Earlier this month, I returned from Hobart, Tasmania, where I had attended the annual Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources and had some very interesting chats about conservation.
Then, it was back to business on a wet-fish trawler. From Cape Town, we headed up the west coast and fished westerly off Dassen Island for five days.
Whales are an uncommon sight at sea due, in part, to difficulty spotting them in rough waters. Our first day was calm with a Force 3 south-easterly and I was fortunate enough to watch two sei whales breaching and shallow diving.
During the first two days of fishing, some fish guts were still being thrown overboard, but as two pairs of tori lines were set out, not too many seabirds were attracted to it.
That was until a Force 5 started blowing and across the stern and the tori lines were displaced, exposing the warp interface, but the streamers were still effective in scaring birds that had drifted down from the scuppers.
Thankfully, standards for disposing of offal did improve. For the rest of the voyage, all offal was retained, with only minor amounts of guts being discharged. Smaller-winged birds such as the white-chinned petrel and great shearwater foraged on them.
There are times of boredom on board, when it seems not much happens. So it was great to have a flesh-footed shearwater come in and to observe a different flight and foraging behaviour as compared to its ubiquitous cousin, the sooty shearwater.
Soon after, two vessels were seen without tori lines and the Mate Harry Lastrade radio'd them saying there was a 'heavy' (i.e. me) on board. Quick as a flash, out came the familiar hosepipe streamers!
Feeling a little depressed after losing to England at rugby and wet from sitting on the catwalk during a shower, I was as 'happy as Larry' after seeing a wandering albatross at the end of the voyage.
Surveying of giant petrels is now in full stride. We're working along the north coast of South Georgia, moving slowly eastwards from the western tip of the island. Four days in, we've already found over 1,000 giant petrels: 530 northern giant petrels and 1,027 of the southern species.
So how does the fieldwork go? First, get your field gear ready: GPS, VHF radio, notebook, extra clothing, drink, some food - always a few chocolate bars.
Waterproofs on, into the Zodiac and across to the shore landing. Picking the place carefully, to minimise interaction with fur seals and find a way up the headland and tussac areas, which are usually five to 50 metres above the beach. Seal bodgers at the ready.
Jump ashore, try not to fall over on the wet rocks. Regard all fur seals with deep suspicion, especially when pups are around and carefully seek a way past with bodgers - broom handles or walking poles - at the ready, clattering them on the rock and defending from lunges to clear the way from the growling, snorting, whimpering, foul-smelling beasts defending their territories. Climb up to the tussac areas and begin work.
Tussac grows to knee or hip height, in a football-sized clump. Walking through the tussac pasture is not straightforward, involving stumbling, slipping and generally misplacing your footing. Never mind, because the situation is fantastic: stark mountains of rock and snow marking the main interior bulk of the island, the looping cliffs of the headlands bounding the sea, with its islands and distant headlands and Golden Fleece patiently waiting for the return of its researchers.
The giant petrels nest among the tussac. We mark every occupied nest with a GPS waymark position, check the species - greeny tip to the bill for the southern GP, rosy for northern; note the nest status - on egg, on chick or undetermined; assess the vegetation - amount of tussac cover, height, amount of seal damage. Yes, the fur seals get up here and still make a play at defending territories.
Quartering the tussac meadows in a systemic search for petrels, you quite often stumble upon a hidden fur seal - a growl or a snort warning you clear, or sometimes just the smell gives them away. In most locations, we also note down wandering albatrosses, South Georgia pipits and South Georgia pintails.
Allocated sections completed, we radio each other to ensure full but non-overlapped coverage one. And then call up for a Zodiac to whisk you back to our floating base, a quick feed (remarkable how much one eats to keep going with all this activity and the cold, crisp and windy weather) and prepare for the next sally ashore.
Jordan Cove, Bird Island, South Georgia
Thick fog at sea. Looming frighteningly close to the Golden Fleece are not Shag Rocks, but a small iceberg, milky blue in the frozen stillness.
Moments later, dark rocks slip past, clamouring with seabirds, legions of two-tone, creamy-black cormorants and a few gentoo penguins sitting out on the rocks. Jagged, assuredly hard landmarks that slip quietly away, as mysteriously as they arrived.
Early morning the next day, after a rough night at sea, we make Willis Island, the first outlying island of South Georgia proper. The wheelhouse is crowded with excitement as Golden Fleece threads skilfully through the islands and on to Bird Island, our first landing.
This place is really special, indeed a Site of Special Scientific Interest under UK law. For more than 35 years, British Antarctic Survey has pursued scientific work on a variety of interests, from fur seals to penguins and albatrosses.
Strict visitor control keeps the island rat-free, which allows birds like the South Georgia pipit and others to survive here, one of its last few strongholds.
The pipit may be bigger than those at home in Europe, but it's the truly massive birds that make Bird Island utterly memorable.
