Alpine uplands above Maiviken

Maiviken Cove was our next stop.  We headed there only after leaving our anchor behind in the foul ground of Stromness Harbour. Heroic efforts to free it had begun at first light, although the beautiful sunrise was largely unappreciated by the hard-working crew. In the end the chain was pulled as taut as possible and the angle-grinder cut us free. Of course, Europa carries two strong bower anchors, and at least one additional fisherman’s anchor stowed on the stern rail. All the same, in the tough waters of approaching winter, being able to set two anchors is a comfort. Harko was not too happy, especially with the out-of-date charting of the fouled bottom, but told us that the last trip had lost an outboard engine, a considerably more expensive challenge.

Sunrise over Grass Island, Stromness, before leaving for Maiviken

Maiviken was so named by Carl Anton Larsen because he arrived there on 1 May on his journey to set up the south’s first land-based whaling station at Grytviken. Larsen, you may recall, was captain of the Antarctica, the ship of the 1903-04 Nordenskjold Expedition; he had survived the shipwreck to lead his men through the winter on Paulet Island and finally reach safety.

Even today the sealers’ cave is in the rock cliffs is used by scientists and support teams as a ready spot for a camp. When we stopped there, at the end of the season, it needed a bit of a tidy-up. It shows how rough the life of the sealers became, with little fires on a small ledge outside a damp, cold hole. The view was insufficient repayment: the privations were all about the promised rewards.

Sealers' cave at Maiviken
Rat monitoring post above Maiviken

From Maiviken it is easy to walk across the Thatcher Peninsula to Grytviken, at least on a beautiful summer’s day. Along the way we passed these sticks, with the blob of wax at the bottom: rat-monitoring posts. The wax attracts rats who gnaw on it, leaving bite-marks. The posts are the best way to monitor whether rats are around and all expeditions are asked to look at the wax to see if there is any evidence. We were pleased to see all these posts were clear of any evidence of rats, part of the proof of the great success of the eradication programme. They are also an excellent example of a really simple and robust solution to a complicated problem. 

Our day of walking across the peninsula was incredibly warm, and all of us ended up carrying our coats and jumpers. You must have them though, for of course the weather can change in a snap. Beside the lakes stands a little refuge hut, securely tied down against the winds and well equipped for a substantial stay. The hills beyond were reflected in its windows in the extraordinary clear light.

Refuge hut above Maiviken
Inside refuge hut above Maiviken
Reflections of the hills above Maiviken

Beyond the grassland and lake we stopped to enjoy the sunshine. The grass faded out to scree and lichen at the saddle before the descent to Grytviken. A few spent bullets lay amongst the rocks, probably souvenirs of the reindeer hunts.

On the far side we left the rocks behind and came back into grassland beside a steep stream, boasting a small water mill and generator behind a dam: Grytviken’s power. The whaling station shouldered its way clear of the peaks. Around the curve of the beach are the rusting remains of the factory. Directly beneath us rose the spire of the church Larsen built. He brought it, flat-packed, from Norway and it was one of the first buildings completed here. I can see the Norwegian church in Cardiff Bay from my bedroom window, so it was homely sight beckoning us down to meet Europa as she came into anchor in the bay.

Descending into Grytviken after the walk from Maiviken
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