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South Georgia 2008-2009

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(this log is published in chronological order)

Go back to Part 1 (27 Dec - 8 January)

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.

9 January 09 -- Husvik

All is well on board; they have spent the last two days working in Husvik, doing long days with no time for blogging.

husvik from 2100 feet

view of Husvik whaling station (SEAL in red circle) from 2100 feet

Marie Briggs and Stuart Cable sorting through seeds of Rostkovia magellanica for the Millennium Seed`Bank Project.

Marie Briggs and Stuart Cable are sorting through seeds of Rostkovia magellanica for the Millennium Seed`Bank Project.

reindeer exclusion zone Husvik

reindeer exclusion zone in Husvik

Roger Key

Roger Key and one of the indigenous water beetles

endemic water beetle lancetes claussi

endemic water beetle Lancetes claussi

stromness bay

Jess Abbott overlooking Stromness Bay

Jess Abbot, Ted Cheeseman, Hamish Laird

Jess Abbott, Ted Cheeseman, Hamish Laird in Seal's raised saloon

7 January: All showered after a very wet cold day here in Husvik, even had hail at one stage.

8 January: Back in Husvik at 5 pm after retrieving the traps at Fortuna. lumpy rolly sea and light wind.

9 January: We will be here in Husvik all day today. Looks like the best day all week...baro is very high

This is a piccy I took late at night at Fortuna with the sun setting and slow speed film thus the blurred hands. Marie and Stuart are sorting through seeds of Rostkovia magellanica for the Millennium Seed`Bank Project. They have to collect ideally 10,000 seeds for each species but this was not that many maybe 2 or 3 thousand. Stuart wrote this for the blog:

From Stuart Cable -- this collection of seeds from Rostkovia in the plant family Juncaceae, will be added to the one billion seeds already stored at the Millennium Seed Bank in the UK. The project will have banked 10% of the world's plant species by 2010 as an insurance against extinction. We aim to work with the Government of South Georgia to bank the seeds of all the plant species of the island to complement their conservation work. We will not find seeds of all the species here on this short trip, but we have collected 4 species during the first few days and we will find more with ripe seeds as we head further south.

From Jo Osborne -- This is a reindeer exclosure at Husvik that demonstrates how the vegetation would be if the reindeer stopped grazing this area. The vegetation inside the fenced area consists of a lush stand of Acaena magellanica and some very healthy dandelions (an introduced species). This contrasts greatly with the vegetation outside, which is grazed by reindeer and consists of short Festuca contracta grassland. The exclosures have been in place for about 30 years.

10 January 09

INVERTEBRATES -- Fortuna and Husvik

Since we last wrote we’ve found quite a few more species of invertebrates. Perhaps the most interesting was the water beetle Lancetes claussi, a species which occurs nowhere else on earth other than South Georgia. We found it to be abundant in a number of lakes in the Karrakatta Valley behind Husvik. Specimens in a small photographic aquarium started courtship behaviour almost immediately and ‘performed’ nicely for the camera.

Another endemic we turned up at Husvik was the really tiny flightless ‘fairy fly’ (actually a type of wasp) which is so tiny (less than 0.5mm long) that it can be a parasite of the eggs of other insects. A colleague in the UK who specialises on this group of insects will be particularly pleased that we have found this little-known species.

Less welcome are the non-native species that we have found – the introduced ground beetle that we mentioned in our first report first turned up in small numbers at Fortuna Bay, along with a large number of northern hemisphere bluebottle flies which thrive on the abundant carrion – dead seals and penguins – that litter the beaches. The ground beetle was extremely abundant at Husvik, present in almost all samples we took from almost all habitats and under just about every other stone we turned over. Both of these invasives are already known about on South Georgia. We've yet to find something new that shouldn't be here. Let’s hope we don’t….

-- Roger & Rosy Key

from Hamish --

Just back from the hike and although windier it was an even better view and we could see nearly the whole of the Shackleton Walk from Fortuna to Stromness with Crean Lake (the lake Tom Crean fell in to up to his waist) just below us. Paget visible too today and the rest of that Allardyce Range. It was only about 2000 ft but some interesting scrambling on loose rock on the ridge and an epic descent on the scree and snow gullies, very fast back to Seal. Hard to see Seal in the photo but we are on the left of the bay and there is another yacht in here with us, smaller, run by an Ozzie and I had never heard of it. He is doing a circumnavigation with clients.

We will go back to Husvik tonight and stay there till the morning

11 January 09 -- Stromness

Now in Stromness. Rain has stopped and the wind is a steady 30 kts. Skyeye shows we are at the northern end of the fohn so they have got lucky far they have had only one rainy day with the heavy rain always coming through at night. Seriously jammy.

Don't think we will go up a hill today as the wind may build yet and Keith still feeling a bit under the wx. Jess's finger on the mend and it doesn't seem to have slowed her down any, still cooking and cleaning with manic energy!

