Way South: Adventures Aboard Pelagic Australis in Southern Latitudes

Stormy weather greets boat and crew’s South Georgia expedition.

Larsen Harbor

Larsen Harbor, South GeorgiaLaura Parish

What a really super group to have on board. Fun and funny, intelligent and helpful, considerate and kind, enthusiastic and brave!

As I write we are sitting at anchor in Elsehul - a bay at the very north end of South Georgia. The forecast of northwesterly winds of 25-30 knots, turns out to be a full gale from the north, so the swell from the Southern Ocean is rolling into the bay, and crashing onto the rocks around us. For over 24 hours now the wind has been howling through the rigging, gusts into the high 40’s and 50’s pull the anchor to full stretch, and Pelagic Australis is tacking back and forth like a tethered dog desperate to be freed from it’s chain. As the boat weaves from side to side, so she is blown over by the wind - 15 degrees to port, then 15 degrees to starboard. Not a soul on board has voiced any concerns, and no-one seemed perturbed by the fact that we had to hold on to our plates and glasses at lunchtime to stop them catapulting across the room. Their trust in us and the boat is incredible - let’s hope nothing goes wrong in the next few hours by which time we expect, and hope, that the wind will have dropped off to something tolerable.

Before the breeze really filled in yesterday, I managed to take a group for a quick trip ashore. Even in the relatively light winds, with a sheltered beach, the landing was interesting - the force of the surf (only small) was enough to push the zodiac and us around, and the headwinds made it really difficult to get back out into deep enough water to start the outboard. Needless to say, most of us ended up soaking wet, and we were all reminded where we are and for the need to be super conservative and careful with all activities and shore excursions. Some of these guys have been to Antarctica, and had envisioned something similar, I think they are slightly shocked by the bleak landscape, the rawness of the conditions, the density of the wind, and the reality of how remote a place this is. The same conditions in Devon or Cornwall wouldn’t raise any concerns, but here the water is 35 degrees F. so swimming isn’t an option, and failure to get back to the boat would mean finding shelter amongst the tussock grass with the fur seals, and nesting petrels. No one can come and help if we get into trouble - we are completely alone.

Assuming the conditions moderate as forecast, tomorrow we will head round to the south of the island and the guys will get ready for their big expedition. It looks like they’ll get two clear days, and then another storm is coming through. As I type, they are talking of how to dig ice caves and preparing to spend a few days holed away waiting for conditions to improve again. It’s exciting stuff, particularly as Stephen Venables is amongst them - he had to shelter in an ice cave for 23 days on South Georgia in January 1990. If it really does look that bad however, we’ll have to collect them after the two fine days - we can’t afford to risk such a delay, and with modern communications, there is no excuse to find ourselves in such a pickle as that.