Co-ordinates: 51°17’S, 60°27’W
Air Temperature: 10°C
I woke up to a sunny, sparkling, blue-sky day, but when I looked out of my window, I could see white caps on the waves and feel the Prince Albert II rocking. Not daunted, I made my way up to the Observation Lounge for my Early Riser’s breakfast of fruit juice and croissant. There was quite a number of people about, enjoying the view and watching us arrive at our anchorage position just off West Point Island.
Disembarkation began at 8am and I helped guests at the side-gate with their life jackets and expedition gear. Our Captain managed to create a lee for the Zodiac drivers so that we could successfully enter the Zodiacs for our first shuttle to shore without mishap – we didn’t even get wet! The owners of the island were there to greet us, as were a number of upland geese (with cute chicks) and a few striated Caracara. Some of us were even escorted into the bay by three magnificent Commerson’s dolphins riding our bow-wave and providing quite a welcome.
The wind really hit us as we began the first ascent of the hill away from the farmstead towards Devil’s Nose. It was a delightful walk, but hard work leaning into the wind the whole way and all of us shed layers as we proceeded. Land-rovers were available to shuttle those who felt foot-weary, but most people relished being out in the fresh air with such magnificent views of gently rolling hillside and blue (white-capped) ocean.
Half an hour later, I arrived at our destination: a black-browed albatross and rock-hopper penguin rookery on the far side of West Point Island. Paths through the tussock grass enabled us to approach the birds without disturbing them and even I, with my small point-and-shoot camera, was able to get some fantastic photos of albatross grooming each other and feeding young chicks on their nests. The wind was so strong that birds had to circle a few times before perfecting their landings, and some glided just over our heads – an amazing experience. In between the chimney-like albatross nests, rock-hopper penguins were sitting on grass nests, most of them sheltering a small, dark grey chick. Watching these penguins hop up the steep rock face made me realize just what an amazing feat this was for such little birds, though a normal part of their daily lives. Woe betide the penguin that got too close to another’s nest en route to his or her own!
I lingered so long with the birds that I decided to take a ride back in a land-rover to the farm house, where I partook of a much-needed cup of tea and some delicious home-made cakes. It was a strange experience, sitting out in the completely sheltered garden, watching guests enjoying an English Tea Party here at the End of the World. Out of the wind, the weather was positively balmy and we all had a healthy thirst and appetite after our walk.
Zodiacs soon whisked us back to the ship and lunch. It had been a wonderful start to our expedition. Unfortunately, the wind speed had not abated, and Conrad and Captain Peter informed us that it would not be possible to find a safe harbour from which to Zodiac to any of our potential afternoon destinations. Instead, it was decided to head straight for Stanley, where we would arrive about 11pm and could at least expect a calm night’s sleep before tomorrow’s tour and town visit.
The afternoon was most enjoyable. I was able to catch up on sleep, bird-watch on deck and attend two lectures. Franz Gingele gave us a talk at 3pm entitled An Introduction to the Falkland Islands, in which he showed us photos of people, places and wildlife and helped us get to know this southernmost part of Britain better. And at 5pm Kristine Hannon, our photographer, gave us some hints and tips on how to get the best out of our cameras. The difference between an okay shot and a great shot is often down to the composition, and Kristine’s suggestions gave us a fresh approach to try out in our photography in and around Stanley tomorrow.
The final activity of the day was Recap & Briefing at 6.45pm. Expedition Leader Conrad Combrink kicked it off by summing up today’s highlights and briefing us on tomorrow’s activities at Bluff Cove and Stanley. This was followed up by Rich Kirchner on black-browed albatross, Uli Kunz on the fish and squid we can find beneath the surface of the ocean and Peter Damisch on oil exploration and wind power in the Falkland Islands. There was time for questions, then dinner was served and our first full day of exploration was nearly over. However, I made sure to go out on deck before bed to enjoy the calmer seas and a bright orange, full moon hanging over the surface of the ocean.