|Vessel Name:||Pelagic Australis|
|Crew:||Miles, Laura and Dave|
|About:||Miles hails from Yorkshire farming stock, Laura is from Kent and competed in the 2000 BT Global Challenge, and Dave is a dinghy sailor from Devon|
It is difficult to know what to write to you about without repeating myself, but as this whole Pelagic adventure nears its end, we are appreciating more and more the places we visit, the people we meet, and the things we do. Yesterday we were in our favourite anchorage, Estero Coloane (otherwise known as Caleta Wow), which I know I have written about before, but it really is spectacular. A circular bay, maybe as much as a mile in diameter, is surrounded by mountains and glaciers. All around there are waterfalls cascading down from hidden lakes high up in the mountains. In one corner, there is a small island and a little nook under the trees. We reverse in with the yacht, so the stern is under the overhanging branches, and we tie a shore line from each corner of the boat, to the trees. When we arrived a couple of days ago, the wind was strong out in the Beagle Channel and swirling around the bay. Williwaws (katabatic winds) raced in different directions sometimes catching our bow, and sometimes leaving us be. We could see them coming down the hanging glacier high above us, and follow their progress to the water and then across the bay. Miles looked nervously at the tiny tree on the island that was holding our starboard bow line as it bowed under our weight, but there are no bigger trees and it held firm. [p] Yesterday it was calm and clear and we split into two groups. Dave and I took Andy and Sue up to the ridge behind the boat for a fabulous view of the bay, the glaciers and then, when we were high enough, the Beagle Channel. It is a hard climb but every time you turn around the view gets better. There was an easterly wind blowing when we got to the top, and the sky was dark dark dark - full of snow. By the time we'd had a a cup of tea and a biscuit it was snowing heavily, so we carefully picked our way down and joined the others on board. The other group had gone on a shorter adventure, but no less magnificent. They climbed up to a lake on the other side of the bay maybe 250m high. The lake was formed by a hanging glacier and the water still poured in from above. However, it has also been heavily affected by beavers. They are a real pest in this part of the world as they dam rivers and create huge areas of flooded land. Miles, Jarrod and Jeremy had a good look at the beaver dams, slides they use to get down to the waterline, the trees that have been recently gnawed and the mass of dead trees in the middle of the lake. They came back buzzing.[p] In the afternoon, we took the kayaks and the zodiac over to the far corner of the bay and made our way over the moraine to the glacier. This one is slowly retreating and for various reasons I haven't been over to it since our very first time in the bay 3 years ago. It has moved back quite some way since then, but just melting - no chunks of ice falling from it. It was so amazing to get up close, and actually walk on the ice. We had a hilarious photoshoot with all of us trying to stay in place without sliding back down, or falling into a crevasse. Then it started snowing again and so we walked down the valley bottom towards the boats. On our way down, despite the snow we decided to go and look at another beaver lake. They really are incredible creatures - collecting their wood and stockpiling it, then chopping it down into sensible size sticks to make a beautifully constructed dam. Then in the middle their lodge - an igloo made of stick and wood - amazing! It was almost dark and still heavily snowing when we returned to the kayaks, but so beautiful and still that we decided not to have a ride back. It was a stunning paddle back with that absolute silence that comes with falling snow and snowflakes so huge they could have been on steroids. We got back and Dave had started the bar b q. It was a special request from our South Africans on board - Andy and Sue lived in Botswana for 22 years, they are not used to snow and it was so fun to see them playing around in it. "I promise I'll cook, but we must have a bri in the snow!" - "Once is enough" he said afterwards! A great evening ensued with lots of wine, music and chat. Everyone on a high from such a fantastic day. As always, it feels as if we have known these guys for our whole lives, but just 10 days ago, they were strangers to us. What other job or environment pushes relationships so fast? [p] It is becoming more difficult to imagine leaving this world, but we are excited about setting up a home in Yorkshire and being able to welcome some of our guests - or new friends - to stay when they are in the area. This has been an extraordinary way to live - out of range for the media, and in the company of people that are on holiday, and therefore enjoying themselves and relaxing. We don't hear the doom and gloom, and melodrama of the worlds press, just the oohs and ahhs as we move through some of the most stunning countryside on the planet.[p] More soon, [p] Lots of love[p] Laura and Miles[p]
It's been a difficult charter so far - starting with a delay for the guests, some 'essential' equipment that didn't make it through customs in Buenos Aires, a four and a half day up wind Drake passage crossing, and then continuing with rain and snow and grey days, and so much ice in the channels down [...]
