Grytviken, the old whaling station and ‘capital’ of South Georgia was our planned destination for this morning and it was just around the corn from Cumberland Bay where we spent the afternoon yesterday. I would have thought that we could have anchored in the bay but the captain decided that he wanted to put to sea for safety. This was incase icebergs floated in to the bay, but most importantly in case strong winds could come up when the ship had limited sea room. This morning, the chart showed that we had sailed backward and forward along the coast all night.
We were back at Gryviken this morning by about 9.00 am. The Shackleton Expedition Recreation Team led by the Australian Tim Jarvis were waiting for us to arrive, both for a ceremony at Shackleton’s grave and for the Discovery Channel TV crew to wrap up their filming. They wanted to capture some film of Alexandra Shackleton (and us) arriving to greet the expedition team.
It was a bright sunny morning and as nice as it appeared, this brought some problems. It was 8 degrees in Grytviken and the temperature difference between our position at sea level and the high mountains in the centre of South Georgia was causing very strong katabatic winds – up to 45 knots. Not only would these have made it very unsafe to launch zodiacs, our captain was not prepared to enter the little harbour when the winds were so strong. We put off our landing, changed our plans and headed off along the coast to find somewhere sheltered where we could stop.
A little further down the coast was a little sheltered bay – Gundholt Bay. The ship anchored in the centre of the bay and we set about exploring it in zodiacs. On the western shore was the remains of an old whaling station. In this bay, whaling was done on factory ships with sore facilities being used to store oil and other whaling by products. Some old storage tanks and lots of 400 gallon drums were still sitting by the shore. After a quick visit, we pottered around in zodiacs, cruising between some large icebergs that were beached on the shore and observing the wildlife.
It was a lovely sunny day and the wind had dropped by early afternoon, so we headed back to Grytviken. This time, we were able to head right into the little harbour with the old administrative offices (now the government offices) on a point to pour right, the old whaling station at the head of the bay and Shackleton’s grave in the cemetery to our left. While the ship was cleared by customs, Tim Jarvis came aboard for an introduction and a welcome by Alexandra.
Our first activity was to to zodiac to the cemetery for a toast to both Sir Ernest Shackleton and to the expedition which had successfully recreated his expedition from Elephant Island. They were travelling in a replica boat and wearing similar clothing to that worn in Shackleton’s original expedition journey. There is a very tidy little cemetery on the side of a hill in which Sir Ernest, his 2IC, Frank Wild, and a number of mostly Norwegian sealers and whalers are buried. Some elephant seals have created a wallow right outside the cemetery gate and they interrupted our short service with heir grunting, burping and farting.
After our toasts, we walked around to the whaling station, museum and post office. This meant running the gauntlet of angry fur seals who didn’t like us getting to close to them The whaling station is just as it was when it closed down in the 1960’s. Some of the buildings have been removed because they contained asbestos, but the plant, machinery, tanks and equipment is still inits original places. There are three old whale chasers that have been run up onto he shore and slowly rusting away. The site is very industrial with machines, old boilers and engines interspersed with industrial litter such as chains, girders and other bits of assorted steel. I took a lot of photos hoping to catch some of the character of this place and over the next few days when we are at sea, I’ll have a look at them and see if I was successful.
Tim and the entire expedition team joined us n the ship for a short time for a drink in the bar just before we upped anchor and left. I bought him a bottle of red wine to take with him for he and his crew to enjoy over their dinner.
Because of our late afternoon, we did not have dinner until 8.00 pm tonight and it sounds as though we have an early start tomorrow for our last day in South Georgia.