Days 14 & 15 // February 5 & 6, 2018 // Monday & Tuesday == AT SEA: South Sandwich Islands to the South Orkney Islands

ON THE BRIDGE== Looking at the ship’s charts. Passengers wishing to go on the Bridge were welcomed for as long as they wished to stay today, in groups of fifteen.

AT SEA

Enroute == South Sandwich Islands to South Orkneys

Day 14 // FEBRUARY 5, 2018 Monday

As the trip grows longer, and the days remaining now begin to grow shorter, we are increasingly aware of how different the experiences are between sailing on a cruise ship, and sailing on a tiny “expedition” ship.

The Captain, a woman from Switzerland who has served on the ship for about a decade and is now the Captain, stands on the left. Carol Anne is near the right side of this photograph.

Expedition ships are a fast growing segment of the travel industry. They are small – usually about 6,000 tons versus the smallest of cruise ships that are 30,000 tons and up.

They are generally older and the accommodations, especially in the lower categories, can be sparse. Adventure Canada sells cabins that accommodate four people, and they sell the rooms, not to people that know one another, but instead to people willing to room together as in a dormitory.

While a cruise ship has a set destination, the expedition ship has only a general direction and when it spots something it offloads the zodiacs and off the guests go to explore.

It is a different kind of cohort. Expedition passengers are about ten years younger than the average cruise passenger – 55 to 60 versus 65 to 70 and up. This also means the expedition passengers are physically hardier, and have a different mindset. They are not looking for comfort, they are looking for adventure.

SHACKLETON == Ernest Shackleton is everybody’s hero and his photograph hangs in the officer’s lounge adjacent to the Bridge. Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship got caught and crushed in the ice in 1915, and he and his 28 men rode on drifting ice for many months until the ice began to melt. Then he took his men to Elephant Island which was so far off shipping lanes he knew they would never be found. He then sailed in an open lifeboat with several other men for 800 miles across open waters to the southern coast of South Georgia and, finally finding a landing, hiked for 36 straight hours across the uncharted South Georgia mountains to Stromness. Then he returned and picked up his men off the South Georgia coast and, after three tries, returned in a tugboat to Elephant Island and saved the rest of his men nearly a year later. When he re-arrived on Elephant Island the man he left in charge wanted Shackleton to come ashore and observe how ship/shape the men had kept things during the time they were marooned. Shackleton instead said, let’s get out of here and, with a hurricane bearing down on them, they escaped within an hour of their arrival with all men on alive and board. Shackleton’s story is one of the greatest sea-faring stories ever.

Into this mix, it is not entirely clear where Carol Anne and I fit. We’re curious about the destinations that only expedition ships can reach, but I, in particular, value the comfortable accommodations, food that is good and a reasonable amount of solitude.

On the Silver Discover the management is far more mature and respectful than the Adventure Canada operations, but they do broadcast into our stateroom. However, they do it apologetically, and do it sparsely – which is to say, they keep passengers up to date wisely. Adventure Canada was simply rude.

I haven’t figured out yet whether Carol Anne is more of an expeditionary sailor than I am. Sometimes she will go ashore, when I do not, but sometimes I do and she remains on the ship.

. . . . .

Around noon today the Captain spotted a huge number of whales. As the minutes passed the whales seemed to stay with us and were on both side of the ship. It was quite remarkable.

Later we would talk to someone who had been on the bridge when we encountered the whales. He began observing what the Captain was doing. Every so often she would move the ship 30-degrees to port, and then a minute or so later, do it again.

“She was circling. She circled the whales at least five or six times,” he told me, “and she was rounding them up and corralling them for us.”

By wide circling, she kept them in view for nearly half an hour before deciding to sail on.

. . . . . .

The doors to bridge and the officers’ accommodations are only a few steps from our stateroom. There is a small sign that requests passengers remain out, but today everyone was invited to come onto the bridge and to pass through the officers’ quarters.

A COOKING DEMONSTRATION was held twice. I came in at the endow the second one, but who should be one of the crew assisting? None other than Eugene. He promptly went and got me a plate of food, much to the faux disgust of Carol Anne who knew that Eugene was my early morning crew buddy and spent lots of time looking out for me. Hey! He also pours Carol Anne (he calls her “Madam”) the morning coffee I bring down each morning for her before she awakes.

I had wondered whether in the rough seas we encountered if the ship’s autopilot could remain engaged.

The answer is Yes. Rough seas or calm seas the autopilot works just fine.

. . . . .

Unlike Cunard and other cruise ships, there are few receptions.

This evening there was a reception for those who have salad Silver Sea before. We were surprised to learn than less than half of those one board have sailed with them before.

This is my sixth journey with them and Carol Anne’s fourth. We are nearing the number of days after which we receive such goodies as free unlimited laundry and unlimited Internet along with some other amenities.

These “benefits” had eluded me and I had not given them a thought. It develops that I will soon be only two days short of these “goodies” if we go ahead and book a cruise from Tokyo up the western Russian coast and across the Aleutian Islands to Seward later this spring.