The elephant seal pups (now deserted by their mums) are in huge groups on the beach and they are just the most adorable things with their enormous eyes and their hilarious burping and squeaking and yawning and yelping. They lie in the sun cuddled up next to each other, sometimes 5 or 6 in a row, occasionally letting out some ridiculous noise or other. It seems that around late afternoon, they start to wake up a bit and become much more playful. The other day we were just sitting on the dinghy on the beach contemplating heading back to the boat when it became more and more lively. Forty or fifty of these young seals were playing on the edge of the water, rolling and squirming and looking just so utterly delicious. A couple of them came up to the dinghy and chewed on the propeller before having a go at Jim and Miles' boots and then trying to climb in! And all the time, burping and looking at us with these eyes as big as saucers. Slightly further out to sea, all along the beach, Elephant Seal bulls were gently wallowing in the water with their faces and trunks sticking up in one place and a few meters away, their tails occasionally flicking the sea. It looks as though they are carefully protecting their young from any predators while the mums are away fishing. When they came ashore and started getting a little feisty with each other - and the one female left on the beach(!) we decided it was probably best to leave them to it and headed back to the safety of the yacht. I don't think I could ever get enough of watching these amazing animals, and it is so brilliant to be here through the two months of breeding starting when the bulls arrive on the beach to bag their spot, the cows come in, the pups are born, fed, and weaned, the cows are mated and then leave and then the weaners become big enough and brave enough to learn to swim and eventually head out to sea on their own. Through this whole process the bulls barely go into the water, they have to defend their territory and their family and mate with all of their hareem and they lose an incredible amount of weight. They will need to head out to find food as soon as the weaners are big enough to fend for themselves.
On another beach yesterday a different story was unfolding with the fur seals. These guys are much more aggressive and defensive and so we have to be quite careful about not getting in their way. We climbed over some tussock to a small rocky beach and all along it there were fur seals bulls standing proud with their noses in the air, barking and squealing. On one rock a giant petrel (one of the biggest predator birds) had a completely red head. It was only when I looked closer that I realised it was eating a dead fur seal bull which had obviously come off badly after a fight. The petrel was sticking it's head into a wound under the flipper, and pulling up huge bloody mouthfuls. It was amazing to watch the hierarchy of the birds. Once the dominant petrel had had enough, there was another to take its place, and an obvious queue waiting their turn. Around them skuas and sheathbills were waiting to find an opportunity but aware that they wouldn't get a look in until the petrels had taken all they wanted. It was absolutely horrible to watch a bird literally push its head inside the fur seal, all the way up to its wings, and then struggle to pull it out again covered in blood with the evil look that these giant petrels have. We decided that it was most efficient to eat the meat through one hole rather that to try and make more through the very tough skin of the fur seal. More evidence of birds eating the meat and leaving the skin was found further down the beach. A King penguin carcass lay on the ground, it looked almost whole but a closer inspection revealed that every bit of meat and sinew had been taken from inside. Later on, another but this time just a skeleton, perfectly in tact complete with the feet as they always were. The air and water diet didn't work for that one!
Further down the beach the fur seals were in mid breeding time. Lots of cows with tiny tiny pups - probably only a day or two old - with a bull protecting her and fighting off any bulls that got too close. At times they would be quiet and calm, and then suddenly they would turn and go for each other with sharp jabs at the neck. A fight only lasted seconds but it was vicious and often resulted in blood being drawn. The atmosphere was highly charged and we took shelter higher up in the tussock so as not to be an innocent bystander accidentally caught in the crossfire.
Now we are motoring around the very south of the island. We are almost at Cape Disappointment. This is where Captain Cook realised that he had not discovered the great frozen continent at the south of the world, but that this was just another island - frozen, but none the less, a small island. Around us are hundreds of prions, albatrosses, penguins swimming in the water, and seals looking up from the waves. In the cliffs you can see albatross nests in their hundreds, and a huge colony of almost a million Macaroni penguins high high up on the cliffs. It is extraordinary to imagine how they get there, and how they will possibly get their chick safely down again in a few months time. Once again, we feel so so lucky to be able to see this and enjoy from the comfort and safety of a boat like this.
Our two climbers that have been ashore now for 9 days were going for the summit of Mt Nordenskold yesterday. We haven't heard yet if they have been successful, but if they have, then it will be a first ascent and worthy of a good celebration when they return to the boat.
Another 6 days before we have to head back to the Falkland Islands and say a very sad farewell to South Georgia. The next trips will be to Antarctica where it is all so very different.
All the best
Laura, Miles and Dave
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