Grytviken and Godthal on South Georgia 4-6 February 2019

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February 6th 2019
Published: February 20th 2019
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Monday/Tuesday 4/5 February - DAYS 3-4 / AT SEA – TOWARDS SOUTH GEORGIA

We charted a south-easterly course bound for South Georgia. The seabirds once again joined us in the Southern Ocean. The weather was mild (7.5 C degrees) with a slight swell which was affecting some of the passengers. However, through the on-board doctor, seasick patches became very popular.

Our educational presentations continue and were always popular. History is a key theme of this voyage and the epic story of Sir Ernest Shackleton and the HMS Endurance expedition is central to any trip to South Georgia. We also had a presentation on whales in the area. I also picked up some valuable tips from the onboard photographic guide, learning about image composition, the subtle polar light and all the basics of good camera craft. We also learned about Polar conservation - a theme particularly close to the hearts of the One Ocean guides and crew.

Wednesday – Saturday 6-9 February: DAY 5-8 / EXPLORATION OF SOUTH GEORGIA

1. Grytviken – it was 15 degrees C with water temperatures of 7 degrees and clear sky

South Georgia has often been called the ‘Serengeti of the Southern Ocean’ – and as we approached the deep bays of this rugged, rocky outcrop, we began to see why. Launching the Zodiacs we began our exploration of the island, in the vicinity of Cumberland Bay and King Edward Point. The largest town of South Georgia is Grytviken, a town with an old whaling station. Larsen established the site in 1904 for the purpose of whaling. Initially only the whale fat was used but in later years, no part of the whale was wasted and less was put into the sea. Whaling ceased in the mid 1960s.

In the town there were several buildings restored; the church, post office, and maritime museum with gift shop. The town has about 8-20 people living on the Island at any one time. You could even post a letter from the post office. Collectors coins and stamps were available as was clothing with South Georgia emblems. The shop took US dollars, the Pound and Euros. Much of the whaling station artefacts were just left on site including a mound of chain, several old boats and multiple facilities for boiling whale fat, sawing bones and flesh etc. One of the residents gave us a guided tour around the town.

We had a good look around ensuring I rang the bell in the 2 story church!! Large numbers of fur seals and the much larger elephant seal lined the dark sand beaches. We saw a number of King Penguins enjoying the sun and water.

We also sailed past King Edward Point which was established in 1912 and now has the British Antarctic Survey housed. It is also used by various researchers during the year.

It was then back onto the ship for lunch. All lunches and dinners were 3 course so I could see the gym will be used prolifically if when we don’t go for long walks on shore!! All the food was excellent and served by Russian staff. We learned that there was a New Zealander who was also one of the chefs.

2. Godthul

Our next adventure on shore was to Godthul. This is a bay that is home to a large Gentoo Penguin colony. We arrived by zodiac onto the beach, being met by fur seals, gentoo and a few king penguins and several elephant seals and their pups.

Six of us want for a hike up the mountain with one of the One Ocean team (the company organising our cruise). Our challenge became clear straight away as we started our hike. There were fur seals everywhere, hiding in the tussock grass which we had to walk through. Every time we decided on a path a fur seal came at us and temporarily blocked our way. We learned that we were to take walking poles with us, not to help stabilise our walking, but to stave off angry seals. We nearly cancelled our trek to the large gentoo penguin’s rookery, but we persevered along the little stream, shooing the seals away in a soft voice with walking poles extended out front!!

We then hiked up the mountain and as we moved over the ridge, we spotted the massive gentoo penguin colony. What an amazing site. I sat down to observe their behaviour. Several young inquisitive penguins came right up to me. It was amazing.

Time was running out as the last zodiac was to leave by 2.30pm, so we started our walk down. We didn’t see quite so many fur seals. We saw lots of giant petrels, some albatross and a brown skua plus lots of shags (cormorants).

On the way back to the ship we went for a cruise in our zodiac around the coast as well as on the opposite side of the bay. Tom was lucky enough to see a honey blond fur seal which was very rare (1:1000 chance). That was very special.

Back on board we have ‘happy hour’ at 6.00pm. That night our resident photographer gave us a 101 version of photography in the Antarctica giving particular aperture and shutter speed advice. We had quickly realised how lucky we were to have the most knowledgeable professionals on board; a historian who has lived and worked in the Antarctic since the mid 60s and who has a PhD on Antarctica ownership and politics, Matt who was incredibly knowledgeable on animals in the Antarctic and Christopher, the ornithologist to name a few.

NB: Photos of Godthal in the next Blog

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