Drake’s passage was kind to the Shackleton this year. We steamed through a steady long-period 4-6m swell, rolling gently about 12 degrees from side to side. The occasional larger wave threw her over to 20 degrees, bringing the sound of crashing of pans and profanities from the galley. The crew were grateful, last year was much heavier.
We woke early on Thursday morning to the sound of ice scraping the hull as the Captain edged us slowly through ‘growlers’ and ‘bergy bits’ to find a clear anchorage. The freight tender Tula was lowered into the water and we climbed in by rope-ladder. The run into Signy base, a couple of miles away took about half an hour, passing icebergs of incredible shapes and colours. Once on land, the base was a hive of activity with everyone working flat-out on their allocated tasks. We all got our first taste of ‘The A-Factor’ – the unexpected problems one has to face in Antarctica. These ranged from the steelies having to remove elephant seals from their work area, to Tamsin and I trying to erect a weather station in a 40knt wind! Once up and running, the station showed a temperature of +1C with a windchill factor of -20C, but the thick BAS-issue clothes kept me snug and warm.
Friday was a HND day – humping and dumping. Ten of us spent the best part of a day man-handling materials for a new hut up to a penguin colony on a westerly point of the island. After securing the dump, Mike, the biologist took us for a guided tour of the nesting Adeile and Chinstrap penguins he was studying. There were hundreds of birds spread out across the headland, all completely un-phased by our presence. It was great to see them so close up and to hear about their habits from an expert. Before long we saw Ralph approaching to collected us in the Fast Rescue Craft (FHC). We pulled on survival suits and jumped aboard, grinning like kids at Christmas as the bow rose and he powered back across the glassy bay. Fast boats are fun.
Right now we are crossing the Scotia Sea bound for Bird Island. A force 8 gale has struck up and things are starting to fly around again. Somehow, my roommate is totally oblivious to this and has now been asleep for 15 hours!
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