From the archives: High Seas! March 18, 2008

We’ve left South Georgia and our now on our way to Tristan de Cunha, an island that’s almost as isolated as South Georgia. Our last two days in South Georgia were incredible. I know I’ve sent a lot of penguin photos but I can’t help myself. Yesterday we got up at 5:30 am to watch the sunrise over a beach that is surrounded by mountains and glaciers. (Okay there’s no bad scenery in S.G.) Molting elephant seals are fond of this particular beach — they’re fascinating to watch even though they’ll mostly sleeping. When one does make a move it upsets the whole mound and frequently ends up in a short-lived battle where they rise up, mouths gaping and growling, and knock each other until they grow tired and settle back down into the pile. During the breeding season the battles aren’t short-lived and are often to the death. I’m glad we don’t have to see that. The males are enormous, the females a tenth of their size. I don’t know how those little girls don’t get crushed by those beasts.

Then there are the penguins. You can’t tell a male from a female — even the experts can’t unless they see them breed. They share in all of the responsibilities equally: egg-sitting and food gathering. They mate for life and they seem to be very affectionate (I know I’m probably being silly but wait until you see my photos and how they preen each other and cuddle). If penguins seem awkward  on land, though they have no trouble climbing steep cliffs to their nests, they are truly “sea birds” and are elegant ballerinas in the water.

South Georgia is home to more breeding pairs of wandering albatross than anywhere in the world, giant petrels abound, actually several varieties of birds like petrels, shags, sheathbills, prions, and skuas, but nothing is more fun to watch than the penguins. Since they have no land predators, they have no fear of people so they pose happily even if you take 200 photographs in two hours like me.

Barnaby played the organ in the little church in Grytviken delighting our fellow passengers.  Grytviken is the center of what little government there is in South Georgia (and where Ernest Shackleton is buried). In its day, it was a prosperous whaling station, happily closed down since 1966 (the whales have not made a comeback). Since our ship isn’t full and is the last tourist ship to visit this season, we invited all of the government employees (all 19) on board for dinner and cocktails. I was so surprised when a very young (and good-looking) group arrived. I don’t know why I thought they would be crusty old men, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The “boatman”, an adorable young man from Guernsey, joined our table and very politely answered all of our questions — even the personal ones Americans are so fond of asking.

Yesterday afternoon we sailed up a gorgeous fjord — our last stop in South Georgia. Now we’re in the open ocean and anyone that may suffer from seasickness has retreated to their cabin. It seems like a pretty hardy group as there weren’t many empty seats at dinner. The captain changed course a few hours ago to veer away from the storm because we weren’t making much progress headed into such strong winds. We had a lecture this afternoon on wind, the Beaufort Scale, and waves. We’re in a gale: “moderately high and long waves. Crests break into spin drift, blowing foam in well-marked streaks.” That translates to about 42 mph winds. It’s about 40 degrees and raining. The captain promises better weather tomorrow. We all walk like we’ve had far too much wine with dinner.

We sure miss everyone. Wish you were here with us…….


About Anne Finch

Anne Finch lives in Idyllwild, California. She and her husband Barnaby love to travel. They also love their hometown. View all posts by Anne Finch

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