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yacht seal alongside in the Falklands

SEAL alongside the town jetty in Stanley, Falkland Islands (archive)

today's weather map

Armada Chile's weather map
27 December 2008

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South Georgia 2008-2009

This is Part I: 27 Dec - 8 January
click here for part II: 9 January - 4 February

(this log is published in chronological order)

On board are Hamish, and his crew of Jess and Keith, and a team of four botanists from Kew Gardens and two entomologists from BugLife in the UK, engaged in a survey of a survey of introduced plants and invertebrates on South Georgia.

27 December 2008

SEAL set sail from Port Stanley in the Falklands Islands this morning, bound for South Georgia for a six week survey of plant and insect life on the Antarctic Island.

28 December 2008 52 : 06 South 054 : 37 West

0800 nw 20 and good progress so far

0900 just gybed at 9am.

Pos -52.100567, -53.568058

yacht seal en route to south georgia

SEAL en route to South Georgia (archive)

today's weather map

Armada Chile's weather map
28 December 2008

SW 15 to 20 a bit better motion and now Jimmy [the name for the Aires windpilot] can steer which is huge as we had been hand steering ddw for 24hrs. we do 3 hrs on 3hrs on stanndby and 3 off but actually hand steer the 1st and 3rd hours of ones watch and the middle hour is done by the person on standby so you only get to do 1 hr steering which is about all you can do well

Two people still seasick everyone else in good shape


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yacht seal en route to south georgia

SEAL en route to South Georgia (archive)

today's weather map

Armada Chile's weather map
29 December 2008

29 December 08 -- 52° 40'S 050° 17'W

fluky wind with lots of squalls and hail at times.
lots of wind forecast for tonight
nly gale looks like


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albatross en route to south georgia

Albatross in the Southern Ocean (we'd thought it was a wandering, but have been recently told it was a Southern Royal) (archive)

today's weather map

Armada Chile's weather map
30 December 2008

today's grib

today's grib file read on
Ugrib Viewer

30 December 08 - 53° 15'South 45° 40'West

GRIBS showed the front moving faster than it has so we are still waiting for the blow at 8 am. Don't think it will last that long either and should be abeam. 273 to Bird Is

The last seasick person is up and eating a bit which is good as she was my biggest worry. Everyone else in good cheer. Keith and Jess doing a wonderful job.

Good sleep last night and managed to kip on my standby too as we were motoring along and nothing happening so feeling refreshed and with sealegs on its much easier. Seal is a wonderful boat.

GRIB stands for "GRIdded Binary" file, and it's a compact way of reporting raw weather data. Professional forecasters view them with many layers; on board a yacht we generally only request two layers - surface pressure and wind speed. Because the reader software with the geographical map is already on board the boat, a full five day forecast can take as little as 10 kb to email, which is a boon on the shaky transmissions and high cost of satellite email.

These forecasts are based on computer models -- it's the data that meterologists use to make their forecasts -- so we often end up tweaking the forecasts, based on local conditions. However, they tend to be very accurate, especially for the first 24 hours, in the Southern Ocean, where there is little in the way of land masses to interfere with the movement of weather systems.

Forecasting is the thing that's changed the most since Hamish and I began sailing. Weather forecasting in remote regions used to be limited to the barometer and a squint at the horizon. Nowadays, we have GRIBs, weather fax, and SkyEye real time satellite images of the region. And the barometer and the horizon, too ... Of course, all this new information doesn't *improve* the weather in the Southern Ocean, but it does help with decision making.

-- Kate


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skyeye view of south georgia

Skyeye view of South Georgia (archive)

today's weather map

Armada Chile's weather map
31 December 2008

today's grib

today's grib file read on
Ugrib Viewer

31 December 08 - 53° 41'South 41° 15'West

About 115 to Bird Is. Forecast is a bit wretched as I had hoped for some SW to come in on and instead it is anther 30 kt Nly later today. Putting a bit into the bank now but we sagged off quite a bit yesterday unnecessarily We aim to arrive at first light tomorrow (dawn is at three am this time of year ... ed.) as the entrance to Jordan Cove is quite tricky. Quite tired and looking forward to a shower I have the water heating up in the isolated tank so we should be able to get a clean as soon as we are stopped.