Later we did, and we will head out in May and plan to stay in Alaska for a while.

We have also been looking at a remarkable expedition from Japan to Norway across the Northeast Passage and Russia which is a one time Silver Sea cruise in August 2019. This cruise would be on the same ship we are on, but the difference is it would have to be shadowed and protected by Russian icebreakers to make it.

Because ships have an awful time filling of cruises of more than eleven days, and because the August 2019 expedition is twenty-five days, it behooves us to wait and book late, as we did on this voyage, if we intend to go. Silver Sea only filled 110 of their 130 slots on this ship, even with the discounting and other offers.

After the reception we had been invited to have dinner with several of the ship’s officers. These “dinners with officers” things are not a big deal with us, but our tablemates/officers proved to be absolutely fascinating.

 

AT SEA

Enroute == South Sandwich Islands to South Orkneys

Day 15 // FEBRUARY 6, 2018 Tuesday

The days are beginning to grow short and we got on this ship with $2,000 free onboard credit. Virtually everything is supplied, so there really are limited ways to get rid of all of this money.

SEVERAL CARTOONS were posed daily. We decided that penguin humour is not all that great but this was among the better ones we found.

Today Carol Anne had another massage – her third. I have had two. But in reality the massage is a pleasant young woman from Poland who is not all that good, and the massages, while comfortably overpriced, are not making a material dent into our onboard credit.

So?

It was time to go jewelry shopping. Carol Anne is now proud owner of some penguin earrings. And the amount of onboard credit? – we are under a week to go, and we still have a substantial chunk of it left.

That said, it has not kept me from leaning on the on board booking woman for more onboard credit for the Tokyo to Seward run in May. They are a resilient and tough bunch, so while they did not finally go up to $2,000, they caved and went to $1,500.

They also offered us $2,400 if we wanted to do the Northeast Passage in 2019.

. . . . . . .

Just as the Northwest Passage last September was about the ill-fated Franklin expedition in 1845, this journey crosses and re-crosses the remarkable survival of the Ernest Shackleton 1915 expedition when his ship got caught in the ice and crushed.

How big are whales? A whale would just barely fit in the theater on the Silver Explorer. And? Captain Cook’s ship would fit easily in the Queens Room on the Queen Mary II …

We visited Stromness on South Georgia Island where Shackleton finally managed to return to civilization, and Elephant Island is just ahead. Shackleton left his men on Elephant Island and sailed to South Georgia and later returned and saved them all.

Today a film on Shackleton was shown in the theater and it is said that it was highly accurate, but it did leave out a couple of things – at one point Shackleton ordered that all of the dogs be killed along with a pet cat. And when he returned to pick up his men from Elephant Island, he was asked to come ashore and to see how ship/shape his men had kept things, even if the likelihood that they would never be rescued and would not survive.

Shackleton was having none of it. He ordered the men into the boats and never came ashore again at Elephant Island.

. . . . . .

MAPS

 

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Days 12 & 13 // February 3-4, 2018 // Saturday & Sunday // South Sandwich Islands

THE SANDWICH ISLANDS == In two days of cruising down the east side of the Sandwich Islands, the waters would ultimately prove too tough to land, although zodiacs were sent out to cruise Candlemas Island, and the Captain moved her ship is several times to the coastlines.

THE SOUTH SANDWICH ISLANDS

Day 12 // FEBRUARY 3, 2018 Saturday = Zavadovski, Visikoi & Candlemas Islands

This was a gray day of slow steaming as the expedition crew searched and searched again for landing places. The Captain put a zodiac in the water several times to check the depth of the water, and finding it deep enough, would creep in closer to the islands.

A lone zodiac in the water checks the depth of the ocean helping the Captain to decide whether she should venture closer. The waters off the Sandwich Islands are largely uncharted and what charts exist are unreliable enough that closer inspections are advisable.

There are no reliable charts here because it has been so lightly explored and is so seldom visited.

I later would visit with the Captain about this, because it was said that the ship had no equipment to see what was ahead of it under the water, and only reliably could determine the depth of the ocean. The ship is old – it was built in 1989 and has undergone not only many different name changes, but also many refurbishments0

This was largely true, although she said she had some limited ability to look forward.

Did she worry about seamounts I asked. Seamounts are outcroppings from the bottom of the ocean, which lay unseen under the water. She replied that she always worries about seamount. They can tear the bottom of the hull out and sink her ship.

Can she read the ocean and determine if seamounts are around. No, she said.

GENTOO PELICANS == The gentoo are known as the incompetent penguin. “If there is a wrong way to do it,” an expedition leader said, “the gentoos have found it and are doing it.” Penguins leap and dive both to grab air and to confuse any seals considering having them for dinner and also stick together increasing the chance that a seal will grab someone else. This photograph, by Carol Anne, is from the balcony of our stateroom and shows how closely the penguins and other wildlife swam beside the ship. Later in the voyage a whale would approach and begin bumping the back of the ship repeatedly before losing interest and going to play with a returning zodiac loaded with passengers.

