Day 8 |
Mar 08, 2016

Larsen Harbour, Drygalski Fjord & Cooper Bay, South Georgia

By Victoria Salem, Historian
58° 50’ S, 036° 00’ W

I had high expectations of today and I was NOT disappointed!

At 7.00 am I was enjoying a smoked salmon and scrambled egg breakfast as Silver Explorer arrived in Drygalski Fjord; this fjord at the south-eastern end of South Georgia is a geologist’s dream, displaying visibly different rock types on each side. Larsen Harbour – named after Carl Anton Larsen, the founder of Grytviken whaling station – lies at the entrance of the fjord, just to the south. This was the focus of our first activity today, a Zodiac cruise meandering along this beautiful, narrow, steep-sided inlet. Swell made its presence felt as we disembarked the ship, but once inside Larsen Harbour itself, conditions were calm and intermittently sunny. It was a joy to experience wind-free moments on South Georgia!

Our Zodiac cruise took us gliding past high rocky peaks, whose lower slopes were covered with verdant greenery. Shore-side boulders were encrusted with vary-colored lichens. Our first stop rewarded us with an elephant seal sighting and as we reached deeper into the harbor, we were surrounded by Antarctic Terns diving for food. The highlight of the outing for some was a number of sightings of Weddell seals, which are known to haul out here. I caught a glimpse of one swimming in the kelp beds, with three more lying comatose on their beach-beds of stone, occasionally raising a somnolent head to gaze at our Zodiac, or lazily waving a tail flipper. There were a number of fur seals in the vicinity too; and a glimpse of what at first appeared to be a Chinstrap Penguin high on a cliff turned into a South Georgia Shag upon closer examination!


As we progressed towards the end of this waterway, we passed increasing numbers of small, braided waterfalls flowing down the grassy slopes, interspersed with patches of snow. And at the end of Larsen Harbour we found a small glacier, whose impressive layers and folds were magically illuminated when the sun emerged from behind a cloud. I basked in the sudden warmth of the sun’s rays. How tiny our Zodiacs looked in comparison with this majestic landscape. As if to reassure us, however, South Georgia was showing us its benign face today.

After our Zodiac cruise, Expedition Leader Mike announced that we would ship-cruise the main Drygalski Fjord itself. Peaks towered on either side of us, with folds and fault lines clearly to be made out in the rock as we neared the large glacier at the head of the fjord. The sun was full out when we reached the turning point and outside decks were crowded with red-jacketed figures pointing cameras - though I had to brace myself against the gusts of wind that swept down from the ice mass and hit Silver Explorer. Still, I lingered outside and took a few more photos before heading to The Restaurant for lunch. Dazzling ice vistas such as this are few and far between and this one was extremely photogenic.

Lunch had a Mexican flavor today and shortly afterwards Mike notified us of a large and exotically-shaped iceberg to our portside, so it was jackets on and cameras out again! With the iceberg in the foreground and the Salvesen Mountain Range in the background it was hard to take a bad photo…

Increasing swell greeted us as we sailed out of the shelter of Drygalski Fjord, en route to our afternoon landing/Zodiac cruise at Cooper Bay. I have never before seen Cooper Bay almost windless and bathed in sunshine and it was a treat for sore eyes. We divided into two groups for this afternoon’s activities, which included both a landing and another Zodiac cruise. Those going to land first found themselves disembarking onto a rocky beach with plenty of action going on – fur seals, Gentoo Penguins and a few elephant seals kept those who did not want to experience the somewhat strenuous climb up to a Macaroni Penguin rookery, well entertained. I took a deep breath (big mistake – the odor of penguin was extremely ripe) and started up through the tussac, dodging fur seals as I went. Very soon views over Cooper Bay became spectacular, with blue seas and craggy rock formations, swirling kelp and playful seals all drawing the eye and providing a perfect excuse to rest from time to time.

