Well, yesterday was our first foray ashore meeting the local population at Half Moon Bay on Half Moon Island. There is a big chinstrap colony there who welcomed us with almost total indifference (what – we’ve just crossed the Drake Passage to see you so a bit more interest might have been warranted) as they went about their business to and fro from the sea to their colony up in the rocks above. There were quite a few fluffy brown chicks. The scenery was fantastic – with an inlet, on the other side of the land from where Elinca was anchored, filled with floating ice and a glacier with seracs brooding over it beyond. Savage, cold, majestic scenery. We saw kelp gulls with chicks, arctic terns wheeling above us like little fighter planes, sheathbills, a nesting skua, and on the way back to the inflatables we all stumbled (almost) over a large rock, aka a Weddell seal, which was perfectly relaxed, occasionally lifting its head and tail in a demonstration of seal Pilates. Nick lay down in a similar position to the seal and was treated to a baleful stare – could this be love?
Late afternoon we motored across to Yankee harbour on Greenwich Island with the original idea being to go ashore and look at the Gentoo colony there. Plan A was to anchor there for the night. As we dropped anchor it started to snow hard (Cliggy’s watch of Gemma, Stafford and John T carefully avoiding the icy conditions by being on shepherd’s pie duty below). But the forecast showed rising wind and the anchorage on a lee shore so after dinner we weighed anchor and headed south east to Deception Island where the shelter is excellent. As we left Yankee Harbour the shout of ‘Whales’ went up and we watched a humpback surface and blow a couple of times and then, in classic fashion, its tail fluke rose out of the water as it deep dived. Another wildlife score for Cliggy’s watch who are getting a bit of a reputation as the watch that always sees wildlife.
We started motoring towards Deception Island but, with the wind behind us, flew the jib alone and were soon racing along at around 7 knots with the black and white cliffs of Livingston island occasionally appearing to starboard from the fog. Then Cliggy’s big moment – a pod of killer whales (4 or 5) cruised past us going in the opposite direction. She was really excited as she had never seen them before, despite several trips to the Arctic and Antarctic, and danced excitedly around the cockpit.
Then it started to snow hard – enough to make a small snowman in the cockpit. He’s dealing with the cold really well but otherwise is not contributing much to sailing the boat – you just can’t get good staff these days. So what’s it like sailing in these sorts of conditions? Picture Gemma on the wheel and Stafford on ice watch (of which there is a fair amount to avoid). You can hardly see their faces. Balaclava’s and hats doubled up, oilskin hood pulled hard down, ski goggles helping to give some visibility in the driving snow, hands in several layers of inner gloves and mittens. The wind is quite gusty, dropping to 8 knots or so then interspersed with some strong gusts, which set Elinca surging off at 8 knots or so, as the waves roll under us from behind. Then, at midnight, bed for Cliggy’s watch (oh the joy of a warm sleeping bag and dry socks). But it was a surreal, exciting experience to sail in such an icy, grey world and in perpetual daylight.
It’s now morning and I’ve woken up for my turn at anchor watch to find us safely tucked up in Stancomb Cove inside Deception Island. It’s calm and there are patches of blue sky appearing so we could be in for a good weather day. The rest of the crew are having a well deserved lie in. Now Nick has found his cigars it bodes well for a hot spring mud bath ashore, as Deception Island is volcanic and still active. More on that perhaps in the next blog.
Special greetings from 63 degrees south to Gateway School in Ladbroke Grove, Portsmouth Grammar School Juniors, Flo and the rest of the class at Telferscot school in Balham, and Mrs Fraley and UV class at the Unicorn in Kew -hope you are following and enjoying the blog.
John and Sarah T