Day 3 |
Nov 12, 2010

West Point and Saunders Islands, Falkland Islands

By Victoria Salem, Historian

Co-ordinates: 51°20’S, 060°32’W
Weather: Overcast, but not much wind in am; sunny, but very windy in pm
Air temperature: +11°C

Our wakeup call came at 7am, just after we had anchored off West Point Island in the Falklands. After a fortifying breakfast, disembarkation began at 8am. It is always something of an adventure getting into rubber boots for the first time, discovering how many layers to wear and ensuring that Zodiac life vests are on the right way round! Group by group, we disembarked and were whisked to shore on a four-minute ride. As soon as they realized we were there, a couple of Peale’s dolphins accompanied us from ship to shore (one on each side of my Zodiac, riding the bow wave), which was a fantastic start to today’s wildlife viewing.

On arrival we were greeted by numbers of upland geese and striated caracara, all hanging out on the beach. Our first view of West Point Island was of gently rolling hills dotted with gorse bushes (in full bloom), with a farmhouse and outbuildings nestling on the slope facing the beach. Conrad, our Expedition Leader, briefed us as to how to get out of the Zodiac safely, we left our life jackets in the blue bins provided and soon we were off on our hike across the island to Devil’s Nose – and the black-browed albatross and rock-hopper penguin rookery. For those who wished to conserve their energy, a land-rover shuttle service was provided across the width of the island (approximately 1.5 miles).

It always feels like coming home when I arrive at West Point for the first time each November! The weather was benign, with very little wind and we were all able to enjoy the views over the island – the ocean is never far away. Soon enough we reached the area of cliffs and tussock grass known as the Devil’s Nose and suddenly there they were, nesting black-browed albatross on tall chimneys, interspersed with cute little yellow-eyebrowed rock-hoppers. The two get along surprisingly well as long as they steer clear of each other’s nests; we could see there was an optimum pecking distance. A network of paths ran round the top of the rookery and we were able to spread out and take as many pictures as we wanted. It was an absolutely amazing spectacle and a few people told me they had to pinch themselves to check that they really were here, on West Point Island, in the Falklands. Today’s experience really made it up to all those who were confined to their beds during Captain’s Cocktails and Welcome dinner last night due to rough seas.

All good things come to an end and we either hiked or land-rovered back to the landing site. Before returning to the Prince Albert II, however, we visited the welcoming farmhouse, first admiring the spring flowers (including daffodils) in the front garden, where we left our muddy boots. I made my way through to the “tea room” where guests were happily partaking of tea, coffee and homemade scones, cakes and biscuits. This was true Olde Worlde hospitality at the end of the earth! Not forgetting to take a doggy bag back for the Captain and officers, we happily re-boarded the Zodiacs and headed back to the ship for lunch.

After a brief rest, lulled by the soothing motion of the ship, we arrived at our afternoon’s destination of Saunders Island; those of us who were on the Bridge or out on deck were lucky enough to get a brief glimpse of a pod of Commerson’s dolphins. The plan here was to land on the beautiful sandy beach, admire the large and historic try-pot (sadly, used for boiling down king penguins for their oil), then take a guided hike with lecturers. At 1.45pm the scout boat went out to have a look at sea conditions. There was a great deal of wind and swell, leading to a lot of surf on the beach, and reluctantly, Conrad and Captain Peter decided a landing was not possible immediately. However, we waited to see what the wind would do and were rewarded. Around 2.45pm we started our afternoon landing at Saunders Island. By this time the sun had come out and it was a glorious – if windy! – day. Again, our Zodiacs were accompanied to shore by a couple of Peale’s dolphins and the expedition staff skillfully spun the Zodiacs, making a safe, stern landing possible in difficult surf conditions.

Once on the beach, I led the last group of guests to land around to the right, past colonies of nesting gentoo penguins. Some of us saw two skuas fighting over a fresh penguin egg…one chick that will not be born this year. We were delighted to catch our first glimpse of king penguins, a few small groups approaching quite close to us, and others parading along the beach. Two fluffy brown chicks could be seen, demanding food from their harassed parents. Within sight of the beach and turquoise blue sea on the far side of the island, we saw a partial whale skeleton, and ranged up the hillside beyond a number of Magellanic penguin burrows. Occasionally, a penguin popped out to take the air and a late-afternoon stroll, before disappearing once again.

All too soon Captain Peter was calling us back to the ship because of increasing wind, so we returned to the landing beach and quickly lined up for the Zodiac crossing back to the ship. We got wet! But it was all part of the expedition experience and once back on board, our boots washed, we sipped a hot lemon toddy and headed for a hot shower. Time to relax until recap, which was very welcome for all.

Recap & Briefing took place in The Theatre at 6.45pm. Conrad kicked off with a briefing on tomorrow’s activities in Stanley, then we heard from Hans-Peter Reinthaler (Botanist), Chris Harbard (Ornithologist) and Shoshanah Jacobs (Marine Biologist) about today’s plants, birds and dolphins respectively. Many questions were answered. After that we headed into dinner, followed by a nightcap in the bar or an early night, looking forward to our day in the capital city of the Falkland Islands tomorrow.