54 17'S 036 30'W. South Georgia, Southern Ocean.

Follow Matt Kenney during his deployment in South Georgia, working as a Boating Officer and Coxswain for the British Antarctic Survey.

Read Matt's posts with news, reviews and extracts from his Journals, and see photo and video posts to show you some of the work the Antarctic Survey are doing in the Southern Ocean, and also provide an insight into life on a British Antarctic research station.

Matt will also provide accounts of his work at sea and ashore on Humber Destroyer RHIBs and 11m twin jet drive Pilot vessels along side the team at the King Edward Point research facility.

Matt arrived in South Georgia on the 28th October 2010.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

HMS Gloucester and RFA Black Rover

HMS Gloucester
Last weekend we were visited by HMS Gloucester and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary fleet tanker RFA Black Rover.  Gloucester is on patrol in the area, managing the security of the waters around the Falkland Isles and South Georgia Island.  As part of her tour of duty she brought with her Commander Thicknesse, who is Commander of British Armed Forces, South Atlantic.  They stayed all weekend, and it was a fantastic opportunity for the crews to come ashore.  They are closing on the end of an 8 month tour of duty, and all the lads I spoke to were missing their wives and girlfriends.  They were all grateful of the chance to come ashore and go walking in the hills around the base.  The weather was (for most parts) nice and the sun shone.  The boating team (mainly Ashley as duty cox that week) were flat out ferrying troops (literally) too and from the ship, which was anchored in Cumberland Bay.  Monday it was my turn, and I suppose I ran perhaps 15 or so runs to and from the ship.  Our twin engined RIBs are usually good for 28 knots in suitable sea conditions but in the morning, just after the ship had finished conducting flying sorties with the Lynx, I bought the rib alongside Gloucester's boarding ladder and boarded 6 Royal Marines plus some kit.  Despite moving the lads to the optimal positions on board for trim we couldnt get on the plane and did 9 knots all the way ashore... they were hefty to say the least!
The Jet Launch coming away from Gloucester
I was fortunate enough to be invited aboard Gloucester for a tour by Tom, the Principal Weapons Officer.  Tom was a salt of the earth yorkshireman with 26 years service behind him, and was still enthusiastic about his ship.  HMS Gloucester is a Royal Navy Type 42 Destroyer.  Launched in 1982, the Gloucester has seen active service in many different areas, most notably during the 1st Iraqi conflict in 1991 when she was escorting USS Missouri along the Kuwaiti coast.  The Missouri was bombarding the coast with her 16" guns when the Iraqis returned fire with a "Seesucker" missile which was headed straight for the US Warship.  The Gloucester engaged  and fired 2 "Sea Dart" missiles which hit the incoming Seesucker, saving the Americans from a direct hit.  It is the only recorded missile to missile hit in naval history.  I was lucky enough to be shown the missile silo in the bowels of the ship during my tour.  The Sea Darts are huge and weigh 550Kgs.  It is quite unbelievable that it will be travelling at Mach 2 (twice the speed of sound) as it leaves the launcher and once the ramjet engine is engaged will cruise at around Mach 2.5 (~2000 mph) Its guidance system will deliver it to a target up to 30 nautical miles away.  I was also shown Gloucesters other weapons including her 4.5" foredeck mounted cannon (a BIG gun) and my personal favourite the "Phalanx" a radar guided 20mm Gatling gun.  Gloucester is now coming to the end of her British Service.  She is being offered for sale at a price of £5 million.  A bargain except when you consider the £15 million running costs per annum.  The Pakistani Navy are currently favourite for being the new owners.
RFA Black Rover
RFA Black Rover is part of the Fleet Auxiliary which is the civilian contingent of the Royal Navy's at sea presence.  Rover is a fleet tanker and its her job to liaise with Coalition Warships and undertake what is known as a "RAS" or "Replenishment at sea"  This entails a skilful piece of ship handing and seamanship from both the warship and the tanker as they have to pace only yards away from each other at speed while lines are connected between the vessels and ammunition, fuel, water and food supplies are transferred.  The Black Rover has a busy schedule, and did not stay for long.  Here are some pictures.  Sorry for the delay in posting, but you probably understand why.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Penguin River

