Pull up the anchor in the early hours, make way to the next destination. Breakfast, then preparations for the morning landing, dressing up for it, and then the call of the three bells for the briefing. A routine that has been going on for the last week, a procedure to which we are all used by now. But today, the captain informed us that our imminent landing at Gold Harbour will be the last one at South Georgia. The plans are for heaving anchor afterwards and start the 1400nm of southern ocean sailing towards Tristan da Cunha.
Crew and guides worked for squeezing the maximum they could the last hours in the island and offer a memorable last experience, helped too by the excellent weather, windless situation and just a slight rolling long swell.
Setting foot ashore we soon realise why Gold Harbour is considered a “South Georgia in a nutshell”, and one of its most beautiful spots.
The place stands up for its stunning scenery, a sort of a steep amphitheater wall which stands vertically and capped by the ice towers of the Bertrab Glacier. From it pour dramatic waterfalls and a narrow glacier front, concealed between cliffs vertically into the sea below. An open flat beach framed by tussock grass slopes is home for a large profusion of wildlife. Elephant seals wallow all around the sandy beach, here a group of moulting sizeable males, there a gathering of youngsters. At the background, rulers of the coastal tussock grass are the Fur seals. Gold Harbour is also the home for a small Gentoo penguin colony and yet another of the largest King penguin rookeries in the island. With them also come the predators and scavengers, Skuas, Giant petrels and Sheathbills.
The beach itself is enough for spending the full length of the time ashore, but as usual a longer hike was offered for the most adventurous ones.
Rounding the penguin rookery, a stream coming from steep slopes offers a good and easy way inland amongst the intractable stools of tussock grass. From there, the climb of a moraine hill gives the first great overview of the landscape. Not much time for a stop as still there was a bit more land to cover until reaching the secluded and secretive bay where part of the Bertab glacier falls to the sea while its other portion stands above the vertical rocky precipice. A breathtaking and wild landscape, unrivalled for a South Georgia farewell.
Flat seas, just a light breeze now from the north, now from the west, showing the land effects over the large scale High Pressure system circulation that hoovers upon us for the last few days, and apparently the next few to come.
An island of such a fierce reputation as South Georgia, is showing us its seldom calm face. Located straight in the middle of the atmospheric depression highway that encircles the world along the latitudes of the Furious 50’s, one of its main features are the strong winds and raging seas. Long swell often break over its rocky shores making for a difficult planning of landings and anchorages. A handful of days ago the weather and seas paid tribute to this moody manners, but not lately. Remarkable difficult landing sites have been no trouble, and extraordinary and unique areas could bee visited.
As a treat for the goodbye to the island, the midday meal was served on deck, for us to enjoy it under the sun, all before the anchor came up and the ship starts her way.
Now, the stunning weather set a new handicap for our departure, the lack of wind.
Engines on, the Europa set course to the open waters of the South Atlantic, leaving gradually behind the wonders of South Georgia.
Now a puff of wind, setting the hopes for more. Hands are called on deck and aloft, for unfurling all the Staysails, pulling on sheets and halyards. Motorsailing then, both gaining some distance to our next destination and in a hunt of fare winds, as the sun sets at our back over the jagged peaks of the island.
South Atlantic crossing. The new adventure at sea has just began.