Just had a gust of 42 kts...better get the dinghy on board

stromness bay chart

Chart of Stromness Bay, including Husvik, Stromness, and the beginning of
Leith Harbours. (Stromness is famous for being the station reached by Shackleton,
Worsley, and Crean after their crossing of South Georgia.)

yacht seal in strong katabatic winds south georgia

Seal at anchor in strong katabatic winds (Roger Key photo)

Keith Jacob

Keith Jacob aboard Seal

12 January -- Stromness / Husvik

Very hard day yesterday in Stromness as williwaws were terrible. Regularly 50 kts some at 60 and white water across the bay at times. The survival bag blew into the water at one stage and Keith and I rescued it in Whale (the 4 meter dinghy) in survival suits (it floated amazingly well..)Had a major epic picking people up at the end of the day and had them waiting for 4 hours ashore for a lull that never really came. In the end we picked up the hook (100M chain...) and motored over to the beach. I tried to put the bow on the beach to see if that was possible to avoid launching the dinghy but it was just too shallow to make it. In the end did launch Whale and the 25HP got wet again and failed to start so I had to change plugs and got it going and got them off the beach. They were all fine and had spent some time waiting in the 'bothy bags' -- they are quick to deploy and ideal in this situation when you want shelter but don't want to put up a tent. They were on the point of putting up the tents when we picked them up with both Keith and I in survival suits. Jess stayed steering the boat as we drove in.

Came back to Husvik in the dark and got to bed at blowing 40kts again and violent williwaws. Will try and get to KEP today. This is their only 'rest' day on the trip I think as there will not be time to do any work today...

The dinghy has to be stored on deck between uses in such conditions, because a big williwaw or katabatic wind can easily flip even a 4 meter dinghy ... once on another yacht, Hamish witnessed a 4.0 meter dinghy with a heavy 25 hp outboard lifted out of the water, flipped over, and deposited on the yacht's deck, just by a gust of wind.

12 January # 2 -- Grytviken

Alongside in KEP after an epic getting out of Husvik on 45kt williwaws and lots of kelp on the anchor. Really helped having Stuart on the kelp cutter, Keith on the windlass and Jess on the hand signals. I was able to keep Seal nose into the wind all the time and although there was a lot of kelp cutting we never loaded up the windlass. 4 reefs in and a wild ride across Cumberland Bay with sustained 50 kts at the end coming into KEP, water white for miles around us and Seal reduced to 4 kts SOG with full to find Thies and Kicki on Wanderer 3 there to take our lines and they are alongside Mark and Jane and Marissa on Tevakanui who have been here since September. We are alongside a Polish boat we have been seeing in Husvik and Stromness. Manic williwaws as we came alongside, had to use full power as I was on final approach when we were struck on the bow with a 40 kt special...

Now filling the water tanks and everyone getting ready to go ashore to visit the museum as they are taking today off and will do washing too.

For those of you who've asked why we have such a big engine (115 hp) on a 56-foot, 30-ton sailboat, this is why! (also why we have 4 reefs in the main)

13 January Grytviken

yacht wanderer 3 with kicki ericson and Thies Matzen

Kicki Ericson and Thies Matzen aboard the tiny Wanderer III (archive)

We had a fine evening with Thies and Kicki round for showers and stew and we had 11 to supper! Must be a record?

(Thies Matzen and Kicki Ericson are an amazing couple. We first met them in South Georgia in 1998, when they sailed there in their tiny Wanderer III for their wedding in the Grytviken chapel. Wanderer III was made famous by the Hiscocks, but the voyaging done by Thies and Kicki is probably even more extraordinary. She is the smallest boat to sail to and from South Georgia, and since then, they've cruised the Antarctic Peninsula and they're planning to winter over in South Georgia this year.)

Today the botanists are over at Maiviken and I have been helping Roger and Rosy capture hover flies (first time they have been seen below the Convergence according to Roger but we have to confirm that) in a net! It is the classic butterfly net and the kids would be amused by the process as you creep up on the fly (sitting on a dandelion) and sweep it into the net and then carefully transfer it to a specimen test tube. Will send a piccy later of the beastie and the net.

Just off to the post office with the net in case we see any other critters...

view of Grytviken from Mount Hodges

January 14 -- Grytviken

A hot day with little wind. We took off early to drop the 4 botanists off on the Greene Peninsula going in the dinghy through Moraine Fjord to drop them on a beach near the hut that is over there although they didn't use it. They just got back, picked up by Keith in Whale and got quite wet coming back as the katabatic winds were starting to come down the fjord.

Roger and Rosy have been busy all day around KEP setting their traps and Jess and I legged it up the 2000ft Mt Hodges which hangs over Grytviken and looks like a very difficult climb but in fact is easily walked up going round the back. Roger had given us some sample tubes and some alcohol and we were able to collect beetles and spiders and other creeping things hiding under rocks all the way to the top where we found a spider and a beetle. It is Rosy's birthday today so a cake is being prepared and everyone is outside enjoying the Mediterranean warmth. In the attached picture you can also see the new hydro-electric dam setup. The access road is due to be 'covered up' later this year.

Wind due to increase over the next few days so i think they will be working off the dock here in Grytviken.

Hamish Laird stalking insects

Amateur hour at the entomological camp where the Captain attempts to catch the elusive hoverfly and somewhat surprisingly succeeded!


hoverfly in South Georgia (Roger Key photo)



Yesterday at the old whaling station at Grytviken we found a thriving population of hoverflies in a meadow full of alien plants, including dandelions and buttercups on which the hoverflies were nectaring. We were quickly able to catch over a dozen specimens.