This weekend just gone has been a hive of activity on base.  Im afraid I cant say why particularly just yet, but there will be a post telling you all about it in a a few days.  Saturday however, I found myself free for the afternoon.  Katie (the fisheries scientist) and I decided to take a walk to Penguin River, perhaps 2 miles from base and then beyond to discovery point via the Helicopter wreck.  We had a really great afternoon and the weather was perfect.
Not only did we see sooty albatross at close quarters (amazing looking birds - no photos as I had the wrong lens) but we saw a juvenile "blonde" fur seal (which are very rare) on the way home too, so some great photo opportunities.  Check out the piccies....  The fella on the beach by my writing in the sand came up to chew my ear off for being there, so I moved back a bit and he then kindly posed for a few photos... it looks like he's done it for me, and he's proud of it too!!

Meet the team - Base Commander

Name: Rob Webster

Age: 28

Rob joined the team from an interesting and varied background.  Hailing originally from the Scottish Highlands, he has travelled extensively prior to BAS including India, Sri Lanka, Europe and parts of South America.  Throughout 2005, He spent time teaching English to children in Nepal.  During this time, Rob also shared his talent for the violin. He taught the father of one of his pupils to play, and it is thought that this man is likely to be the only violinist in western Nepal, and one of only a small handful in the entire country, such is the irregularity of the instrument in the region.

In 2004, Rob was awarded a Bachelor of Science Degree with Honours in Physics from Edinburgh, and has gone on to work in the science field.  Prior to KEP, he was stationed at the BAS research facility at Rothera on the Antarctic Peninsula, and has served a number of winters on Antarctica as a meteorological assistant.  Rob was charged with making meteorological observations, looking after radar and spectrometer equipment, making ozone measurements and launching weather balloons.  He was also involved in placing weather stations in remote field sites around the Antarctic Peninsula.  I asked Rob why there was such an interest in meteorology in Antarctica – “The Antarctic continent is very important to the global climate, and parts of it are amongst the fastest warming places on the planet which makes monitoring the conditions there crucial to understanding and tracking climate change.  Climate scientists are very keen to monitor the effects of warming on the vast ice-sheets of the continent which have the potential to influence sea levels in the event of their collapse.  Antarctica's kilometres of ice also provide the best records available of the past character of the atmosphere in ice cores - we can use these track such things as the carbon dioxide content of the air in the past”

I asked Rob what his new role of the Base Commander in South Georgia means to him;
“The role of the Base Commander is primarily to maintain the safety of the staff, coordinate the base activities, and act as a conduit for information between base and BAS Cambridge.  Every monday morning I have a base meeting involving the scientists, Government officers, and support Staff which sets the tone for the week and highlights things like ship movements, messages from HQ, requirements for boating support and any other business.  I also have a host of general administrative duties, beyond which I try to help the others as much as possible with their work”.  He added, “I definitely see my job more as a facilitator than a ‘commander”. 

It is, however, a unique circumstance in South Georgia due to the fact that BAS are here to support the Government of South Georgia. Rob was sworn in as magistrate of the Island during our passage through Stanley in the Falkland Islands.  “I conduct my work to the spirit of the oath, but don’t believe I shall ever need to use its powers!”

Robs spare time on base is largely taken up by his music.  “I have a bit of a fascination with weird and wonderful sounds. I like the idea of making music out of ambient noises, or sounds that people wouldn’t normally associate with music.  I am currently working on a collaborative project with a producer in London to create a South Georgia themed album made with sounds recorded around the base and the local area.  Once they are finished I will match them up with album art made of imagery I have photographed on the Island.  I have also dabbled in movie soundtrack production and would like to explore that some more.”

