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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.

wandering albatross

Wandering Albatross

south georgia route

Our route from South Georgia to the Falkland Islands; the irregular track shows where we hove to at night. We had thick fog and half a dozen icebergs on the radar screen at all times for the first three days.

December 7

Stanley, Falkland Islands

We arrived in Stanley yesterday evening after a beautiful warm sunny afternoon with absolutely zero wind. We were up and about on deck in T-shirts ... not at all like the Southern Ocean ... it is rougher at the dock right now than it was out there!

December 6

at sea, 52 : 10 South 055 : 18 West

Beautiful morning this morning, and finally a beam reach. There are albatrosses, wandering and black browed, pintados and white chinned petrels flying around the boat ... everyone is having a lie in with the gentle motion.

We're chasing Abel Tasman ... we caught them up to within 6 miles last night, but we talked to them on the VHF and they are still motoring and we are sailing to save diesel, so they're getting ahead of us again. But it's a lovely change to be sailing, as we had the motor on almost all day yesterday.

December 5

at sea, 52 : 48 South 051 : 59 West

We're motoring in no wind at the moment... can't believe this is the southern ocean! yesterday, I shook out a reef in my t-shirt ... standing watch, Hamish and I wear boots and foul weather gear trousers and t-shirts ... feet are inordinately hot ... I cannot believe how lucky we have been with the weather. It is due to go on the nose tomorrow again, but still it has been remarkably light for the southern ocean.

We've had an amazing time with four wandering albatrosses which have stayed quite close to the boat for the last 24 hours ... I am not entirely sure that they are the same birds; we'll have to compare photographs (Wandering albatrosses start out with black wings as young birds, and the wings go to white as they age. Extremely old ones have entirely white wings.) I am not sure of the reason for this, but I speculate that perhaps it is because (in other birds; I don't know if this is true of Wandering Albatrosses) black wings are more costly to produce but stronger; it would make sense that a bird soaring in the Southern Ocean where the wind regularly tops 60 knots would need strong wings, but perhaps that need would diminish as the bird became more adept at flying).

Now that we're out of the ice, and we're beating to windward (or in this case motoring), our guests have stopped standing a watch. This is very unusual for us, but most everyone found it quite hard to helm on the apparent wind, so Jimmy the wind pilot has been doing the duty ... it is the point of sail Jimmy likes best.

Most everyone has spent quite a lot of time on deck during they day,photographing these wandering albatrosses. It's quite unusual for us to see them so close to the boat for so long.

Everyone is up listening to Harry Potter on the IPOD, except H who is off watch and asleep or perhaps listening to Bill Bryson The HIstory of Everything on the children's IPOD! Books on IPOD are brilliant for those first days at sea when one doesn't feel like reading. I'm back reading now (EO Wilson, the Future of Life, which is rather depressing), but yesterday was the first day I really felt like it.

Helen and Anna are counting down the days until Christmas. They are also imagining that we are being followed by an enormous bull elephant seal, a harem of females and quite a few pups on our way to Stanley. They are planning to take the seals swimming with them in the pool at Stanely, but fear that the bull will not fit through the door, so he'll have to wait outside in the football field!

December 4

at sea, 52 : 58 South 046 : 57 West

Motoring along again. Finally a clear sky and view to the horizon after three days of thick fog. We have had unbelievably good weather this trip really, as the winds have been quite light, if on the nose much of the time. No time for purism here ... when the wind slackens enough to be remotely comfortable to motor into, we motor... There's a reason that quite a number of cruising boats take in South Georgia en route to Cape Town .... the trip from South Georgia to Cape Town is twice as long as South Georgia back to Stanley, but it is usually down wind.

We haven't seen any ice bergs since last night, but we are still looking out. We've been surprised by the quantity of ice we are seeing ... being hove to every night has added a bit to our passage time.

Last June, I bought an IPOD for Helen and Anna, so that they could listen to Harry Potter and the Famous Five in our cabin, and not disturb the grownups in the raised saloon. For the first bit of the trip, they did just that, but now, by popular demand, the IPOD has been restored to the raised saloon, and everyone is listening to Harry Potter!

Yesterday we had a wonderful spell with Wandering Albatrosses flying around the boat. They generally don't seem as interested in yachts as some of the other birds, so we don't often have them by the boat for hours at a time. We might have seen their children on Prion Island ... our group didn't see any adults in their time on Prion (at this time of the year, the adults come in very infrequently to feed the full sized, but not yet fledged, chicks), but it makes it even more special to see the wandering albatrosses when we've visited one of the few places where they breed.

December 3

at sea, 53:25 South 043:51 West

Similar sort of day today ... thick fog, quite a bit of ice on the radar (though less at the moment than yesterday). Jimmy the wind pilot is steering us straight for Stanley, which is great after all the beating we did over the last few days ... we're on a fetch 65 degrees apparent wind, so it feels pretty much the same on board, but it is very refreshing to look at the GPS and see that the VMG is high (VMG is Velocity Made Good, sometimes called Waypoint Closing Velocity ... it's a calculation of what percentage of boat speed is going to the waypoint you want to reach.)