With that, I let it go. She has been captaining ships here for twenty years. She is an old sea salt in terms of her experience, although not so old in years. She’d already amply demonstrated to me as I watched her that she knows what she is doing.

. . . . . .

In the late afternoon, after the usual dithering, the expedition staff decided to send out the zodiacs on a tour of the Coast of Candlemas Island.

Having been battered by the last zodiac trip to Cooper Bay, neither Carol Anne nor I were up to it. We passed. It appeared that only about sixty-percent of the passengers went.

 

THE SOUTH SANDWICH ISLANDS = Saunders, Montagu, Bristol

Day 13 // FEBRUARY 4, 2018 Sunday

We are passing down the east side of the Sandwich Islands where, although the waters are rough and the weather unpredictable, we are better protected that we would be were we running along the west side of the islands.

Icebergs had now become common and would float by leisurely. In another day or two we would encounter the Mother of all Icebergs on this trip — it would be ten miles [sic] long and more than 300 feet high.

This is a magnificent nothingness. No one lives here, and few ships ever visit. We are the only ship to come to the South Sandwich Islands this year.

During the day the captain searches for possible landings and sends out zodiacs to check on the depths as she tries to edge in closer to the islands.

These are a series of volcanic islands, and there is volcanic activity here, especially on Montagu, the actual name of the Earl of Sandwich. The Earl financed some of James Cook’s voyages and the South Sandwich Islands, like the Sandwich Islands in the northern hemisphere is named for him. The “South Sandwich Islands” name stuck; but the northern Sandwich Islands are now better known as “Hawaii”.

. . . . . . . .

We learned in the Arctic to have several different layers of clothing available. While we thought both the Arctic and the Antarctic  would be bitter cold, neither rarely was. There were days in the Anctartic that our weather was better than that of New York City. While they issued us outstanding cold weather gear, I often wore my Patagonia jacket (above) which I have had for about 30 years. It never wears out, and it never fails to keep me warm against cutting winds.

In the end, after searching, we do not land anywhere in the South Sandwich Islands.

By late evening we were cutting between the bottom islands of the islands and charting a new course to the south and west.

We do not venture further south to the site of the now demolished Argentine research station which Argentina built and abandoned in the 1950s, and then built again in the 1970s.

Ahead, two hard days ahead in violently rough seas, is Orcadas Base, an Argentine research and monitoring base keeping an eye on seismological activity.

It is tucked onto a small level spit of and that bridges the bay, and other water on Laurie Island in the South Orkneys.

It is by no means clear whether the gray weather and unpredictable ripping seas will allow our landing and walking around the base.

EXPLORER LOUNGE PANORAMA == Each morning I’d come up here about 5 am and read the tiny ship newspapers — Australia, Britain, United States and “International.” Then Eugene would show up, make coffee and eventually I’d take a cup of coffee down to Carol Anne and leave it on her nightstand. The woman is not an early riser. For several weeks Eugene and I were the only ones visiting the lounge early in the morning, but gradually a few more people found it, and then a lot more. From making one pot of coffee each morning, Eugene eventually was brewing three. Eugene, from the Philippines, left the ship with us in Ushuaia and headed home since his contract was up. After six years he told me he was not returning. He has saved his money and now he aspires to be a flight attendant on Qatar Airlines. He has an interview with them in Singapore at the end of this month and is using a little of his savings to fly up there from Manila. He also, once, used some of his savings to fly home Business Class “to try it out”. I liked this kid a lot. A LOT.

CAROL ANNE bundled up off Montagu Island.

The rolling seas. Such seas came and went unpredictably, but until we got to the Antarctica Peninsula and the seas really good rough, none of it had much affect on Carol Anne, and then thereafter  it only had a little affect. On a ship this small (think: a match floating on the sea) the rule is “walk like a penguin” and if you cannot do that then consider yourself  “a 1960s wide track Pontiac automobile” and drive Wide. The other rule was “one hand for yourself and one hand for the ship” meaning that it is wise to have hold of railings at all times in seas which have turned lumpy. The crew, by the way, rarely needed the railings suggesting over time the human brain begins to figure out even the most subtle clues of a rolling ship and can compensate. It also probably helps to be under the age of 70, I figure.

. . . . . . .

PENGUINS and the picture of one other REALLY BIG FYING THING, , , , , , ,

MAPS

OUR SECOND TO LAST STOP in the South Sandwich Islands was the volcanic Montage Island — well, okay: ALL of the Sandwich Islands are volcanic, but Montagu was the most recently active. From here we sailed further south to Bristol Island, then turned south and west between Bristol Island and Southern Thule Island toward the Southern Orkney Islands. The Argentines maintained a base, off and on, on Thule until the British, at the end of the Falklands War, razed it in December 1982.

