Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Your Bloodthirsty Children

As I write this we're on our final countdown to leave Beaver Island, in the very westernmost Falklands.  I don't have our log just by me so I'm not quite sure exactly how long we've been here - at least a week, anyway.  This place has had that special magic of being timeless for us.

Riding in the back of the Land Rover - only the beginning. 
For the boys in particular Beaver Island has been a complete joy.  A highlight for them has been how hands-on the place has been.  We've been to any number of places where you can't touch this or disturb that.  But Beaver is part of that world where it is ok to kill what you eat, rather than paying someone else to pay someone else to do it for you.  The boys, who have long lived on fantasies of farming and hunting, found the reality quite to their liking.
Running alongside the Land Rover - even better if there is a...
The tone for our visit was set when we arrived, and our host Leiv offered to go out and shoot a reindeer on our first full day on the island.  No mucking around and waiting for the "perfect" time on Beaver.

...dead reindeer ahead.
Beaver is home to a herd of reindeer that Leiv's dad and brother plucked off South Georgia in Leiv's Dad's boat, the Golden Fleece.

(Jérȏme Poncet is known as "Leiv's Dad" on board Galactic, but he is something of a deal in the small world of adventurous sailors.  The brother even has a Wikipedia page - I checked.  He and "Leiv's Mom", Sally, got up to a lot of very impressive adventures in the Southern Ocean, long before  these contemporary days when everyone and their cousin is sailing around down south.  Genuine Bill Tilman-type adventuring.)

The tone for the whole visit was set on that reindeer hunt.  Leiv tried to get close to a herd of reindeer but they ran off.  He then tried to salvage the day by interesting our boys in a visit to the nearby gentoo penguin colonies.  You've never seen an offer of professed "fun" fall so flat with a pre-adolescent audience.

I could just see the thought balloons over Elias' and Eric's heads as they looked down at their toes, too polite to tell Leiv what they thought of his offer to go eco-touring.  "Effing penguins?", they were thinking.  "Whatever, farm boy.  I thought you were gonna whack us a caribou."

Leiv referred to them later as "your bloodthirsty children".  Shamed into doing the right thing, he snuck up on the reindeer again and shot one this time.
Mutton chops on the grill.
The boys, bless them, have been game for whatever harvesting opportunity has been on offer at Beaver, from reindeer liver to hearts of tussac grass to mushrooms to minnows trapped in the creek to upland geese for Christmas dinner.

Alisa, not to be left out, has been keeping the pressure cooker humming, filling our empty mason jars with mutton and reindeer for the long miles ahead.
And minnows to grill and eat whole while we're waiting.
Elias watching Leiv butcher a sheep
Elias, following Leiv.  Leiv has been the perfect host for our boys (and for us).
Don't you love the way their two postures tell the tale of the journey from boy to man?
Elias hunting (unsuccessfully) for our Christmas goose - they're on the hill in the background.
Bloodthirsty - boy and sea lion.
Alisa and Leiv cutting meat.  The Falklands are quite the place for Alaskans who have been away from home too long. 
Elias plucking one of the Christmas geese that Leiv shot.
Christmas geese. 
Our reindeer antler Christmas tree.

I'll write more about Beaver Island later, I'm sure.  But now, in the moment before we leave and begin the journey back to Stanley, I wanted to just share these pictures and this brief account of how much fun the boys have had here.

We've been to a lot of places in the last eight and a half years.  But I suspect that Beaver is going to be on the short list of those places that we can invoke with just a name.

Five years from now one of us will be able to say "Beaver Island", and the other three will light up at the memory.

The end.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015


Speedwell Settlement

At the Speedwell/George/Barren group we applied that favorite tactic for sailing vessels harbor-bound by bad weather: patience.

Eventually we waited long enough.  The west winds died to a whisper, and we carried on our way, unstuck.

We were bound across Falkland Sound, the body of water that separates East Falkland from West Falkland.  Our destination was Albermarle, a property run by the same extended family that owns Speedwell.

We were happy to be able to carry some empty fuel barrels from one settlement to the other.  The first practical thing we've ever done with the boat, I joked with the farmers.  The boys found the drums to be useful for making music.

