360° astonishment

Shenandoah of Sark in the Drygalski Fjord

Shenandoah of Sark in the Drygalski Fjord

The past week here in South Georgia we have been working our way toward the southern end of the island.

Last Saturday, the day after arrival, I took some of the guests to visit two of the glaciers on the island. In all, there are around two hundred glaciers here that have sculpted the landscape – changing it slowly and continuously, eroding away the rock in all the valley’s making them deeper and more defined.

A shipwreck in The South Atlantic

Rusting hulks

The short tender ride to get there was adventurous. We wound our way through barriers of kelp and reef that had taken the life of two ships who’s hulls were left aground, beaten up and dilapidated by the driving swells. One of the two ships had in fact been ripped into three pieces and was sprawled out over two hundred metres, rusting away profusely as if the sea was dissolving the memories of its once useful existence.

It was some ten miles to the base of the first Glacier from our anchorage in Grytviken and most was spent facing the glacier on our approach, its size and power becoming ever more noticeable as we came closer. The actual base of the Glacier met with the sea where pieces of the ice were falling off and drifting out into the channel leaving a bed of broken ice different shapes and sizes.


Drifting ice seen from below deck

“…the water changing colour from a deep ocean blue, almost black, to a light turquoise that shone pearlescent in the sunlight.”

My senses began to register the characteristics of being in such a place. My eyes saw the water changing colour from a deep ocean blue, almost black, to a light turquoise that shone pearlescent in the sunlight. My ears registered the sound of the mass of melting ice, a mix between the noise that Rice Crispy’s make when milk has been poured over them and the sound of the backwash from a wave that is returning to the sea through stones on a pebbly beach.

We started to slow as the ice became thicker until the boat was forced to create its own channel through the blanket. Keeping a safe distance from the base we stood there and took in the magnificence of the ice. It’s height over one hundred feet and width about one mile this Glacier was of average size for the island. On our starboard side another glacier had appeared around an emerging headland, this one was a little smaller but by no means less impressive.

A close up of two King Penguins

King Penguins

Between the two natural monuments there was a colony of seal, which drew our attention. We motored over and saw around twenty Elephant Seals a few Fur Seals and some King Penguins all mixed together in a strange but agreeable harmony. The cubs were playing among the ice that had fallen off the Glacier, jumping in and out of the water and fighting amongst each other just as puppies do in adolescence. In was really entertaining to watch them, almost like it is watching the monkeys at the zoo, but this was real and in an unbelievable setting.

“A sheer cliff stood in front of me which was of such immensity that it left me speechless.”

On the beach at Golden Harbour

On the beach at Golden Harbour

During the early part of the week we travelled to two more anchorages, one called Ocean Harbour and the other Golden Harbour. At Golden Harbour my imagination was again surpassed. Here in front of us as we dropped anchor was a Glacier of towering proportions. A sheer cliff stood in front of me which was of such immensity that it left me speechless. The height was around a thousand feet and on top of this sat the Bertrab Glacier. The most impressive thing about it all was the icefall. When we arrived it was late afternoon and most of the day it had been sunny helping the ice to become weak and more susceptible to collapse. During that afternoon I saw four icefalls. Just try and imagine the spectacle. Great areas of ice falling a thousand foot into the sea below – on its way vaporising and turning into a white cloud of destruction that emitted a sound like an earthquake.

The next day we left Golden Harbour and headed to our current anchorage, Larson Harbour – a part of the Drygalski Fjord (the largest Fjord on the island). Either side of us are mountains towering over six thousand feet and  we are surrounded by four glacier. It is ruggedly picturesque. We have been here since Thursday and will probably stay here until the next depression passes through. Already, as I write, the wind is gusting seventy knots out in the bay, whisking up the surface water and making it appear like a thin layer of fog. Fortunately we have good shelter here with two anchors out ahead and stern lines attached to the cliff holding us securely in place.

An elevated viewpoint down to Shenadoah's sheltered anchorage in Larsen Harbour

The view from above Larsen harbour

Yesterday I had some time off the boat to go for a walk up the mountain. It was a well-deserved break after the past weeks. I chose to attempt a fairly straightforward mountain with our vulnerable isolation in mind. It was called the Slossarczyk Crag and was two thousand six hundred feet high, not too big but it gave me enough height to be able to take in the island from another perspective.

“…I felt that I would merge into a scene from Stanley Kubrick’s  2001: A Space Odyssey.”

On my assent it was so barren and deserted that I felt that I would merge into a scene from Stanley Kubrick’s Space Odyssey 2001. I imagined I might come across two monkey’s smashing stones together, turn around and the boat would be gone and I’d find myself in a parallel universe. Strange feeling, I’m glad it did not materialise.

The views from aloft were impressive, out to sea I could see the ice bergs scattered all over the place and part of the massive ice shelf that had broken off from the Antarctic continent. Inland I could see a couple of Glaciers and many of the southern mountains with their vast and hostile features. Three hundred and sixty degree astonishment.

A panoramic view of mountains and icebergs

A memorable view