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Islands of Despair

Nine — Carnley Harbour

page 86

Carnley Harbour

In the meantime we were still living in the main camp at Port Ross, awaiting the return of the Ranui. George and Les were working around the islands in the harbour, and they also visited the area about Matheson Bay and Webling Bay, while I was engaged on the rather laborious adjustment of the triangulation. I had no calculating machine, and the computation by logarithmic tables was very tedious, some of the individual adjustments requiring up to sixty hours' work each. As George completed sections of topographical work they were plotted on to the final plan, so that we could see the map of the islands gradually taking shape. During this period the tidal observations were finished, and we constructed concrete monuments at the astronomical station and near the tide gauge, the height of the latter above mean sea level being engraved upon it

It was not until 9.30 a.m. on 19th July that we heard the siren of the Ranui, and everybody rushed to the landing, where we launched the dinghy in record time. Soon we were aboard the little ship and had taken delivery of two bags of mail and parcels—our first letters since 20th January. However, everybody was engaged on the job of unloading stores and getting them stowed away, and it was not until late in the evening that I managed to find time to open my mail. In addition to impressive piles of letters, most of us had received large numbers of magazines and newspapers, which were to prove very welcome.

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The Ranui had encountered very bad weather on the New Zealand coast, and when off Gape Saunders she ran into a gale of about seventy-five miles per hour. The captain decided to return to Dunedin for shelter, but on reaching Taiaroa Head after dark the ship was rolling so heavily that the signal station could not read his identification signals. It was necessary to lash a man to the deck-house, where he stood flashing the identification signal for half an hour before permission was granted for the ship to enter harbour. It must have been an unenviable job with heavy seas washing over the deck continuously. And there was more trouble to come yet, as the ship encountered a heavy snowstorm, with visibility nil, when proceeding up the channel, and she damaged her rudder on a sandbank. She was docked at Port Chalmers for repairs. Although she had to seek shelter at Stewart Island, the run through to Port Ross was uneventful.

After staying with us for another day the ship left for Waterfall Inlet to refuel, before proceeding to Campbell Island with stores and mail.

The fresh fish and bread brought by the Ranui was very acceptable, although I must admit that several of the camp personnel baked excellent bread. In our field camps we were forced to substitute ship's biscuit for bread, and in an endeavour to obviate the necessity for this I had ordered a large quantity of bread from Dunedin. This we cut into thick slices and dried out in the oven of the range, and after cooling the dried slices were packed in air-tight tins. This dried bread kept indefinitely in the tins, and although it was extremely crisp and hard we found it a welcome change from biscuit. Fortunately the climatic conditions were ideal for keeping butter, and pound blocks packed in the ordinary way were still in perfect condition after a period of two years.

The weather during July and August proved to be much better than might have been expected, and the appearance of an occasional fine day made me wish that I was in a position to put it to better use. Of course nothing much could be done page 88in the absence of the ship, and in any case the weather conditions at the camp were inclined to be misleading. The winds that sweep the high country are cruelly cold on any but the mildest days, whereas in the bush one is reasonably well protected from the icy blast. Occasionally we would get an extra-specially bad day, such as Sunday, 6th August, when the camp was rocked by a whole gale accompanied by torrential rain. This storm was unusual in that it was associated with vivid flashes of lightning and peals of thunder that shook the camp. It was the first thunderstorm that I had experienced on the islands, and since it reached its height at about 9.30 p.m. it was quite impressive. This storm was followed by a southerly wind with fierce squalls of hail and snow.

On Saturday, 12th August, the Ranui returned from Campbell Island. She had been especially welcome there, as apart from the matter of the mail and stores she took them the five men on the island hadn't seen anybody but each other since we left them in February. Captain Worth told me that the weather had been very bad when he was in Perseverance Harbour. In one of the gales one of his anchor chains parted, and the seas were frequently breaking over the deck of the ship, even though he was as close inshore as he could safely go. So he was only too pleased to get away as soon as the weather permitted.

I had decided to make our next camp in Carnley Harbour, where we would be able to use the base camp previously occupied by the coast-watching party. We were now experiencing the worst of the winter, and the extra comfort of a weatherproof camp would not come amiss. I proposed to use Carnley Harbour as a base for all the southern area, although we would still work from field camps when necessary.

On Monday, 14th August, we went up Laurie Harbour in the ship and dismantled our field camp, after which we proceeded to load a large quantity of stores aboard the Ranui, including most of our personal effects, as we did not expect to revisit Port Ross for some months. The next day we sailed just page 89 page 90before noon, and by nightfall we were settled into the abandoned camp on Musgrave Peninsula. The following day was spent unloading stores. This was quite a lengthy job, as the landing place was at the foot of a cliff about twenty feet high. When the cases were unloaded on the tiny beach they had to be lifted by means of a winch to the top of the cliff. From there it was about half a mile to the camp, but as most of our stores were intended for consumption at field camps, and would have to be reloaded on board ship as required, we just stacked them under a tent fly near the winch. Any items that were needed at the base camp were carried up when required. The base camp itself was in a splendid position with a fine outlook up the north arm of the harbour, and although this site was somewhat exposed to the furious north-westerly winds, I considered it infinitely preferable to the totally shut-in situation of the camp at Ranui Cove in Port Ross.

A few weeks of disuse had had its effect on the camp, and we had a good deal of cleaning-up to do. Mice had been everywhere, and the range was both dirty and rusty. We did miss the electric light and the radio at first, as the generating equipment had been returned to New Zealand. We were now able to take possession of a fine 14 ft. dinghy, complete with outboard motor, which had belonged to this camp. The boat was kept in a cave quite handy to both the camp and the anchorage, and it was hauled up a slip-way with a winch. This cave also served as a store for drums of petrol.

