On Friday 21st, the ship drew in alongside South Georgia and pulled in to the BAS base at King Edward Point (KEP). The sun broke through the clouds as we arrived, revealing stunning snowy peaked mountains and incredibly blue seas. The base at KEP is located close to the old whaling station at Grytviken. This is where all the tourist cruise ships call, to visit the whaling museum and Shackleton's grave, so there is a big jetty for ships to moor up at. The JCR docked and we all got off the boat and had a day out at KEP. As the JCR could unload directly onto the jetty, we were not needed for unloading cargo as this was done mechanically, so we were free to do what we wanted. We visited the church and whaling museum and ruins of the old whaling station, and walked out to Shackleton's grave and up one of the nearby hills. It was gorgeous and sunny and very beautiful. There was plenty of opportunity for photo's of king penguins (which only visit Bird Island in small numbers, so it was nice to see lots), gentoo penguins and huge elephant seals. I also got my first introduction to Antarctic fur seals, of which there are thousands on Bird Island. We spent the evening socialising with the BAS staff at KEP, who I had done much of my training in Cambridge with so it was very nice to see them. These had arrived in Antarctica about 10 days before we arrived, travelling down on the South Georgia fisheries patrol vessel instead of the JCR. The JCR spent the night docked at KEP and then set sail for Bird Island the following morning.
We sailed for one more day, and anchored just off Bird Island early the following morning, while the captain decided whether the sea was calm enough to transport cargo and people ashore.
The JCR is a scientific research vessel for BAS, but also delivers supplies and people to various bases in the Antarctic. At both Signy and KEP, people, kit, food, fuel and provisions were offloaded to the bases, and waste from the winter returned to the ship to be transported back to the mainland. The same was to be done at Bird Island, with me, and two others to be dropped off at Bird Island, and one of last years winterers to be picked up as he had reached the end of his contract as was returning to the UK. Due to the weather and sea conditions, Bird Island is the most difficult base to re-supply, and often the ship may have to anchor offshore and wait a few days before conditions are calm enough for unloading. Bird Island only has a small jetty so the JCR had to remain offshore, and the smaller cargo tender launched from it, and used to transport everything to base. Conditions need to be calm for this to be done safely.
The captain decided conditions were good enough, and gave the go-ahead for Bird Island.