Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Concrete and boat trip

Yesterday was spent helping move concrete down into the bottom of the ship to strengthen the damaged areas. Everyone was keen to help so in the end no-one had to do too much. All went smoothly but it hasn't set enough for taking on fuel tomorrow, so now likely we'll bunker Thursday morning and sail Thursday afternoon, hopefully it will still be light. Unfortunately we've had to lose some of the work along the Antarctic Peninsula, which would have been really interesting. Does mean that I should make it back in time for my viva though, flights from Falklands permitting.

Quite a lot of work on the computers this morning and evening, setting things up. Also picking the computer tech's brains about the kit and reading the manuals to see how they actually collect and produce the data. Spent the afternoon out on a boat trip to Kidney Island, just out from Stanley. Really good to see more of the coastline and a couple of small islands that have maintained their covering of Tussac Grass. Definite highlight was a group of 6 Peale's Dolphins that played around the boat for about half an hour. Also some Sea Lions, the first albatrosses of the trip and a few more seabirds. Got a bit choppy at times and a few guys got something of a soaking with the spray but everyone's humour and cameras survived.

Some photos:

Peale's Dolphins - incredible views under the bow, wish I'd had the short lens on.

Black-browed Albatross - being south feels much more real now. Will see many more of these, and should get better photos.

Imperial Shag - not making much better progress than the boat

Tussac grass on Kidney Island - only small pockets left on the mainland due to pressure from farming.

Gentoos on the beach

Gentoo heading for the beach
Gentoos heading away from the beach

Stanley from the sea

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Another day in Stanley

Went for a couple of walks today with the camera - one through Stanley and the other to Gypsy Cove again, coming back around the coastline. Excellent light today. Plan for tomorrow is to form a human chain to move buckets of concrete into the tank and pack damaged area with 2 tons of concrete. Should be good for the shoulders.

Took lots of photos today, selection below.

Ruddy-headed Goose - common on the Falklands but scarce elsewhere so protected

Kelp Goose - Common on and off the Falklands. Female is dark, male white

Falkland Steamer Duck - flightless, as you can guess. This species is endemic to the Falklands there are no native land predators so the need for flight is reduced. This was one of a group of non-breeding birds that had strayed into the territory of a breeding pair while avoiding a Sea Lion.

Male Flightless Steamer Duck (underwater). Trying to drive the non-breeding birds away

Surfacing. Being flightless has allowed the head and bill to become bigger, probably making avoiding a cross bird a wise idea.

Magellanic Penguin - part of a small colony along the coast

Austral Thrush

Rufous-chested Dotterel, male - a common wader, unlike Eurasian Dotterel the male is brighter than the female.

Dolphin Gull - though this one was associated with the slightly less thrilling feature of a sewage outfall

Cruise ship Zodiac - cruise ships are a rapidly growing element of the Falklands economy, passengers being ferried ashore on RIBs. Te names of several naval ships are spelt out across the water.

Yorke Bay - again, very Hebridean, though the penguins aren't - several Magellanic and one King Penguin.

Turkey Vulture - common

Southern Giant Petrel - common and will probably be familiar from the ship for most of the crossing

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Some photos

View from the ship - like several things around here, very reminiscent of Outer Hebrides.

Commerson's Dolphin, investigating the ship
Flightless Steamer Duck - it's spring down here!

Upland Geese

Long-tailed Meadowlark - in behaviour seems half starling, half partridge

Grass Wren

Gentoo Penguins at Volunteer Point

Magellanic Penguin

King Penguin

Pleased to be delayed

Not because it gives us more time to explore the Falklands (though it does) but rather that the alternative was turning round and coming home on the next flight!

The problem we have is that the ship hit an uncharted rock off the base at Signy, South Orkney Islands. It didn't pierce the outer hull so the previous cruise continued as planned but once in port it was possibly to carry out further inspections (divers on the outside, emptying a fuel tank on the inside). This revealed damage to the second skin of the ship, within the hull. It was thought likely that this would lead to a dry-dock call in South America which would cost at least 2 weeks of ship time. This would have lead to the science bits of the cruise being canned and the guys at Rothera being increasingly worried about supplies. A Lloyds inspector was flown out from Chile on the BAS Dash Seven and his verdict was that temporary repairs were possible and sufficient for the ship to continue with the Antarctic season. The repairs will take until at least Thursday and will consist of packing the affected area with concrete.

In the mean time I've been making use of the extra time - a walk out to Gypsy Cove and a day at Volunteer Point. Gypsy Cove is a small Magellanic Penguin colony about an hour's walk from the ship - a new species of penguin for me and some good range of other species on the way. Volunteer Point holds a few hundred pairs of King Penguins, along with Gentoo and Magellanic. Some good photos (to follow) after a considerable amount of 'walking' around on elbows and toes to avoid scaring the penguins away - I think it makes you short enough and silly enough that you are accepted as a penguin. We have also had Commerson's Dolphins around the ship on and off since we've been here (we're staying on the ship).

The travelling to the ship went smoothly, a few Ascension Frigatbirds were visible from the holding pen.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Almost off

To get this thing started, a quick note to say I am about to leave. The rough plan is:

5pm leave Cambridge (looking forward to that, as it's cold and grey here)
11pm leave Brize Norton
7.15am arrive Ascension Island, 27C and chance of Ascension Island Frigatebird from the customs cage
Some time later leave Ascension
Some time later still (6pm?) arrive Falklands - Mount Pleasant airport, get taken to Stanley
Thursday and Friday on Falklands. Mobilising the ship is first priority - involves unpacking the gear we need, making sure it is networked properly, and the instruments are charged. The cargo for Antarctica should either already be on board or be in containers so process shouldn't take 2 days. Therefore hopefully we should get some time to get out and see some wildlife - there are penguins a 10 minute drive from Stanley and a fair bit of wildlife even in and around the town.
Saturday - leave Falklands for Drake Passage crossing and various base visits (ending at Rothera, from where I fly back)

Dull I realise, but it will get more exciting