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Published: February 11th 2009
We awoke to a beautiful sunny morning with only a gently rolling sea under the ship. I spent the morning sorting and deleting most of the hundreds of photographs taken the previous day, and catching up with email communications, with an occasional foray onto deck to watch the Giant Petrel, Black-browed Albatross and - later - the enormous Wandering Albatross that criss-cross the ship’s wake and occasionally soar right over one’s head.
As the day progressed and I found excuse after excuse to avoid visiting the gym, a damp mist crept up on the Minerva, and by late afternoon the sea around us was blanketed in thick fog that continued into the night. We had dinner with Milt and Gerry Lumpkin from Washington State - a very pleasant and amusing couple we had met over dinner at the Captain’s table. Afterwards, in the smoking room where all the most interesting people gather, we met Steve Weber, the Hotel Director, and his partner Rita; another delightful couple, respectively hailing from Ontario and Congo, who now live together in north Antibes.
A morning that was crisp and clear around six. was misty again a couple of hours later, and very chilly
(5-6°C). We continued to make our way toward Shag Rocks about 250km NW of South Georgia with an estimated mid-afternoon arrival at the rocks, and at South Georgia (Right Whale Bay) at 3:00 a.m. Christmas Day. During the morning we had a mandatory briefing regarding IAATO (International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators) regulations and guidelines for visitors to the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic islands, and on the biosecurity measures to avoid contamination of the region. From everything that I saw during our expedition, IAATO is an impressive example of self-regulation truly working. Founded by seven private tour operators in 1991, it set out to mitigate the potential environmental impact that the growth in tourism might have on the fragile ecology of Antarctica. Today, over 100 operators and agents are members, and IAATO operates within the parameters of the Antarctic Treaty system regulating such things as the numbers of people ashore at any time, site-specific and activity guidelines, wildlife watching, and emergency planning.
The afternoon was spent lazily given that we were cruising through a dank, cold mist, although we slowed down for a little whale watching (the Southern Right Whale), and I spent some more time on deck getting very
cold indeed photographing flying petrels and albatrosses. We slowed down again as we passed Shag Rocks, a group of six precipitous outcrops that take their name from their huge population of Blue-eyed Shags - the rocks are literally teeming with them, and a constant stream of them fly back and forth to fish in the nearby seas. Although the rocks are prominent on the direct route between the Falklands and South Georgia, they were not charted with any accuracy until the 1920’s, and no-one landed on them until 1956; an interesting example of how recent our knowledge is of this remote part of the planet.
In the evening, we dined again with Gerry and Milt, together with Graham Bradley and Sue Piket from Nelson, New Zealand, and Bill and Fran Levengood from Sedona, Arizona - all interesting and well-travelled individuals, and delightful company.
We arrived the next morning at the sheltered harbour of Elsehul Bay, South Georgia, about 5:00 a.m. A heavy fog restricted visibility, the temperature was 2°C, but there was little wind. We went out later for a Zodiac cruise around the bay where large colonies of aggressive Fur Seal and some Elephant Seal crowded the
beaches and the rocky slopes above them. The higher ground provided nesting places for Black-browed and Grey-headed Albatross whose ungainly take-offs and landings provided us with much amusement. Further down the slopes Macaroni Penguins had their nests, and large numbers of King Penguins were to be seen everywhere. Elsehul is also a haven for other sea birds, flying around and above us: Blue-eyed Shag, Northern Giant Petrel, Light-mantled Sooty Albatross, Pale-faced Sheathbill and Arctic/Antarctic Tern. It stayed pretty misty in the delightful bay although down at sea level it cleared enough to take photographs.Next ➤ ➤
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