So we are now almost exactly 24 hours from the last blog and have just motored away from Grytviken and are heading south east (or to the Capetown end of the island as some of the compass challenged navigators would have it) to start our exploration of the island. The weather has cleared and we are looking back and across at the most amazing scenery sparkling in the sunshine – an azure sea then across to a rich, velvety green shore line, and then to the towering snow, ice and mountains beyond. South Georgia may be a relatively small island (some 100 miles long and less than 10 miles across in places) but there are some serious mountains on it, some just shy of 9500 feet. This is our first chance really to get a feel for the grandeur and spectacular scenery of this magical island – and it doesn’t disappoint – richer in its colour’s and textures than the black and white of Antarctica. And the weather is certainly changeable. Whilst there has been little wind over the past 24 hours we’ve had driving snow, sunshine, total cloud cover and some blue sky often all in a matter of minutes.
Yesterday we all walked over the hill to Maiviken, a walk of about an hour and a half, mostly on a well worn path, to visit a seal nursery. Maiviken was where the Norwegians first landed with a view to establishing a whaling station before they explored over the hill and realised that Grytviken was a more sheltered and better bay in which to build their industrial scale whaling operation. The walk takes about an hour and a half with a path climbing out past the whaler’s church at the back of Grytviken and then up and over a shoulder and a col before dropping down to the coast again. As we reached the col the driving snow shower stopped and we had a great view down over the bay and beyond, with a steep scree and rock face to our right defining the edge of the valley. As we reached the tussock grass about 150 feet above the cove the seal running gauntlet started. This is not the aggressive breeding season for the fur seals but it’s nonetheless easy to stumble upon a seal and a couple of pups hidden in the tussock grass and they can be quite grumpy when startled and make a surprisingly quick lurch towards you. Tussock grass is not exactly Wimbledon quality. It can grow to 4 or 5 feet high so it’s a bit like being in the jungle and hides seals extremely well. Once on the beach the nursery was delightful. Most of the pups are already quite big but are still not yet weaned so, whilst the bulls have long disappeared back to sea, the cows are still around. The pups are incredibly inquisitive. If you sit on the beach they will come up and sniff your boots before scuttling away again back into the sea. They also have quite deep barks so sound bigger and more aggressive than some of the older seals – is this a case of seal voices breaking in the opposite direction to human voices. The beach also had an old sealers cave on it, rather well guarded by a single large seal. So we sat in the sunshine, ate cake ( the default Elinca position ) and watched the seal pup show. It is rumoured that on the way back the rear guard skinny dipped in the lake underneath the col ( guess who – answers on the blog please; hint it was two people – one male and one female).
The evening saw yet another Elinca party on the social tour of the South Atlantic and Antarctica – this time at the kind invitation of the King Edward Point base – which is made up of the SG Administration and BAS personnel. We contributed one of our Falkland lambs from the rigging and they provided some reindeer meat and burgers so a serious meat fest ensued. Two oil drum barbecues served to cook the meat as well as keep us warm in the driving snowstorm that swept the bay for most of the evening. There was some shelter in the adjacent boat shed where the salads and beer was located. So we drank Fullers (they had some Black Sheep as well but it was deep in the stores!) and a great time was had by all. Many thanks to Simon and the rest of the base! The party did continue with pineapple upside down cake and a small (?) additional quantity of alcohol on board Elinca, joined by a couple of last men standing from the base. Another great evening!
Up early this morning for a tour of the whaling station with Sarah who has lived on the island for some 20 years and a fascinating story about the establishment and development of Norwegian whaling at Grytviken. A story that needs more justice doing to it than this short blog can provide, so maybe someone will write more in a subsequent one. But we have now squeezed ourselves (literally) into Cobbler’s Cove and are about to go ashore to look at Macaroni penguins so must end.
Thanks to all of you who have sent me Valentines today – strangely none seem to have arrived yet – but as I have fallen in love with SG … no worries. But Valentine love to Jane (somewhere in Tasmania) and from all the Elinca Lonely Hearts club to you at home.
PS James sends birthday best wishes to nephew Liam