Sunday 24 December 2017

Silver Explorer, Day 7 - A white(ish) Christmas Eve

With thanks to Silversea for hosting this cruise
There are many disadvantages to being innumerate, I have discovered. The latest is that, when your phone takes it upon itself to adopt the local, South Georgia, time – which is +1 hour – but the ship decides to keep its own time unchanged, that makes it embarrassingly difficult for some of us (see above) to work out when to set the alarm. With the consequence that I was up, showered, and half-dressed before having it brought to my attention that it wasn’t 6.30am but in fact 4.30. Sigh.
Yes, even though this is Silversea, it’s still an expedition cruise, so early starts (just not that early) and physical exertion are part of the deal. We anchored this morning in Fortuna Bay on the north coast of South Georgia in order to go ashore and get up close with the wildlife: specifically, fur seals, elephant seals and King penguins. One group was dropped off to hike to the site; the rest of us stayed on board and then Zodiac’d onto the stony beach.
We (I was in the second group – you guessed that, right?) still didn’t have it cushy because this morning it was snowing! Just little flakes that didn’t settle, but proper snow, really chilly, and with it occasional gusts of lean-against-it wind. I was very glad of my three layers of thermals and waterproofs (which had all seemed very OTT when packing back home in 22 degrees).
We did a wet landing off the Zodiac onto a beach packed with fur seals, some of which were, as predicted, not happy to see us – they humped forward and growled, showing their sharp teeth. So we scuttled past them and their wonderfully cute black furry pups (which also growled and howled and bared their teeth) and fetched up at a big colony of King penguins. They were pretty noisy too, peeping, squealing and squawking. Some were courting, others sitting motionless on eggs.
There was a large crèche of brown fluffy babies waiting for their various parents to come back with a feed for them. Their feathers were so fine and thick that they looked enormous – but last year’s brood who were busy fledging, with just patches of brown left, were much slimmer. They were the most curious about us, and came up close to inspect these strange red creatures who made all those clicking noises.
The elephant seals were moulting and not interested in us at all - they have to hang around onshore for ages while it happens so I suppose they have no spare energy for curiosity. They did do a great deal though of what sure sounded like farting but I was assured was sneezing because of mites in their nostrils.

Then the sun came out and made the surroundings as amazing as the wildlife: the sea tropically turquoise, the surrounding mountains with jagged edges streaked with snow, the sky blue above it all. Glamorous.
It all made for a spectacular backdrop to our lunch back on the Explorer as we sailed to the next bay, Husvik. There are lots of Norwegian names on South Georgia, thanks to the early whalers, and in this bay is one of their processing factories, as well as a cemetery with many gravestones sunken into the peat. 
Though the rusted remains of oil tanks and machinery look picturesque, they’re too full of asbestos for us to be allowed near them, so our attention was irresistibly focused again on the penguins, feisty fur seals and the snotty, somnolent elephant seals.
One fur seal took exception to me though, as I photographed a pup suckling from his mother, and suddenly rushed at me, teeth all too visible. Instinctively, I held up my arms and shouted at him, and he stopped just a couple of metres away and I was able to scuttle away behind a group of other people and hide. It was honestly pretty alarming. “They will chase you, and they will bite you,” we’d been told.
After the evening recap and briefing (where we learned the official term “sneaky copulators” for the less dominant elephant seal males, taking advantage of the beachmaster’s attention elsewhere) we had a special Christmas Eve dinner, the staff wearing Santa hats and singing us some carols. Many of the passengers are European, and this is their custom. I chose shrimp bisque, a mulled wine sorbet and roast goose for my main course; and since it was too hard to choose between Christmas pudding, cherries jubilee and chocolate macaroons for dessert, we had all three. After all, it had been a long day…

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