Rob also plays the Guitar (very well indeed), the drums, and the Violin.  George (the outgoing boatman) and Rob entertained us all at the Ceilidh at Grytviken church last year playing Scottish Folk music on the fiddle, and also gave an impromptu performance on Tijuca jetty at Grytviken to the passengers of an expedition ship at Christmas.

Rob’s other passion is Skiing.  “I started Skiing when I was 4 growing up in the Scottish Highlands and skiied extensively in the Cairngorm mountains when I was growing up.  I hope to explore more of the island this winter backcountry skiing.  There is some superb skiing to be had in the local travel area if conditions suit, and we are very lucky to have the opportunity to make the most of it during the winter months.”

Rob is keeping a “365 project” photo diary, and is also a prolific blogger.  See his Rothera diaries (I hope to work there one day) at http://www.rotherapoint.blogspot.com and www.robertwebster.org/blog.html
His photo diary of KEP can be found at http://365project.org/robwebster/
Rob also blogged about making his beloved guitar from raw materials.  See this at http://www.antarcticguitar.blogspot.com

Saturday, 15 January 2011

The return of the JCR

Greetings from a breezy South Georgia.  Today came the return of the RSS James Clark Ross to KEP.  They are stopping to retrieve the two government official who arrived with us on the Bremen last week, drop 2 scientists and equipment ashore for the day and replenish the bond (base alcohol!).
The photos below show my approach driving the pilot launch up to the pilot ladder.  Conditions were challenging again due to the gusty and flukey winds, and the seas are lumpy in the bay.  It was decided not to bring the JCR into the cove due to the present conditions and a faulty Stern Thruster, so we also carried out the cargo transfer.  The crew on the JCR loaded the cargo into a net which is then craned out and placed on the aft deck of the pilot launch.  It kept me busy again keeping the pilot vessel stationary while my crew (Sam and Alastair) worked the deck.  Kieron boarded via the ladder to do a customs clearance then 2 Boat Suits and lifejackets were passed up via a line for the 2 passengers who were then embarked to take ashore.  Once passengers and cargo were safely on board and secured we returned to KEP, but only for a short time.  Once the passengers and cargo were ashore it was time to grab lunch on the fly and then return to sea to retrieve Kieron once the clearance procedure was complete.
There will be a further trip this evening to take the government guys out, and possibly another to board the Hanseatic (a cruise ship) for customs clearance.  Sometimes Saturday duty calls, and there is no overtime... its a good job the sun is shining!!
Approaching the JCR

Pilot ladder is in position on the Starboard side

ensuring the crew are ready to receive us alongside.

Making my approach.  The Boarding Gate is open.

The Government Officer about the board the ladder.  As soon as he is on the ladder I will move the pilot vessel away.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Only fools and horses.

A very brief blog to prove its not all play.....

Tom picked up my camera while I was working on one of the Jet Launch trailers today and captured the moment I did some actual work :-)  Removing the axles and bearings to check for corrosion and wear... there was very little of either so re-greased and re-installed...

There will be more of me working, so stay tuned....

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Expedition Ship Bremen

Today the 6,750 gross ton passenger vessel BREMEN arrived in the bay.  There is nothing unusual in this, as there have been a steady flow of cruise ships touring the island this season, however this one was bringing two new additions to the base here at KEP.  On board was a senior member of the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands government, and the other an official from the Foreign and Commonwealth office.  They will be staying with us on business, and had secured places on the BREMEN to bring them to South Georgia.  The conditions on there arrival were variable, and it was decided the seaworthy Jet Launches would be used to transfer them ashore as the BREMEN intended to anchor outside the cove off Hope Point, and it may have proved too rough for her Zodiacs to safely enter the cove.
Around 1400 local time the ship came into view off the approaches to King Edward Cove so I took PRION the harbour launch out into the gusty and sleety conditions taking Pat the Government Officer to board (to and carry out clearance protocols) and collect the government officials and bring them back to KEP.    It was necessary for me to put the Pilot Launch alongside the boarding platform on the Port side of the BREMEN.  The platform was narrow, and the sea state was short and steep, which caused me some work keeping her straight and level while we did the PAX transfer.  Tommy, my crew, did a great job working the deck and after a few minutes passengers and kit were loaded and we were heading back to KEP.  The operation went smoothly despite slightly difficult conditions, and we arrived back at the wharf shortly after 1500.  Shortly after I returned ashore I took the picture below from a window in the Kitchens.. An amazing rainbow had appeared in the wake of another squall and was framing the BREMEN beautifully.....

