We landed and pulled the dinghy up out of the waves and suddenly there we were - sharing the sun-drenched beach with a hundred thousand or so king penguins.
At first we just stayed around the dinghy while the penguins walked up and surrounded us. The boys made a game of walking away slowly, one after the other, and gathering a parade of penguins following after them. It was a real Garden of Eden moment. These spectacular, nearly meter tall birds, completely unafraid of us. Meanwhile the glaciated mountains above the valley continued to shed their clouds and did their best to give the scene a backdrop of elemental splendor.
That was St. Andrews Bay, the largest king penguin colony in South Georgia. It's an open black sand beach, with landings that are very weather dependent, and we lucked into hitting it at the right hour on the right day. We anchored in a more protected spot, Ocean Harbour, not long before dusk. There's a wrecked 19th century century ship on the beach, the Bayard, still sporting the stumps of three masts, and huge swales of upland terrain, begging to be walked on. Even more to the point for our puerile-in-a-good-way crew, a local informant of unimpeachable authority tells us there is a train to be seen here.
But we're not going ashore. We're halfway through a miraculous spell of high pressure and very settled conditions, and we figure that this is the time for getting places. At the risk of cooping our five-year-old up on board longer than is really fair, we're off towards the south end of the island, towards the place where our junior naturalist has been telling us for months that we have a chance of seeing a Weddell seal.
"Fun hogs!" mumbled Alisa this morning when the alarm woke us at dawn.