Day 14: St. Andrew’s Bay & Grytviken
January 10th, 2015
“If you were to take a giant carving-knife, slice along beneath one of the highest mountain
ridges of Switzerland, just where the huge glaciers tumble into the valley below,
and then drop your slice of mountain, dripping with sugar-icing, into the sea, I think you would
get a fair idea of the place. For it is long and narrow, and everywhere the snow-covered
mountains rise straight from the water, reaching, near the center of the island, to a height of
over 9,000 feet. Seen from afar on an early spring day, South Georgia is
a breath-taking sight and one not easily forgotten.”
– Niall Rankin, 1946
Today we visited two of the most well known sites in South Georgia. The first was Saint Andrew’s Bay, where there are more than 250,000 breeding pairs of king penguins. When you add in the sub-adults and the crèches of chicks, it’s a very impressive sight. We spent quite some time sitting up on a hill above the colony, sitting in awe at the massive accumulation of birds, the natural patterns in their positions, and just taking in the immense amount of stimulation from the sights and sounds of more than half a million king penguins. It was hard to imagine that many penguins wanting to live around each other, but then when we considered the adult penguins easy getaway to the other side of the water, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. Or maybe we should not try to humanize king penguins… Either way, it was a crowded beach. In the afternoon, we headed to Grytviken, the location of an abandoned whaling station with a museum (and gift shop!), an old whaler’s church, and Ernest Shackleton’s gravesite. On January 5, 1922 Shackleton suffered a heart attack in the harbor at Grytviken and passed away, his body traveled all the way to Montevideo en route to England, before his wife gave instructions to have him buried in the south. We raised a glass of scotch at his grave (half for us, half for him) before having time to explore the whaling stations oil tanks and machinery. We wandered through the church, it’s library, the museum, and along the shoreline to look at the rusty ships before heading back to the ship for the night.
Days 15 & 16: At Sea – The Scotia Sea, and Approaching the Falkland Islands
January 11-12th, 2015
“… In the surge of the South Atlantic, some 250 miles east of the nearest point of Patagonia…
lie a group of islands…Storm-whipped, treeless and forbidding, they saw centuries go by,
waiting until some fine venture of spirit should bring them within human ken. Twice they were seen
as desolate coast looming out of the tempest, bringing dismay not comfort, to the storm-blinded seafarer;
seen and then lost. They were found again and named, and lost; refound and named – and that not
once or twice. Today the name of every bluff and reef and smallest channel of them –
though many names are changed or lost – writes out the island’s history.”
– Boyson (1924), The Falkland Islands
In an unexpected twist, we find ourselves headed toward the Falklands half a day sooner than anticipated… What this means for us? We’re not totally sure yet. So we’ll wait through the days at sea, anticipating our landing in Port Stanley!
Antarctica is not exactly a place that is known for its cuisine. Not like the spicy Sichuan Province or the flavorful tagines from Morocco. But while we were there we ate some fantastic food and couldn’t help but to compare our delicious meals with what the early explorers would have eaten on their adventures in the south. In the early 1900s, men in the Antarctic would have been cooking in extreme situations, eating seal blubber and penguin breasts in order to prevent scurvy (as the animals produce their own vitamin C), with no spices. None. Ick.
On many expeditions in the early 20th century, the standard form of cuisine was hoosh. Hoosh, a thick stew made from pemmican (a mix of dried meat, fat, and cereal) or other meat, a thickener such as ground biscuits, and water. Sounds appealing, right?
Today, it’s still difficult for the scientists in research stations to eat terribly well – they are at the very end of the Earth, after all. While we were visiting the museum at Port Lockroy, we were able to view the kitchen restored to what it would’ve been like in the 1950s and look at a book with recipes by Gerald T Cutland, a cook on the Argentine Islands in 1956-7, produced by the Antarctic Heritage Trust: Fit for an “FID”.
So we’ll start with some of the seal recipes. Today it is illegal to kill them, but in the 1950s they were still used for fresh meat in the Antarctic. Instructions were included on the choosing and the method of killing the seal, but we’ll get straight to the Roast Seal recipe, shall we?