Antarctic Fur Seal tracking

The tracking devices.
The track from a Fur Seal (in red) recorded back in December.  She ventured over 50 miles out into the ocean to feed before returning to her pup.
The Zoological field assistant is very busy this time of year and today I was lucky enough to go over to Maiviken to help Alastair in his work selecting suitable female fur seals and fitting electronic tracking devices.  The tracking is important in helping BAS scientists understand the feeding habits of the Fur Seals.  This has a direct correlation with the work Katie, the fisheries biologist is undertaking into the Krill population.  Krill ("Euphosia Superba" - a Crustation similar to a Prawn) is an important cornerstone in the Ecology of the Southern Ocean in that it largely forms the basis of the food chain.  Fur Seals feed on Krill (which is odd, as they are equipped with such large teeth!)  Females with Pups are chosen for tagging as they will return to the same spot after feeding.  In some harems (groups of female fur seals) it is sometimes difficult to see which pup belongs to which female as the seals are lively and move around quite a bit.  It is ideal to see a pup suckling, as this confirms motherhood.  The selected seal is segregated and three devices are positioned on the seal's back.  One is a GPS tracking device, which, instead of deriving a fix for itself like a normal GPS - it will merely take a "snap shot" of the sky when the seal is ashore or on the surface of the sea, and a computer will then work out the relevant positions when the tracker is recovered at the end of the study.  The second unit is a device to measure Depth, Temperature and Light intensity.  This information will help build a detailed picture of where the seal has been, and how deep she has had to dive for food.   The third is a VHF radio transmitter.  It transmits a signal so that on the seals return, Alastair can pinpoint the tagged seal out of hundreds of seals.  He uses a tracking antenna to track the beeping signal.  The units are carefully glued to the seals fur.  This method ensures no harm is done to the seal, and all trace is lost when she malts her fur in February.
Unfortunately, after a hike over to Maiviken, the weather thwarted efforts as showers of rain and sleet had made the seals wet, and the adhesive does not stick, so no tags were attempted.....
A dive record from the same seal.  She dived to a maximum depth of 77 meters.  She slows her heart rate to decrease her bodies use of oxygen to allow her to dive so extensively.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Meet the team - Electrical Engineer

Name:  Tom Whitfield

Age: 25

Occupation on Base: Electrical Engineer

Tom joined the team as a qualified Maintenance, mechanical, electrical and refrigeration engineer.  Among a host of other achievements he has made in his industry he is a member of the ACRIB (air conditioning and refrigeration industry board) and registered with the NICEIC.
Tom spent the 5 years previous to BAS as a utilities engineer for a blue chip energy management company in the midlands area of the UK, working on steam raising plants, refrigeration plants, effluent plants, air production, water boring/treatment plants, air compressors and distribution and Energy management systems.
I asked Tom to run me through a typical day, and being an engineer – his answer was, before anything can be done, he has a coffee.  Only when fully caffeine – primed, does he carry out his varied duties.  Tom is responsible for maintenance on a wide array of systems and equipment, including servicing and maintaining of the Hydro-Plant.

The Hydro Plant is an interesting innovation introduced by BAS to increase the self sufficiency of the Base, aswell as significantly reducing our carbon footprint.  I asked Tom to tell me briefly how it works.  Tom knows his stuff, and is very enthusiastic, so here is the edited version for you techie lot....

