relying on our modern camping stove for cooking, and metabolism for heating. The latter means regular stoking with chocolate and hot drinks but we can manage. The room is just five degrees. Pat is eating like a horse to compensate. Luckily our sleeping bags are excellent, but getting out of them in the morning takes extra will power.

Tuesday was spent finding a workshop to use and setting it up ready to cut lengths of pipe with the disc cutter run from our portable generator. Everything works, though we did need to scavenge a bolt to attach the handle to the Bosch disk cutter as the thread was knackered on the brand new one that came with it. A bizarre interlude brought a slice of civilisation when the cruise ship Bremen visited for the afternoon. Suddenly the eerie deserted town that is Leith whaling station was swarming with well dressed German tourists, while we sat in the club lounge on board, clothed in our best smoky overalls, drinking coffee with the Captain and trying not to wolf down the sticky cakes too greedily. After the second slice, the German race was forgiven for the shoddy workmanship on the grinder.

For the past few days we have been working on the smaller of the two cemeteries in Leith. We have got the wooden crosses from some of the graves into the shed, drying out and scraped ready for painting. We found two, maybe three more crosses than have been recently known to be in the cemetery, though some need Pat to mend them. We found enough pipe to make twenty fence posts and got them cut to length and sledgehammered into place ready for hanging chain on before we start work on the bigger cemetery. The old wooden paling fences have fallen apart and there is no chance of regular maintenance here so we have opted for post and chain fences instead.

We have revised our intentions to pop back to Husvik to clean up and replenish supplies every few days. The gauntlet of fur seals is not one we want to run very often. There is plenty of food and fuel here so we will just have to rough it for a bit longer unless a friendly yacht turns up to give us a lift round the easy way.

We can’t say this is very enjoyable, its cold and the continued bad weather gets us down, but every so often the sight of a reindeer round the corner, or of a fur seal sliding in the snow, or a rare half hour of sun to warm the skin, and the achievments on the project front give one a boost.

P.S. Saturday: blizzard and huge winds make it too dangerous to venture outside. The tin and other detritus from the collapsed buildings just flies around so we are staying put, Pat is reading books from the whalers library. Books in which the policeman really does say “Hello, hello, hello, whats going on here then?”.

All the best Sarah and Pat


With too much snow falling horizontally past the window we did not get this off on Friday. Saturday dawned so cold, snowy (4 inches fell overnight) and windy that we stayed in bed until mid afternoon, emerging only to heat up two mugs of water for brews every hour or two. By mid afternoon the weather had cleared up enough to let us out to measure up chain for the cemetery fence and start cutting it to length.

Strange sound of an engine. The deafening roar of a helicopter from HMS Endurance bringing Andi, the OC of the garrison at KEP, to wave hello as we stood outside the workshop. Next a red hull could be seen out in the Bay. The BAS ship Bransfield had come in for a spot of shelter after spending the best part of a week trying to get stores ashore at Bird Island. Would we like to come on board for dinner? Not half! Ignoring their water shortage we took full advantage of the captain’s hospitality to get ourselves showered and scrubbed up in time for a G&T before a sumptuous feast of fish and prawns and beef wellington and of course the usual test of how many names we could remember. About 80% which is quite good for Pat who can be excused the one he last met at Halley in 1986. We managed to liberate a tin of wood primer so Sarah can get going on the crosses. Many thanks to all on board for their hospitality and we hope their engine problems are sorted out.

over and out as they say in radioland

Scroll to Top