Early in the morning we drop anchor and wait until breakfast time to properly assess the wind conditions. We were about to sail into the tiny Cobblers Cove, around a couple of miles away, but pretty unmanageable under strong wind and swell. However the weather in the morning unfolds as gorgeous. Blue skies, sunshine and calm seas welcome us on deck from the beginning of the day. After heaving anchor we were all called on deck to enjoy the narrow entrance to the cove, with a high cliff on Port side and kelp beds over rocks at Starboard side. At that point we realise that the sailing yacht “Selma” is also in Cobblers, so the already reduced manoeuvring space is even more limited for us. Landing operations began straight away and soon we were all on land for a walk over the hills to “Rookery Point”, home of thousand of Macaroni penguins.
Many quiet Elephant seal weaners are to be found lying at the beach, together with the already familiar for us Fur seals. Going uphill we get clear of them and soon the splendid view over the whole little bay reveals as the group pass over a grassy hill shoulder. An elegant Light mantled albatross couple synchronize their flight over our heads, birds that are observed for almost the whole time we are ashore here. In the meantime, the Europa starts making her way off the cove, to look for a safer anchorage in case the wind picks up. The hike goes all the way to an evident saddle between the steep mountains, where we made a rest stop and shoot more pictures of the impressive landscape, here even reflected on a couple of small meltwater ponds where a couple of Reindeer carcasses are to be found, witnesses of the success of the Habitat Restoration Projects conducted in the island for several years.
From there, the way down towards the exposed North coast goes over Festuca grassland and tussock grass terrain, with several Giant petrel nests scattered around the whole area. Our way follows reindeer paths until reaching the upper part of the Macaroni penguin rockery. There the penguins are in the thick cover of fully developed tussock, but a couple of clear spaces are also densely occupied by nesting couples, much easier for us to observe them. Skuas have been busy here, as many broken and eaten eggs are found in the surroundings. After a while enjoying those beautiful penguins in their nests, lying on their eggs, cleaning themselves or mutual preening, we struggle our way around the colony through the tussock grass to reach the rocky shore. There the penguins use the rock slabs battered by the big swells and winds, to climb to their breeding areas.
The way back to Cobblers Cove started soon, as still we had over an hour hike to reach the embarkation point in the bay. As we climbed the hills the weather was deteriorating gradually, and by the time we reached the landing area the sky was already overcast. Luckily the wind and swell conditions were holding well and as the group was spending some relaxing moments sitting at the beach, the Europa made her way back into the cove to pick us up. From there just a few miles and a couple of hours sailing separate us from our next destination, Cumberland Bay where the famous Grytviken whaling station is located.
Carl Anton Larsen recognised the commercial opportunity of whaling in the waters off South Georgia Island, establishing a whaling station at Grytviken. He made important contributions to the exploration of Antarctica as well. Amongst them, he was the Captain of the “Antarctic” for the Swedish Antarctic Expedition leaded by Nordenksjold, and he was in charge of the party stranded on Paulet Island, in the Weddell Sea, also part of our program for the next weeks. Right after lunch we were already passing by the modern buildings of King Edward Point, the scientific facilities allocated a kilometre from the old whaling station, also where the South Georgia Government officers’ quarters are. First we had a reminder of the rules for visiting Grytviken, then all ormalities of clearance and paperwork had to be done with the British authorities. Two of the girls in charge of the Museum and the South Georgia Heritage Trust came also on board to give us an interesting talk about habitat restoration and the rat eradication program they are conducting in South Georgia, that in fact has been extremely effective.
Once finished we could start the proper visit ashore not before Simon, the Government officer, had few biosecurity checks on us prior to embark the zodiacs. Disembarkation and start of the visit was in the well-known cemetery of Grytviken, where we paid a visit to Sir Ernest Shackleton’s grave and also to Frank Wild’s ashes. Shackleton died on January 5th 1922, at South Georgia, on his way south for his third Antarctic expedition. His body was on its way to England when his widow requested to send him back for burial to where he be-longed: in the deep south. He was buried near Grytviken on the 5th March 1922. On the other hand, Frank Wild was buried here in 2013 and honoured with a plaque. Now both are reunited again, the “Boss” and his right hand and First officer. Their resting places are in a preeminent location amongst 63 whaler’s and sailor’s graves. From there Sarah, the head of the South Georgia Heritage Trust, welcomed us giving afterwards an interesting guided tour along the station and its main features. All an all it took around half hour, then there was still time to wander around on our own, visit the interesting Museum about whaling and Falklands war, the souvenir shop where books, maps and South Georgia merchandise can be found, and of course the very popular post office.
As we walk around the old structures attention to numerous Fur and Elephant seals has to be taken. Other inhabitants of the area where a small group of moulting penguins, Antarctic terns, Giant petrels, Kelp gulls and fearless South Georgia pintails. Even a solitary Gentoo penguin stopped here for a while walking around in a tourist fashion. Grytviken offers an impressive view of how a whaling station used to be and it used to work. But nowadays the witnesses of such big scale whaling operation are giant rusted anchor chains, high-pressure steam cylinders, buildings, hauled out workboats, beached whaling boats, chimneys, generators and engines. The newly white painted Church, Museum and post office stand against the mountainous landscape and rusty colours of the station. As part of the museum but in a separate building, we could all see the real size replica of the “James Caird”, the open boat used by Worsley, Shackleton and four of their men to sail all the way from Elephant Island to South Georgia, in search of rescue for the rest of the expedition. After a well spent time ashore we came back on board to be welcomed with a barbecue and an party on deck! Some people working in King Edward Point o Grytviken were also invited on board to have a good time and share a couple of drinks and dances on deck with us. Fortunately we didn’t have to sail tonight after the party. Europa spends the night at anchor moving in the morning towards Ocean Harbour.