Feb 23rd Elsehul
24 February 2010 | Elsehul
Feb 23rd Elsehul - 54°01 S 37°59 W
It's 0300 in the morning and I am on anchor watch. We arrived in the protective Bay of Elsehul (named by whalers back in 1905) around mid day. As we entered, Fur seals frolicked in the waters directly below us, porpoising at our bow as though they were beckoning us to follow and join them. Having visited this site before I recognised the rookeries of nesting Macaroni and Gentoo penguins perched high in the tussocks along the banks that created this cove. 3 species of Albatross nest here, the Blackbrowed, Grey-headed and the unique Light mantled sooty Albatross. I have only seen the latter of the 3 briefly and hope to have a more intermit look at these gorgeous birds throughout our stay.
Although the sleet, rain and snow began to fall as the forecasted Easterly wind continued to build, it was a stunning arrival. Funny enough, in this far removed island in the remote regions of the southern ocean, another sailboat soon joined us. It was Thies and Kicki onboard Wanderer 3. A unique boat traditionally built by the well known sailor Eric Hiscock in 1952.
This down-to-earth couple had been in South Georgia for 14 months already and have decided to stay for another year. I envied them and wondered about all the treasures they must have discovered having such continuous company with an island so unique, so rich and overwhelmingly abundant with wildlife whom some stay all year round.
They had visited South Georgia 11 years ago and had two delightful summers. They commented that this summer has been the worst they have ever seen - continuous high winds, snow every week and rain daily. Thies mentioned that even if I had been here in January or February, I would have only been able to paddle a day or two. This news came as a weird relief, hoping that perhaps this summer was late to arrive and now that I was here, paddle gear ready and kayak a days sail away - perhaps now the sun would show itself and the wind die down and a belated summer it would be. One can only hope right ;)
Having spent some time here they had spoken with the bird biologists working on Bird Island, an extensive research station that has been functioning for some years. Albatross pairs and chicks have stable numbers on this particular island, however the big picture of what is going on in South Georgia is quite devastating. The Albatross have even more challenges to contend with; not only long-line fishing is depleting their numbers, but rats and mice too, which actually kill and eat the vulnerable chicks whom are land-bound for an entire year before fledging. The balance of the South Georgia wildlife is out of balance this year. There are much fewer Fur seal pups to the Skuas disappointment. Skuas are one of the best scavengers about the place and with fewer Fur seal pups, this year they have been feeding on Albatross chicks.
All of this news arrived having met up with Thies and Kicki and made me eager to talk further with some of the fisheries folks that are based here for the summer in King Edward Point, our next intended anchorage. Once these winds shift to the North which will happen in 24 hours or so, we will use an entire day to get to Grytviken.
It has been a lovely night unlike any I've had in South Georgia. Normally on the ships we are moving at night or if at anchor the draft of the big ships causes us to be anchored quite a few cables from shore. Now in Northanger we are anchored close enough to be able to make out the array of beach bound, night time sounds. Fur seals called all night long with their whimpering, dog-like shrills. The odd splash could be heard by the boat and while I Iaid in my bunk, I imagined the curious visitors that were daring enough to do a close pass-by. One thing the animals lack here is fear, infact they come across so cocky one needs to take care when going ashore, the Fur seals in particular like to welcome you with their rather territorial charge when you arrive on the beach.
For our first night in South Georgia the Northanger crew are a clean bunch. Having arrived around mid-day, by late afternoon all 5 of us had showered in the elaborate spinnaker designed, fore-peak shower tube.
As the rain steadily falls and the winds howl, whipping this 22 ton steel boat around on anchor, I picture myself onshore, curled up safe n sound in my tent with those distant animal sounds right next to be. Butterflies of excitement and apprehension have returned. Enough of these imaginings, it's time to get out there and simply begin.