Co-ordinates: S 54º 15’ W 36º 45’
Weather: Low mist clouds lifting later in the day to along pockets of sunshine
Air Temperature: 5º C 41º F
Sea Temperature: 5º C 41º F
Pressure: 1017 hPa
Wind: Light breeze from the northwest
The morning was again reluctant to rise, preferring instead to remain under its blanket of low mist clouds. I peered out through The Restaurant windows and scanned the steep sides of Godthul where we had remained anchored overnight. Around me, a keen bunch of hikers fortified themselves with the delights of the breakfast buffet. Once ashore they would ascend into the mist in the south-western corner and follow Reindeer Valley for the 8 km crossing of the Barff Peninsula to Cumberland East Bay.
I was not to join the hikers today, instead remaining with Claudia and Aiello to guide the remaining guests around the shores of Godthul. A whaling factory ship was stationed here during the summer months in the early 1900s and some interesting relics of a shore depot remain in the south-eastern corner of the bay, including three whale catchers, flensing irons for stripping the great beasts of their blubber, barrels and tanks. Scattered all along the shoreline are the bones of whales and seals, vestiges of the era when the whalers used only the more lucrative blubber rather than the entire carcass. Scanning these remains I was able to identify several items of note for the guests, including elephant seal teeth, fur seal skulls and whale ear bones.
The beach and surrounding tussock, while not as crowded as the previous landing sites of Salisbury Plain and Stromness nonetheless offered an abundance of wildlife. Moulting king penguins gathered in the nearby stream, while on the beach thin male fur seals protected the last of their harems, their fat reserves depleted after the long breeding season. Fur seals pups played hide and seek in the tussock grass while in the muddy wallows, steaming groups of female elephant seals snuggled together as they shed their old fur. For the more adventurous, Aiello and Nicki led groups up a muddy gulley onto the plateau above the eastern beaches, where gentoo penguins nested.
News from the hikers was good. They were making steady and indeed swift progress towards Sandebukta, a small cove in Cumberland East Bay, so once all the other guests were finished exploring Godthul, the Prince Albert II steamed around to collect them. From there, it was a short trip across the bay to King Edward Point and Grytviken where we dropped anchor for the afternoon. For me, I was now home, having lived at the research station on nearby King Edward Point for the past two years. The sun broke through in places and the surrounding hills and mountains showed brighter than earlier in the day.
Once the ship was cleared by Pat Lurcock, the Senior Government Officer on the island, I joined Juan, our Geologist, in ferrying the guests ashore by Zodiac to the whalers’ and sealers’ cemetery. Here, Christian, our Historian, led a toast to “The Boss,” Sir Ernest Shackleton at his gravestone. The guests now had a chance to explore the remains of the whaling station. Grytviken whaling station was founded in 1904 by C.A. Larsen after he noticed the abundance of whales around the island during a previous visit as Captain of Nordenskjold’s expedition on the vessel Antarctic.
At 16:15 hours, Aiello, Christian and Ken led a guided walk over to King Edward Point and up to Hope Point where a memorial cross was erected by the crew of the Quest, Shackleton’s last ship. With an hour free of duties, I brought Juan to the research station to purchase some British Antarctic Survey merchandise and to catch up with news and gossip from my friends still living there.
From here, we set a course for Elephant Island and the Antarctic Peninsula and as we steam southeast down the rugged coast of South Georgia, I reflect on my latest visit to that beautiful isle and wonder what the Southern Ocean has in store for us for the next two days.