Letter from the South Atlantic - 23rd November 2009
So, here I am! Sailing on the Hapag Lloyd Hanseatic cruise ship en route to Elephant Island where our Captain, Ulf Wolfer, is planning to cruise to Point Wild to see the place where 22 men from the Endurance Expedition survived for 4 months whilst waiting for Shackleton’s return and their rescue. The “Boss”, as he was known, never lost a man under his direct command in all of his years on the ice.
It seems like ages ago now that I left the UK on the 1st of November. After a very long flight including a short, tropical refuelling stop at Ascension Island I arrived well but tired at Stanley in the Falkland Islands. I was met by Sally Owen (past Port Lockroy postmistress and UKAHT friend), Richard and their dog Kaff. After some quick introductions and a much needed cup of tea we were out on one of Kaff’s many daily walks along the beautiful beach at Gypsy Cove where I also spotted my first penguin (Magellanic) of the journey!
Next morning feeling refreshed and ready to go I set about my work. I am travelling separately to the rest of the Port Lockroy team as my task was to meet our cargo for the season in the Falkland Islands and make sure it was sorted and packed for safe transport south. Things didn’t start particularly smoothly though as I soon discovered that our cargo containers had been delivered to the wrong harbour and that one of the cruise ships that was transporting cargo for us had been cancelled at the last minute. After a brief moment of sheer panic and with lots of help and advice from Sally and Richard I set about making new arrangements. I soon discovered how things work in Stanley and plans began to come together. I spent a few good days donning my rather fetching Port Lockroy overalls and working at Stanley harbour unloading our container and sorting and repacking our cargo in time for transport on three vessels. Our thanks to: Neil McKay at Stanley Harbour, Sulivan Shipping, the cruise ships Fram and NG Explorer and the BAS vessel RRS James Clark Ross for their assistance in getting our cargo to Port Lockroy this season.
With our cargo all well and on track, I had some time to catch up on other odd jobs and visited Anton at Stanley Post Office to collect all our stamps for the coming season and spent some time at Stanley museum trying to get some useful tips and ideas on displaying museum collections. The days are long and bright in the FI, although apparently rather wet and cold for the time of year (all good preparation for PL!), and Sally took the time to show me round the island and point out all the wildlife on our many walks. I even had the chance to enjoy some rather exciting off-road landrover driving and to fly in a small aircraft on a tour of the Outer Islands.
On the 16th November, having seen most of our cargo safely off on its journey south – I said my goodbyes to Stanley and joined the Hanseatic where I am now bunking with the crew. Due to some pretty awful weather we were delayed in Stanley for an additional day but the captain decided to push forward on the 17th. We had three rather bumpy days at sea and I spent the first 24 hours glued to my bed and feeling sorry for myself. I soon found my sea legs though and was in good form for our first landing in South Georgia at the old whaling site of Grytviken just a few days ago. The Zodiac boats expertly landed us ashore where we all visited the grave of Sir Ernest Shackleton. As is traditional, the Captain and our excellent expedition leader, David Fletcher, paid tribute at his grave and drank to his memory.
The next morning at 6am, I joined the expedition crew on the first landing of the day at Gold Harbour. Possibly the most amazing thing I’ve ever experienced – walking amongst elephant seals and their pups and the most inquisitive king penguins. I spent two hours just watching and taking it all in. The day continued to get better as a few hours later we arrived at St. Andrews Bay. The bay is exposed to the open sea and is surrounded by the stunning ice clad summits of the Allardyce Range. This is the largest concentration of breeding king penguins and elephant seals in South Georgia and there were curious, waddling penguins as far as the eye could sea including (very strange combination) reindeer grazing in the foothills of the mountains. As I walked to the far end of the bay I reached the king rookery and the quite spectacular sight of thousands of brown fluffy king chicks – most, as big as their parents! Returning to the ship, we next sailed past Cooper Island and the captain cruised into the Drygalski Fjord with the most crystal clear and calm waters we’ve experience so far – everyone was up on deck taking in the view and bidding farewell to South Georgia.
Another two days at sea and now our next destination this afternoon is Elephant Island. We’ll next sail through the Antarctic Sound to the South Shetland Islands constantly edging closer to the Antarctic Peninsula – not long now till I join Tudor, Claire and Eleanor at Port Lockroy. I can’t wait!