RRS Bransfield - Position Report 20

Date Sunday 21st February 1999
Time 1200 (UTC-3)
Position Latitude 60°41' South
Longitude 045°34' West
Next destination Bird Island
ETA 24th February 1999
Total distance 18677.4 Nautical Miles 
(Since departing Grimsby on 17th October 1998)
Current weather Overcast
Wind Light & variable
Sea state n/a
Air temperature 1.8°C
Sea temperature 0.3°C

Ship's track - Updated every six hours from the weather observations sent to Bracknell weather centre - direct from BAS homepage.


Monday 15th February saw a change in the Bransfield's plans and the ship departed the peace and comfort afforded by N9 and headed back towards Creek 6 to load the final returning passengers and a few skidoos. This would involve the use of the cargo tender Tula running into what was now left of the fast ice at the creek (not very much) and returning to the Bransfield which was holding station off the creek headlands/ice shelf. Due to a deterioration in the weather the two runs by Tula took several hours to complete but finally all those not wintering at Halley were safely on board and ready for the journey back to the Falklands and home. Those left at Halley for the winter waved their final goodbye and returned to the base that would be their home throughout the long dark months ahead. The Bransfield headed east to the Stancomb-Wills Glacier, before turning to the north west and Signy Island.

Early in the morning after we left Halley a solar eclipse was due to occur. The moon would take a bite out of the sun, with maximum coverage at 05:46 UTC on February 16th. The sunrise cast long golden shadows, but as it gained altitude the sun went into cloud and frustratingly all we saw were sunbeams in the distance and a brief hazy glimpse near the end. This will probably be the scene for the total eclipse, potentially a much more spectacular affair, visible from Cornwall in August. For wintering FIDS the next eclipse occurs on February 5th, 2000 and there is a total eclipse visible over parts of Antarctica in 2003.

The journey from Halley to Signy was a swift one with little to report. Tuesday was a slightly lumpy day but this did not last long and Wednesday night saw six of the ex-Halley wintering staff sleeping on the Monkey Island for the crossing of the Antarctic Circle! Thursday and Friday passed without incident and the seas were almost calm. Bransfield made good speed in the near ideal conditions and Coronation Island came into view on Friday afternoon, with the Sunshine Glacier bathed in sunshine! The ship anchored in Borge Bay at 1830, about half a mile from Signy Base. Preparations were made for Tula to head into the Base at 0700 the following morning.

Saturday morning and two Humpback whales were sighted at 0400 and stayed in the area of Borge Bay for several hours, tending to remain at a distance of a few miles, nearer to Coronation Island than to us. They seemed to be relaxing, staying on the surface for most of the time with the occasional dive, when their tails (also known as their flukes) would rise slowly out of the water before sliding gracefully below. The Humpback whale is approximately 15m in length, although they can be as large as 17.5m for males - the females are slightly shorter, weighing between 34-45 tons. The body is robust, narrowing rapidly in front of the huge tail flukes, with a broad and rounded head. It has a small single fin, varying in shape from triangular to shark-like, set about two-thirds of the way back and mounted on a distinct fleshy platform. The Humpback whale has enormous flippers (almost one third of their body length) and the leading edge is scalloped. They also have a very distinct 'blow', normally at least 3m in height, as it breaths. A whale blow is normally the first indication of a sighting as they can be seen at a great distance, even if there is no actual sight of the animal, and thus the expression of "There she blows.."! Our friendly Humpbacks reappeard later in the day and came within 100m of the ship, giving us some lovely views. They tend not to be afraid of ships and boats and also seem to show an inquisitive nature.

Tula was in the water and had done two journeys to the Base by 1000, bringing back cargo for Rothera, Bird Island, the UK and some waste for disposal in the Falkland Islands. Most of the people who had been to Halley went ashore for a walk and to see the sights on offer. Two popular places were the Gourlay Peninsula, about an hours walk from the Base where there are large penguin colonies and to Cemetery Flats, the site of five graves from the whaling days. Signy Base is built in Factory Cove, so named as it was the site of a whaling factory. Cemetery Flats also offers the sight of Elephant seals.

All work that needed to be done around the Base was completed by late afternoon and every one returned to the ship for dinner and a quiet night on board.

Sunday morning and the work-boat Erebus was in the water to ferry people back to the Base so that a final few hours could be spent stretching the legs before the ship departed for South Georgia and Bird Island. Once again the weather was being kind to us at Signy with calm days and no rain (Signy is well known for spending most of the year disguised as a very wet cloud!). At 0815 the two Bransfield inflatables, BD1 and BD4, embarked four Base personnel for the short three mile trip to Lynch Island, lying off the Laws Glacier to the to the north on Coronation Island. The purpose of the trip was to remove the remnants of a seal fence and to conduct a vegetation survey of the island. The original idea of the fence was to protect a 'seal free' are of natural vegetation. However, the fence has been leveled by the Fur Seals, hence no before and after comparisons. The vegetarian survey will now be undertaken on an annual basis, to enable a comparison of the Fur Seal impact on the island over the coming years. Fur Seal faeces were also collected for analysis. The party spent two hours on Lynch Island before returning to the Base. Lynch Island is designated as a Specially Protected Area (SPA).

Forthcoming Events

Depart Signy on the afternoon of Sunday 21st February.

GM0HCQ/MM QRV 14052kHz @ 2030z & 0000z

The next update will be written on Sunday 28th February 1999 and should be published on Monday 1st March 1999.

The Accommodation building at Halley, in mid-winter, during one of the many aurora seen there - especially for Mrs Gaffikin, whose daughter Alex is going to be at Halley for the next two years as a Meteorologist.


Left: The fluke of a diving Humpback Whale, taken in Borge Bay 20th February 1999.
Right: Some penguins clinging to the base of a giant berg.


The whalers cemetery at Cemetery Flats, Signy Island. Immature Fur Seal in foreground.


Last updated 22/02/1999 - webmaster@dartcom.co.uk