Roast Seal Meat
Seal Brain Fritters
“An excellent breakfast dish”
2 Seal Brains (prepared)
4 Reconstituted Eggs
2 tablespoons Butter (melted)
Flour, Salt & Pepper, Mixed Herbs
The chapter on penguins was short; due to the fact that Gerald does “not like the stuff” and has “an awful feeling … that [he] is cooking little men who are just that little too curious and stupid.” The only part of the penguin that was used in recipes was the breast (thankfully). We weren’t too interested in a recipe for fried penguin feet.
Roulades of Penguin Breast
Penguin Breast, as required
2 tablespoons of Vinegar
Parsley or mixed herbs
1 cup reconstituted Onion
Rashers of Bacon
Beef Suet (the hard white fat on the kidneys and loin of the animal)
1 tablespoon Flour
Salt and Pepper to taste
Also included were a few sample dinner menus:
This is just a taste of what the scientists in the middle of the 20th century would’ve eaten, having been cooked by an experienced chef – now imagine 50 years in the past to how Shackleton’s men would’ve eaten hoosh while stranded on Elephant Island or 50 years in the future to how the scientists are eating today. Yuck. None of these choices are to our liking and we’ll stick to our delicious gourmet meals from Chef Lothar Grenier and dessert twice a day.
January 5-6th, 2015
“The storm increases, the sea runs high, the snow makes the air thick, we cannot see ten yards
before us, happily the wind is off shore. If a Captain, some Officers, and a Crew
were convicted of some heinous crimes, they ought to be sent by way of punishment
to these inhospitable cursed Regions, for to explore and survey them.
The very thought to live here a year fills the whole soul with horror and despair.
God! What miserable wretches must they must be, that live here in these terrible Climates.
Clarity lets me hope, that human nature was never thought so low by his Maker,
as to be doomed to lead or rather languish out so miserable a life.”
– Johann Reinhold Forster, naturalist on Captain Cooks Resolution in 1775 about South Georgia
Yesterday and today we’re at sea – which means many talks and nothing much to see except the rolling waves and the occasional albatross riding the wind outside the windows. We spent our time attending talks, writing, and going through pictures from our time in Antarctica while waiting for South Georgia to come into sight. The most exciting part of these two days was late tonight when we had to adjust our course to go around a 17-mile long iceberg. 17. Miles. It took us into some rougher waves that sent a laptop, some external hard drives, and a book or two flying across the room, but it wasn’t so bad as to require those bed straps we were warned told about.
Day 11: Gold Harbor & Cooper Bay
January 7th, 2015
“Beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.”
- Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
This morning we expected to wake up super early (3:15am) in order to make a sunrise landing at Gold Harbour, one of the prettiest harbours in South Georgia. That didn’t quite happen due to last night’s detour, and we arrived at Gold Harbour after sunrise. But that’s ok! We enjoyed a few extra hours of sleep and got to land 5 hours later. We found a mountain range with a glacier spilling out on one end of the beach and grassy tussocks on the other, which gave us a beautiful backdrop for the elephant seals (holy crap, they’re big), the fur seals (so cute and fuzzy), and the 25,000 nesting pairs of king penguins (not including the sub-adults and chicks) and provided a fascinating introduction to the stunning island of South Georgia. Walking around amidst the massive number of animals producing a loud cacophony of sounds was a totally new experience – in Antarctica, we had many many penguins squawking at us. Here, we were surrounded by battling elephant seals, ferocious and protective fur seals, fur seal pups squeaking for their mothers, and the noise of 75,000(guesstimate) king penguins. It was quite the experience for our ears. And our cameras. The hardest part about taking pictures at Gold Harbor is that you don’t know what to photograph, because there is so much happening at any given time. Quite the problem, we know. In the afternoon we took a zodiac tour around Cooper’s Bay where we saw our first colony of macaroni penguins and got to watch the fur seals playing in the kelp, before getting to climb up a large hill of tussock to see the macaroni colony from land. Trying to avoid the feisty seals and managing to walk through the strange bumps on the ground was a bit of a challenge – but a pretty interesting chance to get to see this colony that thrives on the rocky coast up close! The fur seal pups were probably our favorite things about getting to land though: they’re so curious and think that they’re as fierce as the adults, which makes for some pretty funny moments as they chase people (only when their back is turned), or when they run scared when you growl back at them. Today was a great first day on an island that we already had high expectations for. We’re definitely looking forward to the next few days exploring!
