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South Georgia 2007

On board are Hamish, Kate, Helen (7), and Anna (5), and four guests who joined us in the Falkland Islands.

8 November

Elsehul, 54 : 02 South 037 : 58 West

We left Rosita yesterday morning and motored and sailed to Elsehul, stopping along the way to watch macaroni penguins, icebergs, and motored through the Welcome Islands. We arrived in Elsehul and anchored and were immediately descended on by a flock of sheathbills. At first it was amusing to have them pecking at the hatches and eyeing our lunch through the windows, but then we realized that they had made a huge mess of the boat, so we spent the next hour trying to keep them off the boat, putting the sailcover on, stringing up the courtesy flag of every country we've ever visited, and putting a tarp over the dinghy. We've never seen them so bold and we can't really figure it out. There's no food on deck or anything that ought to interest them on the boat.

Most everyone went ashore. Fur seals and elephant seals line the beach (and the fur seals continue up to the hilltops), and there are albatrosses nesting on the hills. Shortly thereafter a small cruise ship arrived with 48 yellow-clad guests. Hopefully they won't go home with too many pictures of Seal looking like a laundry with all our flags out!

We'll stay here in Elsehul again today to have a bit more time to sit and watch the animals. Russell has found his watercolors, and everyone else is busy sorting out lenses to lighten their camera bags for the difficult walking through the tussac grass.

7 November 07

departing Rosita Harbor, 53:60 South 037:22 West

Yesterday morning was spent housekeeping in a snow storm in Prince Olav Harbor. A few people did laundry, and the three digital photographers looked at their work on the computers ... the film photographer has to wait until he gets home ...

After lunch, we headed off to Prion Island. Prion Island is the home to wandering albatrosses on the nest, and as such is one of the most popular sites to visit in South Georgia. To try to limit the disruption of the colony, the SG government limits visits to four hours at a time, with only one ship or yacht visit a day. The light wasn't perfect, but moments of sun were breaking through the snow squalls so we headed out.

Hamish took everyone in by dinghy while I kept watch on the boat. I'll have to get a guest writer to describe the island, but everyone returned to the boat delighted with what they'd seen. The chicks are huge now and exercising their wings in preparation for fledging which will take place in a couple of months. No one managed to see a parent albatross return to feed a chick (at this stage, both parents are off fishing, and return very infrequently to feed the chicks.) It takes two adults to keep up with the needs of one chick, so if one parent is killed by longlining, the chick invariably dies.

Increased fishing in this region has devastated wandering albatross populations - the breeding pairs on Prion Island have plummeted 30% in the past twenty years. The SG fishery has implemented strict controls on the fishery and techniques used in their waters, and posts observers on every fishing boat, and this year no one in South Georgia waters caught an albatross, but the same can't be said for the Southern Ocean poachers or the other fisheries farther north where the albatross regularly forage. See www.savethealbatross.net for more information.

Helen and Anna were saddened by the sight of a dead baby fur seal, and its mother standing over it, protecting it. It was a tiny one, and perhaps premature (the main fur seal pupping is several weeks away).

6 November 07

Prince Olav Harbour, 54:04 South 037:09 West

After a morning in Grytviken and tea with Pat and Sarah Lurcock, the government officer and postmaster who have been here for the last fifteen years, and three of the museum staff, we set off under motor in light winds. We passed a host of giant petrels (including a fairly unusual white morph one) and pintados feeding on a seal carcass. As we headed north in the sunshine, we could see on the Skyeye that all of the region was covered in cloud apart from a little sun in the lee of South Georgia.

The most exciting sighting of the day was a Southern Right Whale, swimming practically in the breakers right off the Fortuna Glacier. It was only the third right whale I've ever seen (all southern) ... even with over 300 days whale watching in New England, I've never seen a northern right whale (which are very close to extinction.)

There are whales swimming around South Georgia now who will remember being hunted, so it's not surprising that it's usually difficult to spot whales around here. So it was a thrill to see this Southern Right, particularly swimming so close to shore. We didn't manage to take any good fluke photos, but it's certainly a moment we will remember, even if we didn't catch it very well on the cameras.

