An unexpected adventure in South Georgia Island – Ari Van Eysden

grey An unexpected adventure in South Georgia Island   Ari Van Eysden

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grey An unexpected adventure in South Georgia Island   Ari Van Eysden

Imagine a spectacular rocky outcrop of an island almost entirely covered by snow and glaciers and surrounded by pebbled beaches littered with all kinds of seals and penguins, this is South Georgia Island

Now imagine a ship anchored silently in a calm bay nearby an abandoned whaling station. Some passengers are on deck busily capturing the awesome sight with their cameras while others are enjoying a relaxing yoga class on the observation deck.
Then the call comes over the PA system that the zodiacs are ready to take us ashore. We dress in our 3 layers of clothes (the outer layer always being a waterproof layer including the standard issue yellow parkas).
Once on shore we start by photographing the amazing wildlife but there are more things to see here, not the least of which is Shackleton’s track. If you haven’t heard or read about Ernest Shackleton’s miraculous journey of endurance and survival in this part of the world I highly recommend you do so. So off we trudge, weaving our way around penguins nesting and fur seals staring us down. The wind picks up to about 60 knots but grey An unexpected adventure in South Georgia Island   Ari Van Eysdenthat’s ok and we trudge on but grey clouds start rolling down over the mountains. The wind picks up even more and the sun disappears altogether taking with it our desire to retrace Shackleton’s steps, we turn around to head back to the beach. Walking becomes increasingly difficult. We often assume the brace position which we’d been taught earlier but on the odd occasion you are too slow to assume it you literally get blown off your feet, take off uncontrollably and go rolling along the ground much to the amusement of those nearby.
By now we are told the wind has reached a speed of 104 knots (about 196 kms per hour) and as we approach the beach it becomes very clear that we will not be returning to the ship. It is listing badly to one side and the zodiacs on the beach are either airborne or have already landed up side down in the water (5 of them!). Some of the expedition crew are valiantly trying to hold the one remaining zodiac down on the beach with their own weight. We are told to huddle on the beach until the wind dies down. It begins to snow – horizontally – and grey An unexpected adventure in South Georgia Island   Ari Van Eysdeneventually the ship disappears into grey mist. There are about 30 of us and half a dozen expedition staff, the rest (about 100 of them) have earlier made it safely back to the ship. After a while our huddle is moved along to take shelter between 2 very large steel beams abandoned with the old whaling station. We bunker down there but can’t move about much. The snow is beginning to settle on us and people are getting cold fingers and toes. After about an hour a decision is made to disregard the “Danger do not enter” signs around the ruins of the whaling station and we gingerly start to pick our way between rusty sheets of corrugated iron, around huge coils of very thick rope, over snow-filled potholes and past old bits of machinery to a shed with a roof. We now take the brace position on in huddles clinging to each other for support. Inside the shed it’s dark but, without the wind chill factor, a lot more bearable. For almost an hour we stand around trying to dance gangnam style or doing the hokey pokey just to get the blood circulating. Someone tells a weak joke but we all laugh anyway.
grey An unexpected adventure in South Georgia Island   Ari Van EysdenSuddenly the wind drops. We get news that 3 zodiacs have successfully been dispatched from the ship and it’s safe for us to return to the beach. In twilight and snow we find our way back, having trouble discerning the seals from the rocks until we are almost within touching distance and the seals suddenly rear their heads. Eventually we find ourselves safely in the 3 zodiacs and under the guiding light of the ship’s search lights beaming brightly over the water we calmly bob our way back to the ship in total silence. Unbelievable!!
At 8.30 pm we are welcomed back on board with a hot cup of tea and much applause having spent 3 hours in very unusual conditions. The captain tells us that wind speeds exceeded 110 knots (that’s well over 200kms!) That night we sleep like babies and the next morning we line up again to catch a zodiac back to shore where a whole new adventure awaits…but that’s another story.

 

 

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