After two days, crossing some 800 miles of Scotia Sea we reached the north coast of South Georgia. We really lucked out, the biggest waves we saw were only 9 foot swells. As we came to understand, nothing compared to what the Scotia can be like.
I don’t want to throw this word around lightly, but South Georgia was magical. We know it sounds silly and a little bit over the top, but it’s about as accurate as we can get.
South Georgia wasn’t always such a wondrous place. After whaling outposts were set up on South Georgia, the island stank like rotten flesh and death and the water of all of these beautiful bays ran red. Most beaches still have whalebones strewn about.
Given the dangers of flying metal, our first port of call, Grytviken, is the only former whaling station open for exploration. The authorities on South Georgia kindly ask that when on the island, you don’t approach the other stations lest a piece of corrugated metal turn itself into a kite and cost you your head.
We did have a little battle on our hands to get to the Whaler’s Graveyard where Shackleton is buried . . .
If you look closely, you can see the whale bones left on the beach between this pair of fighters . . .
Aside from the industrial history on South Georgia, Stromness is also one of the key locations in the Shackleton story. After the Endurance broke up in pack ice, Shackleton managed to guide his men to Elephant Island. A barren rock in the middle of the southern ocean. With little hope, Shackleton decided to make a go of it. Thanks to the navigation of Frank Worsely, Shackleton was able to sail the James Caird, a glorified open life boat, some 600 miles from Elephant Island to South Georgia (the south side of South Georgia as luck would have it). In barely 36 hours, after 15 days at sea in hurricane type weather, Shackleton led his men over the mountains of South Georgia to the Stromness whaling station to get help. Three days of mountaineering later, Shackleton walked politely up to the white house on the left, the manager’s house, to ask for a little help rescuing his men left behind on Elephant Island (more of Elephant later). We were able to actually walk the last mile or two of Shackleton’s journey.
Having had the fleeting chance to see the odds stacked against the men of the heroic age of expedition, we most certainly buy into the popularized saying:
“For science, give me Scott. For rapid and efficient transport and exploration, give me Amundsen. But when things seem hopeless, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton.”
Our first day on South Georgia focused on the old whaling stations, but we did get a little taste for what was to come.