Visiting Prince Olav

It’s easy to appreciate why the natural harbour of Stromness Bay was the selected site for three whaling stations. The bay itself contains three inner sanctums, each with its own small natural harbour. Each provides protection from the harsher winds and sea of the north facing coast of South Georgia’s shore. So the mariner’s priority of a secure anchorage is met. So too are the requirements for landing on a flattish beach with space to provide the necessary infrastructure with which to service and support the whaling and sealing activities of yesteryear. So not only do you find the shore based facilities associated with flensing and processing the catch but also all those to be found in any thriving small seaport, except it’s even more extensive because the whole must be self-sufficient. So the stations contained forges, carpenters workshops, stores for every conceivable item that might needed throughout the year because although there might be a convenience store in South America, there was only an annual delivery from the European superstore home delivery service. And on top of this is the necessary accommodation and messing for the work force. Time and again we have marvelled at their legacy as we try to comprehend what life must have been like for these men. Readers will already be familiar with the broad outline of Shackleton’s misadventures and his epic survival story but pause for a moment to reflect on those thousands who lived, worked and all too often died in this harsh environment. Temporarily suspend your disapproval of the whaling industry and reflect upon the achievements and legacy of these hardiest of men. You will I suspect find an uncomfortable dichotomy as you balance on the one hand their part in the mass destruction and near extinction of the whale with their achievements in one of the most dangerous jobs and in one of the harshest environments in the world.

Leaving Stromness (and although not about this Stromness do google and listen to Peter Maxwell Davis’s piece of the same name) we motored slowly passed the remains of Leith Harbour before striking out to sea, clearing the headland we were struck by that harsh wind and sea as we motored north into winds of between 20 and 30 knots with an uncomfortable sea. The stanza “tucked in Leith harbours sheltered bay” from the song “Little Pot Stove” (another google?) rang true and any misplaced doubts about South Georgia’s weather dispelled after the glorious and near halcyon sunshine and calm of the last few days.

We made our way Northerly in to a Northerly wind of just over 30 knots so the spray would blow off the tops of the waves and salt the helmsman’s hair. The wind meant we slowed a bit coming up as we headed into the wind and waves but we managed to get into Prince Olav Harbour before dark and we anchored in the calm bay. We saw only our 3rd bot of this trip in South Georgia. The first being the German family in Grytviken, the second being the BBC boat at St Andrews bay and the third being here in Prince Olav harbour who was at anchor. He paid us a visit and I think he was thankful for our company having spent the last 2 months on South Georgia alone on his boat. He will go back to west Falkland’s to work as a farm hand for the winter season to earn enough money to do this all again next summer. He has been doing this for 11 years and seems quite content. It imagine it must have been a shock for him to socialise with the 14 of us, we’ve spent enough time together that we can finish each other’s sentences. We sat down to a pasta with prawn and salmon dinner with our new guest and whiled away the evening.

Our shore party went off to prepare for their glacier walk which will happen in 1 days’ time.

Gemma, Dick and Richy

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