Waves and Signy Island, South Orkneys

At 3am we hit some rough waves which made sleeping very difficult. Rough by my standards is when I am rocked violently from side to side in my bed, followed by my cabin chair being flung across the floor, and when I can hardly stand up and the motto “one hand for the ship” becomes “two hands, arms and legs for the ship”. The Captain had said we were heading for bad weather so I felt pleased with myself that I had survived the night relatively unscathed (if rather tired) but when I later asked him how rough it was last night he laughed at me as if I was joking (I wasn’t …) and said “what, on a rocking scale? Oh probably about a … one”. That was not the answer I was hoping for – but, then again, it was only a week or so ago during the southward journey from the Falklands that the ship had experience a 38 degree roll so I guess this didn’t quite compare. I am slightly apprehensive as to what will come over the next few days, especially the journey from Signy to Bird Island, and Bird to the Falklands. Something to look forward to there then …

I wandered out on deck, marvelling at what I (at least) considered to be relatively large waves and also what really were, huge icebergs bobbing amongst the waves. We got to Signy a bit later than expected but it was too windy for anyone to land by Humber so we hung around to see if the weather would improve. No luck meant we continued further east to Laurie Island and Cape Geddes for the drop-off there, due to return to Signy in two days time with a trip ashore for all of us for a look round if we wish. Sounds good to me – let’s hope the weather is calm enough for us to land then!

So we set sail again in the evening, passing huge chucks of ice bobbing and rolling in the waves, submerging and re-emerging like eerie monsters of the deep in the growing darkness. Some more rough swells were followed by the calmest night yet. This is more like it!

Science amongst the waves

We have left the South Shetland Islands and are bound for Signy Island in the South Orkney Islands. Today consisted of various stops at sea to collect and deploy scientific devices that the Liverpool and Southampton scientists on board are working with. The Chief Scientific Officer, Mags, also gave me a tour of the science area which was interesting to find out about the work that is currently being done out here. It’s also interesting to compare the size of the equipment on board with what we had been using on King George Island – our corers, water samplers and such like are miniature dolls house versions compared to the huge pieces of kit on board here! We stopped for more measurements after lunch and I wandered out on deck to watch a huge flock of Cape petrels, and white chinned petrels, which were bobbing on the waves and flying around the ship keeping us company in an otherwise deserted stretch of water seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

For lunch I had my first fish since the sushi we had on our last night in Punta back in October, something of a novelty. Dinner was prawn cocktail (with lettuce, cucumber and tomato – again the first since October and even more exciting being salad that I had been craving!), roast Falkland Island lamb, spinach, cauliflower, roast potatoes, gravy and mint sauce, baked rice pudding, cheese and biscuits. The food is amazing on board, we are really being spoilt! I even treated myself to a gin and tonic while networking with the other scientists in the Officers and Scientists lounge in the evening! Such decadence but I think justified after our hard-working field season.

Farewell Jubany!

We got up at 4am in anticipation of the JCR arriving, too nervous to sleep longer and still needing to transfer our samples from various different freezers to our sample crates to go straight into the JCR freezers when on board. Shortly before 6am, as I carried my last bag outside, I saw the JCR appear on the horizon, creeping gracefully, and somewhat eerily, through the still morning light, into view behind the headland towards the caleta. It was a memorable sight, and very exciting to watch as it manoeuvred its way into the caleta with such grace. Bang on 6am as scheduled it stopped in front of Jubany, where the Castillo and Chilean Navy ships, seemingly guarding the fort, were ready to greet her.

It was very exciting to hear the Captain over the radio announcing the JCR’s arrival and business – this was the first British voice to hear since our arrival into Punta seven weeks ago! Next came the unloading of kit to store at Jubany, brought by a group of people in a huge tender and all done with great British efficiency. It was very exciting to see our first British people in seven weeks, but also sad knowing we were leaving what had become our new family and home for this time. There was hardly time to say goodbye as the wind was picking up and we couldn’t hang around but we gave our final hugs to our Dallmann and Jubany family and we were off!

The tender journey was a mix of emotions, on the one hand waving sad goodbyes, yet on the other hand feeling excited at meeting new friendly faces, knowing we were embarking on a new adventure on our journey home and, of course, a little apprehensive about what oceanic experiences were yet to come. As we passed along the shore in front of Jubany our Jubany family lined along the shore to wave us off.