THE SHIP’S COURSE from South Georgia Island to the South Sandwich Islands

The ship’s course ending at Candlemas Island at the end of the first of two days in the South Sandwich Islands. Reaching Candlemas the Captain sought shelter for the night before tackling three more islands the following day. The seas never sufficiently relented to allow our landing anywhere, and so, at the end of the second day, we pressed on leaving the Sandwich Isands behind. We were the only ship to visit the islands this year. No one lives on any of these islands.

Day 11 / February 2, 2018 / Friday == At sea, from South Georgia to the South Sandwich Islands & Clerke Rocks and The Office Boys

CAROL ANNE looks out at Clerke Rocks. Beyond the Clerke Rock are the “Office Boys”, also an outcropping of rocks. All of these outcroppings  are unpopulated rocks and landings on them are difficult and have been rare.

AT SEA

Enroute == South Georgia to the South Sandwich Islands

Day 11 // February 2, 2018 Friday

The weather in South Georgia had turned rough. The only two other ships in the area with us had now swung south and headed westerly leaving us alone at the eastern and southern end of South Georgia.

We now charted a course easterly for a full day and night of sailing toward the completely deserted and empty South Sandwich Islands.

The South Sandwich Islands are rarely visited and the Silver Explorer will be the only cruise ship visiting these islands this year.

CLERKE ROCKS == these rocks and the rough seas were the events of the day besides some excellent lectures. We love the sea days, and we love the rough seas … although there may be a limit to Carol Anne’s enjoyment. The extreme pitching of the ship some days got to her and she preferred, when dining, not to look straight out the windows across the back of the dining room at the rolling sea.

Years ago the Argentine’s tried to establish a base on the southernmost island in the South Sandwich chain in 1955 on Thule Island which they called Corbeta Uruguay base, but abandoned it.

Then they built a more sophisticated and durable research station there in 1976 to bolster their claim of ownerhip.

The British handled the establishment of this base by making periodic complaints and, unsurprisingly, the British ownership has been routinely upheld by the United Nations and other agencies.

Nonetheless, the Argentines persisted in claiming ownership, and still do.

In 1982 after the Falklands War, and after they had chased the Argentines off the British visited the South Sandwich Islands in December 1982 and found an Argentine flag on the island. With that, the British demolished the Argentine station.

There have been no inhabitants of any of the islands since that time, but the British periodically send a ship through the area maintaining their stewardship and their claim.

Prior to 1982 and the attack, the British were deep into negotiations to turn over their claims to the Argentinians because the cost of maintaining these remote areas, including the Falklands were burdensome.

Now, thirty-six years later, following the Falklands War there is little chance that such negotiations will be resumed any time soon.

. . . . . .

THE OFFICE BOYS rocks == So named because a group of British office workers were aboard the ship which discovered the rocks and so, when invited to name the rocks, they named them for themselves. The “Office Boys” are just east of Clerke Rocks.

There is a maritime rule – whether it is official or not – that no ship strays away more than six hours from other ships or shore for safety reasons. If a ship gets in trouble, help is no more than six hours away making survival of all passengers and crew more likely.

As the hours passed, and as the Silver Explorer drew further away from South Georgia, and from those other ships that had headed out of South Georgia and away from us in an opposite direction, we were now well beyond the six hour rule.

Should anything go wrong, we were on our own.

. . . . . . . .

It is never clear whether the weather and other conditions will result in our being able to go on land from day to day – and sometimes even from one hour to the next. There’s always hope that landings will be possible because this is a passenger cohort of true adventurers and explorers.

Soon we would be straying into latitudes of 40 and 50-degrees south, latitudes renowned for turbulent seas, complete with descriptive names. (CLICK to ENLARGE)

Most afternoons we are given a briefing before dinner on weather conditions for the following days, and some guidance as to the likelihood that we might be going ashore.

The evening briefing also includes a recap of the day’s activities, and sometimes some historical observatuons.

In the increasingly rough seas between South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, there was hopew that the weather would abate and that some islands might be explored.

We did not know it at the time, but it would be many days before the zodiacs would carry us to shore again.

Rough seas would insure that the South Sandwich Islands would come and go without our setting foot on any of them.

. . . . . . . .

THE BANANA STORY== each morning I eat a few bites of banana, a wad of fresh spinach, a forkful of sauerkraut, a tablespoon of plain Greek yoghurt and, with my oatmeal mixture, some blueberries and a few strawberries. Boring, boring. Have done it now for years. On the Silver Explorer it did not take me long to eat all of their fresh strawberries (“sir,” the waiter informed me not very long into this voyage, “you personally consumed all of the strawberries on board”). And as for the blueberries? “Sir, I regret to inform you the ship carries no blueberries.” The bananas were a different matter — they had them in the kitchen so all I had to do was ask. The trouble eventually became that the ship had been provisioned for 23 days so the bananas we had were going to be the bananas we were going to have. Still … my banana-eating went well for 20 days or so. Each morning Carl, the waiter, would greet me with a banana as I entered the dining room. But then, one morning, he said they were out — which was “officially” true, except THEN Carl produced one for me tucked in his pocket. “Are you hiding bananas for me in the kitchen, Carl?” I asked. He and another waiter were conspiring and doing exactly that. Later I mentioned to the head chef that I knew they were running out of bananas. “Running out?” He asked. “No! No! — we ran out of bananas DAYS ago.” He obviously was unaware the Carl had begun hiding them for me..

