Antarctica, South Georgia & the Falkland Islands Trip Log (12 - 28 Dec 2017) – Wednesday, Dec 20

Wednesday, December 20: Expedition day Gold Harbor and Drygalski Fjord
January 2018

After the high winds and inclement weather yesterday afternoon and evening, it was fantastic to wake up to a much calmer, drier morning. Anchor was dropped early (5am) off Gold Harbor on the southern end of South Georgia. We could clearly see the Bertrab Glacier hanging precariously on high, above mighty cliff faces plunging into the ocean. Regarded by many as one of South Georgia's most beautiful visitor sites, and deservedly so. I burst onto the rear deck at 6:00 a.m. to join the scouting party, and greeted everybody enthusiastically by name. This caused great amusement for everybody, my enthusiasm and largely the fact that they were all still half asleep.

The natural amphitheatre of cliffs and mountains, glaciers and waterfalls dropping steeply to the sea, providing a visual delight and unforgettable backdrop to the abundant wildlife found here. The name is derived from Filchner's German Antarctic Expedition of 1911, who called this bay "Goldhaven", on account of the iron pyrites or 'fool's gold' they found in the local rocks. Gold Harbor is home to a large King Penguin colony. Plenty of Elephant Seals lie on the beach, looking like so many enormous sausages, occasionally rearing up to wrestle with another seal. Moving like an inchworm along the beach, they are the most endearing creatures, the weaner pups absolutely adorable. Gentoo Penguins nest in the Tussock Grass, Fur Seals jostle for space with the much bigger Elephant Seals, whilst Skuas, Petrels and Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses circle overhead.

On a calm sea, with scarcely any swell, guests were ferried by Zodiac to the beach landing area. It was humbling to literally watch their jaws drop to the pontoons, as South Georgia cast her magic spell irretrievably upon them. Elephant Seal weaners immediately arrived to greet the guests in their bright red A&K parkas. These creatures with their huge round eyes the guests realized are a very different animal to the Antarctic Fur Seal, and one could sense the guests relaxing-the anxiety of aggressive Fur Seals taken away. I took many young kids terrified by the Fur Seals up close to young seals, to placate their fears and have a photo taken. Some insisted that I remain between the seal and themselves, but significant headway was made. King Penguins stood on the beach unmoved by these tall, rather clumsy, red-clad visitors. In calm, warm, cloudy conditions guests wandered about in awe. Team members reminded them often, to carry this image with them as their memory of South Georgia. The whole scene was amplified by the sunlight making a regular appearance, creating unbelievable photographic opportunities. This is the sort of experience A&K dream of offering their valued guests, and this morning those dreams were exceeded.

Over lunch Le Lyrial was re-positioned in ever-increasing wind towards Drygalski Fjord, named after Prof Erich von Drygalski, leader of German Antarctic Expedition in 1901-3. Dr Wilhelm Filchner first chartered the fjord with German Antarctic Expedition in 1911/2. Besides the whaling, the regions to the south received considerable attention during the last century for political and possible resource reasons. By the time we reached the fjord entrance at the south-eastern corner of South Georgia, the wind was blowing at 40 knots (75km/hr). Standing on the outside decks was interesting, and I wondered whether the Captain would take the ship into the narrow fjord. Without hesitation he turned the ship into this most glorious fjord. The fjord is created by glacial erosion over aeons of time, with old Gondwanaland materials to the north, and newer material evident to the south. Glaciers, cliffs and waterfalls drop very steeply into the deep fjord creating a visual spectacle of the highest order. We are very grateful that visibility was good. ‘Le Lyrial’ was literally swung about using bow thrusters within her own axis at the top of the fjord.

Helen Ahern asked Rob Caskie to share some thoughts on Shackleton with the Young Explorers, and assist in a quiz to decide which survival objects they would take with them in similar circumstances. The questions and engagement from these youngsters was wonderful.

The movie Eight Below was screened after dinner. A must for all animal lovers, and definite tear jerker. 

Click here to read 'Thursday, December 21: Sailing South'