11 am and we’re at anchor in sheltered Elsehul Bay on the north west side of the island. 752 miles from Port Stanley in 88 er – varied hours.
Gavin saw it first, near the beginning of our midnight to 3 am watch.
‘No, it’s a wave’.
‘It’s been breaking for a very long time, then’.
It was a sinister grey chunk, a bergy bit the size of a small car. Within minutes there were more of them, sliding by on both sides, rising and falling with the swell.
Skip had us out on deck to lower the jib and take a reef in the main. He hand steered us through the thickening brash as bigger and bigger icebergs showed up, glowing red patches on the radar screen. A huge berg now bobbed on the screen a mile ahead but however hard we stared into the blackness and shivered in the hard wind, we could see nothing. Then there was a grey gleam of dawn on the horizon. But too early for dawn… the glimmer of light took shape as a vast tabular berg.
‘That bloody thing is the size of the Isle of Wight’, Dick muttered. It slid past on our starboard bow, on and on, perhaps a quarter of a mile of it.
At 3 am I fell into bed. After not sleeping at all for the first three nights, I now can’t stop sleeping. The next watch had a busy time. I heard the constant rustle of brash against the hull, and then a sudden loud clang, unmistakeably the ring of ice hitting aluminium, that had Tom and me jerking upright in our bunks. But there was no call to the boats. Hearing the Titanic movie score in my head I turned over and fell asleep again.
When I came up for 9 am watch, there was a darker grey patch against grey mist. Willis Island, named after Midshipman Willis on Cook’s voyage. Captain Cook made the first landing on South Georgia in January 1775, naming it after King George III. His report, published two years later, gave the first reports of the density of wildlife on the islands. This brought an invasion of seal hunters – by 1900 the fur seals were hunted almost to extinction, and in their wake came Norwegian whale hunters. Grytviken is Norwegian for pot cove, and the first whalers named it after the sealers’ trypots found at the site. The James Caird passed the same way. When the six men saw the blue-eyed shags that are wheeling around us now, they knew they were close to land because these birds never fly far out to sea. We passed Bird Island and the bleak-looking British Antarctic Survey station on the shore there, and a few minutes later we were at anchor in the bay.
We have had lunch and our bio-safety lecture, and now the dinghy is being readied for our first shore excursion.
Check our position on Pelagic’s chart tracker: www.pelagic.co.uk/about/tracker.htm
or Google: South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands.
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