Besides the sea, and birds which seemed to be our constant companions, occasionally seals and penguins would join and swim beside the ship. The waters here are full of life.

Now, as we headed further south, an occasional iceberg also could be seen as well.

The only other thing of note off the coast of South Georgia were the Clerke Rocks.

Clerke Rocks were named for a member of Captain Cook’s crew when he passed through here in the 1770s and claimed everything in sight for the British.

Just east of the Clerke Rocks are another set of rocks known, intriguingly, as “the Office Boys”. This name has always attracted attention because it is so unusual.

The name comes from some Admiralty office staff who were sailing with Cook, and when they passed the rocks, they named them for themselves.

At home in their offices they collectively called themselves, “The Office Boys.”

 

. . . . . . . .

MAPS

MAP — our course is traced on this map past the Clerke Rocks and the Office Boys Rocks.

SOUTH GEORGIA and the SOUTH SANDWICH ISLANDS == There are no “North Sandwich Islands” or just plain “Sandwich Islands.” In the 1770s, Captain James Cook named what are now known as “the Hawaiian Islands”, the Sandwich Islands. He named them for the Earl of Sandwich, one of his patrons and, by the way, the guy credited with inventing the sandwich. Upon reaching the Southern Atlantic and finding these islands, Cook named them “The SOUTH Sandwich Islands” again for the Earl of Sandwich, suggesting that Mr. Sandwich had put a lot of money into Capt. Cook’s expedition.  Other British names and places were also recycled here in the Antarctic: Stromness, the whaling village on South Georgia was named for Stromess in the Orkneys Island off the northern coast of Scotland, and the Southern Orkneys themselves were named for the Orkneys. Curiously, the northern and southern Orkneys are at the same latitudes, north and south. That may have been done on purpose or not — history is murky about that.

Course of the Silver Explorer following our departure from South Georgia. On this map we are the circular dot and are at Clerke Rocks. The South Sandwich Islands are also shown. They are the curving group of dots on the lower right of this map.

 

Day 10 / February 1, 2018 Thursday == South Georgia: Cooper Bay & Gold Harbour

COOPER BAY == Zodiacs were sent out in two groups and we opted to go on the second and last group. Cooper Bay is on the eastern end of South Georgia and this stop, and the afternoon visit to Gold Harbour would conclude our four days at South Georgia. The weather, seas and wind were iffy, but the first group of zodiacs went and came with incident. Then the second group was launched with us aboard, and …

SOUTH GEORGIA ISLAND = COOPER BAY & GOLD HARBOUR

Day 10 // FEBRUARY 1, 2018 Thursday

The seas had turned rough making finding landing places difficult. Already we had bypassed Prion Island and had to find an alternate landing site when visiting Salisbury Plain.

Now the Captain was seeking safe and quiet anchorages to protect her ship and passengers against the sea, and, while she was a very clever and adept captain, the anchors were not always holding.

Carol Anne takes photographs of the chinstrap penguins from the back of the zodiac.

We had reached the south easternmost part of South Georgia and the seas remained iffy.

The passengers are divided into different color groups just as they were during our trek through the Northwest Passage. We are “red” and are followed by “green”.

The other two groups are “yellow” and “blue.” Because there really aren’t that many passengers, it doesn’t make a lot of difference if some passengers switch grous, which is what we did today.

Our “red” group was the first group to head out to Cooper Bay to see the chinstrap penguins along with “green” group. It was an hour trip, and when each zodiac returned, the red and green groups were switched, on the fly, to the blue and green.

So sometimes there are two separate zodiac excursions. These are usually when the zodiacs are going to just ride around and not land.

And sometimes, instead, all of the zodiacs and groups go ashore and land together, one by one, meaning that all of the passengers wishing to go ashore are on shore together, not just half of them as was true today.

We decided to skip going with the first group early in the morning, and to go with the second group later in the morning. This was only a zodiac ride – no landing – and it was scheduled to be an hour.

The first group came and went smoothly and we swapped places with the first passengers and took their seats on the zodiac and off we went.

But as happens the weather was beginning to deteriorate, and the waves and winds were strengthening. This can happen quickly in the Antarctic and deand all of the skills and wisdom that a zodiac driver can summon.

Carol Anne waits in the panorama lounge for the second group to be called. It generally took us about 10 to 15 minutes to get dressed, put on our life preservers, find our boots in the mudroom and join the line to board the zodiacs. After a while I found the whole effort tedious, especially since, upon returning to the ship, we had to wash our boots and our wet gear.

It develops that you do not just climb in a zodiac and start driving. These people have quite a bit of training and while each of them drives differently, all of them are thinking and analyzing the water around them all of the time. They’re aso in contact with one another and with other boats.