As far as we could research before we got here, it seems that hoverflies, have not been recorded before as breeding in the Antarctic or on sub Antarctic islands, although Dr Peter Convey at BAS said he’d seen but not been able to catch a hoverfly a couple of years ago. Sarah Lurcock, the postmistress at King Edward Point, who has a keen interest in spiders on South Georgia, was already familiar with the hoverflies but didn't know the species or that it hadn’t been ‘officially’ recorded before.

The hoverflies themselves are in the Eristalini, that (in the UK) breed in water low in oxygen and have ‘rat-tailed maggot’ larvae with a snorkel that allows them to breath atmospheric oxygen. The whaling station has many stagnant pools and runnels that would be ideal breeding grounds for them. Flower-loving insects that thrive in warm sunshine, it is unlikely that the hoverflies are native to South Georgia. Fortunately the founder of BugLife, Alan Stubbs, is a renowned specialist on hoverflies and we should quickly be able to get an identification and an indication of where the species may have come from.

Roger & Rosy Key

Rosy Key

Rosy Key

15 January -- Grytviken

Just got the Gribs and it looks like we will be here alongside till Sunday PM when we will head around to Cobblers. Tomorrow looks calmer so will dinghy the botanists around the corner to Hetelsletten (or they can walk if need be but it is a long slog).

Attached a piccy of Rosy. For her birthday yesterday, Jess made her a lemon sponge cake with a tartan flag!

I will try and dive here today and look for the mooring that used to be just offshore so we can set up a line to hold us off and the other yachts too as it is due to go to the NE tomorrow night. Thies is going to help me as he is going to be staying at KEP over the winter for several weeks doing some carpentry work for the museum and wants to have something to hold him off the dock too. Heard Billy Budd go past yesterday as Tim Carr is on board and was talking to the KEP scientists about the high mortality of the Gentoo chicks which I think is food shortage as the guys at Bird Island said the seals were foraging further afield than usual....

There are zillions of comb jellies floating round the boat and also some Sea Butterflies which are extraordinary looking animals almost like a squid.

Roger was very pleased with our beetles we found on Mt Hodges as they are the first ones of that species he has seen (they are known from previous descriptions) He had assumed he had been seeing the second species but it wasn't till he saw our ones that he realised that what he had been seeing was variation within one species. As it turns out the 2 species are divided by height so it makes sense we found them high up...

[Later] Dive was a success at least as far as finding the mooring. It is a huge mooring ball that has sunk (we last tied off to it in 1998) but there are 3 good shackles on it and the chain looks in good nick. Heaps of whale vertebrae everywhere (and each one looks like a a potential mooring block seen through the murk) and an amazing carpet of umbrella type soft corals and weird looking snails and starfish.

16 January 09 -- Grytviken

The botanists went off to Hestesletten today. The entomologists spent much of the day around Grytviken and Roger thinks he has found a new species of Pill Beetle but he needs to do more research on it tonight. I worked with Thies and Mark and Keith to get the mooring in Thies and Mark spliced up a large polypro line to shackles and chain and I then dove and shackled the chain to the mooring ball (there was a large Ice fish on the ball when I first arrived who was somewhat taken aback by my appearance). It seems to work and all 5 yachts at the Tijuca jetty are now tied off to it in expectation of a NE blow tonight. Jess and I, Mark Jane and Marissa and Thies and Kicki then set off to walk up a 2200 ft hill near Mt Hodges caled Mt Narvel -- we were also bug collecting on the way and were able to collect many more bugs! Cloudier day but little wind on top and we came back via Orca Peak and a fine scree run back to Seal.

worksites around grytviken

The worksites mentioned in the last few blog entries are marked with red Xs

pill beetle

A new species for South Georgia? A pill beetle.


Hurley's 1914 photo of Worsley and Greenstreet

hamish's recreation of the hurley photo

Mark as Worsley; Thies as Greenstreet; Jess edited out as anachronistic.

17 January 09 -- Grytviken



We’ve found another invertebrate that our preliminary researches suggest hasn’t been found in South Georgia before ­ this time a small metallic green or bronze (we’ve found both) ‘pill’ beetle that lives deep in moss. We found it in mossy patches amongst fescue grasses just outside the church in Grytviken.

Pill beetles (‘Byrrhids’) are one of the few groups of insects that can survive feeding on nutrient-poor mosses and there are a number of species typical of higher latitudes and altitudes. Whether this one on South Georgia is an incomer or an overlooked indigenous species remains to be seen. The only pill beetle that we know of from a sub-Antarctic island, from the limited information we have at our disposal here on ‘Seal’, is from Macquarie Island before 1970, which was then either unidentified or an undescribed species, so this may be quite a significant find for the expedition.

