It’s the start of the season – we’ve kicked off a more complicated season than usual, but one that is very exciting for what it means in what we can deliver for Southern Ocean monitoring.
This season has several strands – Gemma Clucas (from Southampton University) and I (Tom) will be visiting the South Sandwich Islands on board the MV Ortelius. We’ll aim to get samples and place cameras on South Georgia, South Sandwich, Elephant Island and the Antarctic Peninsula.
Next, I’ll fly to Berknor Island at the South of the Weddell Sea to attempt to place a time-lapse camera on an Emperor colony.
Finally, in phase three, we’ll be back on the Ocean Diamond servicing the cameras around the Antarctic Peninsula. Here, I’ll be joined initially by Paul Nolan from Citadel University in the US, then Caitlin Black, an MRes student from Oxford. Finally, I’ll be joined by Al Davies from the Zoological Society of London who will field test the first satellite linked camera we hope to deploy in some really remote places.
1st November, 2013
Gemma and I board the MV Ortelius, previously a Russian ice-strengthened transport ship, but now Dutch owned and renovated as a polar tour ship. We’ll be on this ship until the 23rd November, visiting the Falklands, South Georgia, the South Sandwich and the Antarctic Peninsula. We’re also meant to be going to the South Orkneys, but as these are still in the sea ice, that currently seems like a long shot.
8th November, 2013
King Edward Point! Site of Grytviken, an old whaling station and also the research station which conducts fisheries research. I meet Pat, one of the Government Officers to check permits and also catch up with good friends. The South Georgia Government has been very helpful with cameras around this region, so I was able to pick up the SD cards from three cameras in the region, which were full of good data.
The visit is short and in no time at all, we’re saying good bye to friends Sue, Andy and Pat.
I wake up at 0330 to a radio call saying that we are close to Saunders Island. I jump out of bed and go to the bridge. Sure enough, there is Saunders Island on the radar and emerging vaguely through the fog. It’s very different to the last time I was here in January 2010 on the yacht Golden Fleece. As Captain Ernesto picked his way through the sea ice to an anchorage, I start to recognise the features and possible landing sites. The wind is alternating between 20 and 45 knots. We anchor with trepidation and wait – get these conditions wrong and you’re stranded in one of the most remote regions on earth, with very little chance of help. Our mood turns from hope to fear as it looks like we might lose our main objective. When it starts looking like we may have to give up, the wind eases and starts to stabilise. The fog clears a little and suddenly it looks possible for a landing in drysuits. We launch a scout boat and land- victory! More than that, it rapidly turns stable enough to land all the passengers, so everyone gets to experience the bleak, impressive landscape on Saunders. Gemma and I waste no time in getting our respective work done, still sweltering in drysuits and sliding down the sides of the gullies. We are recalled to the zodiacs an hour and a half later, craving more time but incredibly happy about the result. We reboard Ortelius, so grateful to the Captain and Expedition Leader Delphine for getting us to shore. I feel hugely relieved, having landed three years ago I knew how bad the conditions usually are and therefore how easy it would be to fail. Now we only need to worry about getting back in future years…
Sunday 17th November, 2013.
We’ve had a slow crossing from South Sandwich to the Antarctic Peninsula, with initially a lot of sea ice around South Sandwich, followed by a stronger headwind and larger seas than forecast. Long crossings and time at sea can be frustrating, but we’ve had a lot of birds and whales to watch.
Expedition accounts from the past frequently refer to methods of fending off boredom.
‘It’s time enough to do it when you’ve got to; until that time comes, make yourself as comfortable as circumstances permit.’
Earnest Shackleton, when the Endurance was stuck in ice.
Shackleton put all of his team to work – he had the scientists scrubbing the decks to reinforce the sense of an expedition team. Not everyone saw the benefit of this; Thomas Orde Lees was a mechanic from the navy and grouped with the scientists. He makes a number of references to some parts of manual labour being beneath him.
‘This is not work I should like mind a bit except for the disgusting way everyone spits all over the deck, which would not be tolerated for a moment in a man-o’-war’.
Life on board Ortelius is much more exciting and with far fewer chores, so although we’re slower than expected, it’s been a very nice crossing. This morning, we reached Elephant Island at 0300. It was pretty calm; a very gentle but long swell rolled past the ship towards the shore. It must have been just past dawn, but the light was still very grey and flat, with no obvious sun. Elephant Island covered the horizon on the port side of the ship. It was a spectacular morning and very quickly we launched a scout zodiac to attempt a landing. Sadly, the swell was too big for a landing, but we had a good look at the site at which Shackleton’s men spent the winter while Shackleton and five others crossed the Scotia Sea in a small boat to find help.