It feels we arrived to the shores of South Georgia a long time ago. Days filled with activities are passing by quickly. So far, the weather played along most of the times and we were able to spend considerable time on land.
Today, we woke up to a beautiful sunny day. Some got up early, perhaps woken up by a little roll of the ship which was on her way to Grytviken. Nice sunrise on relatively flat seas was worth it. Calm mornings such as this are rare around here. Soon, the manmade structures of Grytviken whaling station came into our sight. It was the first whaling station on South Georgia. The settlement, which is located at the head of King Edward Cove within the larger Cumberland East Bay, was considered the best harbour in the Island. It was founded on November 16, 1904, by Carl Anton Larsen of Sandefjord, Norway. He was well known for his expeditions to both Polar areas, North and South of the world. For us, also an important figure on our trip, we know his name from our previous adventures in the Weddell Sea, when we followed the steps of the Antarctic Swedish Antarctic Expedition (1901-03). Their ship Antarctic, captained by Larsen, crashed by the ice and sunk, triggered and epic ordeal for survival. But it was after being rescued and brought to South Georgia, that he realised the commercial opportunity of whaling in these waters. He then stablished Grytviken, starting the company with Argentinean monetary support and 60 men and the whale catcher Fortuna. His great success opened the path for Norwegian and English companies to start the same business in the island with other stations
Grytviken landing, is important to us also for other reasons. Here, we meet the South Georgia government officials that came on board to check all necessary paperwork needed for visiting the island, and also conduct biosecurity check on every person landing here or anywhere around. Procedures that every day take a considerable amount of time, hours brushing out the tiniest dirt and seed particles from velcro, disinfecting boots and cleaning bagpacks, poles and tripods. An effort that sure pays off not to introduce any alien species from outside the system or even between landing sites in the island.
It is a calm morning – the sun is shining and the zodiac ride to the beach is easy. Only occasional drizzle and light snow creates a little disruption, but sun keeps shining and small rainbows can be seen popping up here and there. We will start our walk at the Southern side of King Edward Cove, at the famous graveyard, where sir Ernest Shackleton, a veteran of three British Antarctic expeditions, was buried on the 5th March 1922. He died on board the Quest, on the way to yet another great southern expedition. His body was already shipped North, when the wish from his wife arrived that he should be buried where his dreams and thought had been his whole life, in the far South. And so it happened that Shackleton was buried here, and in 2013 got the company of Frank Wild’s ashes, his right hand man. In this place, there is a long standing tradition, to toast on 'The Boss' with a glass of whiskey. So we brought along a bottle of the "Shackleton" whisky and glasses from the ships' bar. The short text from preface of Shackleton's book "South" was read by Beth. This commenced our little ceremony of the toast, followed by a group photo shot and then we proceeded to explore the remains of Grytviken whaling station, which has been cleaned up and made safe to visit – unlike the rest of stations on advanced state of decay.
Wandering around and visiting the well assorted Museum, we could realise the structure of the place: the centre of town was formed by a large slipway where whales where hauled on land with a steam winch. From there on blubber, meat and bones where brought to their different boilers, and transformed into oil. At the height of operations, 300 men worked in Grytviken during summer. And there were not only men – Larsen and other officials brought their wives, and children. The first baby to be born South of the Antarctic convergence was born here, in 1913.
During the time spent ashore we could also visit the local post office where we are able to send postcards home, the old style, since our trip still remains Internet and wifi free. As we are very late in the season, the gift shop manned by the South Georgia Heritage Trust is unfortunately closed. The staff left more than week ago, and even the post office and museum are in charge for this last days of the South Georgia government officials.
As our time at Grytviken came to an end we returned back to ship for lunchtime. This afternoon we didn't have any landing planned but a ship cruise to the nearby Nordenskjöld Glacier. The ship makes her under still amazing weather.
Nordenskjöld Glacier is one of the really large glaciers in South Georgia and it is an impressive sight. It flows north and has its terminus at the head of Cumberland East Bay, on the north coast of the island. It was charted by the Swedish Antarctic Expedition and named after Otto Nordenskjöld, leader of the expedition. Sheridan Peak, rising to 955 m, sits near the glacier's head. It was named by the United Kingdom Antarctic Place-Names Committee in 1988 after Maj. James G. Sheridan, Royal Marines, who accepted the surrender of the Argentine garrison at King Edward Point, April 25, 1982.
Many take advantage of the good weather and calm seas and choose to climb aloft to admire the surroundings from a higher vantage point. Others preferred to stay on deck and enjoy the view with little less adrenaline rush. As the Europa comes closer to the glacier's terminal face, we slowly go through water full of scattered brash ice, the result of recent glacier calvings. There is very little wind, water is deep, it is afternoon coffee time... what best to do than stop the engines and drift for a while, enjoying the sun bathed decks and the sounds of crackling ice. Before leaving behind the icy cliffs and high mountains framing the scene, the Europa gets the last and closest approach to the glacier front. Lenticular clouds grow over the peaks as the daylight starts to dim.
The next destination is a relatively safe anchorage which may be a difficult task to find in South Georgia. Returning to Grytviken has been considered but finally we chose to drop anchor at the closebyMaiviken. As we have still some time to reach our night anchorage, the guides prepared a movie screening in the deckhouse. The famous documentary "Chasing Ice", directed by Jeff Orlowski and released in the United States on November 16, 2012, talks about the efforts of the nature photographer James Balog and his Extreme Ice Survey to grow awareness of the effects of climate change.
During the movie screening the crew, with help of some of us started preparations for a surprise dinner on deck. A tent has been put out, and in it a true barbecue is going to take place. The crew in the galley has been working all day, as usual, but today even more so, to make this meal happen. It soon becomes clear that the night will be long. At 18:45h the roar of the engines finally go off and the sound of the deck party starts ruling the air. A nice moment of relaxation, food, drinks before another busy day of hiking.