We’re on the ship! Usually when you plan to travel to a foreign country there is some very exact times you have to leave home, be at the airport etc but BAS is not really like that. We have, I think, had our departure date change five times this season, moving from the end of March to the start of March then back to the middle of March and then creeping back by a day at a time. For me it wasn’t really until we saw Bird Island from the ship that I realised that we had in fact left Signy for good. The last few weeks was fairly hectic getting the last science done, closing up the huts, finishing the building work, getting the base ready for winter and of course packing up our personal things.
When you go to a foreign country you also expect to get there quite quickly these days but travel from the South Orkneys to the UK is slow! We left Signy on the 4th of March and expect to be back in the UK on the 16th. We do get to see a couple of amazing places on the way home but in general this is the most boring form of travel, stuck on a ship with nothing to do except lie on your bunk and read or watch movies.
Only at the end of the season do you realise how well you know those around you. The six of us have lived in a fairly small space for four months and the people and camaraderie is one of the main things I’ll miss. One of our last nights on base Jim insisted we needed a band photo – we don’t have a band and those of us that do play havent played together. Still we needed a band photo.
Its easy on research stations to believe the life you live is normal. Then you turn round and realise that there cant be many places in the world that “collect and freeze whole dead penguin” would be an acceptable message to leave on a to do list.
One of the last chicks to be weighed decided to hang out with us afterwards. It has as ever been an absolute priviledge to get to live somewhere like Signy and even more so to be involved with the long term study of these animals. Getting to spend a season visiting the colonies every two days and watching them change has been amazing.
I really wont mess the stink of penguin guano and having to scrub down at the end of the day in a freezing cold puddle! Jim, Tim, Tom and Iain scrubbing down after the second last chick weighing session.
Getting ready to leave. One of the last jobs was to clean the salt water tank for the reverse osmosis plant. Tim (left) has much longer arms than me (Right).
Roger Filers grave on the Gourlay peninsular, Signy. Every year BAS staff are met by the same question in the safety brief before going South – “Have you thought about the fact that you might not make it home?” While BAS’s current track record for getting people home is great the memorials on bases do serve as stark reminders of the environment you’re working in. For me the deaths of good friends at home in the time I’ve worked for BAS has been incredibly hard to deal with and I cant begin to comprehend how it would be to deal with a death on station or for the people at home.
Bird Island through the mist. On our way North we stopped to pick up some staff from Bird Island give them some fuel for the winter ahead. Only in seeing a different island did I fully realise we had left ours behind!
Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to go ashore so this is probably the only view of the station that I will ever get. If you think six people on Signy for four months is crazy the Bird Island wintering team has only four people!
South Georgia from my cabin. After a night passage from Bird Island we got to King Edward Point on South Georgia. The good news is we were allowed ashore but only for a few hours.
The Ernest Shackleton with the whaling station Grytviken behind.
First stop once ashore was to head over to the other side of the peninsular that King Edward Point sits on to see the Fur Seal pups. It was really cool to see these wee guys playing in the fresh water though hard to work out how something so cute could become the snarling dobermans we had on Signy!
King penguins coming ashore at “Penguin River”. We had limited time ashore on South Georgia but I realised that with a bit of running I could see some king penguins too. You might think I would be a bit bored of penguins but these are so much more regal and beautiful than the ones we were working with I figured it would be worth it.
Grytviken and King Edward point, South Georgia. Almost certainly the most beautiful of all the BAS bases.
We’ve now left South Georgia behind and are rocking and rolling our way to the Falklands Islands. Then just a four and a fourteen hour flight to get home. Its been amazing but I cant wait to be back!