Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Christmas Day Celebrations at Stromness

I’ve just about recovered from the crippling heart burn and lethargy caused by eating my body weight in roast potatoes. It’s been an excellent Christmas aboard the James Clark Ross! I was a bit worried, to be honest, that I might feel a little bit grumpy about spending Christmas away from friends and family. You see, I’ve never once worked Christmas as a doctor! Yikes- I said it! I’ve ‘fessed up. Now is probably the time to hastily add that this is due to doing a lot of swaps and I have worked every single New Year’s Eve since qualifying- just in case Jeremy Hunt is reading and rubbing his little hands together over the potential news headlines. “Doctors don’t work Christmas Shocker!”

The chief science officer and the captain put their heads together to try to arrange circumstances so that most people could have some or all of Christmas Day off. I just put a sign on my door informing people that unless they had Ebola, it could probably wait until Boxing Day, but I think their preparations were slightly more complicated than mine!

Their plan was to put into Cumberland East Bay at South Georgia in order to pick up some science equipment and then to scuttle around the coastline to Stromness Bay in order to calibrate our scientific equipment. Apparently we dangled probes over the side and checked to see if we could visualise them with other probes. It sounded delightfully exciting but I think the project was chosen for Christmas Day so that the majority of people could just relax and have a nice day.
The Fram just sneaking into Cumberland East Bay ahead of us

And a nice day it was! The weather cooperated perfectly. For the first time in weeks, the skies were a beautiful cerulean blue with only the smallest wisps of cloud. The remains of an old whaling station lay on the shoreline, slowly and quietly rusting its way into history whilst the barks of fur seals filled the air. I did my best to get some photographs of the fur seals- but whilst they were beautifully acrobatic, leaping in and out of the water- they declined to come close enough to the ship for me to get a decent photograph! A little gentoo came paddling up to investigate however, so I papped him relentlessly.

Stromness Bay

Gentoo Penguin

Incidentally, the whaling station on the foreshore is the very one that Shackleton, Worsley and Crean reached on May 20, 1916. After the disaster of losing the Endurance, Shackleton’s men took to lifeboats and made for Elephant Island. They were still in danger however; Elephant Island does not lie across any shipping lanes and there was little chance of being spotted and rescued from the island. It was therefore decided that a team of six men should leave their twenty-two comrades behind on Elephant Island and sail, in an open lifeboat, for South Georgia and rescue.

On reaching South Georgia -in itself an incredible feat of navigation- it was felt that three of the men were so debilitated by the ocean voyage that they were not in any fit state to go futher. They remained behind and established a base camp beneath the upturned lifeboat, the James Caird, which was then termed Peggotty Camp.

The three fittest men- Shackleton, Worsley and Crean- then began a gruelling 36 hour march across the mountains of South Georgia to the Norwegian whaling station at Stromness. Shackleton related that on reaching the whaling station they felt not so much that they were safe, but that their comrades left behind had been saved. Apparently the three men left behind at Peggotty Camp completely failed to recognise a shaved and washed Worsley when he appeared the next morning on a Norwegian vessel to rescue them!

Regrettably it’s not possible to get off the ship and roam around the old station; it’s riddled with asbestos and high winds coming down from the mountains have been known to rip metal sheets off and send them scything down the beach.
The Whaling Station and Shackleton Valley just to the right

The old whaling station is starting to fall apart
Returning, however, to our Christmas Day, present opening happened- (I definitely feel that we should get a ship’s cat just so that someone can chase the wrapping paper around) and I feel horribly spoilt. Although I’m also disturbed by the emphasis on toiletries. Is this a subtle hint? I’m telling myself that my parents just didn’t want me to have loads of luggage to bring home...Yeah, that’s what it is. Definitely. I also have exciting hot chocolate and socks and puzzle books. And a lip salve which made my lips purr with happiness when I put it on! (They are so cracked and dry right now)

In the evening we had a fantastic Christmas meal. The roast potatoes were exemplary which is why I won’t be stepping onto the scales for a week or two. But. And this is a real and serious complaint. Why on earth is pudding on Christmas day always a festering Christmas pudding? What is so festive about raisins and currants? It’s such a rubbish dessert- we could be having chocolate mousse or sachertorte or sticky toffee pudding.... There are so many things that would be far nicer! I feel like Christmas is very prejudicial against persons like myself who are dried grape averse! (I shall be petitioning parliament later on this issue. Who’s with me?!) So I had to go and pester our purser Rich for my bar of dark chocolate and then sat in shameful solitude and scoffed the lot.

I had thrown together a Christmas quiz with one of the scientists and we had a really good turnout. There were seven rounds altogether- one of which focused on Christmas itself. What were the first artificial Christmas trees made from? Goose feathers. I do love a good factoid.  After the mild bloodshed and violence of the quiz (I don’t like being heckled, alright?) we all sat and chatted for several hours until someone pointed out that it had started to snow. We grabbed on outdoor clothing and rushed up to Monkey Island where the snow was thick enough on the deck to allow us to make snow angels. The European scientists then engaged in working collaboratively to make a snowman whilst the Brits ran around and attacked each other with snowballs. At some point we turned on our industrious European colleagues and pelted them with snow as well, thereby ruining their snowman and making them join in our hostilities. As someone pointed out later it really was a wonderful allegory for Brexit...

And here I am!


  1. Agree whole heartedly re Christmas pudd. It's boring ! We had a beautiful creamy cheese cake, chocolate brownies and meringues filled with fresh cream ! But I would swap places with you any day of the week !! Happy New Year x p.s really enjoying your blogs

    1. Hi Gill! That sounds phenomenal. I'm going to screenshot this now and send it to my mother...And then stand well back in case she tries to kill me! Glad you're enjoying the blog- this really is one of the most exciting experiences ever! Happy New Year to you too. Hx

  2. I'm jealous - you had snow. We had a frost, minus 4, so not even noteworthy by antarctic conditions. Plenty of "water calories" in the shape of bottles and oodles of chocolates - no restrictions here.

    1. Hah- now you're just showing off about your chocolates...It was actually very warm where we were. There was no wind and the solar radiation meant that you could go outside in just shirt sleeves. As long as you put plenty of suntan lotion on of course...

  3. Must have been strange, down there and in shirt sleeves outside. I remember walking along a beach many years ago with an interesting experience. Snow had drifted and sand drifted over that. One was walking along leaving white 'foot-prints'.