The Falkland Islands patrol ship HMS Clyde is on her usual patrol area during the austral summer which is South Georgia, 700 miles away. The remote archipelago is as far south of the Equator as Newcastle upon Tyne is north of the invisible line around the globe – but without the benefit of the Gulf Stream, endures far less clement weather.
Early November on the remote island sees temperature just climb above zero by day… and fall below by night.
It is sufficiently warm, however, for ice to break off glaciers and begin their journey northwards with the current – as Clyde encountered on her journey from East Cove Military Port in the Falklands.
Crew were treated to the sight of growlers (tiny bergs) and bergy bits (larger) up to full-size icebergs ¬– particularly impressive when silhouetted against the rising sun at dawn – on their passage to South Georgia.
It’s Clyde task to provide support and reassurance to the small number of people who inhabit the island chain – mostly British Antarctic Survey scientists – conduct fishery protection patrols (trawling is worth at least £4m each year to the South Georgian economy), perform any environmental tasks required of the crew, such as clearing plastics and debris from the otherwise-pristine beaches and allow sailors to get up close with the unique wildlife… something which eco tourists pay thousands of pounds to see.
Clyde ventured as far as the southeastern tip of the main island to visit Drygalski Fjord – the entrance alone is stunning: a narrow mouth flanked by snow-capped mountains and glaciers, notably the Risting; the five-mile-long mass of snow, ice and rock which spills into the fjord at its head… which the patrol ship sailed up to.
The RN’s association with the island and its southern tip go all the way back to Captain Cook in 1775. Until he came across this part of South Georgia he thought he had discovered the fabled ‘southern continent’… and promptly named the headland Cape Disappointment. Antarctica wasn’t located for another 50 years.