King Edward Point and Grytviken / by Jerry

24th Feb '13

I'm writing this onboard the RSS Ernest Shackleton, but I'm not sure when I'll be able to post it online. Why am I on a ship rather than working hard on Bird Island? Well, I'm off to see a dentist to sort out a bit of pain (at times a lot of pain) caused by, I think, a rogue wisdom tooth.

This kicked in about 10 days ago and Tamsin quickly put me on a course of painkillers and anti-biotics which reduced the problem, but the doctors and dentists back in the UK decided they want to get things sorted before the winter as if it starts hurting again any time between April and October the chances of getting me any outside assistance are next to nothing. At this time of year there's a few boats running so I'm on a quickish trip to the Falklands and back.

The RSS Ernest Shackleton moored up at King Edward Point.

Last Friday I was exchanged for Ian (here to do more seal work) and a load of fresh veg that had come down on the James Clark Ross. During the night we sailed round to King Edward Point, the BAS base on South Georgia mainland. There I transferred to the Ernest Shackleton, but as it didn't depart until the next day I had time to take a walk round to Grytviken, the old whaling station.

Grytviken from KEP.

Grytviken is an amazing, intriguing and creepy place, made up almost entirely of old rusting buildings in various states of collapse. Though some bits have been cleared and useful information points put in (it is one of the most popular destinations for Antarctic cruises) it still feels broken and abandoned. Which, of course, it is.

'Petrel'. We've a photo of this on our base when it was operational,  picking up staff from Bird Island in 1959.
Amid the rusting framework of buildings and moorings, whale processing plants and huge storage tanks, piles of chains and scattered whale bones there is still plenty of life – Fur Seal puppies form creches in the patches of short grass while King Penguins hang around, trying to find somewhere peaceful to moult before they can return to the sea.

Grytviken, from just outside the cemetery.
I had time to visit the museum, with it's vast array of whaling relics and stories of those who'd passed through South Georgia, most notably Shakleton on his Endurance expedition. Just outside of Grytviken, past the rough football pitch, is the small graveyard which houses the grave and unassuming headstone of the great explorer himself, alongside the modest modest dedication to his right hand man Frank Wild. Looking back across Grytviken it's difficult to imagine it as a hive of activity and the vital link in a huge industry.

That evening I enjoyed dinner on the mainland, courtesy of the KEP gang. It was nice to catch up with those I'd met in Cambridge and at conference over a huge roast dinner and glass of wine. We had plenty of stories to exchange about working with particular animals and coming to terms with south life and traditions.
The fantastic view across the bay in the evening.

Jerry Gillham.