On 17th August the Ranui left us, and as the weather was moderately good we decided to spend the day on reconnaissance near Camp Cove. We called at the Ranui's anchorage to bid her farewell, and Charlie Carlson gave us a bottle of beer for lunch. Upon reaching Camp Cove we were particularly interested in the remains of the provision depot, which had provided succour to the crews of the Compadre and the Anjou, and also Mr. Fleming. There was still an ample supply of religious pamphlets and tracts in it, but apart from them there was really nothing of interest save the names of many of its previous page 91occupants, which were deeply carved on the walls. After lunch at Coleridge Bay we set out to climb a hill south of the Tower of Babel, but after reaching an altitude of about 800 feet we found the scrub too much for us and we abandoned the attempt. So after landing on Masked Island for the benefit of Graham's scientific pursuits, we headed for home. Graham had been relieved as meteorologist at Port Ross by Bob Pollard.

Graham was normally on the staff of the Auckland Museum, and he was therefore no novice when it came to collecting specimens. Up to now he had been confined to the Port Ross camp by his duties as meteorological observer, and these duties also meant that he could make only very brief trips away from his instruments. Furthermore, he had been preceded in the Port Ross area by various other skilled naturalists, so the field was rather restricted. He was therefore highly enthusiastic over his transfer to the survey party. Apart from having much more time available for his work he would also be visiting localities that had never before seen a scientist or indeed any species of man.

Graham was fairly tall and very lean, so he proved to be almost a match for George in getting over the country. He had unbounded enthusiasm, and even in the worst of weather he would find something to investigate. He was inclined to be a bit taciturn, but after an especially fruitful day he would radiate satisfaction and would go around muttering "magnificent" to no one in particular. Bringing home a collection of specimens for Graham was as richly rewarding as giving unexpected presents to an appreciative child.

The day after the Ranui's departure was windy, with passing showers, and we spent it improving an existing rough track to Wilkes Peak. Since we were working fairly close to the camp we had the unusual luxury of the cook arriving at midday with thermos flasks of hot soup and tea. Our standard midday meal was a small packet of biscuits and a cake of dark chocolate, as this was easy to carry and could be eaten while working. page 92Any reasonably clear stream provided a drink, except in winter, when all the high country was frozen more or less continuously.

On Saturday, 19th August, we climbed to Wilkes Peak and then found easy going to Cavern Peak. This latter is quite a remarkable mountain, as it is the remnant of a volcano, and the south-eastern side has been completely blown away, leaving an enormous rent with vertical sides hundreds of feet high. There is a small cave near the summit which can be entered fairly easily. Although the weather had been unpleasant with a good deal of low cloud and thick snow, the cloud now lifted and we were able to get our bearings. George and Graham immediately set off for a very conspicuous flat-topped mountain which we later named Mt. Raynal, while Les and I erected a trig station on Cavern Peak. We then went to what is known as the Giant's Tomb and erected one there. Both Cavern Peak and the Giant's Tomb were visited by Musgrave and Raynal, who were wrecked in Carnley Harbour in the Grafton, as will be related shortly, and the names are derived from Musgrave's account of them. We found travelling conditions ideal, as all the boggy places were frozen hard, and it was only on the lower levels that things were in any way difficult. Cavern Peak has an altitude of 2180 feet, and most of the surrounding country averages 2000 feet.

During the following days the low cloud kept us off the higher levels, but the opportunity was taken to clear a route giving access to Mt. D'Urville from a small bay east of Tagua Bay. The first reasonable day thereafter George and I made a reconnaissance trip to the peak. Only the worst parts of the route had been cleared, and it took us an hour and a half to reach the summit, which is 2099 feet above sea-level. We had just got to the top when we were enveloped in a thick snowstorm, but it soon passed over and we were able to push on down the long ridge east of Deep Inlet, where we put a trig station on a basalt dyke that we named Pyramid Rock. The weather was squally and visibility was zero at times. The snow page 93was fairly deep and frozen hard enough to be dangerous. During the day the wind increased in force and we had a very wet trip home across Tagua Bay.

Three days of heavy snow followed, with the wind reaching gale force. So we were confined to camp, where we were joined by the two pet pigs that had been abandoned by the coast-watching party. They soon made themselves at home, as did the station cats, who had made an earlier return.

The gales were succeeded by several days of low cloud, and we occupied ourselves in clearing and measuring a base-line. By having this base-line in the southern part of the islands we would be able to plot our field-work as soon as it was executed. We had almost completed the northern area down to as far south as Musgrave Inlet, and I now wanted to work from the southern end up towards that inlet. When the two independent systems eventually met at Musgrave Inlet we would have a direct check on the accuracy of the work.

A stretch of level land is desirable for base-line measurement, but there is no such land within two hundred miles of the Auckland Islands. At first I thought it might be possible to locate a reasonable line on the high bare ridge near Mt. D'Urville, but I soon abandoned this idea on account of the virtual impossibility of getting calm enough weather for the measurement. So we decided on a location on Musgrave Peninsula, which was certainly not level, but had the great advantage of being very handy to camp and also being unaffected by cloud. Clearing and measuring occupied four days.

As a matter of fact a few days' work in the soft peat was particularly welcome to me at this stage. The ridge near Mt. D'Urville is strewn with flat rocks like large dinner plates, and these tip and tilt when trodden on to such an extent that I had badly strained the muscles of a foot when travelling over them. This strain became increasingly troublesome, and for some weeks I was forced to wear a tight bandage on my foot every day I expected to do much walking.

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Our next trip was in the dinghy to Musgrave Harbour, where Les and I scrambled up a big slip and established a trig station on Dromedary, while George and Graham scaled the Tower of Babel and erected a signal there. The latter point was named by the crew of the Grafton, on account of its impressive series of terraces.