The wreck of the D/S Guvernøren
Scuba diving in Antarctica is a unique experience, close encounters with seals and diving around ice bergs. But there is much more. Like the wreck (an old Norwegian whaling factory ship) located at Foyn Harbour, off Enterprise Island (just south off Cuverville Island) the “D/S Guvernøren”. It’s easy for divers to access. It lies in a sheltered bay and a big part of the wreck rises above the surface.
Shipwreck D/S Guvernøren - © Michael Green
Remnants of the whaling industry
When visiting the Antarctic Peninsula you sometimes come across historical remains. An abandoned boat here, a pile of whale bones there. The area was the stage for a massive killing and processing of whales for just a hundred years ago. At that time, the whaling industry moved to the southern hemisphere for a number of reasons. New technology like steam engines and exploding harpoon heads made it possible to hunt the faster rorquoral whales. Europe’s population was growing, making a high demand of oil for the food and chemical industry. Whale oil was even used for glycerine in explosives in WW1.
Whaling factory Guvernoren - © Jerry Sutton
Life as a whaler was hard. They worked on two year contracts, doing twelve hour shifts. Their work with fat and meat often caused cuts and as a result, hand infections. Fleets of whaling ships were in the area doing their business. They used smaller ships, catchers, for hunting the whales and bigger ships, factories, for processing the catch. They could easily move the set up to where the supply was. They also didn’t need to follow any regulations like the shore based whaling stations had to. Such a ship was the Guvernøren.
Scuba diver near ds Guvernoren - © Jerry Sutton
A ship load of stories
The wreck has its own lore, stories of what really happened. We know for a fact that it was a refitted cargo ship, based in the area as a floating factory, for whales caught in the Wilhelmina Bay. The area is still known for its abundance of whales. We know it had 16614 barrels of whale oil on board when it caught fire in January 1915. One story says the crew were preparing to go home and threw a party, celebrating a good whaling season, a lamp was knocked over during the dancing and the oil caught fire. However, this remains to be verified, as does the story of the captain ordering one of the whale catchers to shoot a harpoon in to the Guvernøren to deliberately sink it in an attempt to save some of the oil. The crew of 85 got in to their work boats and were later saved, you can still see the boats abandoned on some nearby cliffs.
Diving the D/S Guvernøren
All the good stories set aside, the wreck remains a really good spot for diving. The depths go from 1.5 m in the stern down to 17 m in the aft. All the 132 meters of wreck in between is full of preserved whaling history. You can easily make out the cookers for reducing the whale blubber to oil, barrels, capstans, wires, port holes and even the odd harpoon head. Antarctica above water means snow and glaciers, but under water you are met with a multitude of colours. Yellow soft corals, pink encrusting algae, red kelp and orange anemones. The Guvernøren is not an exception. Divers with an interest in photography can be kept busy a long time here.
Divers and kayakers exploring D/S Guvernøren - © Mal Haskins
The place is of course also worth a visit for non-divers. The ship is still impressive as it lies in a hidden bay. The big, broken structure stands out against the white ice and snow. The stern rises high above the water, you find Antarctic terns resting on the rusting hull and fur seals on the nearby rocks. This means it’s a popular spot for kayaking and zodiac cruising. On our Basecamp trips, you’ll even have mountaineers on the hills above.