-- Roger & Rosy Key

Turned out to be a cracking day and everyone did a lot of work here in Grytviken. All now back on Seal having showers before going off to the Captain Cook Possession Bay celebration at KEP. Thies, Mark, Jess and I legged it up Mt Duse (1660ft) getting to the top in 45 minutes from the boat as Jess had to get back to get supper ready. The caption from the photo in the book "South with Endurance, The Photographs of Frank Hurley" says

Hurley, Worsley (in white sweater) and Greenstreet climbed Duse Fell on November 13th 1914 carrying Hurley's heavy whole plate camera and lunch on a sledge. Near the summit, they had to cut steps with an ice axe and haul the camera up by a rope. Endurance is anchored below them.

Hurley's photo is so far superior to what my camera can produce it is wonderful. His in fact is two pages of the book and captures the whole of the magnificent panorama right round to Moraine Fjord and the Greene Peninsula. There was no snow of course today as it is high summer here now and in fact I was in a t-shirt on top where we also found a load more bugs and beetles for the collection.

botantist at work

using hand held to record patch of invasive grass - Agrostis capillaris (see different colour patch)

marie briggs taking notes

Marie Briggs taking notes

stuart cable photo

Stuart Cable

Plant blog 18th Jan 2009 - South Georgia - Grytviken / King Edward Point

For the first time ever we have been using hand held computers to record our collections of plants and sightings of the invasive species we find. As traditional field botanists we were all very suspicious about this new-fangled technology. We went to the extent of bringing along our usual trusted notebook, pencils and clipboards - very 20th century!!

After many mutterings as we familiarized ourselves with the machines, they have come into their own - they have an in built GPS system and a map of South Georgia so we can see our position on the island at any given moment. When we discover a plant we need to record we can stick a point on the map and electronic forms with all the information we need to record pop up automatically - a great thing for scatty minds as it won't let us skip any vital information (not really appreciated though when the wind and rain is howling around you and you want to get the data recorded as quickly as possible).

The downside of this method of recording our days work is the battery life of the machines - every day we have a panic trying to scrabble for our solar chargers as the low battery flashes dangerously at us - we should have learned by now to have them to hand but that's easier said than done when you're carrying plant presses / binoculars / hand lenses / compasses / backup GPSs / two gallons of water / a weeks supply of snacks and a bothy-bag. The relief when we get the backup power connected is great! The absolute up side of these machines is that at the end of a long day out in the field we don't need to sit for an extra couple of hours typing up our notes - the data download is instantaneous - wonderful!

So us botanists have had our ups and downs with our hand held computers and for now we'll be sitting on the fence - we certainly wouldn't be adverse to using them for this kind of fieldwork again - technology is a good thing - but it'll take some time and convincing (and perhaps better battery power) before we can be parted with our trusted notebooks and pencils.

19 January 2009 -- Ocean Harbour

From Stuart Cable -- Botany Blog

We are working on the slopes over looking Ocean Harbour, a bay carved by an ancient glacier of epic proportions and littered with the scattered remains of an early whaling station. Normally my work takes me to Africa and Madagascar, collecting seeds of species on the brink of extinction for conservation in the Millennium Seed Bank. Today I am recording the occurrence of sorrel, Rumex acetosella, a common weed in the UK! Occasionally I have to pinch myself, but there is reason to this madness and some history to unravel. Most likely, the sorrel arrived with the whalers, probably in the feed they brought with their animals all the way from northern Europe. Some of the alien species seem to be struggling here, like the white clover we found yesterday in Grytviken in two small patches. But other species, like the sorrel, seem quite happy here and are spreading around the island. This could be a problem for the native plant species. We found the native antarctic buttercup in fruit today, so tomorrow we will collect the seeds for the seed bank, our contribution towards the conservation of the species. I am back on Seal now, about to e-mail this entry for the blog. Part of our routine when we return to the boat is to scrub our boots and check our clothing for seeds. We do not want to be part of the problem and help spread alien species.

But now it is time for more important business. It is Marie's birthday and Jess has made a chocolate cake, so the team are clearing the decks... pressing todays plants and adding locality information to our database.

ocean harbour with view of yacht seal and the bayard

Ocean Harbour with SEAL and the wreck of the Bayard

21 January 2009 Gothul / Cobbler's Cove

Pretty busy as we came up to Cobblers last night after Ocean and then I was up in the night as the wind got up. Wanderer is here too and the Botanists have asked Kiki to collect seeds for the seed bank and they came over for supper. This AM we landed all the scientists at Godthul the swell had gone down from 3 days ago and it was pretty easy although I wouldn't like to stay there for any length of time. Had a good walk to 1000ft in Ocean and attach a photo of the view with the Bayard. Collected a lot of beetles and Roger and Rosy had their most productive day yet with literally 1000's of insects in their Malaise trap.

south georgia chart

view from the mountain of cobbler's cove and gothul

View of the harbours, SEAL (left) and WANDERER III

Roger Rosy Key malaise trap

Rosy and Roger Key and 1000s of invertebrates caught in malaise traps

roger rosy key working aboard yacht seal sorting invertebrates

Roger and Rosy Key taking advantage of a 50 knot day to sort through thousands of invertebrates caught yesterday

22 January 2009 -- Cobbler's Cove

[Last night] Back in Cobblers again with 3 lines on shore. We picked them all up from Godthul at 1800 and they hope to get another day there tomorrow. I went up the hill behind the anchorage (O'Connor Peak) about 2200 ft although I never got to the top as the wind was seriously strong.

