Antarctica, South Georgia & the Falkland Islands Trip Log (12 - 28 Dec 2017) – Monday, Dec 18

Monday, December 18: Expedition Day Salisbury Plain and Fortuna Bay
January 2018

Daybreak found us off the north-eastern corner of South Georgia, with some sun popping through low cloud, the play of light on the ocean, mountains, glaciers and snow-capped peaks quite indescribable. Mighty fells with snowy crowns and with sharp, uncovered teeth, around valleys through which enormous rivers of ice come flowing to the sea. We arrived in the Bay of Isles, and anchored off Salisbury Plain, hosting one of the largest King Penguin colonies in the world. Guests and team members alike could hardly wait to go ashore-many at breakfast on Deck 6 well before 6:00 a.m. The innumerable birds and seals could be clearly seen and heard from the ship. Guests had been warned of a sensory overload here, and many conceded that nothing could have prepared them for the scene awaiting them on Salisbury Plain. A strong swell required stern entries by the Zodiacs, with frogmen and team members steadying the craft before guests could disembark. It is never easy reversing onto beaches, with waves breaking over the fronts of the Zodiacs. The Philippine frogmen and team members did a Sterling job all morning of assisting Zodiac drivers and guests, with off-loading and loading of passengers. Antarctic Fur Seals were active and fairly vocal when we first arrived at the beach, and tried to establish a landing area. During the course of the morning they confirmed our warnings to guests of treating these mobile, aggressive creatures with caution.

As far as the eye could see, King Penguins, Giant Petrels, Skuas, Fur Seals and young Elephant Seals could be seen, creating an absolutely unforgettable scene. As a first landing for these A&K guests, one could not have choreographed a more perfect scene. The weather provided some hail, sunny spells, and largely dry conditions under a low, grey sky-this is South Georgia at her very best. The sense of awe on behalf of the guests absolutely unmistakable. Patri and Adam, assisted by Larry, hosted guests on the edge of the massive breeding colony of King Penguins, with the Oakham Boys covered in brown fluff, young birds still emerging into their gorgeous adult plumage, adults sitting on eggs, the Skuas overhead seeking any opportunity to steal an egg. Literally hundreds of thousands of birds, stretching as far as the eye could see. The baby Fur Seals and young Elephant Seals providing plenty of additional visual stimulation. Adult male Fur Seals fighting over territories and the rights to breed, youngsters wrestling as if in preparation for later life? Boarding the Zodiacs proved challenging, as we tried to get guests back onto ‘Le Lyrial’-nobody keen to leave the beach. Naturalist Matt Messina who earlier lost his radio, saw something in the water, and thinking it may be a guest's wallet, swam after it! Brave fellow, it turned out to be a frogman's goggles after waves crashed over his head. We brought a number of very wet, cold team members and frogmen back on board. As Russ Manning said to them all-Bravo Zulu-very well done indeed!

With glaciers covering 60% of the island and peaks towering 2900 meters above sea level, South Georgia is undoubtedly the most spectacular and mountainous of all islands in the sub-Antarctic. Lying at 54 degrees South, crescent-shaped South Georgia is 170km long and up to 40km wide. Captain Cook first landed here in 1775 claiming British sovereignty. In 1904, Grytviken, the first of six whaling stations, was established on the north-east coastline of South Georgia by a Norwegian run company. Shore-based whaling ceased in these waters in 1965, by which time over 175 000 whales had been slaughtered. Ernest Shackleton's miraculous 800-mile open ocean journey from Elephant Island, in tiny lifeboat James Caird, ended at King Haakon Sound on the southern coast of South Georgia. Shackleton then led Frank Worsley and Tom Crean across the Allardyce Mountain range, in the first crossing of South Georgia on foot, ending their epic journey at the Stromness whaling station. After three failed attempts, Shackleton eventually rescued his stranded men on Elephant Island on 30 August 1916. Shackleton is buried in the whaler's cemetery at Grytviken, having died of a heart attack here on January 5, 1922 on board the Quest, aged 47.

Our afternoon was spent at Fortuna Bay, named after one of the Norwegian-Argentine ships under Captain A Larsen, who participated in establishing the first permanent whaling station at Grytviken in 1904/5. Tide and swell once again necessitated a stern landing, with frogmen and team members receiving Zodiacs and guests in fairly deep water. The beaches are choked with Antarctic Fur Seals, and it took some time to establish a secure route to the King Penguin colony below the Konig Glacier for our guests. Some of us were fortunate enough to watch a seal pup being born. The last Zodiac left the beach at 6.30pm, with Recaps and Precaps scheduled for 7pm. The guests have been positively "glowing" all day, every expectation exceeded by some margin in this extraordinary wilderness that is South Georgia. Siegfried Sassoon recommended measuring Life via the moments that take your breath away-today was one of those days in every sense. Stromness and Grytviken await us tomorrow....

Click here to read 'Tuesday, December 19: Expedition Day Stromness and Grytviken'