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01 Apr - Time at South Georgia

RRS Ernest Shackleton Diary

Position @ 1100 UTC - 3 hours: 54°16' South. 036°29' West. Alongside the jetty at King Edward Point, preparing to sail.
Next destination: Stanley, Falkland Islands.
ETA: 4 April 2001.
Distance to go: 823 nautical miles.
Total Distance Sailed: 26,131.1 nautical miles (Since departing Hull, England on 19 October 2000).

Current weather:
Wind: Light airs. Snowing.
Barometric pressure: 1016.3 mb
Sea state: Calm.
Air temperature: +3.0°C.
Sea temperature: +3.1°C.
Last weather observation sent from RRS Ernest Shackleton

This week sees the end of the second Antarctic Season for RRS Ernest Shackleton, with flying visits to Signy and Bird Island and a two day stay at King Edward Point.

Last Sunday saw us departing Cumberland Bay East for Signy. The passage was uneventful and good time was made with the vessel arriving at Borge Bay on the morning of Tuesday 27 March. Upon arrival the cargo tender Tula was put into the water and made a number of runs to collect outgoing cargo and personnel. By mid-afternoon the base was closed and secure for the coming winter months and RRS Ernest Shackleton headed away from the South Orkney Islands back towards South Georgia and Bird Island. Due to dense fog on the initial part of the journey and the large number of icebergs and bits, it was necessary to reduce speed during the evening and night of the 27 April. However, once clear of the islands the weather improved and we headed to Bird Island at about 12.5 kts.

The passage was once again swift and we arrived off Bird Island at about mid-day on Thursday 29 March. Once again Tula was put into the water for the short run into Jordan Cove and the base. In the last few months much work has been carried out at the base and the jetty has been extended and enlarged, with metal walk-ways installed from the jetty up to the base. As Tula was the first cargo tender to use this new jetty a ceremonial bottle of champagne was produced to christen it! Then it was straight into the cargo operations and with food and provisions being discharged ashore and cargo loaded back on to Tula. Due to the swell in Bird Sound it was decided that only one run on Tula would be required and so by 1600 it was time for everyone not staying on the base to head back to the ship.

One nice thing about Bird Island and approaching in a boat is that there is lots of wildlife swimming and playing in the water around the island. During the boat journey to and from the base fur seals would suddenly pop up out of the water to have a look at us as we passed. Due to the clearness of the water it was also possible to watch penguins swimming under the water.

The distance from Bird Island to King Edward Point is such that we would not manage to arrive in daylight so the ship steamed slowly down the coast of South Georgia during Thursday night, entering Cumberland Bay just after breakfast on Friday morning and berthing alongside the jetty adjacent to the new research station.

RRS Ernest Shackleton remained along side the berth for two days and as this page is being written is preparing to sail for the Falkland Islands.

RRS Ernest Shackleton alongside the jetty at King Edward Point. Click to enlargeRRS Ernest Shackleton alongside the jetty at King Edward Point. Click to enlarge.

Grytviken, South Georgia

Grytviken means 'Pot Cove' and is so named for the sealers trypots which were discovered there. It is probably the best harbour on the island, being a bay within a bay and is the site of the first whaling station, which operated from 1904 and closed in 1964. It is now one of the worlds great little treasures. Whilst being many thousands of miles from the hustle and bustle of normal daily life, and only accessible by the sea, it is the home to a museum.

The Museum at Grytviken,  South Georgia. Click to enlargeThe former Manager's Villa at Grytviken, now a museum. Click to enlarge.

South Georgia is a beautiful island and full of amazing wildlife, not least penguins, seals, albatross and even whales off the coast, and it looks spectacular on a clear day. This is one of the reasons why so many people come to visit, and during this summer some 4000 visitors have stepped ashore at Grytviken.

In 1992 a museum was opened, located in what was the villa of the Manager of the whaling station. The project director for this was the late Nigel Bonner, who worked for many years for the British Antarctic Survey. Initially it was set up as a whaling museum but over the ensuing years the focus has widened to incorporate natural history, the Discovery Expeditions, geology and other aspects of South Georgia.

Albatross on display in the entrance to the museum. Click to enlargeA young albatross, about ten years old, with a 9ft wingspan, which died of natural causes on Bird Island. It was found in tussock grass and appeared to be asleep, but died whilst sheltering on the island from a storm. Click to enlarge.

