Penguins and elephants

Yesterday, Tuesday, we visited Penguin Island – the one just south of King George Island back in the South Shetlands. There are several others, dating from the times when penguins were a handy food source for sailors, marked as a place to refill your hold with salted meat.

This one is a volcanic cone, rising steeply to a crater in the centre. Inside the main crater is a heap of volcanic particles with a dip in the top, a smaller crater looking for all the world like dark flour prepared for the egg yolk. Beside it a big granite tooth rises, one last piece of obdurate resistance. The volcano has not erupted for thousands of years.

Along the extensive apron of the shore line are some freshwater lakes, much loved by the bird life as drinking is easier than eating snow. Chinstrap penguins were still around, although (as elsewhere) the Adelie penguins have already fledged and returned to the seas. Most exciting were the giant petrels which nest there, swooping above their ridge like dragons.

At 0200 this morning we lifted anchor. After motoring awhile, the promised northwesterly appeared and we had a cracking, fast sail for several hours.

Now (1930) the engine is back on but Elephant Island is off our port side. I am not sure how the captain will handle the ambition to see Wild Point, where Shackleton’s crew waited four months for rescue; doubtless we will find out when the regular 2000 crew briefing comes along.

Last night the captain reinstated the sea watch system. The voyage crew has three watches (red, white and blue after the Dutch flag), and I am on white. Today we had the 0800 to 1400 stint, a relatively easy introduction back into the shifts but it was cold! The foredeck can be a hard place at times.

At one point my watch companion looked around and commented, ‘what a cold grey, miserable day. Just like the east coast of England’. Looking at the grey sea and foggy sky, feeling the drizzle on my cheeks, I was inclined to agree.Then an albatross swooped by and we remembered: we are sailing in Antarctica!

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