Ocean Harbour: Bayard and birthdays

Bayard at Ocean Harbour

We anchored at Ocean Harbour, across the bay from the listing, rusting hulk of the Bayard. There’s a strange continuity for the old whaling ship was scuttled in 1911, the year Europa was launched half a world away in Hamburg. Now Europa visits and her crew crane their necks at the seals and shags, and hope to glimpse the few whales left behind by the industry of Bayard and her like. Inside (glimpsed through a glassless porthole), her decks are open to the sky and littered with remains, nests and grass pushing roots into the mouldering wood.

Inside the Bayard at Ocean Harbour

The old station ashore is cluttered with elephant seals, lying in their big heaps but occasionally moving on. I was walking towards the few crosses lined behind the beach when voices called my name. Behind me, a large black seal had decided to give chase, but when I turned round he flopped down as if nothing had happened. He probably weighed 30 times more than me, so I was glad of his shyness.

The forefins of the elephant seals are surprisingly delicate, curving round to scratch at moulting skin. The claws can be long and rounded – and so are claws, not nails – but as this light coloured fin suggests, they can be worn back to eerily resemble a six-fingered hand.

Elephant seal scratching at Ocean Harbour
Elephant seal fore flipper at Ocean Harbour
Cross elephant seal at Ocean Harbour, beside the Bayard

Elephant seals moult ‘catastrophically’: all their skin sheds at one time and must be very itchy. This female had taken herself off down the beach to suffer in privacy and bellow her discomfort. When we wandered past her, she became even more irritated, barking and growling so loudly she could be heard 100m away.

In a shed reindeer skulls remain, marked with the year of kill. The beach is also home to pintail ducks, carnivorous birds who peck away at seal carcasses. On Bayard the shags pose, their blue eyes as bright as the sky. (Lindsay took this lovely photo.)

South Georgia has no dogs to eat other dogs, but every species is hungry to fatten up before the onrushing winter.



Pintail ducks at Ocean Harbour
Reindeer skulls at Ocean Harbour
Shag perched on Bayard, by Lindsay Eaton

That night was Harko’s birthday and we had a great party. Bunting hung about and Rensje produced a fabulous cake decorated with a huge sparkler. Katelynn played a haunting sonata (picture by Sharryn) and then we sang him a song in which misplaced anchors were prominent.

Katelynn playing Harko's birthday sonata, picture by Sharryn Cameron
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