The Far Side of Antarctica
Erica Wikander is aboard the icebreaker Kapitan Khlebnikov as it sails from Stanley, Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) to Fremantle, Australia, via the seldom-visited “far side” of Antarctica. She is sending regular reports from the ship, which we are posting as we receive them.
Santiago, Chile: December 1, 2007
Today was an early wake up call. Lars and I chose to skip breakfast and make our own way to the airport, where we learned that Chile has instituted a baggage limit policy. If a visitor is in the country for more than 24 hours, then only 20 kilos of baggage per person may fly free of charge, although the International regulations permit more. Chile has the right to levy taxes, but I wonder if this new excess baggage tax will cost the country more than it raises.
As usual, in Stanley the wind was howling. After a long Zodiac ride, we climbed the gangway, found our cabins. A very welcome, late afternoon tea was served in the lounge.
“We had a great speech from Bob and we drank the obligatory toast to the boss”
At sea: December 2, 2007
We awoke to a very foggy day! The sea was calm, a perfect beginning for the education program. Our artist-in-residence, David, began his workshops. A documentary was shown, followed by a presentation that prepared us for the days to come. There are repeat passengers on this expedition. We are enjoying reacquainting ourselves with them. The Captain’s Welcome Cocktail reception was an excellent opportunity to introduce ourselves to those who have never sailed with us before.
At sea: December 3, 2007
Another calm sea! That meant the presentation hall was full for every briefing. The South Georgia briefing whet our appetite for the first shore landing. Jonas, our Expedition Leader, focused on the wildlife and conditions found on the island, then showed us how to enter and exit the Zodiacs. We watched a film produced by the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. By the end of the presentation anticipation of our visit was over the top!
A few people on board were very keen to see Shag Rocks, but the fog that accompanied the calm sea made it impossible. We were beginning to understand what “subject to local conditions” means when traveling expedition-style.
South Georgia: December 4, 2007
It was wonderful this morning to wake up and find the sun shining. The fog had totally disappeared. By 6 AM, we could see the mountains of South Georgia in the distance. By 7:30AM, the Captain was finding a good anchorage. The Grace and Lucas Glaciers looked fantastic in the sunshine, and the higher mountain peaks were all snow covered. The ocean was full of King Penguins and fur seals. We had Albatross flying all around us, together with Giant Petrels
Exactly as promised, the first Zodiac headed ashore at 8 AM to visit Salisbury Plain. It was a very quick exercise to complete the operation. Among the cranky male fur seals were the smaller females and most had a very new pup. The little guys were totally black and from a distance looked like very small dogs. Most were suckling and in some cases the umbilical cord was still attached, so they were very new.
We waded through a stream towards the King Penguin rookery. There were lots of Giant Petrels all around us, gathering in groups and being chased by Gentoo Penguins. By the time we reached the King Penguin rookery, we had seen South Georgia Pintail Ducks and Skuas, some of which were sitting on eggs. The area was sensational with such a diversity of wildlife, tussock grass, moss of all different shades of green, and sunshine and sparkling sea!
We arrived at Fortuna Bay after lunch. We landed on a pebbly beach. There were far fewer fur seals. We saw more elephant seals and three types of penguins – Gentoo, Chinstrap and Kings. There was a lot of activity on the beach with animals going to and from the sea. In fact, it wasn’t necessary to walk very far as one could just sit on the beach and see it all.
Bob, our senior historian, was further down the beach explaining the historical significance of a rather large natural cave, and Norm, our geologist, was even further along, pointing out some rock formations. With very little wind, the sun made us feel very warm. It was a magnificent South Georgia setting. We had mountains all around, with sheer snow dusted cliffs and the higher peaks completely covered in ice and snow.
The day ended with a barbecue on the bow deck. The food was great, with lots of hot, spiced wine.