The wind funnelled down Possession and Antarctic Bays at about 45 knots with snow, so it was a bit of a thrash getting here. Everyone took a turn at helming and ice watching. By the time we came into Prince Olav Harbour, there were strong williwaws coming off the hills ... it is forbidden now to tie up to the whaling station jetties, so we anchored in the middle of the cove, with a bouyed anchor. It is hard for yachtsmen to accept the ban on tying up to the whaling stations. Even in a decrepit state, the piers are more secure than lying to the anchor in a harbor where the bottom is littered with old equipment and whale bones, waiting to snag the anchor. The anchor is holding well, but it is dangerously easy to snag something on the foul ground which could make it impossible to retrieve the anchor without scuba diving.

Last night, the grumbles of elephant seals echoed through the water ... it sounded like they were right outside the hull, but in fact, they were on the beach on the other side of the harbor. The male fur seals have staked out their positions, awaiting the females' return.

5 November 07

Grytviken, 54:17 South 36:30 West

We spent the day in Grytviken, exploring the whaling station and the museum. We had a warm welcome from John Fowler from the Falklands who is working at the museum this summer, and Helen and Anna delighted in seeing all the "taxi-derms." A Falklands taxidermist has done a fantastic job on many of the bird species and the girls really enjoyed getting a close look at them. Unusual for a museum was a sign that says "Please Touch" with a king penguin skin and a fur seal skin (and quite a few others) for them to touch. Helen declared, "that's the best museum I've ever visited."

They had their first snowshoe around the whaling station.

Elephant seals are grunting continually - one even spent quite a while swimming under the boat last night, blowing bubbles against the hull.

There are groups of King Penguins in the area. John Fowler said they have been congregating in small groups and staying in the same place for several days in a row.

At breakfast, Cecilia said, "I really want to see a sheathbill." About fifteen minutes later, Hamish was able to say, "turn around!" as a sheathbill walked right past the window.

We've switched our clocks to GMT so that sunrise is at 6:30. Hamish and Nigel were out taking pictures at first light. Somehow it seems much less painful to get up at 6:30 than 3:30, even if it's the same moment of the day.

Cecilia and Bob are off with their tripods now and Hamish is back on board cooking bacon and eggs. We're supposed to boil our egg shells for 20 minutes before putting them into the biodegradable rubbish (because of the risk of transferring avian diseases), but we don't have enough propane for that (or want that much steam in the boat), so I've purloined one of Helen and Anna's toy boxes, and we're saving our egg shells for disposal mid ocean when we head back to the Falklands. (Other biodegradable rubbish is chopped up and thrown over the side well offshore; all bottles, tins, and plastic are saved on board for disposal back in civilization.)

Most everyone has made the walk to Shackleton's gravesite, visited the museum and the church, and now we're preparing to head back to the north end of the island over the next few days.

4 November 07

Grytviken, 54:17 South 36:30 West

we arrived in Grytviken yesterday afternoon after a terrific sail down the coast. The wind was a bit fickle coming through the mountains ... 9 to 45 knots, but good sailing anyway. It snowed most of the day, so no one was too desolate not to be on shore. There was lots of bird life around, although less in the heavier snows. Light mantled sooty albatrosses, snow petrels, king penguins, fur seals in addition to the catalog of birds we've been seeing for the last several days.

When we arrived alongside the jetty, Anna looked out the window and proclaimed, "I see a penguin, and I think it's a king." The king penguin stood at the jetty looking at the boat for most of the afternoon and evening. Elephant seals are wrestling in the water close by and we can hear the belching even with the door shut.

Today's plan is to visit the museum here and the whaling station, assemble the dinghy (we put it below when we are offshore to keep the decks clear). We hope to head off north early tomorrow.

Seal's route from the Falklands to South Georgia

SEAL's route from the Falklands to South Georgia
(the jog south was a typo in my report!)

