We were on board the Ernest Shackleton for two days before setting off South with Signy Research Station as the first stop. Ive spent a fair amount of time at sea before including yachts on the Wild Coast of South Africa and various tall ships in the South China sea and the North Atlantic and I’ve rarely been seasick. This was all about to change.
Onboard the ship passengers are still referred to as FIDs though there is no longer a “King Fid” declared as there was in the old days of BAS staff going south (Spikes book “In the shadow of Ben Nevis” has a great description of how it was for BAS Staff going south in the 1960’s). Initially I had been a bit put out by us being the first stop as it would have been a good excuse to see the other BAS island bases “Bird Island” and “King Edward Point” on South Georgia. Within a few hours at sea I had changed my mind. By the first meal I was feeling pretty rough and heard one of the crew comment “It can’t be rough yet – the FIDs are still showing up for food” – sure enough the only thing I managed to show up to after this point was a few very quick meals and the various safety briefings. The hardest thing about this journey is really that there isn’t much to do even if you are feeling well. There is some basic exercise equipment in the hold, a tv lounge, a smoking room and a general lounge or as I did you can just lie in your cabin and stare out of the porthole.
Arriving in the South Orkneys I was relieved to see only open water and no sea ice. With sea ice present it would have been up to me and the Station Leader to organise the relief of the ship over the ice – testing thicknesses etc. In a fragile sea sick state this could have been quite the test. In fact all we had to do was wait for the crew of the Ernest Shackleton to get there tenders ready, struggle into our dry suits and head to the base.
Jim and I’s cabin on the ship. These are sometimes shared by four people. Luckily for me I had the top bunk so could easily see out of the porthole
My favourite view. I was able to lie in my bunk and watch a film on my laptop as long as I alternated between the porthole and the screen every couple of minutes.
This is the last season that BAS plan on using the Ernest Shackleton. With the new ship currently being built the Shack will end her service next spring and the James Clark Ross the following year. This calendar on one of the decks shows the progression from two to three ships and down to just the “Sir David Attenborough” and finally it sinking in 2021 (bottom right).
Looking a bit pasty but very ready to get off the ship. After three days at sea I was ready to leave my cabin!
Jim and a big pile of cargo ready to go ashore.
The Ernest Shackleton out in the bay as another blizzard rolls in.
The fresh food that came ashore will be all we get until the next time the ship comes in mid January. Every piece of fresh food has to be inspected for any wee beasties that might have hitched a ride. Above – Tim and Mike (Scientists) inspect the cauliflower and remove a few tiny caterpillars.
Taking the Skidoo around to the other side of the island. The Shack was only with us for a few days so it was important to make the most use of their tenders while we could. It felt pretty strange to be putting a skidoo onto a boat and taking it to somewhere I’d never been.
One penguin, two penguins, three penguins….. Tim doing his first of many penguin counts. Tim, Mike and I made a quick visit to the main penguin colonies on the Gourlay peninsular on the second day. This will be Tims main focus for the 5 months and part of my job is to help him. (Dont worry – lots of penguin shots to come!)
Its definitely spring here. The South Orkneys are at 60deg South so gets roughly the same daylight hours as Orkney in the North of Scotland (59deg North). It is a little colder here month by month however due to not having the gulf stream.
Signy Island. Home for seven of us for the next four months. The base is on the peninsular in the middle of the East coast (tiny black dots) You can view a pdf version of this map here.
Next blog – life on base and why we’re here.