The High Meadow, slung between mountain peak and sea cliffs, is strewn with birds of truly enormous stature. Wandering albatross nests scattered in clumps or singly, mud pots with gargantuan white birds patiently sitting out the cold, gripping winds; others with scruffy, fluffy juveniles waiting for a parent to return from the sea.
By comparison, the giant petrels on their nests seem almost dainty, common-place, but they, too, are truly big birds. Skuas screech and sit on the winds, while the occasional endemic pintails and pipits add to the surreal beauty of this rugged place.
Walking the length of High Meadow, we drop down towards the sea and colonies of macaroni penguins and grey-headed albatrosses; there are black-brows, too.
Bird Island is a testament to science and the exclusion of human influence: somehow primitive, yet astonishingly productive, diverse and truly precious.
It's our third day at sea and the South Atlantic has been pretty kind to us. The wind seemed to be picking up as we left Stanley and the Falklands, raising a certain insistent noise through the rigging, but to little avail thus far, thankfully.
Dolphins chased in the bow wave as we left the clean, bright-roofed town and the low sweep of the Falklands behind us and started to feel the big swells of the open sea.
Time at sea is elusive. You can spend minutes that seem like hours - especially with a queasy stomach - but more often hours that seem like minutes. Gazing out to sea from the wheelhouse, staring at the infinite ocean, slopping, seething, everchanging and massive.
All movement: movement which the Golden Fleece picks up and rides, every moment needing a counterbalance or firm hold to stay upright, sitting or standing.
Enjoying a patch of cold sunshine, relief from the monotone grey, in a bold quarter-hour outside on deck.
The brief delight of a couple of hourglass dolphins dancing along our bows yesterday afternoon. The occasional blast spray across the fore-deck as the swell and the pitch and roll combine in a certain, magnifying way.
And in the immensity of this ocean there are always birds. It's awesome, humbling to be out here with them; as we pitch and toss, driven on by the constant growl of the engine, they are in their true element.
The big albatrosses and giant petrels (the birds we're coming to study): massive, unhurried, gliding in gentle arcs above the waves on stilled wings, overhung beaks inches above the waves.
The blotchy, pied cape petrels and other mid-sized species, dusky brown or black and white; smaller, somehow more lonesome than the really big birds. Next down in size are the prions, flicking and twisting over the waves, the swallows and swifts of the sea, mostly a calm, pale grey but with some species scythe like and dark like the screaming swifts of summer.
And then the tiny storm petrels, dumpy and delicate, somehow an unlikely seabird, yet of course utterly at home in this wide, wild place.
Three days out and the excitement of the promise of our first sighting of land sometime later this afternoon: Shag Rock, sentinel to South Georgia and an outlying bastion of the packed, intensive breeding sites we'll find on South Georgia itself.
And a day or so after that we'll have arrived, the engine will be stilled and we'll be at our destination at last.
I'm Olly Watts - I work for the RSPB, BirdLife's UK partner. I've always loved the outdoors and it's sometimes maddening to find myself desk-bound, working as a policy officer on climate change and peatland conservation.
I've been with the RSPB for over 14 years, working in both public affairs and policy roles and based at a regional office and HQ. I've also worked in the bicycle and public relations industries - a strange tack from university studies in environmental biology and ecology!
My interests include hillwalking, cycling, sailing and music - I play the fiddle, piano and sing. Hate sitting still for too long.
I'm off to South Georgia! Wow! I'm joining a petrel monitoring expedition for a month, looking at northern giant petrels, southern giant petrels and white-chinned petrels.
The South Georgia Government has commissioned a three-year survey to determine each species' conservation status, identify key breeding sites, establish a baseline for future long-term demographic studies, identify conservation research priorities and develop management planning for the species.
That's the work - to be done alongside albatrosses, old whaling stations, penguins, seals and some of the most fantastic mountain scenery in the world, rising right out of the most notorious ocean. A sabbatical opportunity that I really couldn't turn down.
I've never been across the Equator before, so this whole trip will be quite an adventure. There are so many things people are asking me that I can't answer yet. I've done a bit of sailing, but what will the Southern Ocean be like? How cold will it be? Can you live on a small boat for a month? Are you fit enough for all that hiking?
At the moment I'm trying to get everything together for a five-week trip down south - remembering, of course, that there is no opportunity to add missing items once I've gone. Suddenly my old hill gear looked very old - lots of new stuff is now gathered in a big kit bag.
I've been tracking things down and chasing them up - special mention to the wonderful folk at Howies for getting new warm gear to me before their winter shipment arrives! Borrowed cameras and voice recorders to learn how to use them. Got new wildlife guides, history and geography to get familiar with. And the family to appease - our children are not too sure about being without their Dad until Christmas. Tons to do and time is starting to run out...
Next log should be from the Golden Fleece in just a few days' time - I'll tell you about her and her crew then. And the answer to the Southern Ocean question...