Voyage Journal 7106 Day 8


Day 8 - March 10, 2011 - Fortuna Bay; Stromness; Grytviken

By Will Wagstaff, Ornithologist

Co-ordinates: 54 09 S, 36 42 W
Weather: A bright and sunny morning with light winds, which increased up to 50mph in the early afternoon when the mountaintops were shrouded in cloud but by mid-afternoon the wind had abated and the sun was poking through the clouds again.
Air Temperature: 12C

Those who had signed up for the Shackleton hike were ready to go in the early morning and were quickly ashore making their way up through the tussock on the first part of the walk. From Prince Albert II we could see the crowd of Fur Seals having a good look at what was going on. It was a good morning for the hike as the tops of the mountains were clear and the sun was warming up nicely.

The Prince Albert II then did the short reposition to Stromness where we dropped anchor just before 0800. A little while later I was heading ashore to get ready for the guests coming in. As is usually the case on South Georgia there was a welcoming party of Fur Seal pups, and in this case a bull Fur Seal was also present but did not stay long. A little higher up the beach a young Elephant Seal was slumbering away, oblivious to our presence.

On the sea a little distance from the shore a small group of Southern Giant Petrels was gathering around a dead penguin. There was a lot of displaying going on as the more dominant birds arrived to take their share of the food. These were usually the older, paler headed birds that were higher up the pecking order than the darker brown immatures.

Dancing around over the waves in the lee of this group were an increasing number of Wilson’s Petrel that stayed feeding, dipping and picking pieces of food off the surface as each Zodiac of guests arrived at the beach.

Apart from the howls and wails from the seal pups as they played in the waves there was also the sharp call from an Antarctic Tern that did not like the presence of the Brown Skua a few yards from us along the beach.

Robin divided us into groups for the walk up to Shackleton’s Glacier along the flat glacial plain. Those who opted to stay around the beach area had more than enough to watch as the seals were at their entertaining best.

I led the second group heading inland; first stop was to have a look at the Elephant Seal which promptly sat up and posed for a moment before deciding that it had seen enough and moved off only to settle a few yards away.

Large numbers of Fur Seals were all over the grass and gravel areas at the start of the walk and a small group of Reindeer kept ahead of us for a while before stopping to graze. We had seen a small number of Gentoo Penguins, also heading inland, and after a while we saw their colony half way up the valley on a small hill, a long way from the sea.

On our radios we had heard the walkers say they had reached the ridge and were looking down at the ship. Through our binoculars we could see the line of red coats away up in the hills. As we got closer to the waterfall we met some of the hikers making their way to the shore. All had enjoyed a great hike in some rather lovely weather.

The green vegetation on either side of Shackleton’s Waterfall made for many a scenic photograph as we reached the far end of our walk. We had time to sit in the sun and admire the view on this warm morning before gathering up our gear and heading back down the valley. The meandering stream meant that we had to ford the shallows every now and then but as we had our boots on from the wet landing it was no problem.

After a last look around the beach we were taken back to the ship, which then repositioned to Cumberland Bay West. The original plan was to have done two Zodiac cruises this afternoon but the increased wind put a stop to the original idea. We did see a lot of ice and some of the glaciers as we had lunch in the dining room but we could see lots of white-topped waves as well.

The second plan was to head for the Nordenskjold Glacier but the wind was still an issue. The beauty of expedition cruising is that we can change plans quite quickly. Robin and the Captain then came up with the idea of going to Grytviken to visit Shackleton’s Grave and the Museum at the old whaling base. The people at Grytviken were very accommodating and permitted us to land. This was to have been tomorrow afternoon’s itinerary so we were lucky to be able to do a straight swap.

First stop was at the cemetery where Sir Ernest Shackleton’s grave is situated. Once everyone was ashore and had a glass of Champagne, courtesy of the hotel department who were very quick in getting set up before the first guests arrived, we gathered around the grave. Claudia then gave a toast to Sir Ernest to which we all raised our glasses before we gradually returned to the Zodiacs to be transferred to the old whaling station.

We had plenty of time to explore this historic site. Although it was now quiet it was not difficult to imagine what it was like when it was thriving. A visit to the excellent museum gave a lot more colour to what we had seen outside. Also popular was the small shop attached to the museum and the post office near the maritime museum. One side room was a hive of activity with many postcards being written for posting on the island. I had a look around both museums and did a few cards before joining Robin as shoreparty for the rest of the afternoon.

Some guests joined Luke and Hans Peter for a walk to King Edward Point to have a look at the cross erected in memory of Sir Ernest by the crew of his ship the Quest. Although still breezy out by the ship it was calm and sunny on the shore with the quiet only broken by the occasional peal of bells from the church as some of us tried their hand at bell ringing.

There was a steady stream of shopping from the small shop heading back to the Prince Albert II by late afternoon. We were going to stay at anchor for a while this evening as we were being joined by some of the staff from King Edward Point. Before dinner our Expedition Leader Robin gave us a briefing about tomorrow’s plans before Ruth, the publicity manager of the Rat Eradication programme on South Georgia, run by the South Georgia National Heritage Trust, gave us a lecture on their work. She showed us a map of the area around Grytviken involved in phase one of the project, which had begun on 1st March and explained the presence of two helicopters at the station. She gave us an idea of the work that needed doing to make a rat free island and how much it was all going to cost. As she finished Tony the leader of the project gave us an up to date briefing on how the work was going. He
explained that they were very pleased with progress so far as the weather had been very good to them and they had achieved a lot in a short time. He then answered the many questions the guests had before Robin thanked him and Ruth for their time and then wished us Bon appétit at the end of a very interesting and for some more active day.