One evening, later in the voyage, we were paired with one of the expedition crew members who doubles as a zodiac driver. I asked him what tactics he uses when driving in high ways as were encountered in the second group of zodiacs at Cooper Bay.

He hemmed and hawed.

So I talked about how I used to drive me boat years ago on Grand Lake in high waves. I would line up and run directly at the oncoming wave and increase power as the boat climbed up the wave. Then, at the top, I would cut the power and drift down the far side of the wave, quickly increasing power as the next wave overtook me.

Bingo. He said that’s exactly how they are taught to drive the zodiacs. “It is in the timing,” he said, “power up ad then cut the power quickly.”

. . . . . . . .

CAROL ANNE as a serious-looking Nanook of the South == The return to the ship from Cooper Bay would be brutal. Weather turned quickly on us and the other zodiacs. Returning to the ship, we began climbing waves up to ten feet high crashing down as we passed over each wave, sinking into the trough, and only  slowly gaining on the ship. Our zodiac driver would “whoop” as we crashed down over the larger waves and laugh to keep spirits up. The zodiacs are extremely stable and, while the ride may have been harrowing, we were never in any danger.

We arrived in Cooper Bay and chugged around for a while, but it was clear that things were getting much rougher outside the inlet where we were, and where – at a distance – the ship was waiting.

Finally, all zodiacs were told to come back to the ship – and do it now.

And off we went through the growing waves, plugging slowly up and down, water crashing as we crawled back to the ship.

It took a while.

This would be our roughest ride in either the Arctic or the Antarctic, although not the roughest seas that we had ever encountered.

The second day crossing the Drake Channel from the Antarctica Peninsula to the tip of South America, the Beagle Channel and Ushuaia would be far rougher and, in fact, the roughest seas to date that we have ever encountered.

Before those final days on this voyage across the Drake Channel, the record holder for our worst seas was in the Tasman Sea (“the ditch”) between Australia and New Zealand when we crossed it in 2009.

. . . . .

In the afternoon the zodiacs explored Gold Harbour. They did it without us. Sometimes we say we had “explored the area ashore by binoculars” which is how we explored Gold Harbour.

The ship’s location at Cooper Bay as shown on the map on Deck four near the restaurant.

A finger points to Grytviken while showing the entire South Georgia Island. Cooper Bay and Gold Harbour are on the very bottom right, the far eastern end of the map.

 

Day 9 / January 31, 2018 / Wednesday == South Georgia: Stromness

SOUTH GEORGIA ISLAND = Stromness

Day 9 // January 31, 2018 Wednesday

STROMNESS == there were seven whaling stations on South Georgia and all are long gone. Stromness has not been cleaned up so much of the area here is unsafe, although the penguins and fur seals don’t seem concerned.

Stromness was a whaling village on the northern shore, as were all of the other whaling villages. Most of Stromness still exists but it is not possible to roam around the buildings because the asbestos used to build the plant and buildings has not been removed.

The village’s claim to fame is that this is where Ernest Shackleton ended his epic trek from Antarctica’s Elephant Island in 1916 after his ship, the Endurance, got caught in ice, drifted for months and finally was crushed and sank. Shackleton is one of the great explorers. After landing on the south side of South Georgia after using one of Endurance’s three lifeboats and sailing eight hundred miles in the open sea in near hurricane conditions, he landed and endured a hike across the uncharted mountains reaching Stromness and safety.

He then returned and saved all of the men who had sailed with him.

Shackleton is a giant.

. . . . . . . .

Carol Anne often dithered about whether she wanted to go ashore as she did at Stromness, finally deciding that she would not go, but then changed her mind and went ashore without me. She often dithered about going on shore and would decide first that she would not, but then would show up on shore anyway.

The procedures required for rides in zodiacs, while fun and invigorating, can also get old.

Boots must be changed and then changed again in the mudroom. They have to be scrubbed and then scrubbed again.

How many layers to use to bundle up is a guess. Waterproof pants are a must because water commonly is going to splash in the zodiac, and occasionally may drench you. How to properly overlay and lap the layers using the Velcro for the waterproof pants and the sleeves of your outer jacket is a must. In the Northwest Passage in September one of my gloves filled entirely with ice water when in the rocking and pitching the glove slipped out from underneath the sleeve of my jacket.

King penguins. It is hard not to love them. They mostly live on krill, and fur seals mostly live on eating penguins. There is a lot of sympathy for the penguins being eaten, but for the krill? No. Being cute and waddling (penguins) versus being ugly (krill) seems to be the difference.

That mistake meant the gloves was water soaked until Carol Anne used a hair dryer to dry it. It is also the reason why we both have brought several sets of gloves to the Antarctic, including some new super-duper waterproof ones with double inside layers.

Life preservers must be adjusted and worn.

To board the zodiac you have to edge your way down a series of stairs, turn 90-degress and go down more stairs hanging off the side of the side.