Roger was over the other side of the valley and got picked up off the ground at one stage and reckons he was lifted 3 feet off the ground and blown 15 feet along...luckily he landed safely and happy to be looking for flies rather than emulating them.

On the way down I spied the others off Seal and Thies and Kiki heading over to the Macaroni colony and so joined them. 3 of the BAS (British Antarctic Survey) guys we had met at Grytviken were over there and were counting the chicks and doing a survey with GPS of the colony size so we joined them for a bit and watched the Macaroni Penguins on the 'runway' which is where the penguins come ashore. It is a big flat piece of rock pummelled by the breakers and it is amazing to watch how they manage to survive the experience of the breaking waves and then see the mad scrabble up the rock. They say that possibly the Gentoo chicks have had a disastrous year as there is not enough food for them as they don't travel as far as the Macaronis.

The BAS guys and Thies and Kiki are aboard for a beer before supper. The BAS guys have a camp over the hill toward Rookery Coll and return back to KEP (King Edward Point base in Grytviken) tomorrow.

[this morninng] Tried to land the botanists at Godthul again today but it was blowing too hard...we had some 50 kt williwaws on the way over and I thought we might get some protection in the corner where we land but in fact it was blowing right in there so we turned back and are once again in Cobblers with 3 lines ashore. Getting them ashore was quite a palaver with both Keith and I in survival suits and some amazing williwaws coming down and blasting us from all directions. We have landed the botanists here although it is not on their list of places they wanted to sample but I suppose something is better than nothing. Roger and Rosy are sorting through samples with pooters! (the photo shows Rosy's ... it is a straw with a filter on it to vacuum up bugs; the filter trap captures the invertebrate before one inhales it).

yacht seal in a big williwaw

Seal in a big williwaw - that's water being lifted up to the height of the second spreader (Thies Matzen photo)

giant copepod with egg sac

a giant copepod with egg sac (Roger Key photo)

skyeye weather image

difficult weather decisions ahead - yesterday's Skyeye image shows an intense low south of South Georgia

weather map

the low (shown here by "b" for bajo) is likely to be pushed south by the unusually southerly high pressure system, bringing unusual easterly sector winds to South Georgia.



The lake plankton in the small, nutrient-poor lakes at high(ish) altitude is really spectacular, if of apparently low diversity. Today, in a small lake above Cobblers Cove surrounded on all sides by sterile scree and moraines, we found just three species. These were a tiny black ostracod (a crustacean the size of a poppyseed that lives between two shells like a tiny clam), a brilliant blood-red cladoceran (a type of water flea that swims with its antennae) about 1.5mm long (from which the colour leached out into the alcohol preservative in our specimens), and another, semi-transparent copepod (another type of water flea) which holds about 120 rust-red eggs in a sac on its tail, this time a whopping 6mm in length. This is a really huge size for a freshwater species, though crustaceans are known to produce giant forms at high latitudes.

It’s a pretty short food chain here in these upland lakes – phytoplankton > crustacean plankton > one species of water beetle. There it might stop, though we have seen both Antarctic terns and South Georgia teal on the lake, which just might make a link to the higher/bigger predators and no doubt bring in nutrients into the lakes via their faeces to feed the phytoplankton….

Roger & Rosy Key

January 24 -- St. Andrews Bay

Well we got them ashore OK at St Andrews even though the swell was quite bad on the beach and it was HW so couldn't land them easily on the rocks. As it was Keith and I were both in survival suits so able to jump out and hold Whale steady in the surf while they jumped out. Took them in 2 at a time and all got ashore dry. The forecast is for the wind to diminish through the day and then we will head off to Moltke tonight so they get a full day there tomorrow. I might go to Coopers. There is also a lot of ice just offshore here and I had thought jogging offshore might be an option but with all the ice it would be fraught.

[Later]Now blowing 40 kts off the glacier instead of diminishing...suspect it will die down with the sun...better or they will be in the hut tonight!

Hamish has been watching the weather very closely as there is a low unusually far north travelling across the southern ocean at the moment, which is due to give South Georgia winds from an easterly sector on Sunday afternoon. Easterly winds are fairly unsusual in South Georgia, and the harbours in this area don't provide much easterly protection. Options on the southern side of South Georgia are expected to turn into a lee shore before first light on Monday when the wind flicks around to the west, so that's not very promising either. With the GRIBs and the Skyeye, he has been watching for the last several days to see what direction is expected. I have been sending him emails with the Chilean weather maps and other grib models as well.

That's good news the forecasts are all showing more or less NE so Coopers should be good. Looks like a half day at Moltke. They are particularly interested in the site of the old German expedition as there was an 'experimental garden'.

[Later]Got them off the beach at St A's in 30 plus knots OK with Keith and I in suits it was pretty easy as we drove up the sandy beach and jumped out and spun the dinghy round so that any waves following went harmlessly under the bow and then launched away with 2 people in. Tried to get to Moltke but the forecast is horribly wrong and we were getting 50 kt williwaws and one of over 60 coming out of St A's and when I saw the state of Royal Bay and the cloud of spume off the Ross glacier i turned tail and we are now in Ocean after a drubbing crossing Hound Bay where we had sustained 50 much for the Gribs...