We're still keeping an ice watch on deck, which is tough because the fog is so thick.

Tedious morning today as I was getting started again after a night of hove to, when the stove blew out (it doesn't like sudden changes in direction. Usually, as long as I remember to shut the door when maneuvering, it's fine, but not today ... it blew out and filled the cabin with horrible acrid smoke, and poor Hamish had to relight it .... Our stove really deserves a name, as it certainly has a personality. This morning it was behaving like Smorg the dragon. It also seems to have a decided preference for Hamish. Fortunately it's been light enough weather to have the door open, and so the smell is cleared and its humming away nicely and I'm fond of it again. A lot of the boats down here aren't able to run their heaters when sailing, so I shouldn't complain.

Everyone is up and about now ... since we've been hove to for the past three nights, everyone is living a more or less normal schedule, except for Hamish and me, who continue in our watches at night. Hopefully tonight we'll be able to continue on at night.

December 2

at sea, 53 : 34 South 039 : 40 West

Good morning. We had a good leg down the coast of South Georgia yesterday ... the wind slowly backed on us, bending our track south, but we were far enough along to stay on that tack for quite a while, curving around the tip of South Georgia. We tacked north in a field of icebergs in pretty thick fog, but then, just at sunset, the fog cleared and we sailed past one iceberg quite close, with the sun setting behind it, and albatrosses backlit by the sunset. An absolutely beautiful sunset. We sailed on for another hour until it got dark and then hove to again for the night, jogging slowly NE at about 1 knot.

The wind went light in the night, allowing us to motor into it now, which we're doing, which is very encouraging as it is miles we can do right on course. We're expecting more wind later in the day.

Russell just came in with some great photographs of a wandering albatross right off the boat. I am tempted to wake up Hamish since he'd like to take some pictures, I'm sure, but I won't as it is his low sleep day. (He and I do our usual 2 person watch and everyone else is doing 2 on / 6 off at the helm and on ice lookout). Jimmy the wind pilot has been doing some great miles too, as some people are finding steering by the apparent wind quite difficult. We've discovered Bob's secret ... he may never have "sailed" before, but he is a former windsurfing instructor ... which explains why he is so good at helming.

December 1

at sea, 53 : 47 South 037 : 58 West

Good afternoon ... we are finally making good progress after a very slow start and a slow night.

We had a bit of an epic leaving Husvik as in the last hour the wind shifted and our chain wrapped around a massive anchor lying on the bottom, left behind by some whaling ship years ago. A fluke was sticking up in the air and our chain took a couple of turns around it in the light winds. Of course, we had already dismantled the dinghy for the passage back to Stanley, so it took longer than it might have to retrieve our chain. Hamish's dry suit and diving kit paid for itself several times over. Everyone chipped in and helped, so we had many hands to tend the various lines ... we had to set a second anchor while paying out line on the first, so Hamish could do the dive from Seal instead of from the dinghy.k Luckily, there was very little wind, which made things much easier.

This gave us a late start, so we didn't get in as much northing as hoped in the daylight hours, and there was a lot of ice around, so we hove to for the hours of darkness, which conveniently are two hours less than when we came here five weeks ago. This morning, we were able to tack and now are making quite good progress towards Stanley. Right now, the wind is about as perfect as one could wish for the return trip to the Falklands ... 20 knots from the NW ... but we are expecting it to back to the west later today ... but that will allow us to get our northing and get away from the ice, which is our other wish, as it is quite foggy and there is a lot of ice around.

November 30

Husvik Harbour, 54 : 11 South 036 : 42 West

It's a very busy morning today as we are heading out for the Falklands this afternoon. We'd planned to go tomorrow, but it looks like a good weather window for today, so we're jumping our schedule up.

Yesterday, all the guests were able to go ashore for the whole day ... lots going on on the beach - fur seals giving birth, mating king penguins, and lots of young people from the British Schools Expedition group getting ready to walk to Fortuna Bay. Pelagic Australis is here supporting the project. (All land based expeditions to South Georgia require a support boat, usually a yacht, on hand to rescue them if anything goes wrong.)

Helen and Anna had a wonderful day making muffins and drawing pictures with Jess on Pelagic Australis while Hamish and I spent the day preparing the boat for sea (it's amazing how much there is to do, even though we've been sailing almost every day since we arrived in South Georgia.)

In the late afternoon, I went over to retrieve Helen, Anna and Jess, and we picked up Hamish and went for a walk around Husvik. I could spend weeks here hiking ... I was very jealous because when Hamish went to untie the dinghy, he saw a fur seal pup being born ... (of course, he'd left his camera at the landing spot) ... he said a skua came down and actually pulled the afterbirth off the pup and consumed it immediately, leaving no trace on the beach.

The beach is noisy with fur seals, but they have quite a lot of space here, so they are not as aggressive as on some other beaches.

