After sailing around the southern tip of South Georgia and up the coast, we arrived at King Edward Point just after breakfast. The last few hours were in calm waters but thick fog so the water tight doors were closed.
But what an arrival. At the entrance to the bay the fog lifted to reveal what looked like a landscape from an Indiana Jones movie: breathtakingly tall, jagged peaks of snow and ice running right down to the sea where they ended in sheer black rock with the big Southern Ocean surf breaking on them. The old, rusty factory at Grytvyken lies at the head of the bay with several beached and abandoned whalers on the now disused jetties and slip.
We berthed a half mile or so away at the tiny British Antarctic Survey base at King Edward Cove, where we were priveleged to come alongside the small jetty where the BAS vessel “James Clark Ross” is a frequent visitor.
We had a friendly welcome from the South Georgia Government officials (all two of them) and were briefed on the stringent bio security controls. The Government is concerned to preserve the island’s environmental purity and strict controls are in place including checking all clothes (especially Velcro) for seeds and soil, washing boots both at the head and foot of the gangway and blacking out the ship after dark to prevent bird strikes.
Once we’d completed entry formalities we were led by Skip, our expedition leader, along the narrow gravel path to Grytvyken for a tour of the disused whale factory. A fascinating place of huge rusting and brutal looking industrial buildings, slowly decaying and incongruous in such an otherwise pristine environment. It’s a devastating thought that it took the virtual extinction of the species to bring their savage business to an end.
After this fascinating but sobering tour we walked along the bay and then up to the cemetery where Ernest Shackleton is buried amongst the seafarers and factory workers who died down here in this bleakly but beautiful part of the world. We gathered around his grave and toasted his memory and honoured his achievements in the traditional way by passing a wee dram of whiskey – welcome in the cold.
Even on a calm summer’s day the weather in this remote corner can change dramatically and without warning. We were lucky to have had such a calm and peaceful afternoon.
We spent a convivial and warm evening in “Tenacious’” bar. Three staff from the base joined us for dinner and a fascinating talk about their work down here which includes everything from being local magistrate, policeman, border and fisheries control to the vital environmental and wildlife research and protection of the BAS.
We went to our bunks tired and looking forward to another day of exploration.