Yesterday some members of the current SANAP cruise had the one-in-a-lifetime opportunity and immense privilege to visit South Georgia. The approach is stunning in itself. The island rises out of the ocean and as you draw closer becomes ever more beautiful. Approaching the old whaling station of Grytviken, nestled in Cumberland East Bay you will see the Norwegian Lutheran Church, the only station building still retaining its original purpose. South Georgia is a place of contrasts, one of the most beautiful places on the planet, yet site of some of the most destructive actions of human beings: ome 140 000 whales were slaughtered around this island and in the surrounding seas. The whaling only ceased operation in the mid-1960’s, and Grytviken remained abandoned, but with a flick of a switch could be operational until the English conflict with Argentina over the Falkland Islands, when it was bombed by both forces.
Perhaps one of the most important parts of the visit is what can only be described as a pilgrimage to Sir Ernest Shackleton’s grave. Of all the famous Antarctic explorers, he was perhaps the best leader and never lost a person in all his expeditions. He was only 180km from the South Pole a few years before Amundsen and Scott (the Nimrod Expedition), turning around because they would have made it to the pole, but may not have been able to get back. And then his most famous expedition, when their ship, the Endurance, was crushed in the ice. The entire party sailed to Elephant Island in lifeboats and then a few boarded the James Caird to reach South Georgia in the most frightening of seas. Believe us when we say that, having experienced these seas in a 134m long vessel (the ever-faithful S.A. Agulhas II) and not in a lifeboat, they are harrowing indeed!
Paying your respects to this most remarkable human being is a privilege. Cherry-Garrard, a privateer on Scott’s ill-fated expedition, and a distant relative of our project leader, Ian, said of the three best known Antarctic explorers: “For scientific discovery, give me Scott; for speed and efficiency of travel, give me Amundsen, but when disaster strikes and all hope is gone, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton.” (Apsley Cherry-Garrard, 1922). [Read more on Cherry-Garrard‘s book The Worst Journey in the World here.]
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