Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Requiem: For a Dream Lived

Way back in Puerto Montt, Chile, around a year ago, we met up with the Canadian/Australian crew of the yacht Illawong, old hands at the sailing scene in the global south, and friends of good mates of ours.

When the subject came to South Georgia, Illawong had one word of advice: go.

Elephant seal, boy, and GoPro on a pole.  He's 5 m from the seal - the telephoto lens collapses distance in this shot

At the time, we thought there was no chance.  Gradually we warmed to the idea, of course.  And now that we've been, I would repeat their advice to anyone who was thinking of sailing to South Georgia.  Go.  Great things await.

Fantastic wildlife interactions aren't just possible, they're literally inescapable.  All of the ice-free beach that is available in South Georgia is what makes the place such fantastic breeding habitat for the pinnipeds and penguins.  Now that whales have been largely removed from the ecosystem, populations of other krill-eaters - notably Antarctic fur seals and king penguins - have exploded. So the beaches are packed to heaving with charismatic megafauna, and those same beach are of course the natural route for wandering humans.

Luckily, outside of the fur seal breeding season the wildlife interactions are Antarctic-chill.  The beasts don't mind us.  And we very much don't mind them.

Sharing the beach

Elias made great use of the combination of a boat hook and our GoPro camera, which had long been gathering dust in a locker.  Lots and lots of shaky footage of animals doing not much of anything was collected that way.

Husvik Harbour.  One of the finest places in South Georgia, and we both had day after day of weather like this, and had it to ourselves, except for some very convivial old South Georgia hands who were staying at the station manager's villa for a few days while doing some weed control work.

Fur seal pups were Eric's favorite.  Walks on the beach were punctuated every two minutes by Eric singing out, "look at that cute fur seal!"

A few pups are born blonde.
Chinstrap penguins.  The Galactics were divided over the question of calling them "chinnies" or "strappies". 
A big bull elephant seal.  He's ashore to molt and to sleep off the bloody melee of the breeding season.
South Georgia's history is built on the bones of whales.
Molting gentoo penguins, far from the sea
The walking was fantastic once we left the beach, too.  There are three bays side by side in this area: Husvik, Stromness and Leith.  Each held a whaling station in the day.  Stromness was the place where Shackleton found succor after the legendary voyage of the James Caird.

We visited Husvik and Stromness.  Each bay has fantastic upland walking, easily accessed.

Husvik.  The dot is Galactic.
Husvik.  The gravel bars of the river lead right up into the hills.  Reminiscent of the best walking in the Alaskan Arctic.

Stromness station.

Elias beholding the view that greeted Shackleton on the final stage of his journey from Elephant Island to Stromness Harbour.  And there's Galactic, patiently waiting for our return.
Eric above Husvik station.

Very good alpine terrain is supremely easy to access in these places, well within the ability of both boys.  Walking with them in these places is one of the great pleasures of family life.

Looking down on Cumberland Bay West
Trying to make pancakes.  The flour exploded.

And when we were visiting these places, all the routines of daily shipboard life were still going on.

The kelp-pocalypse.  Three tons of kelp on the anchor rode, being cut away one swipe at a time.
And finally, there were the issues of operating the yacht in these places.  We had our share of blows and moments, like dragging anchors and massive kelp entrapment.

We might have made some of our luck by being reasonably well prepared.  Our anchor is massive, and it is one of the modern designs that makes the traditional plow designs look like a joke when the chips are down.  Our second anchor is easily-handled aluminum and always ready to go in the water in an instant.  Luckily, anchors number three and four never came into play.

But, as all these pictures show, we also got lucky with the weather.  Things could have been much worse.  That's the game with sailing to places like South Georgia.  You prepare as well as you can for unreasonable conditions, and then see what you get.

Next post - the biggest biggest biggest passage of our lives.


  1. Those lucky lucky boys - it's fantastic to see them SO engaged !!

    Speaking of anchors we've just upgraded from plough/danforth/fisherman combo to a pair of enormous Manson bosses and a fortress like you, so it's a comfort to hear your endorsement of the expense of this upgrade. Hope all's well in SA. Love this latest set of photos too. - Jon & Barb, NZ Maid

  2. Each picture is more awe-inspiring than the last... amazing!

  3. I like the image of Mike on beach..... seal pups looking up wistfully... "are you my Dad?"

  4. ooooo, can't wait to read the next post!