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HMS Clyde Patrols South Georgia

HMS Clyde has returned to the Falklands after completing her third patrol of South Georgia. The ship spent 5 days patrolling the island and renewing links with the government officials and British Antarctic Survey (BAS) scientists who live there.

Enjoying some unseasonably good weather, the ship encountered little ice on the passage to the island. However the first sighting of an iceberg caused quite a deal of excitement, with many of the Ship’s Company eager to get a glimpse of the huge blocks of ice larger than the ship, which many had never seen before. With Ice Lookouts closed up the ship negotiated “Bergy Bits” and “Growlers” to arrive safely at Grytviken.

HMS Clyde berthed for two days at King Edward Point. Key to any visit to South Georgia is a briefing from the Government Officer, Miss Emma Jones, on bio-security and safety amongst the wildlife and abandoned whaling stations.  This turned out to be good advice the wildlife was practically on the doorstep. From King Penguins on the jetty to Fur Seals lying on the track to Grytviken it turned out to be a nature lovers paradise.

The Ship’s Company made the trek round to Grytviken and its whaling station, visiting the excellent museum in the course of the day, but not before the obligatory trip to the post office for post cards, stamps, and the all important passport stamp.

Early the next morning the Ship’s Company braved the elements to join the sub zero club. With ice floating in the harbour these hardy souls plunged in for a refreshing, if brief, swim in South Georgian waters.  Most made the best of, what was described as the finest weather of the year to then explore further around the King Edward Point site, returning in the evening to challenge the British Antarctic Survey scientist to a game of football. And challenge it was as the pitch, used for the last century by Norwegian Whalers was half bog half native thistle. After a resounding defeat by the “locals” both teams retired to the ship for well deserved social gathering.

For many of the Ship’s Company it was a first visit to this unique island, and for others it was a return after many years. Now embarked as BVT’s representative, Mr George Jameson, an ex RN engineer remembered the whaling station in the years directly after the Falklands conflict, and before the years of health and safety when “you could just walk in as if the whalers had left yesterday. Tools still in the racks, and stores in the cupboards”. Much work has gone in now to remove asbestos and make the site safe for visitors which bring much needed revenue to protect the habitat.

HMS Clyde then proceeded to land a shore party at Fortuna Bay to trek over Stromness Pass, thus re-enacting Shackleton’s last footsteps of his epic voyage into Stromness where the ship stood ready to retrieve the shore party once more, and proceed on to Gold Harbour.

Here an even more remarkable sight greeted the shore party. Tens of thousands of King Penguins hundreds of Fur and Elephant Seals clustered on the beach in a heady mix of aroma and noise to assail the senses. All to the dramatic backdrop of the over-hanging Vertrab Glacier. (see Ship’s Company photo).

More dramatic scenery ensued as the ship threaded a careful passage up the Drygalski Fjord. Plunging rock faces dripping with glaciers surrounded the ship as huge icebergs cluttered the water. Drifting fog and cloud lent the entire scene an ethereal air and added to the sense of awe.

Picking its way through the ice along the south coast of South Georgia HMS Clyde made a brief visit to King Haakon bay, conducting a recce by seaboat of Rosita Cove, the site of Shackleton’s landing in 1916, before finally calling at Bird Island. One of the few rat free islands, few members of the public are ever allowed to visit this pristine wilderness, however with strict bio-security measures in place the ships was welcomed by the BAS base commander Richard Hall.  The main purpose of the visit was to deliver some gratefully received fresh fruit and vegetables to the team of scientists there, studying Albatross and Fur Seal populations there. This allowed members of the Ship’s Company to get up close and personal to the gigantic Wandering Albatross’s nesting on the island, and gave the isolated community of BAS staff some welcome outside contact.

HMS Clyde left South Georgia to return to the Falkland Islands and a period of Directed Continuation Training. However the island had left an indelible mark in the memories of all on board who all agreed it had been a far more spectacular visit than anyone had expected.

More pictures in the Photo Gallery

8th Apr 2009

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