Feb 25th - Divine day in Elsehul
Due to strong N, NE head winds we were forced to stay put in Elsehul for an entire day, but what a day it ended up being. For the first time in 10 years since coming to South Georgia I was able to selfishly indulge in a landing without the duties and responsibilities of being 'on the job'. Brian, Beth-Anne and myself went by zodiac ashore and instead of having to co-ordinate 100 passengers and 11 staff for a shore excursion, I was able to immediately begin to observe, film and enjoy the action-packed animal frenzy going before us. Fur seal pups by the hundreds thrashed and splashed in the shallows along the beach, a scattering of King penguins elegantly strutted their stuff amongst the wallowing Elephant seals that lay in nearby guano-filled streams. After a walk up along tussock nearby hills which offered fantastic views overlooking our protective bay where the Northanger sat at anchor, we delightfully came upon a small gathering of Grey-headed Albatross chicks perched on their bundt-cake shaped nests. Adults glided in the overcast skies above, some negotiating a landing to reunite with youngster.
I wore a generous grin for the entire 3 hours while ashore knowing that in a day or so I will be camping amongst this Antarctic Serengeti, alone and having reached the shore by kayak. I simply can't wait. But alas, I'm going to have to, as the drama and the challenges of this expedition continues.
This morning we left at first light and dodged icebergs most of our way along the South East coast towards King Edward Point. Arriving in the late afternoon and once tied up along the jetty, a government official came onboard, stamped our passports and gave us the official visitor bio-security presentation which included the protocol which we are required to follow when landing in South Georgia.
South Georgia is a British Overseas Territory and King Edward Point is the Governments administration center and fisheries research facility. Across the other side of the bay is Grytivken, one of 7 abandoned whaling stations frequently visited by tourists ships and the occasional yacht.
By this stage I was busting to be finally reunited with my Looksha IV Necky kayak which I had not seen since late September 2008. Up until now, it had been commercially shipped from Victoria, B.C to Halifax, picked up by Akademik Ioffe, the ship I work on in both Polar Regions who had it onboard for over an year (due to my postponement of the expedition January 2009) then finally delivered last November to KEP.
I unwrapped it eagerly which was quite the chore due to multi layers of bubble wrap, blankets and plastic wrap that surrounded it. My excitement suddenly vanished and my heart sank when I noticed the first of many gel coat and fiberglass punctures on the stern top-deck. 10 + stress punctures and fractures were found, including one which was 6 inches long. At this stage I had not noticed the worst of the damage.
Along the starboard (right) side of the kayak, I noticed along the entire stern of the kayak, the hull had completely separated from the deck. Chunks of gel coat were discovered in the stern hatch and when looking from inside the hatches, bright light shined through showing the vulnerability and fragile state of my brand-new expedition kayak.
The kayak had been completely crushed and .... is now (excuse my language) utterly screwed.
What the heck is going on? I have never experienced so many continuous hurdles and delays when taking part in an expedition, it's starting to be a little ridiculous.
My kayak generously custom built for this particular expedition, by my sponsor Necky Kayaks and Johnson Outdoors, the one which I have trained in, practiced rolling in, set up camera mounts on is unusable. Good on Brian, Magnus and Beth-Anne whom immediately started discussing the possible ways to fix it. I appreciated their positive approach and after a good old cry I let go of the frustration and disappointment and began to come up with a Plan B.
The company I work for, Quark Expeditions, agreed to lend me one of their kayaks as a back-up so I do have another kayak to use if the miracle mending of my Necky kayak is not successful. It just means another day or two delay, the frustration emphasized by an usually calm (little wind) forecast expected over the next two days. Ahhhhh!!!
Deep breath Hayls. Right now it's getting late, I'm tired after a long day and I need to sleep on this new situation and tackle it in the morning. I have to remember, I am here in South Georgia and that is a beautiful thing. Good night to you all.
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.
Feb 23 - South Georgia on the horizon
It was a quiet night as we drifted with the current, engine-less in an area clear of icebergs. There were too many icebergs for us to maneuver around when making way so we decided to drift until light. We were joined by a group of dolphins whom circumnavigated our boat frequently throughout the night, their entire bodies brilliantly lit up by phosphorescence. These erratic patches of light along the water seemed even brighter than if there was moonlight shining on the surface. The company was welcome and I felt their presence as a symbol of the good-will to come.
My 0400 watch came early yet I felt eager to be out on deck, wanting to spend more time outside in the company of the numerous birds which had recently joined us. These included a few Wanderers and Black Browed Albatross and some Antarctic petrels which flitted in and out of the waves nearby our boat. We must be getting closer to land with all this action, I thought to myself. Much earlier while on watch, I was briefly joined by a fleeting pod of 5 Fin or Sei whales. I frantically banged on the hatch to announce the arrival to everyone below, but no one responded, and so I indulged in this delight completely alone. They passed from starboard to port side right across our bow at a speed which made them literally porpoise, exposing their graceful bodies as they lunged out of the water. They soon disappeared in the distance but my smile remained. I felt as though they were the first of many gifts to come during our time around the shores of South Georgia. Fur seals were also showing up, their curious heads poking above the water, taking a good long look at this new intruder, then diving beneath the surface to their underwater world.
