08 Weekly News 30 December 1998

Dear All,

Here’s wishing you all a great year in 1999. Hope you enjoyed Christmas…we did. And we have almost managed a whole day on our own since…but there is time for a mast to stick up beyond the horizon yet!

Pat is off putting planks across the worst of the holes in the jetty here at Husvik. With the yacht Golden Fleece alongside it yesterday we had the usual balancing act to cross the holes to reach her. The trip back after a Jerome sized whisky was more difficult. A while back I once crossed the worst gaps on all fours. My foot had gone through a rotten piece of wood and I had fallen with my big rucksac on. The wind was so strong it was easier to stay down there and crawl the rest of the way…if embarassing as the Captain of the Military ship was behind me.

As for me I am sitting in the sun writing my Christmas thankyou e mails. A lovely occupation. In the front garden as I write are seven king penguins, six fur seals, five gentoos, four giant petrels, three skuas, two antarctic terns and a partridge in a pear tree. I had to endure Pat singing “We one king of Husvik is” whenever he saw one on the lead up to Christmas. For someone who professes to think nothing of Christmas he sung a lot of carols whilst doing his daily chores of fetching water or squashing cans.

Its been a great few days.

We didn’t have reindeer for Xmas Dinner. It would have been too difficult to explain eating Rudolph for Christmas to all our nephews and neices. But the season opens on Jan first and, soon aftewards, Bambi gets it.

A German woman on the World Discoverer gave me a cold for Christmas. Acually its been a good excuse to relax and not feel guilty about not tramping the hills more.

The two Dan Plan lads were back with us by helo on the 23rd, as was old Halley mucker Phil Anderson who was allowed shore leave from HMS Endurance to join us. It was a nice group..my only regret is not having encouraged Phil to play the guitar more. He is an excellent folk musician…but there were so many interesting things to talk about, such as what combination of chocolate and drink was coming up next and whose turn was it to get up and fetch it. On Christmas Day Pat and I had an orgy of present opening. The rule of the house was if you got something to wear you had to put it on immediately. Nick had to wear two T shirts, and I was dripping with earrings and scarves, but Pat cut the funniest figure with his new underpants over his trousers, silk penguin tie and little red penguin pinny!

All the lads set off for walks, Nick and Paul to Fortuna Bay to visit the penguins, Pat and Phil up to the Gulbrandsen Lake to see the icebergs. An hour after they set out into a lovely sunny day it clagged in and then began to snow heavy big wet flakes.

When they returned they had an inch of the stuff on their heads, were soaked through, and glad of mulled wine and the fire. I remind you it is mid summer here. I asked which of the jokers had been wishing for a white christmas.

We had our dinner in the evening, the two chickens donated by Endurance were almost cooked in our oven contraption, but needed a quick fry in an unfeasibly large frying pan to brown them.

Sadly on Boxing day the helo was due to take our guests away again, but not before a champagne breakfast outside in the sun…followed by this years Husvik cocktail…rum and pineapple juice with ice from Gulbrandsen lake icebergs.

Two hours after the noisy helo had departed a band of five from the KEP garrison walked down from the hill bringing Christmas mail, goodies, and huge mounds of meat for the BBQ that evening.

Predictably, by the time the food was ready to be served it was sleeting! It was great to see old friends from the garrison. Sadly they soon leave the island. We will especially miss Andi, the first female OC (Officer Commanding) who has been excellent and become a valued friend.

Paul, who is doing Pat’s job at KEP was also with them. We are hoping he will be able to come again and stay for a few days if there is a longish break between cruise ships.

The next morning they walked back over to Carlita Bay to be collected by the army boat. At last Pat and I were on our own. We sat in the sun and read and relaxed…a real treat. Heavens, we almost managed 24 hours alone before Golden Fleece came in! They left again yesterday to take Fran Prince to Grytviken to formally open the Pete Prince room, a natural history room in the museum, in memory of her husband who died far too young last year. Pete was instrumental in setting up and running the BAS research station at Bird Island and had done much great ecological work for the island.

At last Pat and I got back to Olsen Valley to count the gentoo penguin chicks. They are mostly huddled in creches now, making them easy to count, but there were still a couple of tiny new chicks and even the odd egg being incubated. There was a pair of skuas to each hilltop colony, and though there were plenty of dead chicks on the colony edges…nothing like the massacre we witnessed when thirty skuas all targeted one colony at Leith. For those of you bound to ask we counted 1,074 chicks in all the colonies. From those high up just under the scree slopes to those well inland near freshwater ponds. Why do gentoos sometimes nests so far from the sea?

Our skua has become worryingly interested in our feet as we sit outsde on a sheltered side of the hut drinking beer. Maybe its the salmon pink boat shoes I wear. But when I took my shoes and socks off the other day he rushed in, eyes fixated on my pinkies….I put my shoe back on. He also had a go at Pat’s socked feet as we sat on the bench enjoying a beer yeterday. Pat showed foolhardy bravery in trying to get a photo of him pecking his sock. Those beaks can slice through elephant seal skin remember!

We will start work at Stromness cemetery in the New Year. We got our first compliment about the work done at Leith from visitors on the Golden Fleece. With luck the Norwegian cruise in January will bring paint and give the headstones a second coat and paint the fence posts. Then it will look really smart.

So all the best for the new year. We will write again next year.

Lot of love,

Sarah and Pat

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