Once at the top of the steep slope it was a case of wading through mud and penguin guano between tussac clumps, in order to reach the edge of the rookery. This was hard going and required a lot of concentration in order to stay balanced; a few seconds of carelessness would result in many minutes of parka-cleaning later! As I tentatively worked my way through the mire towards the Macaroni Penguins, a Light-mantled Sooty Albatross glided past at eye level, almost close enough to touch. This was one of the most glorious moments I have ever had on South Georgia.

Arrived at the penguins, all the trials and difficulties of the trail through mud and guano faded into insignificance. Macaroni Penguins (even when they are moulting and muddy) are SO elegant. Their flashy yellow crest feathers and large red/purple bills are SO ostentatious! I watched, spellbound at the spectacle of penguin pairs preening each other, a parent feeding a fluffy chick, an adult raising its bill to the sky and calling for its mate, Snowy Sheathbills feeding on anything and everything, a skua busily pulling out the innards of a dead penguin – so much going on. The smell is difficult to describe: a very rich, very rotting parmesan cheese suggests only slightly the strength of the experience, which I, for one, found unforgettable.

Then I was slithering back through the slime and grime to the beach in order to enjoy the other half of the afternoon’s activities, which was a Zodiac cruise round the bay, especially targeting Chinstrap Penguins, a species we will not be seeing again. Their rookery is only accessible by Zodiac and Kevin positioned the boat to give us great views of the Chinstrap Penguins, fur seals playing in the water, more Macaroni Penguins arranging their feathers on the shore side, large elephant seals lying in moulting wallows on the beach and a raft of Giant Petrels (including a White Morph) floating all around us. I – and others in my Zodiac – took an incredible number of photos! There was general agreement that a sea boiling with fur seal pups, all competing to get a better look at us, was maybe the cutest sight of all the wonders of nature we have seen today.

I was back on board by about 5.30 pm. There was much scrubbing and washing of gear in the Mud Room (thank you for your help, Riette!) before we all made our way back to our suites. There was just time to change into odor-free clothing before heading up to Recap & Briefing in The Theatre.

Jonathan started, recounting some of the key moments we have shared together today, followed by Dayo on the dynamic soaring patterns of albatross. Kevin brought Recap to a hilarious close with an account of the day he was assaulted by a King Penguin – surprisingly painful and very humiliating!

All that remained was for Mike to brief us on tomorrow – we will be in Cumberland Bay early in the morning and intend to spend the morning visiting Grytviken, a truly iconic stop for Shackleton lovers. And in the afternoon we hope to see South Georgia’s largest King Penguin rookery, at St Andrew’s Bay.

But for now, Bon Appétit; and thank you to Captain Alex for taking the wise decision to anchor Silver Explorer in a small, sheltered bay tonight so that we can avoid a passing storm. Sweet dreams – we have much to look forward to tomorrow.

Day 8 |
Nov 26, 2015

South Tarawa, Kiribati

By Susan Currie, Geologist
010 22.039’ N, 1720 56.172’ E
Air Temperature:

Breakfast began at 06.30am this morning in anticipation of arrival at South Tarawa at 07.30am.  We came alongside at the dock, newly opened in 2014, an hour later than anticipated. Assembled on the dock for our arrival was an impressive welcoming “committee” of Kiribati people. A brass band, very smart in pale blue shirts and dark trousers played enthusiastically as our ship was tied up. While the gangway was prepared a group of traditionally-dressed men and women who were waiting on the dock sang us songs in their language.

Once we were able to disembark the cultural performance/welcome continued with dancing. Some of this was like a “haka” and some was like a synchronized tapping of the ground while the participants were seated. We may not have understood the words or the symbolism but the sentiment – “pleased to see you” – was very apparent.

Tarawa is an atoll in the western group of islands of the Republic of Kiribati. The atoll is triangular in shape with the eastern side being known as North Tarawa and the southern side is South Tarawa. North Tarawa is the string of islets from Buariki at the northern tip of Tarawa atoll to Buota in the South, with a combined population of 6,102 (as of 2010). It is administratively separate from neighboring South Tarawa, and is governed by the Eutan Tarawa Council (ETC), based at Abaokoro village. South Tarawa, where we docked, is the capital and hub of the Republic of Kiribati and home to approximately half of Kiribati's total population. South Tarawa consists of all the small islets from Betio in the West to Bonriki in the East, connected by the South Tarawa main road, and has a population of about 50,000 people.

