Friday, April 15, 2016

A Hundred Thousand Penguins

We thought about going to South Georgia for years.  And for years we were sure we wouldn't do it.  For a family crew, the trip just felt too much like putting our necks on the block.

But of course we did go, and everything went smoothly.

Perhaps it is true that fortune favors the bold.  I do not know.

But by going to South Georgia, and I suppose by putting in the time and effort and apprenticeship to be adequately prepared, we set ourselves up for some experiences that were like nothing else we've come across in the eight years and ten months since we left Kodiak.

All of these pictures from the beach were taken within about an hour and a half of each other.  The dinghy landing at St. Andrews Bay is extremely weather-dependent, and when we had the perfect day in hand we decided to use it there, even though we had to steam for a big chunk of the day to get there, and had little time left for hanging around.

So our time was short.  But that didn't detract from the experience.  It might have made it more precious.

We went through all the practical details of anchoring Galactic and getting Smooches in the water and   sussing out the landing and then getting ashore and pulling the dinghy up the beach...

...and then we all four of us just stopped.

We sank down on the black sand beach and willed ourselves to take in the moment.  There are at least a hundred thousand king penguins at the St. Andrews Bay colony.  We heard second-hand from a reliable source that there might be a half million.

In the best tradition of Antarctic wildlife, they are completely unafraid of people.

Even though we landed far out on the edges of the colony, we were immediately surrounded by these giant, beautiful, fearless birds that evolution has changed into something so very un-bird-like, calmly checking us out or ignoring us completely.

We had only our family to share the moment with, the sun was shining, and our home was anchored just offshore, waiting for us.

It was a Garden of Eden moment, a taste of the prelapsarian world that we all dream of somehow.

I loved getting close enough to see that king penguins have this little streak of iridescence on the tops of their heads.  They looked just like smudges of pollen on penguins that were trying out being hummingbirds for a while, or some little mark of religious affiliation shared by them all
Not a great photo, but what a moment.  Elias and Eric realized that the penguins would follow them around.  They're taking little baby steps while this group of penguins shuffles after them, keeping a steady meter and a half away.  The boys have this hunch-shouldered posture of delight, barely daring to look back at the penguins behind them, for fear that looking might puncture the balloon of this waking dream.
A hundred thousand penguins.  There are drifts of penguin feathers for miles and miles off shore of the beach.
We eventually roused ourselves from the waking dream of the scene around our dinghy and took a walk on the beach.  The weather went from perfect to better.  And these scenes kept playing out over and over, of odd little moments that seemed almost like communication with these birds that refused to be afraid of us, and gave every indication of curiosity.

All too soon it was time to return to the dinghy.  We had to impose every measure of self will to get ourselves back to Galactic with enough time in hand to reach our anchorage for the night.

One of these pictures will end up printed and framed and hanging on the wall in Kodiak after we return
The Mothership
 We reached the excellent anchorage at Ocean Harbour just as the day was failing.

The next post will feature the other-worldly south end of the island...


  1. Thank you, all of you, for your boldness.

  2. The utter delight on your boys faces is precious, how lucky they are to be experiencing another world, love the photos!

  3. These are truly inspiring, Mike. Foreground, background and the personal connectivity. - Jon & Barb

  4. Hey guys, our comments might be few and far between but our awe of your posts, pictures and adventures are always present in our family! Marina and Devon have the habit of asking on a weekly basis if there is a new post. We patiently await your return to Kodiak one day; in the meantime we are so much enjoying your stories and pictures from afar. Pete Heather Marina Devon

    1. Hey guys - that is so nice. Hope to see you in 2017.

  5. Absolutely Amazing. One of our dream destinations. Well deserved. You guys are just the coolest. Lots of love, Linda with family on S/Y Mary

    1. Thanks, Linda. Funny thing - we just ran into some folks who know you here in South Africa...

  6. Keep on dreaming on. Wonderful. Reinhard & Bronwyn.