26 January 2009 -- Cooper Bay - Larsen

burns night

"Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face, // Great chieftain o' the puddin-race! // Aboon them a' ye tak your place, // Painch, tripe, or thairm: // Weel are ye wordy o' a grace // As lang's my arm.

from Jess - Marie did an excellent address to the canned haggis (despite being vegetarian), and stabbed it at just the right moment. In the absence of a piper, Keith piped the haggis from the stove to the table with the haggis whistle. Hamish then said the selkirk grace - we were a bit short on toasts, but rabbie burns was certainly remembered. Thanks, mum, for the whistle and the tartan napkins which came in very handy.

from Hamish - Wild night at least till the wind died down a bit at midnight. We had a subdued Burns night with a wee dram and the haggis in tins for the carnivores and Jess's veggie haggis and Marie read the address in a proper Scottish voice although she is a veggie! Liz's (Jess's mum) Burns Night Program from 2007 with the Seal poem came out and Jess had some tartan napkins. Even so I was quite distracted by the weather and the fear that the wind would go round to the SE.

We had a good swell in the anchorage and an epic with Keith getting the shore lines on... We need to get out of here today. It is springs and the barrier rocks virtually disappear at HW. The big blow is forecast for 10 tonight which is HW of course. I have never been in here in a strong SW but it must be pretty lively. I will try and get to Larsen which will be horrendous williwaws but no fetch and I can get all the anchor chain out and maybe 2 lines.

[Later] Got out of Coopers at 1030 in a calm patch and HW and even so I managed to run onto a rock that read 6 ft when we were aground and seconds later 22 foot so it must be a huge boulder. I should dive on it one day and try and find the real path through that minefield. Everyone mucked in with getting in the lines and stowing which was a huge help and we had an easy motor past lots of large grounded bergs to Larsen. Everyone got ashore and the Botanists had a good day as they found an example of a plant they had not yet found and the BugLife two also had a productive few hours ashore. I will try and get a blog entry from both.

We are anchored in the usual spot but at LW we got 2 good lines ashore one of them to a boulder on the moraine to the west that is excellent and the other exactly 1200 feet away to stbd on a massive boulder so feel a lot happier here.

Things are a bit more relaxed this evening and Keith and I found a fine piece of glacier ice trapped in the kelp which has formed the basis for G&T's all round. It is a shower night too so a general feeling of levity and freshly scrubbed bodies is a vast improvement on last night's drama. Jess made some vegetarian haggis that went down very well too.

Botany Blog

Moltke Harbour

In 1882 a German research station was established at Moltke. 11 men were stationed here, with goats and cattle, and they grew potatoes, cereals and salad vegetables. We were keen to see whether any introduced plants have persisted. We had a difficult landing on the beach with a strong swell and enthusiastic fur seals. The ruins of the station are just above the beach, but nothing remains except a few broken bottles, some wooden foundations and the collapsed metal skeleton of the observatory. The area has been over-run by fur and elephant seals. Any alien plants have been long since squashed by seals, blasted away by the strong sea winds or munched by reindeer. Marie was hoping to find turnips as it is Burn’s Night on the boat… no chance! The swell and wind had increased, and the evacuation from the beach was wet. Jo and Renata were in the first boat and were swamped by a wave. Somehow all the bodgers went with them, leaving Marie and I to fend off a growling pack of fur seals for half an hour. An e-mail warning of bad weather meant we set-sail south to find a sheltered anchorage in Coopers Bay.

The journey to Coopers Bay was uncomfortable, with lots of rolling around below deck and Renata and Jo were sea-sick. Above decks and the wind was picking-up and there were increasing numbers of icebergs the further south we went. By Coopers Bay the wind was gusting up to 50 knots and found a snug cove to shelter in. Seal is a remarkable boat, we crunched over some rocks on the way into our anchorage… a normal parking manoeuvre according to Hamish. I can’t say that we were not worried! Seal is the boating equivalent of a Landrover, and is designed with a retracting keel and rudder. Not many yachts can land on beaches or clear reefs a few feet below the surface. Hamish, Keith & Jess still had a difficult couple of hours weaving a spiders-web of shorelines to secure Seal. But then it was Burn’s Night, and with waves crashing on rocks close by and wind howling in the rigging, Marie read some Burn’s poetry and we tucked into some haggis washed down with malt whisky.

Larsen Harbour


Stu Cable finding Grammitis poeppigiana

We spent the morning sailing from Cooper Bay through fields of icebergs, against a back-drop of high mountains, glaciers and towering cliffs. The southern end of the island is intimidating, but we entered Drygalski Fjord in the eye of the storm with bright sunlight and moderate winds. Larsen Harbour is our last landing site in South Georgia. We hadn’t planned to visit here, but it will provide a safe anchorage with 40 knots south westerly winds forecasted for tonight.

