A warm welcome in Grytviken

Caramor - sailing around the world
Franco Ferrero / Kath Mcnulty
Thu 21 Jan 2016 01:10
54:16.9S 36:30.5W

The Deputy Director for Penguin Affairs welcomes us to Grytviken

Two days were well spent, anchored in Rosita Harbour, sleeping and repairing Caramor while the winds howled and the cockpit filled with snow but we had to get to Grytviken sooner rather than later to sign in to South Georgia officially.

By the third day, it was still snowing but the wind had moderated. Bravely we stuck our noses out and went for it.

As you can see, only my nose sticks out

Past islands and calving glaciers we sailed, with seals porpoising everywhere around us until we reached Cumberland Bay. Deep inside the East arm lies Grytviken, an old whaling station and King Edward Point, the headquarters for the South Georgia government. Over the VHF radio we spoke to Simon, a government officer who told us to tie up to one of the other two yachts already in Grytviken. We guessed one was Windora and radioed Phil who invited us to go alongside. Linda and Bernie kindly came out to help us with our ropes and within minutes we were made fast. No sign of Phil though. Simon came on board to complete the formalities. We later realised Phil had been aboard Windora all along, entertaining a couple of craftsmen from the Falklands who are restoring some of the buildings here over the summer. A bottle of rum had got between him and the companionway preventing him from helping us tie up. (Later, one of the Falkland workers lost a tooth when he bit Phil's foot, sock and all, but we won't say anymore about that!) Parties on Caramor are much more sedate.

The second yacht was Kestrel from Canada and her crew Isolde and Gabor have sailed all over the world. The next morning Johan arrived in his red steel boat, Saturnin. Four yachts in Grytviken is a rare sight. 

Linda invited us all for dinner and eight of us squeezed around Windora's galley table for a superb shephard's pie followed by a delicious rhubarb crumble. By now we are all short of fresh ingredients and Bernie was waxing lyrical about the delicious dandelion leaves you can pick all around Grytviken, an invasive weed introduced many years ago by mistake and now beyond control. (I tried one later but it tasted just like dandelion does anywhere.) Bernie stoically tackled the massive dirty dish mountain and made us tea while Linda and Phil gave us some top tips for Chile.

One by one, the other yachts sailed away and Franco and I, camera at the ready, stepped onto the quay in search of wildlife.

King penguins feature high on my list of 'must see' while in South Georgia but I wasn't expecting any until we visit some of the breeding sites. They stand around Grytviken in small groups, moulting. They occasionally go for a stroll along the path and if you walk towards them, they stop and trumpet to each other. The museum has a whole pelt that you can touch, the feathers feel just like fur.

King penguins with four yachts tied to the jetty in the background

Elephant seals lie strewn around resembling large boulders or giant white maggots. They too are moulting, they shed the whole of their skin and while this is happening are unable to swim or feed. Every now and then they snort loudly. Some lift their heads as we walk past and gaze at us, indifferent.  

Elephant seal

The biggest hazard though, is the Antarctic fur seals. These are 'eared' seals and unlike 'true' seals (common seals and grey seals in the UK are true seals), they can push themselves up on their front flippers and lope around on shore using their tail as a hind 'leg'. They bounce around like tigger in Winnie the Poo and are amazingly fast. Play is an important part of their life, particularly play fighting. One particular game is called 'chase the yachtie'. It goes like this: One two hop, one two hop, one two hop, onetwohop, onetwohop, trrrrrwp, trrrrrwp, trrrrwp ... by which time we are running for our lives! The most aggressive at the moment are the females as many of them have pups, little black balls of fluff. The large males seem fairly content as they have fought for their section of beach, seen off any competing males and gathered their harems of unruly females. Their main role is keeping the peace between the girls. 

Bull fur seal (we didn’t get past this one!)

Young fur seals ‘play-fighting'

The small community here is friendly and helpful. We went to the post office but Hugh, the post master hadn't arrived yet. The museum back door opened and we were invited in for coffee and cake. Sarah manages the museum and Sharon makes some of the crafts for sale in the shop. Four cruise ships arrived during the week-end, a busy time for staff here.

Tom, one of the carpenters from the Falklands made us a replacement tiller for Caramor on his day off. Franco has pre-drilled all the holes for the fittings and oiled it. It is reassuring to have a spare, we never dreamed we could get one made in South Georgia. Thank you Tom!