2 November 07

At sea, 53:59 South 38:49 West

South Georgia in sight. We hove to again last night for about 8 hours ... heavy seas and no chance of seeing mid sized, low slung bergs on the radar in those seas. In the daylight today we passed three that were about the size of Seal (the boat, not the mammal!) and protruding only about 1 foot above the surface ... I showed everyone: "this is why we hove to."

Bigger winds yesterday, 35-45 knots through most of the day. Made excellent progress until we had to heave to (this means backing the staysail and lashing the wheel so the boat jogs along at very slow speeds).

Saw a seal yesterday. Suspect it was a fur seal based on the time of year, but I couldn't really tell. Strange to see one out of sight of land, but they range enormously at sea. Grey headed albatrosses around now and lots of Antarctic petrels (I won't try to specify what type: there are several different kinds; it's beyond me to distinguish between them from this range.)

Icicles on the lifelines this morning. Lots of big icebergs around. We're surprised by the number of bergs we've seen so far ... we've lost track of how many over the past three days. We're still making pretty good time, despite having to stop the boat for two nights.

1 November 07

At sea, 54:07 South 42:47 West

Good morning. Snow squalls this a.m., and unusually, it's building up on deck. I had to wipe the windows in the raised saloon, just like wiping the windshield of a car ... We had a slow night last night -- there is lots of ice around, so we took down the headsail and put three reefs in the main and bimbled along at about 4 knots with someone on deck on lookout and Hamish or I on the radar.

Yesterday afternoon was a big contrast - 40 knot blow with gusts to 50 knots, good sized seas, and sailing wing and wing. The albatrosses and prions and pintados were wheeling around in the wind, and we even saw a skua. Cecilia said of her first stint at the wheel with 40 knots: "it was incredibly exhilarating, even if it was terrifying at first." Really nice day with sun and blue curling waves.

Now sailing in more snow.

31 October 07

At sea, 53:47 South 45:46 West

Happy Halloween. I think I'm going to dress as a large banana ... yellow foul weather gear ... all I need is a large yellow hat.

Saw our first icebergs this morning. It's now snowing ... and no wind at all despite the barometer plunging ... Some great sailing yesterday, and another starry night with a few shooting stars. Fewer birds around today ... yesterday, we were right on the edge of the Convergence, so there was probably lots of feed there ...

30 October 07

At sea, 52:53 South 51:10 West

Good morning. We are still enjoying absolutely fantastic weather. Last night was clear sky with stars ... very unusual in the Southern Ocean. We now have a 25 knot westerly wind, and we're sailing along well. Looks like the cloud is coming in, but we've had unbelievable sun. Lots of birds around the boat - wandering and blackbrowed albatrosses, grey headed, prions, pintados, wilson storm petrels, and about an hour with half a dozen hour glass dolphins surfing around the boat yesterday.

Everyone is adjusting well to life at sea ... Bob has never gone sailing before, but has picked it up extraordinarily well ... seems like he's been doing it for years. Everyone else has done a bit of sailing before, but no long passages, but everyone is doing extremely well in fairly tricky conditions - helming downwind with the sails wing and wing.

We had several sharp squalls come through yesterday with 35 knots of wind and hail, but for the most part the wind has been very steady.

We broke into the Christmas cake last night (great to eat at 3 am). Hamish bought out the smoked salmon last night, but it was mostly consumed by Lairds ... everyone else thought it looked a bit ... fishy. Helen ate most of it as usual.

The sheep are curing in the rigging ... we need to get a shorter winch handle for the runners / preventers when we have full grown sheep on board .... the 10" handle clears lambs fine, but they are wearing a bit of a groove in the port sheep.

29 October 07

At sea, 52:12 South 54:54 West

We are sailing in perfect conditions ... a rare sight in the Southern Ocean. Pintado petrels, blackbrowed albatrosses, and a few wandering albatrosses are winging past the boat in the sunshine. The pintados are the boldest, and skim right past the boat ... often banking just at the last second to clear the end of the spinnaker pole ... the wanderers seem to give the boat a bit wider berth, but a few minutes ago I was on the helm, and one came right down the side. A fairly young one (you can tell the rough age of wanderers by how white their wings are). Amazing to be eye to eye with such a magnificent bird.