Saw a series of huge blows yesterday near Shag Rks and it may have been a Blue Whale as the size of the plume was immense at a great way off.


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Yacht seal in elsehul

SEAL in Elsehul last year(archive)

elsehul beach

furseals and king penguins in Elsehul last year(archive)

today's weather map

Armada Chile's weather map
1 January 2009

1 January 2009 -- Elsehul

So much for the GRIB models ... ed.

Hopeless GRIB forecast as it predicted NW 15 and we got SW30 so opted for here in Elsehul as a safer option as the cove on Bird Island is facing the SW.

Sheathbills arrived in a flock as we were anchoring and I had to get the guests on the raised saloon keeping them off before we got the sailcover on. Got in at 5 local or 8gmt and now we are moving to GMT. Average speed was 6.6kts and only 16% motor which might be a record. A fair bit of ice around on the approach and had the guests on deck looking out which gave them a thrill! Noise of Light Mantled Sooties as we arrived and fur seals howling. Clouds of prions out to sea round Bird Island. Jimmy [the windpilot] did a wondefrful job on the way over. Really saved the day as it meant we could get some rest.

Plan is to head round to Undine today as the wind veers to the NW and then set off for Cape Rosa early tomorrow and back to Bird Is by the evening...


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1 January 2009 # 2 -- Bird Island

Note that Bird Island is normally off limits to all cruising and charter yachts; the guests on SEAL have extraordinary permission to visit for their research project.... ed.

We came to Bird Island in the end as Undine would have had too much swell and it was a good move as the scientista were able to get ashore and deploy traps (in the case of the entomolgists) and the biologists were able to test out their gear and do a test run of their surveying techniques (they have some fancy PDA's for data colection that record GPS position and they add altimeter data)

Off early to Cape Rosa and hopefully back here tomorrow eve late. We are on GMT now. Great showers this am in Elsehul where we also built Whale (the 4 m dinghy) and ran up the 25hp. Came through Bird Sound with breakers on both sides and into Jordans Cove to tranquility apart from 10,000 critters howling like mad. We went ashore in 3 groups as the bug people have a mountain of gear and they are leaving some traps here for a day while we are Cape Rosa. They are still not back in fact any of them and it is 10 PM. Jess cooking up lamb from Stanley.


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scientist working in south georgia

Jo Osborne and Renata Borosova preparing Festuca contracta

scientist working on board yacht seal

Roger working aboard SEAL

king haakon bay

today's position (google maps only shows cloud in this region)

today's weather map

Armada Chile's weather map
2 January 2009

2 January 2009 -- Cape Rosa

Good day so far. We got up at dawn and took lines off strong NW wind and we ran Seal aground on her keel and stowed dinghy etc then lifted keel and out, such a simple thing to do and saved a lot of hassle. Easy sail down to here and we went through that same gap with the aerated water [this is a passage that Hamish and I last went through in breaking seas with so much aeration in the water that the depth sounder stopped working and made us rather uncomfortable!] this time under sail (OK Cummins on tickover..) and planted a wpt in the gap.

Saw a humpback tail close by but only once..motored the last 10 miles in a stiff 30+ rain laden wind coming down King Haakon Bay and found a place to drop the hook and 100 M chain near the cave with some protection from the wind and swell. Dragged briefly on rocky bottom but then held and it will be interesting so see if it comes home easily and in what state.

3 trips ashore with 2 each time and Keith driving in a dry suit as even though it was an easy landing he was able to jump out and hold the dinghy steady while everyone got off dry. 3 of us on board still and the rain is clearing and stunning views of glaciers and tall peaks all round. Removed the storm covers and glad to have our view back and Jess is cooking up the last of the lamb.

