Jim here again today, having recuperated from a passage across the Drake that has been as hard as anything over of the last 8000 miles since leaving Falmouth.
I’m writing from our first Antarctic anchor watch. Unfortunately this does mean going outside every now and again as the windows have iced up. The job of anchor watch being to check that Elinca is anchored safely and not drifting into danger, that bit no different to any other anchor watch anywhere around the world. The only difference here that the other check is for ice in the bay. Currently Yankee Harbour, on Greenwich Island (one of the South Shetland islands) is gathering a small collection of baby ice bergs due to a light southerly wind breeze carrying them in. Fortunately they shouldn’t impede safe navigation when we whey anchor in a couple of hours and set off to Deception Island via Half Moon Bay – more on those, no doubt, tomorrow.
With the more substantial ‘bergs out in the larger channels we will need to exercise more caution.
Yesterday, as we motored through the Boyd Straight and hung a left along the southern shores of the South Shetlands, the most effective cry in rousing our motley crew came out from the deck team. “Whale!” suddenly had most of the 14 of us on deck in a flash, to see 3 southern hump back whales circling the boat (after we had stopped), blowing their trumpets not 20 metres away. They weren’t in the mood for jumping or tale slapping, but then I suppose this isn’t Sea World. I wonder if these were the same ones we saw around the equator a couple of months ago? According to the book on migration patterns, this would be possible, though with a global population of 20k – 30k it would seem unlikely. More likely is that as a small group (i.e. less than 12 – 15) it would probably have been a mother and her juveniles and at 20 metres long and weighing 35ish tonnes, they are similar in size to Elinca.
After this brief pause, on we went to our current location, Yankee Harbour. An almost perfect natural harbour, Yankee is home to a large Gentoo penguin colony. So after a delicious bite to eat, inflating of the 3-strong dinghy fleet, and the disinfecting of boots and clothing, off we went on our first mini-adventure.
Each time we go ashore we will be careful to disinfect our footwear and clothing as it is important not to import foreign bacteria and diseases into these isolated communities. Equally important, if not more so, is to not transfer diseases from one penguin colony to the next, so disinfecting takes place after the trips to land too.
These were the first penguins I have been close to (we’re allowed within 5 metres), and well, they are about as amusing to watch as they are on the TV. They have an almost pointless waddle to them, with their prime concern the nurturing of their eggs. Further along the spit of land that forms the harbour, were to be found Crab Eater seals, Chinstrap penguins (these might have been lost as the Chinstrap colony is on the other side of the bay – apparently) and Elephant seals. Even by the standards of a busy day on Elinca, the Elephant seals really don’t do very much.
What you can see is one thing, what you can hear is another. From the bursting exhalation of the hump backs, the squawking of thousands of penguins, flatulent seals and the cracking and crashing of ice. This is both nearby ice chunks bashing into each other and more distant glaciers calving into the ocean. By no means is it peaceful hundreds of miles from the nearest civilisation.
I doubt I will get the chance to blog again before Christmas day, so Merry Christmas to all the blog followers from me and much love to all those at home.
P.s. Thanks for leaving your boots behind Jen! They are keeping my feet toasty! Lara