With Tanya and Shaun and family at Albermarle
We had another good visit at Albermarle.  Tanya and Shaun, the young couple who farm the place, made us very welcome.

From Albermarle we took two leisurely days to get right around the bottom of West Falkland to our local friend's island.  We had good sailing winds both days, and it was a joy to not be motoring into the weather.  But I was still a bit on edge about the state of our rig, with the three stranded lower shrouds.  It will be a relief to finally replace that wire when we get back to Stanley.

Gentoo penguin
Peale's dolphin
On the second day out of Arbelmarle we came upon our local friend, completing a charter for a group of biologists on his yacht Peregrine.  We had last seen Peregrine in Tasmania - a lot of sailing miles ago, let me assure you. 

It was a treat to sail in company with a friendly boat.  That doesn't happen too often.

Our friend, Leiv, got this picture of Galactic as we were coming in towards Beaver Island, with a fresh breeze behind us and the tide full in our face.

The jetty at Beaver Island
Beaver Island
It was at Beaver Island that the adventure really began for us.  Particularly for the boys, who are now utterly and completely in the Boys' Own Heaven that is a Falkland Islands outer island settlement with a very generous, patient, and forbearing host.  Both Elias and Eric have told us in no uncertain terms that Beaver Island is their 100% favorite place on earth.

I'll show you why in the next post.
Local sight
Boy with reindeer antler.  It became our Christmas tree on Galactic.

Monday, December 21, 2015



So, Stanley, the capital and only port of entry, is all the way on the eastern side of the Falklands.  Our local friend lives all the way on the western side.

When I was done with my latest frenzied bout of science work in Stanley, we made a couple of day hops westward.  We got as far as a group of islands - George, Barren, and Speedwell - where a local farming family runs sheep.  And there we became...stuck.

The wind came up from the west in a determined and persistent way, such that we weren't making any more progress until conditions improved.

We ended up waiting for a week.

Our first foray in Smooches at Emily Island.  We are surrounded by curious sea lions at this point.
I look concerned, Elias prepares to repel boarders.
Luckily, these three islands were a fantastic place to be stuck.  There was plenty of wildlife to keep us interested on George and Barren, and plenty of walking to do.  And when we finally made our way to Speedwell the family gave us a very gracious welcome.

Our biggest draw at George and Barren, and actually the reason that we went there in the first place, was the promise of seeing southern elephant seals.  Elias was demanding an elephant seal viewing experience, and the rest of us were keen.

We anchored next to two little islands - Tiny Island and Emily Island, which were more or less heaving with sea lions and molting elephant seals.


And more hail
Meanwhile the weather came through in waves.  (Relatively) calm and sunny, followed by squalls with driving wind.

Falkland skua

Kelp goose

Turkey vulture 
Magellanic penguin

Galactic at Speedwell Settlement

No pictures of it, and I won't gush too much, but we very much enjoyed visiting with the family at Speedwell.  They took the time to invite us into their home and tell us a bit about life in the Falklands.

More about our visit with the family, and how we came to be unstuck, next time.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Lamb Offal and Crab

How's that for the title of a post to a sailing blog?

I'm struck by what a universal signifier of human goodwill is the gift of food.

When we spent some time at a settlement in back-of-beyond East Falkland, and met with a gracious and friendly welcome, Alisa's first words upon returning to Galactic were "I gotta do some baking". When utter strangers drop what they're doing to invite us into their homes for a cuppa and a chat, it only feels right to try to reciprocate with some Galactic-baked cookies.

And the family that we've been interacting with a bit here - one generation runs sheep on a set of islands off the East Falkland "mainland" and the other runs sheep on West Falkland - have been showering us with gifts of food.

We've had an onboard feast of lambs' livers and lambs' hearts and crab. Surf and turf, Falklands style. Turns out that Eric loves liver, and Alisa got the chance to make her heart with tomatoes and onions dish that she always used to make during deer hunting season in Alaska. We've had a leg of lamb as well, and a big feed of mussels, in addition to gifts of eggs (chicken and penguin) and greens from the garden.

