Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Silver Explorer, Day 9 - Boxing Day

Come back later for the photos

With thanks to Silversea for this hosted cruise

The plan today was to go to St Andrews Bay, famous for its colonies of 200,000+ King penguins. Those who wanted good light and fewer other people around were to be ready to be Zodiac’d ashore at 4.30am (it’s light before 3am, remember). So of course I woke at 2am, and 3am, and dozed fitfully till 4am – and then, when I reported to Reception, all kitted out and having for once remembered my life-jacket, I was told it was all off. Katabatic winds ripping down the valley made it too dangerous to load us into the Zodiacs.

So I went back to bed, and the Explorer sailed meantime to Gold Harbour, a striking bay with multiple glaciers caught between high jagged peaks and, along the beach, another very respectably-sized colony of King and Gentoo penguins – something like 50,000. Fur seals and moulting elephant seals in abundance too. It was really relaxing to wander along the warm black sand, looking and observing, waiting for money-shot photo moments, with no hassle or hurry-ups at all.

We moseyed, we sat down, we paddled in the waves, we were approached by almost-bold young penguins, we took oodles of photographs, and it was just delightful. The elephant seals roared, the penguins peeped and honked, the sun shone, the sea sparkled. I certainly didn’t feel cheated about the change of plan.

There was yet another one, though, when we got to Cooper Bay where we were meant to be given a ride along the shore, because it turned out that the conditions were unsuitable for getting us safely into the Zodiacs. Not wanting us to miss out on our only opportunity to see macaroni penguins, the Captain gave us several circuits of the bay in the ship, and we were all able to see these little cuties - and chinstrap penguins too - porpoising (proper term) through the water, incredibly quickly.

Then, as a bonus, we sailed down into Drygalski Fiord, to see the literally ice-blue glacier at the end, and passing plenty of others along the way, gleaming white in the sunshine and contrasting with the black of the sharp rocky peaks. Waterfalls were blown sideways. Calved-off icebergs floated in the water. Penguins mysteriously chose to park themselves on an icy glacier instead of the beach. And while all this bleak, hostile scenery was passing by, we were ensconced in the comfort of our cabin suite, alternately venturing out onto our veranda and then scuttling back inside to warm up again. I'm so happy our cabin suite is on the starboard side - it's been the right (ha!) side all the way.

Today we tried going to the Panorama Lounge for afternoon tea, choosing from a tea menu and having little sandwiches and cakes served on a tiered stand, along with warm scones with jam and cream. All as it should be. After that, there was a really good film about Shackleton (who else?) to watch in the theatre, with popcorn. Using original photos and movie footage combined with reconstructions, it gave a chillingly realistic picture of what those men endured, and how remarkable it was that they succeeded. I wonder about PTSD, though.

As South Georgia slipped away behind us, its spectacular and unexpected glories disappearing into the haze, we set out across the Scotia Sea towards Elephant Island, a journey of 722 nautical miles and two days. At the evening's briefing, we were warned for the first time on the journey that we were heading into 3-4 metre swells which would produce a “heaving motion” according to the Captain. I’m hoping that any heaving will be restricted to the waves.

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