Husvik is an old whaling station. Anna picked up a sawed off rib of a great whale. "This doesn't deserve to be out and about," said Anna. "It deserves to be inside a whale." This summed up the whaling stations for me. It is such a tragedy that there are almost no whales left here. (And it's one of the reasons there are so many fur seals, because the fur seals have filled the niche formerly occupied by whales, since they eat very similar food.)

The only bit of outside news we've had in the last five weeks is that the Japanese are going after 50 humpbacks, 935 minke whales and 50 fin whales this season. They claim that they are doing research, but most of the whale meat winds up as dog food. We wish Paul Watson and the Sea Shepherds every success this season in saving a few of these whales.

The crew of Pelagic Australis came around for happy hour and again for dessert last night.

I'd better get back to work, as there is lots to do before we head off!

light mantled sooty albatross

light mantled sooty albatross

anna and helen on the cliff

Anna and Helen in the tussac

yacht seal in Cobbler's Cove

Seal in Cobbler's Cove

ocean swell

ocean swell at the base of the cliff

November 29

Husvik Harbour, 54 : 11 South 036 : 42 West

It's been very busy, so I haven't written ... yesterday, we had a day ashore at Ocean, and then, after a late lunch, headed back to Cobbler's Cove. We had a splendid afternoon in Cobbler's Cove .. another full day, it felt like! and then this am, we were up at 6, on to Grytviken for a day stop, and now it is 9 pm, and we're motoring towards Husvik ... so lots of places in the last few days.

In Ocean, I was pleased to see three pups with cows ... so presumably one of them was the lost pup of the day before. It was surprising to see three nurslings in a place full of weanies ... we haven't seen nurslings for a while anywhere else.

The big change overnight in Ocean was seeing some reindeer calves ...

Anna didn't feel like going ashore in the morning, so she stayed behind and "assisted" Hamish with a fuel filter change. Helen and I went for a walk and watched weanies practicing swimming in the rivers and some yearlings holding their breath for impressive amounts of time (adults can hold their breath for two hours, so it probably wasn't impressive for an elephant seal, but it impressed us.) "Weanies are almost like different species," said Helen. We watched one leave her river and then hump up to another, dry, weanie and try to cuddle up to it. The sqwacks of protest from the dry weanie were delightful to watch. "It's saying ick! You're wet! get away from me!" said Helen.

We had lunch and then motored through various inside passages to Cobbler's Cove. We all poured ashore off the boat, as the light was perfect, and although we'd been there before it had been snowing and grey. Hamish, Helen and Anna and I had a wonderful anniversary afternoon on a cliff top. Helen and Anna were playing with stones acting as baby fur seals and Hamish was having a fine time trying to capture light mantled sooty albatrosses on his camera. I fell asleep! It was a gorgeous spot, with the boat anchored behind us and the light mantled sooties flying right over head (so were skuas and gulls, but is hard to pay attention to other birds when there are light mantled sooties around).

Down below in the sea, we could see gentoos swimming in the clear water, and in the evening, they lined up like commuters walking along the rocks back to their rookery high in on the hill. On the beach, the first four fur seal pups were nursing.

We had peach cobbler for dessert to celebrate Cobbler's Cove.

We expected this morning to be a thrash to Grytviken, but it was quite mild, and we arrived alongside the first cruising boats of the season - Sol (cruising friends we'd first met in Greenland) and Northern Light who we'd just met once before. We tied alongside and Helen and Anna disappeared onto Sol to visit and "assist" Kirsten in baking a cake for tea. Hamish and I took on water, did laundry, an oil change, and many of our number did last minute Christmas shopping. It was a working visit ... since we were last in Grytviken, the snow has melted, and a team of construction workers has arrived from the UK to put in a hydro electric plant at Grytviken. The aim is admirable ... once on hydroelectric, they will no longer have to import fuel to run generators at Grytviken and KEP, but at the moment, Grytviken looks and sounds like a building site ... a bit too much civilization for our last days in South Georgia, so we elected not to spend the night.

After tea with Sol, Northern Light, and Kirsten's delicious cake, we took off for Husvik... We just missed Golden Fleece, who were coming in for the night, but we may meet them farther on ... we motor sailed to Husvik, where we found Pelagic Australis and Abel Tasman.

Shortly after we arrived, Jess, the mate on Pelagic Australis, called up on the VHF to invite Helen and Anna over to bake birthday cake for one of their guests this morning.

We didn't have dinner until 10 pm, with all the moving about, but it was worth it to wake up this morning in the sunshine in Husvik, to the sound of seals grunting, rather than the sounds of JCBs transporting ton bags of gravel about. The wind shifted early in the morning, giving us a view of mountains to hike and glacial valleys and hiding the whaling station behind the mast.

Earlier Entries from South Georgia 2007

November 20 - November 26

November 14 - November 19

November 9 - November 13

October 5 - November 8

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Antarctica 2007 Blog