The vegetation appeared sparse from Seal and we went ashore not expecting to find many species. We found lots of Poa annua and tussock grass above the small rocky beach, and as usual there were plenty of fur seals hanging out in the tussock grass. Running the gauntlet of snapping seals we headed for the waterfalls, wet gullies and scree slopes above the beach. One of our objectives for Kew Gardens was to collect representative herbarium specimens of all the native species and only the tiny fern, Grammitis poeppigiana, remained. This was our last chance. We spread out - Renata and Marie to the west and Jo and Stuart to the east.

The vegetation was lush along the rocky streams, with numerous red-flower heads of the burnets, Acaena magellanica and Acaena tenera, the deep green fronds of the fern Polystichum mohrioides and soft cushions of various moss species. After visiting many sites where reindeer have almost grazed the sward back to bare earth and rock, it was nice to see some plants in their more natural state. We barely recognized the native buttercup, Ranunculus biternatus, it grows to over 5cm tall here! In torrential rain and at about 100m altitude, on the rocky faces of stream gullies overlooking the fjord, both teams found the tiny strap-shaped fronds of Grammitis. Our quest is over!

It feels like time to set-sail home… except, of course, if a lull in the weather tomorrow allows a few more quadrats and transects. We have to finish drying all our specimens and stow everything carefully before leaving. The sea might be rough.

28 January -- Larsen Harbour

In Larsen and getting ready to leave with dinghy struck down and everyone packing stuff away. Rainy and windy although everyone got ashore for a few hours which was good as it gave us a chance to clear stuff up and organise lockers etc


After 27 days sampling we have managed to collect about 88,000 specimens in 655 separate samples from 177 different sampling sites at 18 different locations from Cape Rosa and Bird Island in the North West to Larsen Harbour in the far south East of the Island.

Currently we know little of what we have got as the huge task of sorting, and then identifying the specimens remains in front of us and will take quite some time!

A number of the known alien species were very apparent while we were collecting: The introduced ground beetle turned up first coming east at Fortuna Bay and we lost it again at the Greene Peninsula and hence we have bracketed its spread between Prince Olaf Harbour and Cobbler’s Cove ­ our next sampling points to the West and East. We found introduced bluebottle flies from Bird Island through to Ocean Harbour, but not east of this, despite finding plenty of dead seals and birds which would have provided habitat were it there and hence we may have documented the extent of its spread.

Two species we found seem to be undocumented ­ the Eristalis hoverfly at Gritviken (also seen by Pat and Sarah Lurcock at Carlita Bay) and our metallic green or bronze pill beetle which may or may not be an alien species, all from a single small area at Grytviken. Other, less obvious species may be lurking amongst our samples awaiting the long slog of sorting and identification when we get home.

Roger & Rosy Key

29 January 2009 -- At Sea

Coming up to Bay of Isles at 4am I am just coming off watch...been a thrash up here since leaving Larsen midday. making better VMG [velocity made good - speed toward Stanley, Falkland Islands, rather than speed through the water, which on a sailboat is often a very different thing.] now in lighter winds than before (now 15 to 20 WNW true) Looks like a thrash all the way...

[Later]about 6 nm due north bird is foggy with some ice on the radar motoring still in light 10kt NW on RL [rhumb line ... the straight course on a mercator projection to the Falklands; a great circle route is marginally shorter on this route, but would cause the course to take a dip to the south, where, with this week's forecast, there are stronger head winds]

View Larger Map

30 January -- At Sea

going on watch and quite rough



sth of shag rks wnw 25 app tks for wx info

30 January -- At Sea

30 kts wnw at -54.657688, -42.944302 2000z still on stbd tack just making 4kts vmg and wondering whether to tack

31 January -- At Sea

-54.430294, -44.568588

All well on board. Sunny and calmer motoring into 10 kt w almost out of convergence (6C water and we are crossing further south than usual where it bulges towards SG). Jimmy [the windpilot] is our saviour again...

having trouble with iridium (satellite phone) earlier said No Carrier suspect the satellite was down as tried voice call and it said same

everyone feeling a bit better after yesterday rough wx we kept sailing hard on the wind all day into 25 to 30 kt apparent and seal did really well making 5 to 6 kts cog with 5 kts vmg much of the time as we played the shifts. have come a bit south to get in a better position for the sw which I hope arrives...they usually do if they are that big

-54.730190, -46.340755 heading to the SW in the WNW 25 going W wind so hopefully in a good position to take advantage of it. It is 2200Z. Wonderful having you do the updates as I was getting worried I was going too far to the SW but seems it is the right choice. Everyone up in the raised saloon. Roger just did a great drawing for the guest book, 2 sides of drawings of all his kit he and Rosy used and 2 bugs drawn at 1 to 12 scale which will amuse the girls. The Kew team looked a bit non plussed to see the bar raised thus high! Feeling well rested. Jimmy doing a fantastic job.

[the positions are taken directly from gps reading; the first number is degrees south, the second, degrees west. The times are in military 24 hour style; the z afterwards means Zulu or GMT]

skyeye poes satellite image

The Skyeye image from the NOAA POES satellite, with the Falklands in red to the left, South Georgia to the right, and Seal in the middle at the blue X.

