We aim to visit several places of interest, and spend enough time at each one to fully appreciate what the sites have to offer in a relaxed manner. Because of the variances of the weather in this rugged environment, the schedule outlined below is what may be possible, but will almost certainly not be adhered to! This is an adventure expedition in the true sense of the word in every way.
Day 1: You will arrive at Mount Pleasant Airport in the Falkland Islands on October 3rd and take a 40 minute bus ride to Stanley to meet sailing yacht Spirit of Sydney and then move on board immediately. The afternoon is spent stowing personal gear, familiarizing the team with the vessel and listening to the Captain’s ‘live aboard rules’ and safety briefings.
Day 2 - 5: Weather permitting, the Spirit of Sydney would leave Stanley bound for the northwest corner of South Georgia which is 750 miles away. In most cases this would be a fast downwind passage in the prevailing westerly winds. Passage time would be roughly four to five days. We will cross the Polar Front (Antarctic convergence zone) where two bodies of water meet, and the cold Antarctic water mixes with warmer water from the north creating a drop in temperatures. In this nutrient-rich water albatrosses, petrels and dolphins will keep us company during the crossing.
Once in South Georgia, we’ll spend over 2 weeks exploring the incredible bays, and taking in all the amazing scenery and wildlife. Our daily schedules will be driven by the best light for photography and we will maximize the photographic opportunities and time ashore abiding by the Guidelines for Responsible Ecotourism from the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO). We will clear customs at the old whaling station of Grytviken were we will visit the museum and other artifacts of a past era.
FACTS ABOUT SOUTH GEORGIA
South Georgia is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful and inspiring places on earth. 800 miles away from the nearest land, it’s is 165 km long and up to 35 km wide with no permanent population. Captain Cook made the first landing in 1775 and claimed the territory for Great Britain. Seal hunting began in 1786 and whaling followed in the early 1900s. The populations were decimated by the time hunting stopped in the 1960s but the seal population has rebounded remarkably with 2 million fur seals and 500,000 elephant seals now congregating on the island’s beaches. We are visiting in October because by November, it’s hard to land safely on the beaches because of the concentration of aggressive fur seals.
With the end of the whaling industry, the stations were abandoned. Apart from a few preserved buildings such as the museum and church at Grytviken, only their decaying remains survive.
South Georgia is a British Overseas Territory. The present inhabitants are the British Government Officer, Deputy Postmaster, scientists, and support staff from the British Antarctic Survey and museum staff at Grytviken. Argentina claimed South Georgia in 1927, which contributed to the 1982 Falklands War, during which Argentine forces briefly occupied the island. Argentina continues to claim sovereignty.
Photo: The old whaling station of Grytviken
Day 5 - 6: Landfall will be in Right Whale Bay or Elsehul. If conditions are calm, this would be a place to rest our sea legs a bit after crossing the Scotia Sea. Finn whales, orcas, humpbacks, southern right whales and blue whales can be found in the nutrient-rich waters around South Georgia. We may be blessed with extended views of them on our way to the stunning backdrop of black sandy beaches, tussock covered dunes, and the snow covered mountains of the Salisbury Plains.
Day 6 - 10: These days will be spent in the Bay of Islands area. At the Salisbury Plain we will enjoy sights of several hundred thousand king penguins standing shoulder to shoulder together with their precious chicks that spend over 14 months on land before they are ready to swim. Then we sail onward through the Bay of Isles and land upon Prion Island which is famous for its nesting wandering albatrosses along the boardwalks. The wandering albatross chicks will be on the nests, waiting for their parents to return home after days-long fishing trips. Even as babies, the wandering albatross chicks can be up to one meter tall! This time of year is prime time for watching the 4 ton elephant seals battling out and seeing the seal pups being born, a spectacle for everyone’s eyes and ears. Next we work our way along the coast to the gorgeous Fortuna Bay when the weather window is at its best.
In April 1916, Ernest Shackleton's Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition became stranded in ice on Elephant Island, some 800 miles (1,300 km) southwest of South Georgia. Shackleton and five companions set out in a small boat to summon help, and on 10 May, after an epic voyage, they landed at King Haakon Bay on South Georgia's southcoast. While three stayed at the coast, Shackleton and two others went on to cover 22 miles (35 km) over the spine of the mountainous island to reach help at Stromness whaling station. The remaining 22 members of the expedition, who had stayed on Elephant Island, were subsequently rescued. In January 1922, during a later expedition Shackleton died on board ship while moored in King Edward Cove, South Georgia. He is buried at Grytviken.
