South to the Ice! - Part Three

Viola Trawler Post

17th June 2020

This is the final part of the story “South to the Ice”, by David Drewry.  Ole Hanson, the Mate of the “Dias” (a converted trawler originally named “Viola, built in Beverley to work in the North Sea, now a sealing ship owned by a Norwegian company and based in the South Atlantic) has sailed from Grytviken in South Georgia via Tierra del Fuego, with men and stores for the Argentine base, Orcadas, in the South Orkney Islands. The base leader says four men have gone missing trying to climb the highest peak on nearby Coronation Island. The “Dias’s” Captain has offered to help and taken the ship there through the ice. Ole and three men have gone ashore, climbed a ridge onto a glacier. They crossed one dangerous crevasse but now are faced with another and a shocking discovery. Ole takes up the tale.

As we approached the crevasse we could see there was a rope hanging over the lip of the gaping void. Harald strode forward but I cautioned him to keep back until we could secure our own ropes. I lay on the snow and edged my way to the lip to look down. Cascades of ice fell inwards but about five metres down in the gloom I saw the two Argentines on a narrow ice ledge, one sitting and the other lying down. They both looked up as I peered in and shouted down to them. I don’t have much Spanish, and some of that is unrepeatable, picked up from the crew of the ships that come into Grytviken. “Hola, Hola” I cried, and they called back and we understood they had survived the fall without any injury, very bruised, shocked and cold. We learned their names were Lucas and Gonzalo.

Now we had a job on our hands, how to get them out. I got Gunnar and Egil to dig a pit few metres back from the crevasse edge and bury the end of a rope around one of our stout staffs.  We then tied the other end onto an old link from a small anchor chain we had brought with us. Meanwhile Harald and me, we tied two of our ropes together to reach down to the Argentines and then passed one end through the anchor link to make something  of a pulley. I had seen this done up in the mountains back home and only hoped I had got it right. We threw one end down and Gonzalo, who was the one who had been sitting, tied the rope around him and waited for us to pull him up. Harald with his huge muscles heaved away with Gunnar, and gradually Gonzalo started up, but the rope kept cutting into the lip of the crevasse and giving way and poor Gonzalo fell back several times. Egil grabbed one of the other walking staffs and slipped it across-wise under the rope just in from the lip and it worked like magic. Egil works on the engines on the Dias and is used to some technical ideas. Soon we had Gonzalo at the edge, and we were able to grab his arms and pull him out. Poor man he was shivering and clearly very exhausted. While Egil and I looked after him Harald again threw down the line for Lucas.

Things went well for a while as he came up but then he started coughing violently and shouting at us. He had not tied the knot securely enough. He had made a slip knot and now the rope was cutting into him and shutting off his breath. Harald had no option but to lower him down back onto the shelf as quickly as he could. As Lucas stepped back onto it a huge chunk gave way and he crashed below with a yank and a terrible scream. Harald held firm and pulled him up quickly so he could scramble onto the remaining portion of the shelf choking and crying out with pain. It was clear he was now almost unconscious with the tightened rope around him. There was nothing for it, I made the decision for Gunnar and Egil to lower me down to Lucas to somehow relieve the pressure on him, re-tie his rope and get him back up as quickly as possible. As I descended, hundreds of small icicles broke loose and tinkled down into the abyss. It was eerie and very cold. I got to Lucas but asked Gunner to still take much of my weight as the shelf looked very weak. I stepped over to Lucas who was in a bad way and carefully untied the slip knot and fastened the rope properly and called quickly above to both Gunnar and Harald to haul us up. Slowly we came up together and I was able to help the others pull out Lucas by pushing from below before I scrambled out and into Harald’s bearlike arms.

We now had to see what we could do for Lucas. Gunnar thought the man had broken ribs but there was little help we could give him, none of us knowing much about first aid. He was coming round, but in a lot of pain. We gave him a shot of aquavit from my flask and some bread and along with Gonzalo started straight away to go back down to the tent. With great care and Harald’s help we almost carried Lucas across the other crevasse. It was something of a miracle that we got everybody safe to the other side. Now we could go down more securely, but Lucas needed support from Harald and Egil. Gonzalo was weak and tired, and I assisted him as he stumbled along very gamely. It seemed an age, but we arrived eventually back at the camp. Two other of my crew had come ashore, sent by the Captain as back up with another dinghy. They were hearing from the Argentines about their disastrous trip.

It was time to get back to Dias as soon as possible. The wind was rising and getting off the rocky shore was going to be tough. We abandoned the tents and other equipment and helped the two victims down the shelf to one of the dinghies. Bjarne, the Cook’s assistant, and an old sea dog, got everybody onboard and then we rowed out through the brash into heavy waves that tossed us a great deal, some water coming in over the sides. More rowing brought us to the sanctuary of the Dias. Strong hands took the injured Lucas and exhausted Gonzalo onto the deck and then below to a bunk where food and warm blankets awaited. Dias now turned her bow east and buffeted by the sharp quartering sea from the north west ploughed her way back through more of the ice to Laurie Island and the welcome and grateful thanks of all at the base at Orcadas.

We had little time to do anything but disembark all the rescued men and put back to sea. The Captain was very eager to get away from the islands as the barometer had been falling steadily and he knew we would have a rough sail back across the Drake to South Georgia. With three blasts on the whistle and as ten men came out to wave us off, the Dias pulled away from Laurie Island, headed east, rounding Cape Dundas to sail north and into the teeth of the incoming storm. Well, I tell you we have had some bad trips out of Grytviken, and this was bad, but perhaps not the worst.  With the heavy weather coming on the port beam the old thing rolled pitiably but she ploughed on almost knowing she was heading home, even so it was well over 450 miles and it took us more than three days and three sleepless nights before we stood off Cape Disappointment. The Captain reckoned it was worth a little extra distance to reach Cooper Island at the east end of South Georgia where we would get protection from the wind and waves. And so it was, as we then chugged north-west to the safety of Cumberland Bay and our home at Grytviken. We had been away a month, but it seemed a lifetime. We were rightly pleased we had saved the Argentine chaps and delivered their cargo. The old Dias had done us and them proud, down to Antarctica, pounding the sea and ice, a sturdy ship and a credit to the canny fishermen of Hull who had had her built.

Back to Grytviken, photo source:  "Capt. William Williams", Rhiw. com. None of the characters are intended to represent persons living or deceased and the incidents described are entirely imaginary.

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