After our welcome ceremony we boarded our 4 small buses for the tour of South Tarawa. This began with a photograph stop at a gun emplacement left from World War II.

Tarawa was the site of a major battle in 1943. In the Battle of Tarawa -which lasted 3 days between the 20th and 23rd November- the U.S. began its Central Pacific Campaign against Japan by seizing the heavily fortified, Japanese-held island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll. The 18,000 U.S. Marines sent to tiny Betio were expected to easily secure it; however, problems quickly arose. Exceptionally low tides prevented some U.S. landing crafts from clearing the coral reefs that ringed the island. Japanese coastal guns pounded the snagged vessels and desperate Marines gave up on freeing the boats and instead waded toward shore – hundreds of meters away – through chest-deep water amidst enemy fire. Despite heavy resistance from the 4,500 Japanese troops dug in on Betio, the Marines finally took the island after a bloody, 76-hour battle in which both sides suffered heavy casualties.

After seeing the WWII gun emplacement our tour, we continued eastwards through the many villages which crowd the islets of the southern rim of the atoll. We made a photograph stop at the home of the President, opposite the sports stadium, before continuing on to the principle Catholic Church, the Cathedral. Here a nun (from Australia) took us to her cell where she is custodian of a declaration from 1941 signed by the commander of the Japanese forces on Tarawa. In the document it states that the Japanese authorities will treat the Kiribati people well if they do not resist the occupying forces.

From the Catholic Cathedral we drove on to the Parliament building, a modern and impressive building standing in gardens on the lagoon side of the main road. Here we could refresh ourselves with fresh coconut water and walk around the Parliament area.

The road connecting all the islets on our itinerary was definitely “under construction” and we encountered many road-works. The people of Kiribati receive money from Australian aid organizations as well as support from the UK, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. There are also many Taiwanese–owned businesses in Tarawa.

After seeing the outside of the Parliament building we drove further eastwards to the headquarters building of the tour organization with which we were travelling and there was an opportunity to buy souvenirs and postcards from their shop. Our final stop on this tour, the Museum of South Tarawa, was a five minute drive further east. Here we were able to look at display cases of traditional weaving styles, baskets, and mats, view some artefacts from the war years, and look at some cooking implements; we also had a chance to visit a full-size, traditionally-constructed, meeting house in the grounds of the Museum.

After our visit to the museum we returned to the ship and lunch! The day was getting very hot and Louis arranged that two of the buses would wait at our ship and take those who wished on a tour of the World War Two gun emplacements and memorial sites after lunch. Malcolm and Louis had scouted out these sites in the morning and initially we were going to go on an Expedition Team member led walk from the ship. In view of the heat, however, Louis decided that buses were a better option.

At 3pm two buses left the ship for a tour of the war sites near the ship on Betio Island. Our first stop was the Memorial to the U.S. Marine Corps. More than 1000 marines had died in defeating the Japanese at the Battle of Tarawa. We then went to Red Beach 2, one of the main landing sites in the assault on Betio. After that we visited a major gun emplacement on the coast and then a Memorial Monument to the “Coast Watchers”. Twenty two of these men who hid on the islands of the Pacific, including on Kiribati, and spotted airplanes and ships and communicated this intelligence to the allies, were rounded up by the Japanese in 1942 and executed on Tarawa. After visiting the “minor” gun emplacements near the new jetty we made a final brief stop at the Japanese War Memorial before returning to the ship.

At 4:30pm all were aboard and we took our leave from Tarawa. In the Explorer Lounge Tua introduced a film of an epic voyage across the Pacific, in which he took part, which involved seven large Polynesian voyaging canoes.

