Published: February 11th 2009December 21st 2008
We anchored near Blanco Bay in Port William at 8.15 a.m. on a grey, drizzly morning, Port Stanley nestling behind low hills in Stanley Harbour off to the south. But by nine o’clock the sky had pretty well cleared - it was 10°C with 20-25 knots of wind across the bay - and Zodiac landings were deemed to be feasible so we set off for a nearby rocky beach. Up behind the beach was peaty, rocky soil with lichens and mosses, Diddle-dee (a soft dwarf shrub), Tussock Grass, and other native flora; but not a sight of a tree anywhere in the bay - as far as I could ascertain there are no native trees at all in the Falklands. In terms of fauna, a couple of Kelp Gulls was about all we saw while stretching our legs with a gentle warm-up stroll, but there were lovely views across the bay to Port Stanley. By eleven the Captain radioed to the beach that the wind and chop was picking up and asking for the Zodiacs to start returning passengers to the ship.
We had a relaxed lunch and the forecast storm hit us around 2:00 p.m. with the winds building
very rapidly indeed from the WNW. Given our sheltered location, wave height was minimal, but white caps on the waves soon turned to horizontal spray and foam blown across the surface of the sea like sand in a desert storm. Up on the bridge later in the afternoon it was clearly becoming harder - even with two anchors angled out - to hold the ship’s bow into the wind as the violent storm reached over 55 knots (64mph). By six o’clock winds had reached hurricane strength, with sustained speed of over 65 knots (74mph), and measured gusts close to 100mph showing on the instruments. It was a unique experience to sit out such a storm actually on the water, and the sight is quite indescribable. At times there were patches of blue sky above us, the sun glaring off the almost white surface of the foaming sea; once we saw a rainbow flashing on and off like a strobe light, and one of the most engaging sights was a pair of Commerson’s Dolphins jumping leisurely in and out of the water, totally oblivious to the hurricane blowing around them.
By eight the storm began to subside, and by late
evening we were left with probably gale-force winds and a calm night’s sleep. I think all on board - including the bridge officers - were very pleased we had not been out at sea where 10-metre waves had been forecast. To put it in perspective, the Captain said that storms like this hit the South Atlantic latitudes perhaps twice a year. I asked him what we would have done had we dragged anchor as a smaller expedition ship had done during the afternoon in Stanley Harbour, from where it had managed to slip out into Port William and re-anchor safely. He told me with a smile that he would have had to go out of the bay backwards since he could never have got up enough speed into the wind to enable him to turn Minerva around… Next ➤ ➤
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