Position: 5403.3’S, 3719.1’W, Salisbury Plain
Temperature: 6C (36F) - 4C (39F), wind 12 km/h
Weather: Blue sky, sun shining.
Breakfast began very early at 4:45am for the Expedition Team, and at 5am for guests. Fortified by this, we started our first Zodiac landing of the day at 6am because we had two more sites to visit later in the day.
Landings at Salisbury Plain are very dependent on sea and weather conditions because it is common for strong winds to come down the glaciers. But we were lucky with bright sunshine and mild wind (10-15 km/h) blowing from the mountains. The day before, all guests went through a biosecurity check of gear for potential contamination by non-native seeds that threatened the local ecology. Some seeds were discovered, mainly in the pockets and some in the Velcro in the bottom of the pants, collected at West Point.
By 6:10am the first 20 guests were ashore, having been led by Dick and Chris slowly between aggressive fur seals and gently crossing small groups of king penguins. At the landing site, a big group of giant petrels sat on the water and huge elephant seals appeared from the waves just after our landing. Several brown skuas and kelp gulls were flying around looking for ill or struggling penguins, or unguarded nests. At the main colony, guests found out that the small brown “grasshills” between penguins were not grass, but penguin chicks with warm ‘baby’ down feathers that protect them from cold wind often blowing from the mountains. Groups of 20 took a walk through a beautiful landscape of snowy mountains - along the shingle beach, covered close to the water by hundreds and thousands of mostly young penguins, who crossed our way in lines to the tussock grass field and freshwater lake. The sun was so bright and warm that we have to use sun-block cream to avoid sunburn.
Almost all guests came ashore by 7.30am, dispersing among the tussock grass 20-30 m from the edge of the colony, and walked around 200 meters to the left along the beach. Somebody discovered an unusual red penguin near the colony – it was our Captain, who had come ashore to look at the beautiful landing site and crowded penguin colony! Chris and Dick gave excellent explanations on bird behavior, breeding and growth and answered many other questions from guests. At 9:50am, all were aboard again and at 10:00am the vessel was heading for Stromness Harbour. On the way to Stromness, we met a huge iceberg, about 50 meters high and 200 meters long. This was an excellent piece of the Antarctic ice shelf, brought to South Georgia by the circumpolar current.
Position: 5409.5’S, 3642.2’W, Stromness Harbour
Temperature: 5C (41F), wind 25 km/h.
Weather: Sun, high with thin clouds
After a nice lunch with spectacular views over the mountains of South Georgia from The Restaurant window, we entered the harbour to look at the old whaling station of Stromness, which is well known historically as the final point of the great Shackleton journey. On the way, close to shore, we saw an interesting atmospheric phenomenon – a bright ring around the sun or parhelion. Usually this is a sign that the weather could get worse. There was another ship there – the re-supply ship Black Rover in the bay, and we saw several people walking around between seals and reindeer on green fields near the river, where Shackleton made his walk to Stromness. Victoria gave us an interesting introduction to the history of the place. All the guests were outside on deck, so our photographer Val took a picture of everyone from the lower deck. At 1:40pm, the ship started for Grytviken; however, somebody discovered another whaling station very close to Stromness in Leith Harbour, which we passed. After Robin’s destination briefing, which was, as always, informative and stimulating, we soon arrived at another remarkable place in South Georgia – Grytviken.
Position: 5417.0S, 3630.1W, Grytviken
Temperature: 5C (41F), wind 3 km/h.
Weather: Sun, clear sky.
After a wet landing near the cemetery and disembarkation, all guests crowded together in the cemetery and our Captain proposed a toast in memory of the great explorer Shackleton, who was buried there after he died of a heart attack. Then Dick, with several expedition staff, collected a group of about thirty good walkers and took them uphill on a steep ascent across a small, fast river to a helicopter crash site and a potential viewing spot for light-mantled albatrosses. Other people distributed themselves between the post office, church, museum and small groups of king penguins, elephant seals and fur seals (mostly juveniles). We saw Antarctic terns flying over the water surface and diving for food. The museum was interesting and provides the opportunity to send mail and buy postcards. Finally, at 7:30pm, the guests were picked up from the post office or museum, with the last ones to leave filling in a local authority questionnaire, which took about ten minutes. At 8pm all were on board, full of good impressions of this eventful day.