At the bottom of the stairs, in usually pitching seas, two crew members are waiting in the zodiac to grip each of your arms and pull you abroad using what is called a “sailor’s grip” — see stock internet photograph directly below:

THE SAILOR’S GRIP = (stock photo from the internet) == This is how we boarded and exited the zodiacs in both the Arctic and the Antarctic. It is standard procedure. I can use my photos of this, of which I have a bunch, but this was handier …

Ashore in Stromness.

Weather maps were projected each evening during the briefings — both for winds and for waves. This is the map showing we are going to be in rough seas the following day. This caused the only two other ships (see map directly below) visiting South Georgia to flee back to the south and west toward South America. We would remain, and in another day would sail on east to the South Sandwich Islands. 

The two other ships in South Georgia are fleeing to the south and west while we remain (top center-ish).

Note also Leith Harbour just above Stromness. Leith Harbour is where the Falklands War began when the Argentines landed troops masquerading as metals buyers in March 1982. Grytviken is also highlighted with an arrow in the lower right of this map. South Georgia is British Overseas Territory and has been since the 1840s, although Argentina began claiming ownership of South Georgia, the Falklands and the South Sandwich Islands in the 1920s.


Day 8 / January 30, 2018 / Tuesday == South Georgia Islands: Grytviken

SOUTH GEORGIA ISLAND = Grytviken & Ocean Harbour

Day 8 // January 30, 2018 Tuesday

GRYTVIKEN == Dead whales were dragged up this ramp, cut up and their blubber boiled into oil, and even their bones were used — they were ground into fertilizer.

Grytviken would be the last civilization that we would visit for the next two weeks except for a small Argentine research station. Only when we return to Ushuaia on February 15 would we return to a populated area.

Not that Grytviken has much population.

Whaling ended here in the mid-1960s after a Japanese company took over. There were too few whales to make whaling profitable again, but everything was left in place anticipating that whales would increase in number sufficiently to justify whaling again. But whales do not reproduce quickly and their numbers have not significantly increased. So whaling never returned here.

During the Antarctic summer months – which are now – the population on South Georgia swells to about one hundred.

During the long winter months only skeletal crews remain – only about twelve in Grytviken, and a few more on Bird Island where a research station is located.

Grytviken was the first whaling port and much of it still stands. The asbestos has been cleaned up and much of the place is safe, unlike another whaling port, Stromness. The whaling museum is here; Ernst Shackleton died on a ship in the bay and is buried here. There is a church.

It is an intriguing and instructive visit with guides giving a series of different walking lectures that one can choose from.

Carol Anne and I headed in different directions – I wanted to learn more about the whaling. She learned more about the life and culture here. Then we swapped what we had learned.

Ernest Shackleton crossed from Elephant Island to South Georgia, a distance of 800 miles, after his ship was caught in the ice and broke up. This is a replica of the boat Shackleton used. After arriving at South Georgia he returned and saved the rest of his men. Shackleton died suddenly on a ship moored in Grytviken Bay a few years later.

It was, however, a short stay – less than a half-day. But the weather was warm and sunny.

In the afternoon the Silver Explorer repositioned to Sorling Beach and zodiacs were sent ashore with hikers going across the island to Ocean Harbour.

Having been battered during my visit to Salisbury Plain, I passed on going ashore, as did Carol Anne.

In late afternoon the ship arrived in Ocean Harbour and picked up the hikers. There are about 60 of them, a bit more than half of the passengers on board did the hike.

The Falklands War actually began here in March 1982 when the Argentines landed on South Georgia at Leith Harbour masquerading a metal buyers. Several weeks later they attacked Stanley which they held for about two months before being expelled by the British..

 

The church at Grytviken.

Carol Anne stands beside an albatross in there museum at Grytviken to show how large the birds are. Their wingspan can be as much as twelve feet.

Typical quarters, shown in the museum, for men who worked at the whaling station.

Grytviken through a window.

Dawn, approaching Grytviken. We had begun to sail easterly along the northern side of South Georgia. We would spend four days here, sometimes hovering and anchoring in coves to protect the ship from rough seas that occasionally battered us.

Grytviken. This bay was so full of whales in the early 20th century that for two years whaling ships never had to venture out of the bay.

. . . . . . . .

MAPS

 

Day 7 / January 29, 2018 / Monday == South Georgia Islands: Salisbury Plains

Carol Anne on Salisbury Plain on South Georgia Island just after landing surrounded by fur seals and king penguins. The orange gear bag on the right centre of the photograph, contains survival food and other supplies should the weather suddenly turn against and strand us on the island. This has happened before to visitors here in the Southern Atlantic Ocean. Without taking such supplies in to shore with us, survival can quickly become an issue, even on seemingly bright, languid pleasant days like this appeared to be.

SOUTH GEORGIA ISLAND = Salisbury Plain & Prion Island

Day 7 // January 29, 2018 Monday

Today South Georgia Island is more protected than Fort Knox.

Like the Falklands and the South Sandwich Islands, South Georgia is British territory and is a British Overseas Territory. These remnants of the British Empire are scattered here and there around the world – Pitcairn Island in the Pacific is an example, and there are others.