Just like gifts of fruit are such an insight into life in Polynesia, I reckon this selection of food gifts gives a visitor a real perspective on settlement life in the Falklands.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Land that Wind Remembered

We are sitting here at Barren Island, taking the chance to show our local friend what sort of stuff we're made of.

Not sterner stuff, us.

We're on our way from Stanley, at the far eastern end of the Falkland Islands, out to the local friend's island, at the far western end. Those of you who remember Mr. Coriolis from some long-ago dose of pedagogy will instantly twig that this can be an inconvenient direction of travel for a small vessel in the 50s, South latitude.

And so we are sitting here at Barren Island, listening to the wind whistle in the rig and firm in our determination not to get lured out for further westward travel until things calm down, already. We are helped in our determination by the fact that our rig is still held in place with bits of string, and will remain so until we can return to Stanley to claim the new rigging that has come down from England on a ship. But even without that excuse, we might be slow to bash into it all that much.

Luckily, we are anchored next to two little islands that are blessed by a number of southern elephant seals and South American sea lions. The views that we had ashore yesterday, of molting sea lions roaring at each other, was the wildlife spectacle that you might imagine. On the main Barren Island there are Magellanic penguins and giant petrel colonies and various rock shags and steamer ducks and cobb wrens to keep us content.

So there are much much worse places to wait a bit.

Alisa occasionally looks around and says, "Where ARE we?" And it's true. For all the out-of-the-way places that we've been too, these windy windy flat islands on the edge of the Falklands give the best impression of end-of-the-world-ness that I can remember seeing anywhere. There are sheep on the islands, and cattle, and houses for the people who are not here just now. It's a very intriguing scene, very different indeed from anything we are used to.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Tourists and Travelers

Being a tourist: paying a hefty entrance fee to visit a king penguin colony.
Being a traveler: having a local friend give you two gentoo penguin eggs (hard-boiled) for breakfast a couple days later.

Our friend warned us that the whites would stay translucent after the eggs had been boiled.

They tasted great - thanks to our "local friend"!

From what I gather, collecting penguin eggs is a long-standing part of life in the Falklands, just like collecting seabird eggs is a long-standing part of life in out-of-the-way northern locales.  We felt lucky to be able to experience that bit of traditional Falklands life.

Twenty Miles

Our heroes
So, there are king penguins in the Falklands.

Our crew was dead keen to see king penguins.  If we didn't get Elias in front of some king penguins, we might as well sell the boat and move back to Alaska to be pig farmers, for all he cared.

There is one notable king penguin colony in the Falklands, at Volunteer Point.  Unfortunately, the closest place we cared to land the dinghy was at Magellan Cove, more than ten land miles away.

Elias could do a twenty-plus mile walk to see king penguins, we were sure.  Eric insisted he was game.  About him we weren't so sure.

Setting out.
The terrain - land rover tracks over grazing land.  Perfect walking.
I'll end the suspense.  Both boys did an incredible job.  No whining, no asking to be carried (by Eric). They spent most of the walk split up, one kid next to one parent, each kid yammering on a mile a minute about imaginary planets and what their (imaginary) lives in Alaska would be like.  Eric was skipping at the very end of the walk.

And, wouldn't you know it.  I walked all the way there and forgot my long lens! 

I came up with some ok pics all the same.

Kings on the beach

Gentoo penguins
Magellanic penguin

Boy and penguins

Boy and smile and penguins

The place is quite the tourist attraction, and gets regular visits from groups large and small.  We were lucky enough to be there with just one photographer.

The penguins were doing their "we're not frightened of people" act.  The trumpeting sound of the kings was magical.  As was the whole scene, really.

King penguins have this cool life history that results in breeding attempts at different stages in the process being present in the colony at one time.  During our visit there were adults incubating eggs on their feet (oh, how incredibly cool is biology?!), and also nearly-fledged chicks, some of whom were molting into subadult plumage.

I had a distinct impression of king penguins as nothing more than evolved devices for delivering marine lipids to shore
We had to get going sooner than we liked - the summer days in the Falklands are long, but only so long.

We arrived back at the boat just at sunset, with a distinct feeling of accomplishment for all.  Eric got the "You Are Special" plate at dinner to recognize his outstanding effort.