Shortly after 0700 I noticed a darker area within the mass of thick clouds that sat heavily in the distance. "Land, Land", I shouted, ecstatic to have South Georgia in our sights. We had to look closely to make out the subtle contours of mountainous peaks but it was land most definitely. More birds were flying around now and I had my first sighting of the handsome Grey-headed Albatross. Their stunning yellow and black striped beak could even be recognised.
At this time we were less than 35 nautical miles away from our intended anchorage in a sheltered bay called Eleshul. Unfortunately strong NE, E winds are forcasted and to avoid being caught out in such winds we have opted to pull in to safety rather than battle on to Grytviken. Already South Georgia is demonstrating who is boss in this glorious place and a boss we chose not to question. Every move we make needs to be thought through, there is little time to undo a mistake or an error of judgement, caution is the only way to work in these waters and on this land.
It's nice to have everybody up and about, sipping tea together with excitement, all eager to arrive after 7 days of heaving seas and strong wind. Although I have arrived to South Georgia numerous times over the years while working on the ships, this feels more hard-earned which then brings on the feeling of relief and gratitude. Suddenly South Georgia has a new face, the mountains seem more dramatic, the beaches even more welcoming, the wildlife a refreshing scene and the entirety of it brings on a more pressing urge to explore all of its parts. And I am here to do just that....wahooooo!!!!!!!!!!
Yes, I feel utterly privileged to be here and the excitement is building inside of me. I feel like a little kid busting to wake my parents at Christmas time to start opening the gifts that have been teasing and tormenting me during the weeks of waiting for this day to arrive. South Georgia is a gift and I am about to open it's insides and take a good long look in the precious heart of it all. I am so overwhelmingly thankful to all those who have helped me get here. I appreciate all of you and will do my best to bring South Georgia and all its wonders to you with eager eyes, an open heart and adventurous spirit in my plight to paddle for the Albatross.
02/23/2010, SOUTH GEORGIA!!!
Gabcast! HAYLEYS AUDIO BLOGS #14 - LAND HO!
Waiting for South Georgia
I thought today would be the day that our eyes would gaze towards the horizon and South Georgia would show itself, but alas it will not be today. Unfortunately large tabular icebergs and smaller bergs kept us company throughout the night so it was crucial for us to slow our speed to a mere 2 knots. Although the large bergs showed up vividly on the radar, its the smaller chunks that have broken away from the larger bergs we were concerned about. These rock-like sculptures sit low in the water and are hard to see as the steep southern seas camouflage these potentially dangerous obstacles.
The following morning, as soon as it was light our designated watches were spent outside scanning the horizon and navigating through the slalom course of tabulars. The seas remained heavy for most of the day and as I stood in the cockpit, secured by a harness I couldn't help but feel completely humbled by the enormous seas surrounding me, The railings dipped heavily in the water on the port side as the swell pitched high to the sky and sent us swinging like a pendulum. And then, amongst these mountains of ocean are the birds that utilize the wind and turbulent waters. The smallest petrel of all, the Wilson's Storm Petrel dip in and out of the vigorous seas making the most of the food being made available for them to feast on. Although they are the size of a sparrow, they are at home here, their warm blooded bodies completely adapted to this frigid environment and the control they have while in flight and in these strong wind amazes me.
In the early afternoon I awoke to a pleasing feeling. The boat was not heaving to and fro like it had been for 5 days. Instead it was an unfamiliar steady rocking, almost predictable. I put on my layers, prepared my camera and went out on deck to enjoy this rare occasion. It was the Golden hour and today this hour perfectly matched its title. Icebergs were lit up like lanterns against a crimson sky, including a tabular that stretched 8 miles in length and 1 mile wide. Imagine how much of that ice is buried beneath the sea, knowing that when you see an iceberg you are only seeing a mere 10%, the majority of it is underwater. Dense masses of grey cloud lingered in the sky towards the south, and with the purity of the whitest iceberg in the foreground, made for a dramatic spectacle bringing the best out of the colour grey.
It's 9.15pm and the engine has just been turned off. It looks like we are staying put for the night, it being too dangerous to continue, running blind through the night. We will simply drift with the current in an area clear of icebergs and watch the radar closely. With only 50 miles to go until we reach the shores of South Georgia, tomorrow will be the day. "Tomorrow tomorrow, we love ya tomorrow, it's only a day away"
And so we continue to be tested with our patience and tolerance of natures curious ways. We are constantly reminded that nature is in charge and we are simply bending, flexing and moving when and how she allows. Perhaps this is a crucial process for me, preparing me for what is to come. When one attempts to maneuver along a coastline by small vessel, and share the space when onshore with wildlife on an island in the middle of the southern ocean completely exposed to the worst possible weather systems, one can only approach it with the understanding that only a small aspect of this adventure is in our hands. Without a doubt I have to accept that although I have diligently planned every step of this expedition and prepared for numerous situations, the final outcome is out of my very own hands. I will accept all gifts of nature when they are offered, as well as the setbacks, delays and obstacles. I will continue on and moved forward as though this was they way it was meant to be from the very beginning. It is what it is and I am here.
Here is a special thought and a hello to all you sailors out there. I admire you for your courage, your patience, your ability to sustain long, cramped days in a rocking and rolling vessel. My respect for you has multiplied and I envy you just a little less ;)
SO CLOSE I CAN TASTE IT!