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GRYTVIKEN whaling station

Early start of the day for the crew, trying to retrieve the anchor that got stuck yesterday, but the several attempts didn’t work and before breakfast time we were forced to grind the chain and consider the anchor lost.

Free from our holding at Stromness and sad for the valuable anchor lost, we motor our way towards the little cove Maiviken, tucked into the coastline of cliff s and scree slopes, where we arrive around 09:30 and drop the only anchor left from now on until probably getting a new one once in Cape Town. Steep sided mountains with just three small beaches surround Maiviken,
lying between Rocky and Mai Points with their upper parts covered by tussock grass. The first one to the North is called Tortula Cove, the next one is Burnet and the third one and our landing site is called Poa Cove.

Soon after our arrival we start the disembarkation by zodiacs, and we are welcomed at the rocky beach by 3 people that live and work during the summer season in Grytviken. Harko and Jordi invited them on board a couple of days ago. They just came walking from Grytviken earlier, doing the same walk we plan to do but in the opposite direction. For them, walking over here and sailing our ship its a nice break on their duties! They embarked very enthusiastically to be crew members for the couple of hours that takes the sail back to Grytviken in Cumberland Bay.
Scientists from King Edward Point (British Antarctic Survey station at Grytviken) use regularly Maiviken to conduct research programmes both on the ubiquitous Fur seals and the Gentoo penguin colony in Tortula Cove.

Maiviken was well known by early sealers and we could visit one of the places where they left traces of their presence, an impressive cave with its entrance blocked by a large wooden wall with a door (later addition to the sparse comfort of the early sealer’s life). From the cave we went back to the beach, where a few of us returned to the ship, while the rest started the walk that was going to bring us to the famous Grytviken. A lovely couple of hours following a good path, under blue skies ornamented by some high lenticular clouds over the high peaks around the area. The hike climbs up to 205 m above the sea level, where we start following a small stream right next of the cave, through the tussock grass where we got a few Fur seals to deal with on our way up. Once above this area a steeper uphill path leads to a hut (built in 1974, but nowadays is visited by Grytviken scientists) located at the eastern shore of Maivatn lake. From there we cross Bore Valley to finally climb up to a series of rocky outcrops to the highest point of the walk, a saddle where a big rock cairn is located (called Dead Man’s Cairn).
From this point the rest of the way follows a gentle slope along a valley that leads straight to Grytviken whaling station.

Soon we reach there and after taking a few great shots of all the structures on our way, we can see the Europa entering the bay. Time to head directly to the embarkation little beach to return on board for lunch. After our meal we plan a to start the proper visit ashore. But before we have to go through all formalities of clearance and paperwork with the British authorities. Sarah, in charge of the Museum and head of the South Georgia Heritage Trust was soon picked up from Grytviken, as well, 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 surprisingly successful.

It did not took long to clear our documents and stamp our passports. From then on we could start our landing, after a few random biosecurity checks prior to embark the zodiacs. The landing starts next to the Station graveyard, paying a visit to Sir Ernest Shackleton’s grave and also the recently moved Frank Wild’s ashes, honoured with a nice plaque. Finally “the Boss” and his First Officer are resting side by side in this cemetery in South Georgia, surrounded by several whaler’s graves. We did a small ceremony at the graveyard, including drinking and pouring Whisky on Shackleton’s grave (a tradition for the visitors of “the Boss”). From there we got a guided tour along the station that the Museum assistant Mathew was very kind to give us. After half an hour learning about Grytviken history with him, we got time to roam around freely or visit the Museum, Post office and well-assorted Shop.

Impressive to walk around the well preserved giant rusted anchor chains, high pressure steam cylinders, buildings, hauled out workboats, beached whaling boats, chimneys, generators and engines. Beyond the structures of rusting iron and steel colours, the white whaler’s church stands against the landscape, together with the Museum and Post office. There we can visit an amazing display of all aspects of whaling, exploration, Falkland’s war and natural life of the island. Next door building hosts a 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 sending postcards, buying souvenirs, maps and books or taking a last look among the station remains, we return to Europa to be welcomed with a barbecue and an party on deck! Some workers on King Edward Point, museum and post office, are also picked up to join, having great time on board after a few drinks and good food. We plan to spend the night at anchor, leaving in the morning early to Cobblers Cove and Godthul, next landings on our list.

Great day of walking and soaking ourselves a bit more on the human history of the South Georgia. Carl Anton Larsen made important contributions to the exploration of Antarctica, 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, where we have been and checked the remains of their hut. But he also recognised the commercial ppportunity of whaling in the waters off South Georgia Island, establishing a whaling station at Grytviken.

On the other hand, 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. With the visit to Grytviken we round up in an elegant way the historical part of our trip following the trails of those expeditions leaded by both great characters.

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