Hero and the South Georgia Expedition

                       As seen in the slide show


One of the most memorable periods of my 25 years as a merchant mariner was  between 1974 and 1978 while I was radio officer aboard the R/V Hero. Hero was built by the National Science Foundation, specifically to do scientific research in Antarctica , . The ship was commissioned in 1968 and finally retired in 1985. The National Science Foundation is an agency of the US Government responsible for management of  “USARP” (United States Antarctic Research Program)


 Hero in conjunction with Palmer Station was half of a two part scientific platform located on Anvers Island .  Anvers is about 50 mi. to the east of the Antarctic Peninsula Palmer Station is often referred to as the Antarctic Hilton


The Hero is 125 feet long, 30 feet wide. She is oak planked and sheathed with South American “Greenheart”. For power there are two 380 HP diesel engines. Under power her top speed was 12 knots and under sail about 8 knots. Most of the time underway we motor sailed her. This technique used the sails to minimize the uncomfortable rolling tendency which is a result of her shallow draft and a round bottom. The design was derived from a class of vessel known as ” New England side trawler” popular in the North Atlantic around the turn of the century. The designer was Potter & M. Arthur, Inc, naval architects of Boston . She was built by Gamage, Shipbuilder, Inc. in South Bristol Maine . We sailed her with a crew of 12 and carried as many 10 scientists while I was aboard. The hull was green and the sails were orange. She is a cutter-rigged ketch with two headsails (one clubfooted) .


Today she is owned by a fisherman by the name of Bill Wechter and is berthed in Newport Oregon .


During my time aboard I saw her grounded twice once at King George Island and once in Ushuaia Tierra del Fuego.  We were also beset once for 2 weeks in the Lemare Channel south of Anvers Island . Each of these experiences is a story unto itself. On another occasion we ran into a dock while backing out of our berth. This incident cost our first mate Mo, his job.


The focus of this slide show is on one of the 35 separate expeditions in which I was privileged to participate aboard Hero.  It was to the island of South Georgia .


  South Georgia is located along the northern rim of the Scotia Sea at 37 degrees west and 54.5 degrees south. The Scotia Sea is formed by a tectonic plate which is moving eastward from the southern tip of South America and effectively stretches the Andes Mountains off of the normal southerly continuation. This movement forms a basin rimmed by islands The largest of these islands is South Georgia . Although it is farther north than other polar land areas it is still considered part of Antarctica .

Historically it was used by several nations as a convenient location for whaling stations. Today these stations are ghost towns. They have been generally uninhabited since before WWII. The harbors are called Grytvicken, Lieth Harbor , Stromness, Husvik and Prince Olaf Harbor . All are located along the northern coast. They are sheltered from the fierce winds coming off of Antarctica by a range of mountains stretching the full length of the island from south east to north west and therefore have a comparatively moderate climate. Nonetheless gales of 100 MPH are common. Whaling started around 1904 mainly by Argentina , Great Britain , Japan and Norway .


I visited there as a member of the technical support team for a groop of scientists aboard the Hero. Frank Todd, Curator for Sea World San Diego and Dr. Donald Siniff noted authority on evolution from the University of Minnesota were among the group. Their attention was mainly directed toward the thousands of penguins and other birds that nest there and the growing population of southern fur seals now living on the island. That population now numbers in the millions. The slides that you see were taken during the three weeks we spent sailing along the north coast supplemented by other sources where necessary.


A brief visit was made at Gritvicken to visit the BAS station and to replenish Hero’s water supply. The British butchered a reindeer for the occasion.  Norwegian Whalers put the reindeers on the island back around the turn of the century. They have prospered and must be thinned from time to time to prevent over population. The only other land animal on the island is the wharf rat that also arrived about a century ago aboard ships. The rats have experienced considerable evolution due to the severe weather conditions and general change in their normal habitat.  Most are only slightly larger than mice.


There are no trees or underbrush. Only tussock grass grows along the lowlands adjacent to the beach.


 The grandeur of the panorama that presents itself to visitors is unparalleled.

Shear cliffs, glaciers and an incredible quantity of wild life, all a backdrop for many virtually untouched historical sites. Here there are enough relics to fill a dozen marine museums.


While wandering through Stromness I discovered half a dozen Binnacles beautifully crafted and large enough to accommodate the largest sailing vessels.  These units were complete and in like-new condition. There were maybe, 100 small boats strewn about in various stages of disintegration also a fortune in solid brass ships propellers each weighing well over a ton.  A floating dry-dock was tied up at the landing and appeared to be in useable condition. A narrow gauged railroad stretched off toward the center of town. Wild pintail ducks swam in the stream unafraid of approaching humans. I had the feeling that I could move in and live into any of the many  facilities provided, with little effort.


While I was on South Georgia I committed the unpardonable sailor sin . I shot an Albatross. One of the scientists required a specimen for further study so he asked me to put to use some of the skill learned as an Air Force Gunner during WW II. You will be interested to know that none of the misfortune predicted by superstition befell me. At least not yet.

Click here for slide show about South Georgia