Our Antarctic Adventure – Part IX

Sun, Feb 8th – Cumberland Bay, South Georgia

Welcome to Grytviken, South Georgia

Wanted: Once-in-a-lifetime South Georgia experience!

Those were the two headlines on our “Daily Program” and indeed it was as advertised. I was up early as usual for the sail-in which was under overcast skies, but that did not dampen my spirits. As we sailed past the northern part of the island there was at least one Tidal Glacier off our starboard beam (+15 miles). There were also other small icebergs, I say small because I have no point of comparison, on the horizon. As we approached our anchorage in Cumberland Bay, the water smoothed out to near glassy conditions. I was unaware of where we were until I heard the anchor chain let go. I South-Georgia-Grtyviken looked up and there was the former Whaling Station of Grytviken, almost blending into the mountains behind it, in the early morning light. What a magnificent sight enveloped the bay. Peaks with hanging glaciers, vegetation covered hillsides and small grounded icebergs and burgee bits waiting for the afternoon tide to take them to sea. Along some of the coastline were, what I thought were large rounded rocks, but upon closer inspection with the glasses, turned out to be the rusting hulks of small boats. Along the shoreline was a teaser sight of what was to come when we went ashore that afternoon; Elephant Seals and King Penguins! The penguins were standing in their usual “social” formation along the beach just below and to the left of Shackleton’s Cross, as though they were hailing us to “come ashore and spend money”.

After a light lunch of soup and salad in the Lido, (Did I mention that our chef’s make the best soup in the HAL fleet?), we went to the Queens Lounge to await our 1:50 PM tender call. I always like riding tenders to shore – sort of like the navy liberty boats in the olden days. It was a short ride to the dock which was located quite near to where the whales were winched from the beach to the “Flensing” platform to be further processed. Flensing is the process of carving the blubber from the caucus – not a pretty thought. Once our group was assembled ashore we struck off to our first stop on our walking tour; the cemetery and Shackleton’s gravesite. What we had heard but didn’t quite believe was the gauntlet of young juvenile Fur Seals that we would have to pass through on our way. And then there were numerous female Elephant Seals that were basking just a few feet from the trail pausing long enough in their “naps” to snarl and wheeze as we cautiously passed by. Sometimes, as in Barbara’s case, a deviation from the well worn path was necessary to avoid them. The juvenile Fur Seals seemed to be trying out their bluffing tactics on these unknown “two-legged challengers”. The two pictures that I included in my previous post were not taken with a long lens, that’s how close we were to them. We also passed by a small social group of King Penguins, however they seemed very unconcerned with our parade.

After we took the obligatory pictures with Sir Ernest, we then had to return over the same route and run the same gauntlet, but we were never in any danger, one just had to “watch his back” so to speak.

James-Card Our next point of interest was to be the Church, which necessitated walking through the remains of this Norwegian Whaling Station which is now a vast complex of rusting tanks, and machinery that was in use up until 1965. The buildings that housed the machinery has had the exterior walls removed, exposing the rusting machinery inside. This was necessary because the metal cladding, as it deteriorated, tended to get blown about by high winds causing a danger to station personnel. Part of the station today is inhabited by summer and winter scientific personnel from the British Antarctic Survey.

The church was located uphill from the old station and was adjacent to a beautiful little glacier melt water stream, in contrast, on the other side of the stream are located huge tanks that were used to store the whale oil that had been rendered from the blubber. These tanks were the size of modern oil tanks in use today near our refineries in the states, and they were numerous.

Wandering-Albatross Our last stop was the museum and gift shop, although the station had sent personnel out to the ship with goods to sell, and a mobile post office, this was the “mother lode”. In front of the building was a display of the “tools of the trade” used in “harvesting” the whales and dragging them to their fate. To me, the most attractive room in the museum was in a brand new building next door; the Shackleton Exhibit. This room contains memorabilia from the Shackleton expedition, the main attraction here was a replication of the James Card, a small whaleboat that Sir Ernest and his men used for survival and transportation after their ship Endeavor was trapped and eventually crushed by the forces of the icepack. The room also contains a life-size, stuffed Wandering Albatross pictured here. For perspective I had a friend from Australia stand next to it and he was over six feet tall. His head was just even with the birds head – picture that. Barbara and I thought the our visit to the King Penguin rookery in the Falklands was about as good as it was going to get – we were wrong, and I suspect when we get into Antarctic waters on Wednesday it will get even better. JWC

One thought on “Our Antarctic Adventure – Part IX

  1. Hi Barbara and Jack
    Thanks for the great narratives! You were really lucky making South Georgia. We didn’t on the ms Marco Polo. Thanks for the informative pictures also. You didn’t tell us what Barbara found in Stanley shops?? I added a couple of RVs to my collection on our trip to Stanley. Nothing to buy in West Faulklands as I recall other than homemade jams. Enjoy!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s