Friday 29 December 2017

Silver Explorer, Day 12 - Calving and whaling

With thanks to Silversea for this hosted cruise
This morning we arrived at Elephant Island, the final element of the Shackleton saga we've been travelling through over the last five days or so. This is where, for 135 winter days, 22 of his men lived in extreme discomfort - but also in hope. While The Boss and five others made a break for South Georgia, they sheltered under two small boats from their ship, the aptly-named Endurance (by this stage just splintered rubble under the ice back in the Weddell Sea). They lived on penguins and seals, and had their morale maintained by the indomitable Frank Wild.
Point Wild is named after him, but could also be a description, because it's nothing more than a small, low, exposed and rocky peninsula (to the right, above) much favoured by chinstrap penguins but never by any human with a choice - unfortunately, there was none for Shackleton's men. This is the only piece of flat land on the island. The what and how of their time there is unimaginable, honestly. The site is 100% hostile to humans.
There are glaciers either side, the bigger one now named Endurance and busily calving while we were anchored in the bay. Frustratingly, it was impossible to photograph because by the time the low roar of falling ice reached us, it was pretty much all over apart from a scattering of icy rubble on the water.
We were lucky to be able to do a Zodiac tour - the swell is frequently too rough for that - and, rugged up appropriately for the zero degrees temperature, had a close look at the penguins and the site of the camp. There's a bust erected there, looking bizarrely out of place. It's of Piloto Luis Pardo, the Chilean captain whose steamer finally rescued the men in August 1916. Shackleton had made three previous rescue attempts and was on board when this one succeeded, counting the men anxiously as they approached shore.
We detoured out for a closer look at our most beautiful iceberg so far, a towering mass of sculpted ice that seemed to glow blue - meaning it's made of compressed ice, that could be millions of years old.
And then we returned to the Explorer, to warmth and softness and comfort, and truly thanked our lucky stars that we were able to do just that; especially when a really big pod of fin whales - second in size only to the blue whale - appeared ahead of the ship and we got frozen to the bone trying (and pretty much failing) to get a photo of them. How luxurious, to be able to just step inside to get warm again! And then to go down to browse the restaurant's extensive lunch buffet offerings which today included an actual suckling pig.
The rest of the day? Naps, naturally - but also a couple of lectures, on photo manipulation, which was fun, and the history of the whaling industry, which was not, and must have made uncomfortable viewing for a good number of the nationalities on board. Or I hope so, at least.

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