Wonderful to see Roger last night analyzing his and Rosy's bug catch and using the desk in the stbd double for the purpose it was intended for specimens everywhere, test tubes, microscopes etc and a very fancy macro flash. I will try and send a thumbnail of that. The botanists too were up in the raised saloon with plants out on the table and both groups thrilled with the days work and full of praise for the BAS guys who gave them a lot of help in the end it was the best thing we could have done to have gone there first as it shook down their gear and they were able to get ashore easily.

We will probably stay here till 10pm then head offshore and heave to before heading back to Bird Island with the first light at 4am. We will have all day tomorrow in Bird Island collecting the traps (he has a bewildering variety) and doing more transects (straight line surveys for plants)

3 January 2009 -- at sea, Bird Island, heading for Prince Olav

I was on the 3 to 4.30 watch as we lay hove to off Bird Is and brought her in at first light. Very calm so easy. Short sleep then ashore with everyone to pick up bug traps (one was destroyed by sheathbills who also crapped all over Seals raised saloon and sailcover while we were away).

We have the freezer on all the time now to preserve a mouse Roger caught at Cape Rosa! He was charged with the quest by the SG Govt who want to analyse its DNA...we can get rid of it if we meet Pharos or get to KEP...

We are abeam Welcome rocks (Natural Arch) near Rosita Hbr and the Bay of Isles. About 2.5 hrs to go to Prince Olav Harbour.

scientist working in south georgia

Roger Key writing up notes on a quadrat sample taken above Prince Olaf Harbour

equipment markers

flag markers for the traps left in the field

today's weather map

Armada Chile's weather map
5 January 2009

5 January 2009 -- Prince Olav Harbour

Still in POH. Will probably be here tonight and leave for Fortuna in the early morning. Great day yesterday. Warm and sunny and little wind, a real summers day. The scientists got a lot of work done and were ashore for 10 hours followed by showers for all and steak BBQ.

It is huge having Keith here and he is constantly doing little jobs around the place and of course can drive the dinghy in his sleep.

Took 200 photos yesterday...I attach 2 for the blog. Must get them to write something tonight. The square marked out on the ground is a quadrat and he vacuums that to see how many critters come off.

Took the 25HP outboard apart and cleaned the carb nothing unusual there changed plugs again and found a dodgy connection from the condensor to the stator so cut it out and put in a butt connector and heat shrink and it works a charm, first pull every time so maybe that was the problem. Changed the prop. What a difference! Much more power and on to the plane quickly with a clean wake...

Heavy rain in the night and a slower start today but the sun is breaking through now. Gen set running, bread baking, Keith knife sharpening and Jess cooking. Better get to work myself!


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5 January 2009 -- Entomology Notes

invertebrate trap in South Georgia

water trap with numerous flies, especially winter gnats (long legs)

vacuum sampling invertebrates in South Georgia

Roger Key vacuum sampling at Cape Rosa

Our biggest surprise has been the ease of finding very large numbers of invertebrates. Our preconceptions of the sub Antarctic environment were that numbers would be low and that we would have our work cut out find very much. Far from it ­ our water traps, pitfall traps and vacuum sampler are catching very large numbers of specimens and sweeping and general searching are producing equivalent numbers of individuals as they would in, say, the uplands of northern Britain. What is apparent, however, is the very low species diversity, just as expected, at least of those species groups that we can easily differentiate in the field or using our field microscope. We have found only three species of beetle and maybe six species of fly and a couple of species of spiders. The real diversity is likely to lie in the vast quantity of mites and springtails that we are finding.

Of our trapping and collecting methods, we are still learning what is and isn’t effective. Pitfall and water traps are very productive; vacuum sampling produces large numbers of individuals which will need to be sorted later. Less productive have been the Malaise traps, which blow down in the strong winds and have so far produced just a single specimen, and the electro ‘bug-zapper’ traps which have caught nothing and proved highly attractive to the nosy and destructive sheathbills and skuas which have destroyed one of them and stolen some of the components! Our moth trap has caught a few specimens, most of which are flightless and must have climbed into the trap rather than flown in.