At 6:30pm Louis gave us a briefing about tomorrow at the atoll of Butaritari where we will have options to visit a village, dive, snorkel, or go birding on an uninhabited islet of the lagoon. The recap included articles by me (Susan) on why the oceans waters are salty, by Uli on the whale we saw yesterday – a Bryde’s whale – and by Malcolm on the history of the Battle of Tarawa and also about some of the birds we saw today, including an Imperial Pigeon.

The atoll of Tarawa was not the most beautiful we have seen –it is extensively polluted and the waters are murky, hence no snorkeling or diving today- and the islands of South Tarawa are also crowded with people who are struggling to make a living. I do not think, however, that anyone could fail to have been moved today by the stories of suffering, sacrifice and heroism that form part of the World War Two legacy of the island, and there was no doubt that the welcome we received was both warm and enthusiastic.


Day 8 |
Jan 14, 2010

Gonzalez Videla Station, Paradise Bay, Antarctic Peninsula

By Claudia Holgate, Climatologist

Co-ordinates: 64 o 49’ 38”S 62o 51’ 87”W

Weather: Overcast conditions, with snow later

Air Temperature: -2.5C

Pressure: 983HPa

Wind: 65 km/h North westerly wind

We have had such a spectacular trip so far that I keep thinking to myself, “How are we going to top this?” and then the next day something really amazing happens. Our good luck with the weather God, however, was coming to an end and when we woke up this morning as Port Lockroy, which is an Historical British Base, most of the guests figured out something was up when the ship was listing to one side due to the strong winds.

Our Captain skillfully maneuvered the ship as close as possible to the station, close to the glacier, hoping for some protection, but the strong katabatic winds were not going to let up. The women running the base were happy for us to wait and see if the wind would drop, so Rich, our Expedition Leader, put on two lectures in the morning, while we waited to see what the winds would do. The first was Gennadi’s lecture on Antarctic science and his time at the Vernadsky base and the science that was done there. What a great lecture. Gennadi is a very unassuming man, with a lovely sense of humour, which comes out in his talk and it was fascinating hearing about the changes they have picked up in the Antarctic in terms of climate change and the Ozone thinning.

After Gennadi’s lecture, Rich and the Captain decided that the wind was not going to die down and that we needed to look for another plan for the day’s activities. Well, a most inspired choice by the bosses was to go to Gonzalez Videla station, which is a Chilean station in Paradise Bay, which we had gone past, but not stopped at a few days ago.

So while on our way to the Videla Station, Peter, our historian, gave Part One of his lecture on Sir Ernest Shackleton, which was sprinkled with his unique sense of humour, and left everyone waiting for the next installment, which we will probably only get to hear during the Drake Passage.

We arrived at the Videla Station at 1:30pm, and after having to scout a bit for a good landing spot as the jetty was too high due to the low tide, we managed to bring out guests ashore for a short landing at the base, where there is a small museum, souvenir shop and the highlight of the day – the resident leucistic Gentoo penguin. Leucism is a genetic abnormality where melanin is produced in the body but not deposited on to the feathers, resulting in the black part of the penguin looking as if they are completely washed and only a light brown in colour. It is different to albinism, which results in a red eye and pale pink beak and feet, these birds have normally coloured bare parts and eye and occur very rarely, about one in 40,000 penguins are leucistic. This of course was the highlight for me.

By the end of the landing, the wind had come up again and it was starting to snow, so we were glad to be able to get back on the ship. During our time at the base, 3 other ships came past, obviously also trying to get some shelter, so we felt lucky to have made it there first.

Back on board and half an hour later we were to have a Recap & Briefing from the Expedition Team, which was useful, as we have only had briefings for the past few days as we haven’t had time for recaps, however, today we could catch up. I did a short briefing on pigmentation aberrations in birds, Peter talked about the Charcot expedition as we were at Petermann Island yesterday and Frits chatted about the seals that we have seen. Time ran out and we all headed off to get spruced up for the Venetian Society cocktail party and formal dinner, which was, as usual, a most elegant affair.