The ship, seen from shore.

Visitors are few here, and only a tiny contingent stays on the island year round. It is remote and not an easy place to get to. The draw is the amazing wildlife.

To go ashore on South Georgia visitors must receive permits for each of their desired landing aspots. Visitors shoes and clothing are inspected before they can go ahore. They must walk through a chemical bath. On shore they can be stopped and searched again and when they leave, all of their gear must be cleaned again.

The purpose is to keep any new plants or wildlife from infecting the island. A program to exterminate all of the rats on the island is nearing an end. Reindeer which were brought to South Georgia by whalers a hundred years ago came close to overrunning and destroying vegetation that other species needed to surprise.

All of the reindeer have been tracked down and killed, just like the rats.

The result is the penguins, seal and birds are now flourishing again, It had also been hoped that whales would quickly grow in numbers, but that has not happened.

South Georgia was a hugely successful whaling port from the early part of the 20th century until 1965 when the remaining number of whales had become so few that hunting and killing them became uneconomic.

But when first discovered whales were so plentiful that for the first two years of whaling the ships did not need to venture outside of the bay at Grytviken.

Hiking several miles roundtrip from the landing area through streams and mud to the rookeries. I fell repeatedly because, I first thought, I couldn’t hike well in my boots. Later the reason also was likely partially caused by dehydration.

Eventually the slaughter of whales would be astounding. Fully 172,000+ whales were caught and rendered into fertilizer, oil and meat. No part of the whale was discarded. Profits were so large that young men could come to Georgia Island for the five months a year that whaling took place, and after only two years return home – usually to Norway – buy a farm and settle down, financially set for life.

It became a hugely suceesful business while it lasted. Eventually there would be seven different whaling plants scattered alongthe northern side of South Georgia Island rendering whales.

By all account the stink of the place was sickening.

EXPEDITIONS == With the arrival off South Georgia Island, this trip took on more the look of a true expedition. New Island, West Point Island and Stanley in the Falkllands were far better tred and explored island.

Now in South Georgia and beyond, the charts would be less reliable and the seas far more sketichly surveyed. Tactics of the captain and the edpedition crew subtly changed.

The huge king penguin colony.

The Captain became more cautious.

An expedition, unlike a cruise, sails along looking for opportunities to go ashore and hunt around. An expedition ship commonly carries zodiacs, rubber boats, that are agile and can easily be run up and beached on any kind of shore, rocky or sandy.

There is not set itinerary except to head in a certain direction, and to arrive at a distant destination by a certain date.

So in the Northwest Passage in Canada last September, we knew generally – but only generally – the path that the ship would take, and we knew when the planned date to arrive in Greenland.

Then off we went, periodically assessing the weather for wind and sea conditions and looking for places to land and look around.

That’s what is true here in the Antarctic as well.

Decisions on whether to land or not are made on the fly. A zodiac is lowered and several members of the staff head into shore. Earlier in this voyage, the team landed and thought the landing site was good, and then a wave washed over their heads – so they scrambled back onto the zodiac and kept looking.

There is perilously little solid information about the depths of the seas around South Georgia and especially around the Southern Sandwich Islands. So zodiacs were put into the water to do depth soundings and the ship itself was kept further off the shore and away from icebergs while would not begin appearing sportatically.

All of this was done before decisions were made about whether to launch the ten zodiacs filled with passengers.

. . . . . . . .

SALISBURY PLAIN == Fur seals and king penguins were busy raising their youth on the western end of South Georgia.

A fur seal and pups — these are dangerous and if they come after you, stop, face them down, wave arms. YELL. Who needs to mess with somebody doing that? The answer is a fur seal doesn’t. We gave fur seals a wide birth since they were protecting their pups and could really get bent out of shape.

The initial plan was to land beside their breeding grounds and have a look, but the waters were too rough so the zodiacs were sent a couple of miles further west to land. Then everyone walked through streams, over rocks and in occasional mud to reach where they were.

It was worth the walk.

The seal pups often would trot over and adopt someone and then walk along with them for a distance. There were a huge number of seals and penguins and watching them was mermerizing.

But this was not a easy shore expedition. Some people, me included, fell and in my case, fell repeatedly.

PRION ISLAND == Permits had been obtained and the plan had been to land on Prion Island, but weather conditions worsened and prohibited it.

Instead the ship continued on to Grytviken, the first whaling port on South Georgia where we weathered in the safety of Prince Olav harbour’s calmer waters for the night.

King penguins having a walk with, and then past us.

A fur seal pup decided to trail along with us and become our friend. This is not a good thing because of its parents.

. . . . .

THE MAPS

Salisbury Plain (not shown on this map) is on the upper left northern side of the island. All development and whaling was done from the north side which is where we exclusively visited. Seas and rough rocks make landings on the southern side of South Georgia perilous, although Shackleton did it and survived in 1916. We would visit Stromness, Grytviken, Ocean Harbour and Cooper Bay (not shown).