Also in 1992, the yacht Curlew with Tim and Pauline Carr arrived. Their intention was to stay for one winter before moving on. Nearly nine years later and they are still here, having spent much of their time exploring the island and working in the museum. They are now the curators for the museum and see to its day to day running and greeting all the many visitors. During the summer months they are helped by two extra staff.

Tim and Pauline Carr in the museum. Click to enlargeTim and Pauline Carr, curators of the museum. Click to enlarge.

The museum is also responsible for the Grytviken cemetery, which is the final resting place for Sir Ernest Shackleton, who died on board his ship Quest in King Edward Cove on 5 January 1922, and also his memorial cross at King Edward Point and the Norwegian church (which was built in 1913).

The church holds services whenever possible. For Christmas 2000 there was a carol concert and midnight mass.

The Norwegian church,  Grytviken. Click to enlargeThe church at Grytviken, which has been extensively restored in the past five years. Click to enlarge.

A brief and somewhat potted history of South Georgia by Mike Gloistein.

South Georgia lies at approximately 54° South and is about 170 km long and ranges in width between 2 and 30 km. The island is spectacular in that it consists of a large number of snow-capped mountains and has been described as 'the Alps in mid-ocean' and is in fact the summit of a partly drowned mountain range. There are two principal mountain ranges, the Allardyce and Salvesen. The highest peak is that of Mount Paget at 2934 m and there are twelve further peaks of more than 2000 m.

South Georgia was probably discovered by Antoine de la Rochéé who sighted it in 1675 whilst on passage from South America to France. The next recorded sighting was in 1756 by Gregorio Jerez on board the Leóón. It was in 1775 that Captain James Cook arrived and on 14 January one of his midshipmen, Thomas Willis, saw land which was eventually named after him (The Willis Islands at the western end of South Georgia) and named the land in honour of His Majesty King George as Isle of Georgia. As part of his report on the island, Captain Cook made mention of the large numbers of elephant and fur seals and this soon came to the attention of the sealing industry and so started what was to become a somewhat bloody period in the history of South Georgia. Due to the very secretive nature of sealers, many records of the earliest activities are not known, however there are some references that date back to 1786. One vessel, Aspasia, collected some 57,000 fur seal skins in 1800/1801 and whilst this was a large number for a single ship it does give some idea of the slaughter that took place on the island. Sealing would continue, in several waves, for the next 100 years and in 1881 there were regulations put into place to control and protect the seals by giving a closed season between 1 October and 1 April.

The first whaling station was established in King Edward Cove in 1904 and between then and 1965 South Georgia was one of the most important places in the world for the whaling industry. There were whaling stations in seven harbours on the island and during the period some thirteen floating factories were also used. In 1965 the whaling stations were abandoned and whilst at Grytviken a caretaker was employed until 1971, the stations were never reopened and have now become derelict reminders to the past. During the period 1904 to 1965 a total of 175,200 whales were taken at South Georgia compared with 1,432,862 recorded as being taken from Antarctica between 1904 and 1978.

Captain Cook showed little imagination in naming a small island off the western end of South Georgia, Bird Island as, even then, the surrounding sky would have been filled with bird life as it is today. Cold water, rich in nutrients comes to the surface (upwells) near Bird Island supporting a rich marine life on which both birds and seals can feed. Not suprisingly BAS have had a research station on Bird Island since the early 1970s and in recent years the station has been operated year round with 3-4 personnel overwintering. The seal and bird research undertaken there has rightly acquired an enormous international reputation. The island is home to most of world's largest albatross, the wandering albatross, but also to black-browed, light mantled sooty and grey headed species. Numerous other smaller birds and an enormous colony of Macaroni penguins nest on Bird Island. On the beaches around the station thousands of fur seals come ashore each year to give birth and immediately start the breeding cycle again !! Ferocious fights between bull seals over the ownership of harems of females give a real impression of a battlefield early in the season. Later in the season the cove in front of the station fills with hundreds of seal pups which provide huge entertainment to those working there.

Forthcoming events:  Arrive Stanley Falkland Islands. Disembark most scientific personnel for air-bridge to UK. Sail for UK, via Montevideo, Uruguay.

The next page will be written on the 8 April 2001 and should be published on the 9 April 2001.


Weekly diary entries