1 February -- At Sea

-54.835228, -48.288582 1000Z sunday motoring in light WNW making good speed to the west so keeping our south in store for the sw. my Gribs show we miss the strong se...but it would be ddw so great news if it happens!

good night sleep last night. 5 hours! we were motoring so no standby needed and Keith woke me at 8 am and I went back to sleep and kind chap let me sleep another hour. toast with freshly made bread for brekkie and showers for them that wants them. not too bad for the southern ocean.

[Later] Motoring in flat calm at -54.732674, -49.564182 1730Z

Speed not great as there seems to be current against but 6 kts VMG. Stanley is 346 NM at 300T and we are steering west to get some angle on the SW. Everyone showered and outside in the sun enjoying it while it lasts. The Skyeye shows how lucky we have been as we are in a thin corridor of sun between two huge banks of cloud...piccy attached!

2 February -- At Sea

-54.225349, -52.353710 1200Z SW 20 to 25 making good progress although we will be headed later today...

might have to go hove to for 6 hrs as don't really want to lose my position and beating into 30kts sounds dull.

pos at 1800z -53.867298, -53.055382 just turned the motor on with the main and going fine for the moment. will see how far we get like that. [this northwesterly wind] seems like an unnecessary wind when it is sw the rest of the time...

v amusing about liverpool. [liverpool beat chelsea] all well on board. groundhog day. [following refers to the movie Groundhog Day] have had the sonny and cher song "I got you babe" on my mind all day! and of course keeping watch one gets up from sleeping several times in a day and each time it's the same....

Kew gardens botanists

Three quarters of the Kew Gardens team at St. Andrews' Bay


…homeward bound

Day 5… somewhere in the Southern Ocean on our trip back from South Georgia to the Falkland Islands. The days have disappeared since leaving South Georgia – those who were able joined the crew on watch for icebergs. Two hours on watch, four hours off, which made the time pass quickly and ensured we got a taste of the Southern Ocean in her many forms – sunny and bright, grey and bleak but mainly windy and wave laden – the latter making for interesting shapes and forms as we ducked to avoid the worst of the waves breaking over the boat. This has certainly been a botanising expedition with a difference!

Team spirits are high today, because we all had showers and smell much nicer. The sea has also been much calmer, which has been a welcome respite for the team members bed ridden with sea sickness – today they have their appetites back which is a sure sign of recovery. To top off an excellent day we have just been joined by a pod of approximately 15 hourglass dolphins following the boat and riding our bow wave – they treated us to a magnificent display, twisting and weaving beneath the boat before surfacing en-masse to begin it all again. As quickly as they joined us, they left, turning about tail to swim back towards South Georgia as we ploughed onwards towards the Falklands.

Anyway, back to botanising business…our trip to South Georgia has been a successful (if exhausting) one, having managed to survey 16 sites of interest around the island for introduced species. Some species, introduced by the whalers and sealers in times gone by, are now extremely widespread across the island – mouse-eared chickweed Cerastium fontanum and dandelion Taraxacum officinale are two of the most common and ones we came across in many of our sites. Others were introduced to the island and persist but haven’t managed to spread, such as the curled dock Rumex crispus, which was documented from one site in Grytviken over 30 years ago and still remains in stasis with no evidence of spreading. Other species had been reported in the past but on following up these historical records we found that they appear to have come and gone – apparently unable to cope with the harsh South Georgian winters.

In addition to the data recorded during our invasive plant surveys, we are returning with over 100 herbarium specimens which will be stored for posterity at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew in London and duplicated at the British Antarctic Survey Herbarium in Cambridge. For each of the specimens collected we have extra material preserved in silica gel for future DNA analysis and photographs of each plant in-situ. We have collected the seeds of 10 species for the Millennium Seed Bank and have enlisted the help of environmentalists and writers Thies and Kicki Matzen to collect the rest of the flora. They are based on the famous yacht Wanderer III and will remain in South Georgia for the summer season and beyond and will be able to collect the remaining species as the fruits come into maturity.

As South Georgia continues to disappear behind us the last of our plant specimens are drying in a press over the heater in the foul weather gear locker on Seal – certainly a novel way to dry specimens and interesting when the boat is heeled over. With memories of seasickness now fading there are rumblings from the team of returning for future monitoring… here’s hoping the weather remains as calm and this enthusiasm survives the remaining 315 miles to the Falklands.

Jo, Marie, Renata and Stuart

3 February 2009

we are still going strong although it was a wild night with 40 kt cold front and some persistent squalls still at 11am although now tapering off enough that Jimmy [the windpilot] can steer again. We ended up motor sailing into the 20 kt westerly last night that preceded the front and it turned out to be a good tactic as we kept 4 kts vmg and at low revs were able to get up to 20 degrees off the wind which climbed to 40 kts near the front when we started to sail. No one got much sleep but we are now much closer to Stanley (123 nm) -52.927620, -55.060253 at at 1135Z

Not much of a birthday naturally although everyone was very kind and I got a card from everyone and a bottle of Port which we all sampled but it was not the weather for a party! Jess baked a superb cake (her step mums recipe) that has mincemeat in it (sweet sort..) in secret in Larsen before we left which went down very well on the night watch too.

4 February 2009

It is midnight Z 40 nm to Cape Pembroke...wind filling in slowly from NW but still calm and fast under motor...

[Later] at anchor off Public Jetty 0830Z

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