We're sailing wing and wing with about 17 knots of true wind in gentle seas ... everyone is getting the hang of helming ... only one of our guests has done any overnight sailing before, but everyone is turning up for watches and doing their stints on the wheel like seasoned sailors. Hamish and I are in our Swedish system of 3 hours on at night and four hours in the day so that one of us is up the entire time, and everyone else is rotating through 2 hours on, 6 hours off, though that could become 4 on 4 off if the weather gets heavier.

The forecast is quite good for the next few days, but there is a chance of headwinds in a few days, so we're putting a bit in the bank.

28 October 07

Stanley, Falkland Islands

Stanley, Falkland Islands - heading out shortly ... looks pretty good for the weather, with the possibility of headwinds in five days, but that's so far ahead, it's really hard to say.

Last-minute stowing and cooking for the past couple of days. Yesterday there was someone on board for tea from 9:30 am until 5:00 pm without pause ... a great send off from Stanley. In the evening, Helen and Anna went out to a party in town with some friends on a cruising yacht while we settled everyone on board.

18 October 07

Stanley, Falkland Islands

We had a fine trip around the south end of Staten Island en route to Stanley, and the good luck to catch the tide exactly along the south coast of the Falklands. Friends from two other boats came down to catch our lines when we arrived ... by coincidence, we'd all last been together roughly 7500 miles due north in Greenland.

We're really enjoying the chance to visit Stanley ... our previous visits have been on extremely tight schedules, and so we haven't had the chance to appreciate it. Helen declared, "it's the best town we've ever visited."

We have a few projects to do before leaving for South Georgia ... the most important is loading Seal with digestive biscuits, marmite, baked beans, and all the other things we haven't seen since leaving England in August 06.

8 October 2007

52:07 South 058:18 West

At sea -- Good morning. Sailing along now, with the Falkland islands (Lively Island) visible in the sunlight to port. (We have our own personal squall cloud overhead, but the land is picked out in sun). Rather a sleepless night as Anna up most of my off watch with an earache. My fault entirely as I was interviewed a few months ago and she said, "what do you do about ear infections," and I said grandly, "they don't get ear infections." Dosed with ibruprophin. They never had them as babies; why are they starting now??

7 October 2007

54:10 South 62:26 West

At sea -- Good morning. All well here. Ambling along ... spent the night paying close attention to our position to avoid overfalls off the ends of Staten Island, and now heading towards the Falklands ... occasional rain but extremely good weather generally. Anna just woke up and is now listening to the Odyssey. Helen still asleep. Hamish about to shake a reef out, but he's holding fire as there is a line of squalls coming. Saw more pintados yesterday than all of last season put together. Lots of black browed albatrosses, giant petrels, and one wandering albatross.

6 October 2007

55:01 South 066:56 West

Banner Cove -- We motored down, first in no wind and then in head winds from Puerto Williams to Banner. Great spot, but we weren't allowed to go ashore since we've cleared out of Chile (and in any event the dinghy is packed away so we couldn't). Just getting the GRIBS now and then we'll decide, but planning to head off at first light.

5 October 2007

54:56 South 67:37 West

Puerto Williams -- Hamish is up at the Port Captain's now ... hopefully we can get permission to stop at Banner tonight and then start first light tomorrow, but we'll see. Otherwise we'll head out this afternoon. The GRIBS (weather charts received over satellite email) look good, and the weatherfax came in clearly, which is a good sign ... the SkyEye (real time weather satellite images downloaded directly to the boat) pictures are incredibly clear, but we are still rank amateurs at reading that so we are really just looking at the GRIBs. (We just bought the SkyEye a few weeks ago, and in the city with the interference of Navy ship radars, wifi internet and AC power on the dock, the images hadn't been particularly clear. The antenna aboard downloads infared and visual images from US government POES satellites as they pass overhead, and then we're able to look at the images immediately alongside our other weather information on the computer on board.)

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