“The Hydro-Plant was installed at KEP a couple of years ago.  It is fed via a dam at Gull Lake which is situated above Grytviken at about 85m above sea level, which gives a head of pressure into the Gilkes twin turbine of aprox 8 bar.  The turbines are a thirteen inch stainless steel turbine and valves control water flow into the turbine to maintain one thousand RPM which will keep the output frequency constant at fifty Herz.  The generator is a brushless ‘self excited’ three phase four-hundred and fifteen volt unit, capable of delivering two-hundred and eight Kilo-Watts of electricity to run the Base and the museum at Grytviken.  However, we only use an average fifty kilo-watts on base.  Since its installation it has reduced the bases use of fossil fuels dramatically, as electricity is no longer generated by diesel engine generators, although they are still in situ for emergency power generation.  Diesel is now only used in the boilers to generate hot water”

Toms other duties include assistance with boating operations, and he is currently going through his Coxswain training with the Boating Officers.  He is also one of five certified JCB operators on station.

Toms  hobbies and interests are his artwork – “I do chalk, pastel and charcoal drawings, and I have found a new outlet since arriving in South Georgia which is wood carving.  We have a well equipped wood shop on station which is fantastic for creating things in the evenings.  My biggest love is snow boarding, and truth be known, it is one of the main reasons for wanting to be in South Georgia.  It is summer here at present, but come the winter months I hope to get out on the natural slopes in the travel area for some serious boarding! I enjoy music and enjoy a bit of peace and quiet, and in South Georgia you don’t have to stray too far from base to find it.  Its an amazing place.”

Tom is currently working on an art project creating pieces for the new ‘made in South Georgia’ collection which will be raising money for the South Georgia Heritage trust.  More on this in an up and coming blog.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Glacier Col

Ok, so the first longer trip of the year saw Ashley, Sam, Tommy, Lynsey and myself take a hike over to Glacier Col.  It is a fascinating feature found just beyond Gull Lake.  It is an ancient Glacier which has since receded back into the hills and has left the aftermath of trillions of tons on snow and ice moving over the rock below.  It is still ice bound in places, and is very aqueous, with streams and small rivers flowing from the melt water and draining via some spectacular waterfalls into Gull Lake.  At the top, there is a spectacular view across a mountain range including 3320 - the largest peak in our travel limit.  The walk took 6 hours or so, and was a perfect way to mark the end of the Christmas Period.  See the Photos.

The view from the head of the Glacier
Lunch with a view!

Glacier Traverse

An Ice Cave carved by meltwater.

New Year Welcome

Hi Everyone,

Firstly, I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and New Year.  Thanks to everybody who sent cards, and emails; it really is wonderful to hear from you all.

So the Christmas and New year period is over, and the last of the Turkey Sandwiches are a distant memory.  A new year here at KEP awaits, so I thought I would begin by giving you guys a little insight into what I will be doing over the next 12 months.

Firsty, the blog.  I intend to markedly increase the number of posts.  It has been difficult during the settling in period, however things are calming down, so hopefully I will be in a far more organised state and be able to tell you guys what I am doing more often.  I will be aiming for at least 3 posts per week, hopefully more.  The first mini feature you will be getting over the next few weeks is a "meet the team" feature, where I will at last introduce you to the amazing folk I work with down here, and tell you a little bit about how it all works.

I will be continuing to support Ashley in my role as a boating officer.  We have some exciting stuff coming up, including visiting warships, and perhaps even some experimental boating testing some new gear.  More on this when the time comes.  I am also working on a project looking into Maritime Search and Rescue in remote areas, and the ability to create a simplified method of determining search areas and managing search unit deployment.  It is possible I may post some papers on the subject over time.

On a more personal level, I am continuing with my health and fitness regime!  I have lost 7Kg since I have been here, and plan to lose a little bit more.  Time in the Gym and hiking are making up the exercise.  Sam, the doctor is recording results and we go, so perhaps later this year I will have some results for you in graph form?

I am also still keen to receive any questions you have, and I will post the answers.  I promise to answer as honestly as possible!!

best regards for 2011,

Matt Kenney 2010.