It’s been an amazing 24 hours, and I think that might be a sign of things yet to come. I hope so! South Georgia was sighted at first light (around 3am). At 4am I was woken up for watch with the words “we can see land, but put on an extra layer, it’s colder than Antarctica”. It’s not quite colder than Antarctica, but it is pretty chilly down here. Having crossed the convergence zone again puts us back in water that is a degree or two below freezing (only possible because of the salt content). The air temperature isn’t much above zero either, and four hours out in the elements lets the cold through most clothing. I can’t imagine what early whalers and explorers must have suffered without all the merino wool thermals, thick fleeces and high tech oilskins.
Cold aside, when I came up on deck I was absolutely speechless. The tall, jagged peaks of the islands in front of me where silhouetted against an intense red sky from the rising sun. What a view! I’m getting so excited about what is yet to come. We haven’t even set foot on South Georgia, and yet have been treated to an abundance of wildlife on the crossing that I have never seen before. All along the crossing from The Falklands to South Georgia we have been accompanied by countless birds, and daily appearances of pretty, black and white Hourglass dolphins on the bow. We’ve had 2-4 m high waves for most of the crossing, which makes wildlife spotting reasonably difficult, yet we’ve seen more whales than I can count. Most of the encounters have been fairly brief (I suspect the whales spot something in the water and do a “swimby” to see what we are. But we’ve seen Sei whales, humpback whales and minke whales, and I spotted the tall blows of some Fin whales in the distance this morning (the second largest whales in the world after Blue whales). Sometimes the whales shaddow the boat for a short time, and as the waves lift up beside us, we can see the huge dark shadows of the whales in the bright blue water. As we came onto the South Georgia shelf (where the water rapidly changes from over 1000 m deep to a few hundred meters) we were absolutely overwhelmed by the amount of nature and struggled to know where to look, with dolphins swimming on the bow, whales in three different directions, and fur seals and birds everywhere. The reason for the rich wildlife here is that the rapid change in depth causes upwellings of nutrients from the deep water towards the surface. This supports a host of small plankton and algae which in turn feed small fish and krill (whale and bird food) which feed bigger fish (dolphin and seal food).
We’re now motoring along the north side of South Georgia, towards Grytviken where there is a science base and museum. We need to land here first to clear customs before we can head out to other sites. Maybe we’ll stay here for a couple of days as there’s lots to see, but that decision will be made based on the weather.
Love to all, Colette