Photo: Old whaling station of Stromness
Day 11 - 14: From Fortuna Bay we pass by the Stromness Whaling Station and make our way into Cumberland Bay West where steep mountains reach above the clouds and large glaciers flow into the water. Our next stop is King Edward Point which is a short walk from Grytviken, the premier shore based whaling facility on South Georgia which was abandoned in the 60’s. The whaling station has been incorporated into the South Georgia Museum. We will check in with Customs/Immigration and pass a bio-security test. There will be time to visit the museum, post office and restored whalers church. We will also visit the hallowed location where Shackleton was laid to rest. Long walks behind the station, overland treks and kayak outings are also a possibility.
Day 17 - 19: Weather and surf conditions permitting, we would attempt the beach landing at Saint Andrews Bay a few hours steaming from Cobblers Cove. Behind the beach is the world’s largest rookery of king penguins on the Island. In order reach the main part of the colony we would have to trek to the snout of a glacier in order to cross the river flowing from it down to the sea. It is a spectacular wildlife venue on a fine day. Further south along the coast lies Gold Harbour which is one of the most spectacular scenic anchorages on the island. Again the landing is on an open shoreline (weather dependent and if successful) we would spend the day on the beach. Both Saint Andrews Bay and Gold Harbour offer the possibility of viewing harems of elephant seals with the competing bulls. If you haven’t had the overwhelming feeling that you are walking within a wildlife documentary by now, our days ashore here will surely convince you. South Georgia has the highest bio-mass of animals on Earth and Saint Andrews Bay is the most concentrated area of this phenomenon within South Georgia.
Day 20 - 22: These days will be spent on the south west side of the island, where we have the opportunity to pass by large icebergs and a rugged mountainous coastline. We will visit the macaroni penguin colony in Cooper Bay and sail into the famous Drygalski Fjord with high mountains on either side guiding us to the Risting Glacier at the end of the fjord where the water color is azure blue. We will spend the night at anchor in Larsen Harbour, a sheltered side arm of the Drygalski Fjord. This is a great place to put the kayaks into the water and peddle around looking for seals and South Georgia pintail ducks along the shore line.
Days 23 - 27: About this time we would need to be on standby for the return to Stanley in the Falkland Islands. By day 23, if there is a favorable weather window (considering the return is against the prevailing wind) we would be obliged to take the opportunity, in order to make sure that we arrive on time to make the flight on Saturday, with at least a day to spare. We will undoubtedly begin to see the first signs of the infamous fur seals swimming southward along the boat – the captain’s first signal to head back to the Falklands. Nearly hunted to local extinction in the late 19th century, they now migrate to South Georgia in numbers nearing 5 million. In the following weeks, these fur seals will land upon South Georgia’s shores forming a formidable barrier that nearly halts all landings along her coastline.
ABOUT …. SPIRIT OF SYDNEY
Spirit of Sydney, an icon of Australian yachting, was originally designed and built for the 1986 BOC single handed around the world race by America’s Cup winner Ben Lexcen. Spirit is an ocean greyhound with real sailing ability and thoroughbred performance, and has been sailing the Southern Ocean and plying Antarctic waters every summer since 1994, having made over 60 trips to various parts of Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic. Spirit is a tough, heavily constructed 60 foot aluminium yacht with 6 watertight compartments and an over built sailing rig ready for the southern ocean.
Spirit of Sydney regularly supports expeditions in all parts of Antarctica with groups such as documentary makers from Discovery Channel’s Globetrekker, or scientists from Australian Antarctic Division, (albatross research) Oregon State University Marine mammals Institute (tagging humpback Whales ) ,University of British Columbia, (Orca study), as well as television documentaries, like Animal Planet’s Steve Irwin “The Croc Hunter”, or “2 Below Zero” where Spirit of Sydney delivered 4.5 tons of equipment from Hobart to Commonwealth Bay for a 12 month winter-over near Mawson’s Hut. Other expeditions have included, National Geographic photographers, mountaineers, dry suit divers and kayaking expeditions including Andrew McCauley’s epic sea kayaking expedition in Antarctica. Thirteen school children from Geelong Grammar sailed aboard Spirit of Sydney for a very memorable expedition, sailing, kayaking and ski touring the peninsula. Spirit of Sydney has also sailed to Macquarie Island, Ross Sea, Weddell Sea, South Georgia Island and to the Magnetic South Pole. Spirit has been meticulously maintained and refitted, so that she has evolved on a yearly basis. For example, in 2002 Spirit had a major refit which included a new engine, new mainsail, installation of a Plexiglas cockpit dodger and other work. In 2004, Spirit sailed to Buenos-Aires for another full refit, gaining at that time a new saloon and navigation area, central heating, a hot water system and a custom water maker designed specifically for Antarctic waters. During the winter of 2006 2008 2010, 2012 and 2014, 2016, and 2019 Spirit was again refitted, carefully surveyed and much preventative maintenance carried out.