Day 9 |
Dec 27, 2010

 En route from South Georgia Island to Elephant Island 

By by Peter W. Damisch (Historian, General Naturalist & Cartographer)


Coordinates: 56° 31' S, 048° 32’ W
Weather: Clear with high winds and seas early, then turning overcast with reduced wind and seas throughout the day

Air Temperature: +3C (37F)¬
Pressure: 992 Hpa
Wind: 25 Km / hour

We had an excellent example today of the flexibility needed for expedition cruising. Our intended plan included a landing at Gold Harbor followed by a Zodiac cruise at Cooper’s Bay, both at South Georgia Island.

As always, the Prince Albert II maintains a very close eye on the weather under all situations but especially in the polar regions. I was up at about 0400 in the morning, as I could tell from experience and from the ship’s movement that the weather had deteriorated overnight. I was on my way up to the Bridge when the Expedition Leader called to indicate that the day’s planned shoreside activities would have to be cancelled due to high winds and seas along the entire southeastern coast of South Georgia Island. This is not a common occurrence, but it does sometimes occur in this remote and intensely beautiful portion of the world. In fact, South Georgia Island is my favorite place on the planet.

The Captain and Expedition Leader had conferred and decided that our best course of action was to not wait and hope for improved conditions but rather to start proceeding towards the Antarctic Peninsula immediately. Throughout the day, the expedition office staff worked quickly, efficiently and successfully to secure new schedules and permits that will completely rearrange our planned itinerary in the Antarctic Peninsula. In effect, we have traded one day in South Georgia for at least one day and possibly as much as 1.5 additional days in the Antarctic, a fair trade indeed.

Of course, now that the shoreside activities had been postponed as well as relocated, the Expedition Staff rapidly put together a series of professional presentations that started out with Conrad, our Expedition Leader. He gave a comprehensive and informative overview regarding Silversea’s entry into the expedition cruising market, including the purchase and complete refurbishment of the Prince Albert II. As a result, Silversea has established themselves as the leader within the luxury expedition cruising marketplace. Conrad also reviewed the intricate and detailed planning which goes into the creation and selection of future voyage itineraries. It’s truly incredible how much thinking must be done such that all considerations from fascinating locations to food and fuel to political issues are carefully considered before offering a new voyage. The whole process was quite fascinating and generated many questions from the guests in the audience.

Next up to present was our Marine Specialist and Biologist, Uli, who discussed the many issues associated with diving in the polar regions. You would be correct in anticipating that Uli would provide an informative and comprehensive review about the many species of diving seals that live in the Antarctic, including the literally tens of thousands of Elephant and Fur Seals that we have encountered while visiting South Georgia Island. However, Uli also offered wonderful insights into his personal experiences as a research diver in cold-water regions around the world. It is this type of first-hand experience that is a distinguishing hallmark of Silversea’s Expedition Team.

Of course there is also the opportunity for a little fun during the afternoon as we hosted a segment of ‘Liar’s Club’ in the Panorama Lounge during Afternoon Tea. The tea and cakes are always great in the early afternoon but today there was a little extra event hosted by Danill and assisted by Christian and the rest of the Expedition Team. Rich, Marylou, Mike and I were each given a series of 5 unusual but actual words. We then provided one true and 4 not-so-true definitions of these seldom-used terms. It was then up to the guests in their 6 teams to guess which of the staff members was telling the truth. The whole program was all great fun with quite a bit of playful and humorous banter between one and all.

The formal presentations always provide a wonderful balance of educational material relevant to the area that we are visiting as well as containing a touch of humor. Later in the day, Rich gave us an excellent look at the types of whales that we have previously seen and hope to have further encounters with as we continue our voyage south to Antarctica. Species identification, feeding behaviors, and potential current threats to world whale populations were all part of Rich’s lecture, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

One of my collateral duties during this voyage is to provide technical support for all presentations while serving as “Recap Coordinator”. This is a great assignment as it always gives me the opportunity to hear all of the latest information from my colleagues in many fields, including geology, marine mammals, sea birds and penguins.

As usual for most evenings of our voyage, the Expedition Team closed out the day just before an excellent dinner with a Recap & Briefing. This event specifically covers our plans for the following day. However, in this case, the Expedition Leader also gave a well-received overview of our now updated and longer schedule for the Antarctic Peninsula. This was followed by Victoria’s brief review of Shackleton’s ties to a poem by T.S. Elliot, and then Uli shared some additional information about cold-water mammal diving reflexes. We then finished with Rich explaining whale migratory routes and Marylou reviewing the economic impact of whaling versus the amount of oil utilized in the world today. I completed the topic with an historical view of the products produced from whales and seals, and also showed photographs from the period of a South Georgia whaling station that we had viewed just the evening before.

All in all it was a full and productive day; not the one that we had originally planned but one that offered current information and the promise of more time along the South Shetland Islands and Antarctic Peninsula starting the day after tomorrow.