Wheeler heading to South Georgia

Fair Isle weatherman Dave Wheeler sets off on a journey to South Georgia today – a trip which will see him retrace steps he took when he first visited the South Atlantic outpost 50 years ago.

Dave Wheeler
Dave Wheeler

He is joining a group of scientists studying the wandering albatross as part of a 19-day expedition run by the Clipperton Project.

Mr Wheeler will examine the impact long-line fishing and plastic pollution are having on the creature’s population numbers.

However, the trip, which will follow a brief stop-off in the Falklands, will spark memories of Mr Wheeler’s initial voyages to South Georgia in the 1960. The journeys ultimately set him, and his late wife Jane who died in 2011, on the road to Fair Isle.

He said: “I’m heading off to the Falkland Islands and spending some time there before going off on the expedition down to South Georgia.

“I was offered the opportunity on a small expedition with the Clipperton Project. But why am I doing it? It’s because I was in South Georgia between 1963 and 1968. I was down there as a meteorologist and did two tours of duty.

“I arrived there in late ‘63 and came out early ‘65. Jane and I got married just before Christmas ‘65, and then we went down to South Georgia together in the beginning of ‘66 until the end of ‘68.”

Decades later, Mr Wheeler is once again relishing the chance of seeing the far-off British colony, having been offered a place on the expedition. He expects much of the place to have changed in the intervening years.

“I always wanted to go back to South Georgia, but never as a tourist, because the island actually meant so much to us.

“It was really that short period on South Georgia … which set us on the road to Fair Isle.

“We came back from South Georgia and I got a job working with Scottish Television as a sound engineer for a couple of years.

“And then the opportunity came to come up to Fair Isle and with the experience of working on a remote island, it just seemed so natural.”

The Clipperton Project encour­ages research to gain a better under­standing of the global environ­ment. It began with a major voyage to the Pacific island, from which it takes its name, in 2011.

Mr Wheeler said: “The expedi­tion is a party of 12. It’s a mix of artists and scientists. The main reason I’ve been invited down there is because I’ve actually known of the Clipperton Project for a wee while, and they’ve seen quite a few of my early pictures so were interested.

“I’ve never been back. It’s the first time in 50 years. [I feel] a mixture of excitement and also a little bit of apprehension, wonder­ing just what I’ll think of the place because it’s changed quite a lot. It’s now a major tourist destination.

“The expedition itself starts from Stanley on 10th March and gets back to Stanley on 29th March, so it’s 19 days.

“There’s also photographers and other artists going there as well. They’ll be doing some work based on their experiences there, and there will be dissemination of the results and such at the end of the expedition.”

During his Falklands stop-off Mr Wheeler will give a talk to primary school children, following contact he made with a school teacher at the Mount Pleasant military base.

There he will show photographs of South Georgia and the Falklands from his visits 50 years ago. On his return trip he is due to give illustrated talks to the British Uruguayan Society in Montevideo.

But while the expedition will feature a jam-packed itinerary, it is the memories of his last trip which could well be uppermost in Mr Wheeler’s mind.

“There’s quite an emotional connection as well because back in early ‘65 I proposed to Jane by telegram,” he said.

“In the old days you had to write your telegram out and hand it to the radio operator, and then it went off in Morse Code. And then it got up to the UK, printed out and taken along.

“Anyway, the radio operator knew what was going on and, of course, I got a reply back a couple of days later with Jane saying ‘yes’.

“We were actually sitting having lunch … he came in and waved the envelope at me and said ‘this is what you were waiting for’.”


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