Friday, 12 November 2010

Shackleton, whaling, beautiful weather, nasty weather

Temperature range for the day: 5 to 13°C.
These are some keywords for our second day on South Georgia. Yesterday evening we sailed into Cumberland East Bay and anchored for the night very near Grytviken, the capital of South Georgia. The amazing, summer-like weather which we experienced yesterday continued today. Those of us who have been here before are struck by how little snow we have seen at sea level, and how dry it is underfoot. The winter must have been warm and dry.

In the morning we weighed anchor and moved into Grytviken harbour for our landing at the abandoned Norwegian whaling station. This station was the first of its kind in Antarctica and started operations in 1905. Remarkably, whaling continued in this location until 1965 and processed over 54,000 whales. Also at Grytviken is a fabulous museum, British Post Office, gift shop, and lots of wildlife. The museum has a very nice collection that takes you back to the time of heroic exploration and active whaling in this region. Next to the museum is a life-sized replica of the James Caird, the boat that took Shackleton and five of his men from Elephant Island to South Georgia on arguably the most adventurous voyage ever to have happened.

On the shoreline from Shackleton's grave to King Edward Point we found many male Fur Seals and Elephant Seal harems. We saw a few King Penguins and then noticed a special one. This bird had large white patches of feathers where there should have been dark feathers, and blotchy pink and black feet. Biologists call this particular coloration leucism. Totally leucistic animals are called albinos.

We left Grytviken before lunch to reposition for our next activity at Cooper Bay. However, South Georgia lived up to its reputation of having the worst weather on the planet (just kidding!), and as we sailed east, the wind picked up to gale force and it started to snow. This made our planned Polar Cirkel Boat cruise impossible. Instead we sailed further down the north coast and entered the dramatic Drygalski Fjord, named after Erich Dagobert von Drygalski, who led the first German South Polar Expedition between 1901 and 1903. Now we are sailing towards the Antarctic proper.