That we know of, we have so far found only two non-indigenous species, both flies: a decaying dead penguin on Bird Island produced larvae of a calliphorid flesh fly, of which there are no known indigenous species (although ones from the northern hemisphere are known to have colonised the sub Antarctic islands, including South Georgia), and the other, embarrassingly, aboard Seal. Our carrots, purchased in Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego, produced a specimen of carrot root fly. Fortunately, this species is very unlikely to colonise this area as it has no food plant here, but the finding illustrates the sense of biosecurity measures that prohibit taking fresh fruit and veg ashore.

We’ve found a number of the endemic species, unique to South Georgia, including the flightless chironomid (non-biting) midge. We found this in large numbers, especially in the short turf created by the introduced annual meadow grass at Prince Olav Harbour where surprisingly it appeared to be more abundant than amongst the indigenous grasses. Other species proving very abundant are trichocerid ‘winter gnats’, a few species of small acalyptrate flies and small earthworms, while the one large water body we have visited, the old whalers’ reservoir at Prince Olav Harbour proved to be ‘soup, of minute planktonic crustaceans, worms and midge larvae.

The two large and endemic perimylopid beetles have so far been abundant, one species amongst the tussac grass, far more commonly amongst that which is not visited by the ubiquitous fur seals, the other amongst shorter, more diverse vegetation, mainly away from the shore. This species may prove less abundant further into the expedition as we head east and enter the range of the introduced ground beetles that have been shown to be an efficient predator of their larve ­ we shall see.

Roger & Rosy Key

5 January 2009 -- Botany Notes

Stuart and Renata pressing Ranunculus biternatus

Renata Borosova and Stuart Cable pressing Ranunculus biternatus

plant press drying aboard the yacht seal

Plant press drying over the radiator in SEAL's wet locker

today's weather map

Armada Chile's weather map
6 January 2009

Prince Olav Harbour

The botany team came across their first introduced plants on South Georgia today at the former whaling station of Prince Olav Harbour. Immediately on landing at the beach beside the wreck of the Brutus, we spotted annual meadow grass, Poa annua growing in patches on the seal-flattened mud at the edge of the tussac. As we moved further inland it became apparent that this grass is widespread throughout the area and spreading into the different native vegetation types. We found it growing and flowering through the tussac, the Deschampsia antarctica grassland, Acaena herbfield and mossbanks. This introduced grass was already considered to be naturalised on South Georgia when Greene's flora was published in 1964 and would be almost impossible to remove now.

To survey a site we have two strategies, belt transects two metres wide starting at potential points of introduction and computer generated random quadrat samples scattered across the accessible parts of the site. Following transect bearings and finding the random samples often means scrambling over steep slopes and getting to places you wouldn't immediately go so it's a good way to explore a site. The team found a couple of species that we hadn't yet seen on our visits to Cape Rosa and Bird Island. Marie and Renata came across a small population of the native cat's tail grass Phleum alpinum and Renata found the minute filmy fern Hymenophyllum falklandicum growing in a rock crevice.

Right at the end of the day, from the dinghy on the way back to the boat we spotted a bright yellow patch of flowers behind the houses at the whaling station. This is undoubtedly the introduced buttercup Ranunculus repens. The siting was met with great excitement as we had historical records of the buttercup at the whaling station and had been looking out for it all day. The good news is that this introduced species doesn't appear to have spread to any other parts of the site.


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7 January 2009 -- Husvik

husvik whaling station

Husvik whaling station (archive)

husvik whaling station cemetery

Husvik whaling station cemetery (archive)

today's weather map

Armada Chile's weather map
7 January 2009

Big change today in the wx and N going NE with low cloud and rain. I tried landing at Fortuna but the swell was very bad and forecast to get worse. Got Roger and Rosy ashore with the idea that they could retrieve their traps but swamped the dinghy so decided to beat a retreat. We are now over at Husvik, Roger and Rosy already ashore setting up shop in the managers villa where they can leave stuff for several days. If we get the right wx tomorrow we will drop the botanists off at Stromness first then go back to Fortuna to retrieve the traps...who knows they might even benefit from the extra time set out.


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