Day 8 |
Nov 21, 2008

South Georgia

By Juan Carlos Restrepo

Noon position: Latitude 54º 31,7’ S; Longitude 036º 00,2’ W

Today we had quite an early start. At 4 am we were arriving to St. Andrews Bay for a scheduled landing at 5 am. During our approach, our Captain Peter Stahlberg noticed that the weather conditions were unsuitable for a landing as the Bay of Isles was exposed to the wind and swell. The air temperature was 2ºC (36ºF) and the sea temperature was 3ºC (37ºF), and the wind was blowing from the NW at 20 knots, producing a rough swell between 5 and 8 feet. A decision was made between Captain Stahlberg and our Expedition Leader Robin West to sail past St. Andrews and go to Moltke Harbor instead.

With Moltke Harbor being just around the corner, the crew and staff managed to start disembarkation at 5 am, as planned. Conditions were much calmer in terms of wind and swell, and the sky was partly cloudy. The landing was done in two groups of around 60 guests, each group being ashore for about one and a half hours. Baby elephant seals that had just been weaned teemed in the river; there were about 50 of them and they made the day for all of us. There were also fur seals, reindeer, king and gentoo penguins, South Georgia pintails, southern giant petrels, light mantled sooty albatrosses and more.

We left Moltke Harbor at 9 am and headed for Gold Harbor for a second landing at noon. Conditions were not so good. The Expedition Team went scouting the coast and found a suitable place to land. Unfortunately for us, elephant seals were carpeting the beach, bulls with their harems are protective of their territory and so a decision was made to attempt a Zodiac cruise of this beautiful harbor instead. Two Zodiacs with guests were already on their way when the wind picked up and conditions at the gangway became difficult and a bit unsafe. Because of this and the fact that the ship was dragging anchor, Captain Stahlberg decided to cancel the operation. Putting the guests and the staff back onboard was quite a challenge, nonetheless the competent deck crew and Zodiac drivers managed to do it safely. Once we had everybody onboard we heaved anchor and headed southwest to Drygalsky Fjord, hoping to be able to do a Zodiac cruise.

The wind kept on picking up and by about 3 pm we were near the entrance of Drygalsky Fjord; there were enormous tabular Icebergs all around us. One of these icebergs was 2.5 miles long and sitting at the entrance of the fjord. Even though we could have sneaked in, the door could have potentially closed behind us. It was too risky. So a decision was made to turn southwest and head for our next destination, Monroe Island in the South Orkney Islands.

We turned around the southern end of South Georgia, enjoying the sun, the icebergs and the wind, and leaving behind the protection of the island. We soon found ourselves sailing into a NNW force 11 wind, going between 50 and 65 knots, which is considered to be a whole gale / storm weather. A very rough swell of 9 – 12 ft accompanied the show and it got rough for a while. The Captain adjusted the course and the speed to provide an easier ride and we all appreciated it. Dinner and an early night were in order after two full-on days at the paradisiacal island of South Georgia.