December 25, 2014

What's Ray Been Up To In The South Atlantic?- December 2014

This is Grytviken, the old Whaling station just around the bay. This place was finally abandoned in 1964 and, despite its past trade which, when judged by today’s standards is nothing short of revolting, is an extremely fascinating place.

The settlement is currently being turned into a heritage centre and has a good museum, post office and a gift shop for the tourists, it is a popular stopping-off place for Antarctic cruise ships.
The site is littered with old bits of machinery that would have delighted the late Fred Dibner. This is real heavy engineering with forges and casting shops for repairing Whaling boats and all the associated equipment. Men would sign up for a year at a time, and, it is said, that after a year they could return home with enough money to put down a deposit for a house, small holding, or to start their own business. This was a ‘Gold-Rush’ town. Men, and a very few women (mainly managers’ wives) from countries such as Norway, Great Britain, Germany, Poland etc. worked here. I remember that my father commented recently that he had considered this line of work when Mum and Dad were trying to buy their first house.

Much of the processing equipment remains in situ; steam powered saws, winches, cookers and boilers for extracting the valuable oil. This, apparently, was used for Margarine manufacture amongst other things. I think I need to pause a moment and let my stomach settle! It was, I suppose, a carbon-neutral source of oil, but that does nothing to quell the nausea. How our tastes change!
For social history, this place is enthralling and is a place that has a link with many folk whose fathers, grandfathers and great grandfathers worked here, and as such, it is probably worth preserving. As a means of income for South Georgia, it is a lucrative tourist attraction (this income is well spent on environmental conservation).
These are good arguments for the preservation of Grytviken. It may be well worth conserving but I cannot help balancing this, in my mind, with the trade that caused all these magnificent animals to be slaughtered in a horrid horrid horrid manner. The remains of explosive harpoon heads litter the old flensing yard, each one would have made a kill.
Skeletal remains of whales litter the area.

I can’t help questioning whether such a symbol of revulsion should be preserved? Others may find it different though. On a similar line of thought, there are strong and valid arguments for the conservation of World War atrocity sites, and, after all whaling still goes on.

If it was my choice, should the site be preserved? From the heart I say No….
I would bulldoze it all to the ground, remove it from the Island and from memory.

Yes. .It did put its slimy whiskers on the camera lens when it came up to say hello and bite me.

Ha, evidence!

The rugged mountainous terrain, and the fact that there are no roads, means that the best way to travel to different parts of the island is by boat. Everyone on base is expected to help crew these and most people end up being trained up to the level of Skipper. We have two Boating Officers who manage these operations and they provide ‘on the job’ training. This is on top of the pre-deployment training that we all received at Poole in the UK before we left. One of the Boating Officers crews a life boat when he is back home, so we are in safe hands. We have Two powerful jet boats that are also used for Fishery Patrol and two RIBs, one of these, named Alert, is seen in the photo. These are also very fast and capable of 30 Knots!

This particular trip was to ferry a Government Officer and a Botanist across the bay, where they are to carry out a survey on invasive plants. Some plants such as dandelions, were deliberately introduced during the days of the Whaling colonies, others however, such as Bitter Cress, have been recently and accidentally introduced. The seeds, have been brought in, attached to the clothing, rucksacks and boots of visitors to the island and have been dispersed at an alarming rate. There is great concern that they will out-compete the rare native flora.

Very Stringent bio-security measures have now been put in place. Every visitor, including all of us, have to use a foot dip every time we board and leave a ship. All clothing and baggage is thoroughly checked in a purpose built facility. All bags are emptied out and the contents checked for seeds and insects. All boots have to be scrubbed and all Velcro fasteners cleaned, they pick up all manner of seeds and plant material.

We have been trained to identify all these problem plants and if we find any, we have to mark the spot with a pink ribbon and inform the Government officers giving GPS coordinates. There are also areas that are ‘out of bounds’ to prevent us spreading the invasive weeds and further.

On a fine sunny day such as this, boating is a popular job but only too often, the weather and South Atlantic sea is not as benign. The scenery is always stunning though. A glacier can be seen in the photo, calving into the sea in the background.

Shackleton's Grave

Didn’t see the significance of this at first…..look at the orientation of Earnest Shack’s grave, all the rest are the traditional East West, He said he wanted to be buried facing the South Pole, and, at least, the alignment of the grave marker would suggest that his wishes were fulfilled…but…..there are conspiracy theories!! xx

Hello. A change from Seals I suppose. This is the Hydo-Turbine that, when it is working, provides our electricity for free! It had just jammed up, I think from stones washed in through the inlet, and I am testing it before putting it back online. Don’t mind working today as the weather is horrid, snow showers in summer! I suppose it is Antarctica after all!

Love to all,

For more Rays of Hope-

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