Day 8: Elephant Island
January 4th, 2015
“The deserted rookery was sure at all times to be above high-water mark, and we mounted the
rocky ledge to search for a place on which to pitch our tents. The disadvantages of a camp on
the rookery were obvious – the smell, to put it mildly was strong; but our choice of site was small…”
– Sir Ernest Shackleton, South (speaking of Point Wild on Elephant Island)
Some people thank lady luck, some say practice makes luck, others give karma credit and a few don’t realize good fortune when it smacks them in the face. Luckily for us, we believe in the first three. Whatever you choose to call it – this boat has it. We’ve been lucky for most of our trip so far, and today was no exception. Today was our last day in Antarctica and when we went to bed last night, we weren’t even sure if we’d be able to get the zodiacs to shore today due to the inclement weather that typically surrounds Elephant Island. We awoke this morning to the always cheerful voice of our expedition leader informing us that we had made good time in getting to Elephant Island and would be arriving at Cape Valentine in a little more than an hour – just enough time for us to fit in a short video about Frank Hurley and throw on some warm clothes to hopefully capture a shot of the location that the Endurance crew first landed at on film. As luck would have it, we had good enough weather and sea conditions that the crew launched a zodiac to check out the shore conditions for a potential landing. Our hopes still weren’t terribly high, despite the beautiful conditions – calm waters (considering the island is practically in the middle of nowhere) and a fairly clear sky, as we had been told by a naturalist on board that she had never landed on Elephant Island – and she’s been to Antarctica more than 20 times! Expecting to hear the announcement that we’d just be cruising in the zodiacs, we headed down to our cabin to get warm when the call came out that we would, in fact, be making a landing! 45 minutes later and the zodiacs were landing on the shore where Shackleton’s men had first stepped foot back on land, and to our delight there were Antarctic fur seals everywhere! It was a fairly short landing because the beach area was so small, and just as we were about to board the zodiacs back to the ship, we caught a glimpse of a skua in action – it had grabbed a chinstrap chick from it’s nest and it was lunchtime! We half watched and half cringed in a combination of morbid curiosity and horror before heading back to the ship and our own lunch. A short trip later and we were at Point Wild, where Shackleton’s men wintered over while Shackleton sought a rescue for his men. This time we would only go for a tour in the zodiacs – even guidebooks mention how unlikely landings are here, as even in perfect weather, there is very little space to stand between the rookeries. We cruised by a massive iceberg, kind of hoping that a calving would happen just so we could see it in person. It didn’t, so we approached the backside of the bust of Captain Luis Pardo commemorating the Yelcho’s rescue of Shackleton’s men and began to make our way around the point, when we heard a call over the radio: “there’s a leopard seal on the beach.” We turned around to head toward the leopard seal, and found it lounging on the beach just on the edge of the surf. This was especially exciting, as we hadn’t seen a leopard seal yet, and weren’t sure we would have the chance to. After getting our zodiac so close to shore we thought we’d land on the seal, we decided to continue on to the other side of the point, when we heard another radio call: “for anyone interested, we’ve been able to find a spot where zodiacs can make a brief landing here on Point Wild.” After a unanimous “yes” from all aboard our zodiac, we got to land on Point Wild! It was a moment of sheer joy for some of the naturalists on board, and made us realize just how lucky we were to be able to land on Elephant Island at both of the historically significant sites. A short while later, we were back on the NG Orion, ecstatic that our day had been so lucky when we got some more great news – the forecast says that the seas are looking relatively calm. 2 days at sea and 720 miles until we reach our next destination – South Georgia.