I couldn’t believe it when we were lifted by a huge winch in the tender to the ship – no rope ladder to clutch and cling on to as we had done on our arrival in the Maximiliano several weeks earlier! We were warmly welcomed by all we met on board – even the cook poked his head out to welcome us aboard, complete with sumptuous smells of cooking. We were given our safety briefing, a quick tour of our new “home” and then later had lunch with the Captain. After only a few hours sleep I wasn’t very hungry but was excited to see there was lettuce and salad on board – something I had missed since we left South America and had ended up craving since my arrival in Antarctica. After lunch we had the lifeboat drill and then a much needed siesta before dinner.

We later passed Elephant Island which was beautifully clear in the evening sun, while opposite Clarence Island was covered in a fine mist. Amazing and spectacular sights. I stayed outside on the monkey deck marvelling at the views until I got too cold and migrated inside to somewhere warmer. Later I was lulled to sleep by the gentle rocking of the ship, heading on a journey I wasn’t expecting to experience only a few weeks ago. Our original journey home was going to be by Argentinian military plane via Buenos Aires but a change in plan means we now get to visit new places and travel the route of our field sites which extend from the South Shetland Islands to South Georgia.

Last day in Jubany

Today was out last day in Jubany! Steve and I went to visit our field sites for the last time, interested to see how much they have melted in the past few days. Lake Mateus was looking much more like a lake now, much more had melted and we could see distinct patches of blue where we had drilled our ice holes. We also walked to GPS Lake 15 which now had no ice left at all. While we were there we saw a ship on the horizon. Steve said it looked like the JCR so panic set in as the original plan had been to pick us up this evening before being postponed until tomorrow morning – so we wondered if we had made a mistake – we’re not quite ready and haven’t finished packing yet! The ship showed no signs of coming into the caleta so panic over.

I later spent some time walking around the base, reminiscing and reflecting on my time here over the past few weeks. It has been a wonderful time of new experiences, successful sample and data collection and a time of forming new collaborations and friendships. After dinner a group of us headed to the (no longer working) “cine” to play some table tennis before I finished my final packing and tried to sleep. Needless to say I didn’t sleep much as my mind was racing in anticipation and excitement at the thought of spending the next ten days or so on a ship …

Nina and Christian surf the waves

Today Nina and Christian set off on the Castillo, bound for Bellingshausen. The wind was pretty strong, verging on 35 mph in the caleta, and they went by zodiac, bouncing over the waves and drifting down the beach it looked a hair raising experience – they were very brave! Next to leave will be me and Steve in the next couple of days. The British Antarctic Survey ship the James Clark Ross (JCR) is coming to pick us up en route to the Falkland Islands via the South Shetlands, South Orkneys and South Georgia. It promises to be an interesting and exciting experience (especially for someone not familiar with ships and the Southern Ocean …)

Adelie returns

Today Dolores and I visited the seals and penguins around the base, walking along Jubany beach and down to the helipad where a lost looking Adelie (perhaps the same one that visited us at our field sites?) came along to join us, running after Dolores across the helipad. It was completely un-phased by us, more curious and wanting to join us in our exercise routine. We also saw a group of gentoos and about thirty young elephant seals, either lazily lounging on the beach or playing together and eyeing us curiously from the water.

Last sunny day …

We didn’t think we would have another day of good weather before we leave but today, our final Saturday in Jubany, was it! Glorious sunshine and the caleta like a millpond in the morning, gunshot cracking of ice and huge chunks of ice plunging to the water below. I had a final walk along the beach towards the glacier, still amazed at how different the landscape is with so little snow left. By lunchtime the wind had picked up and the caleta was quite choppy but we also revisited our nearby field sites, walking along the beach past penguins and seals and up over the ridges to the lakes which have now all melted. The whole landscape looks very different without a covering of snow and ice and we could see how lucky we were to have completed our work here before the ice melted.

Final day of field work

Today was grey and windy but we went back to the penguin colonies to visit the mammals group, complete our work and, of course, take lots of photos of the Gentoo, Adelie and Chinstrap penguins (and chicks!) and elephant seals. After the long trek back we only just made it back in time for dinner. Field work has finished in time for the weekend!

Farewells and welcomes

Today we said farewell to the La Esperanza winterers and the handful of Jubany crew who were heading back to Buenos Aires and beyond. It was sad to see them leave but the weather, though dull and grey with snow showers, had a window in which it was possible to fly in.

It was, however, not suitable for our planned return visit back to the refugio and penguin colonies so we worked around the base today. We will go manana instead. Weather permitting…