A day much in the wake of Shackleton! Early morning we set sail from Fortuna Bay, a very sheltered anchorage and also the site where Shackleton and his two companions came down from their heroic hike from King Haakon Bay. They rapidly realized their mistake and had to climb up into the mountains again to reach Stroemness Whaling Station.
At breakfast we pulled in to the old whaling station Stroemness and here found the manager villa. Shackleton and his men finally reached civilization after 1 1/2 years at sea and mainly on the ice. Their amazing voyage from Elephant Island became a success. Now Ernest Shackleton only had to spend almost a year to get his men out from Antarctica. His first aim was to get the men at Elephant Island back and this demanded four different attempts. After this heroic achievement he went to New Zealand to rescue his men stuck in the Ross Sea.
At Stroemness most of us hiked up though Shackleton Valley and got the sight of the famous water fall. The beach itself was already claimed by several thousand male fur seals. In fact, the beach strollers were able to find only a single female with her very-newborn pup. In a week to come lots of females will arrive and the beach will turn into a major battlefield between all these males.
By lunch we repositioned to the “capital” of South Georgia, Grytviken and King Edward Point. After our official clearance into South Georgia we all shuttled to the other side of the bay and walked to the graveyard. Here Steve MacLean gave a speech and we toasted these brave men by the graves of Shackelton and Frank Wild. Shackleton’s expedition, the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, started here in January 1915 and it was here it ended almost two years later. He later came back for his third own attempt for Antarctica but died of a heart attack in January 1922. The crew on his ship Quest raised a memorial at the cape to King Edward Point.
Later everybody strolled into the old whaling station and visited the great museum with a gift shop. For sure, many arrived back with bags full of items stamped South Georgia.
No matter where you step ashore at South Georgia the wildlife is always overwhelming. As you walk at Grytviken you step between penguins, elephant seals and fur seals. Still, today here at Grytviken we made a very odd and unexpected sighting, a male blue-winged teal together with the endemic South Georgia pintail. A bird common in North America, it migrates south to winter in South America. This one had obviously gone way too far south.
Our recap today was allocated for the BAS personnel and the officials at King Edward Point. Pat, the government officer, and his wife Sarah, introduced us to life on the island. Sarah is also in charge of the project to eradicate the rats on the island; a huge task and the largest ever tried anywhere in the world. Rats have a major impact on small breeding birds, like the pipit, the duck, storm petrels, prions, etc. The first step was tried around late summer in 2011 and so far no rats have been sighted. The total cost for eradicating the nasty rats is set at about £ 7 million and we can only hope it will become a success. If it succeeds we can expect South Georgia to house even more seabirds in the future. Hard to believe!
Our local South Georgia visitors stayed on board to enjoy dinner, a nice set-up made by our Filipino crew, and many guests had the opportunity to chat more with them.
After three days at South Georgia everybody will agree it’s a jewel to be treasured, and we still have more to come.