Half Moon Island is a caldera in the strait between Greenwich Island and Livingstone to the south. When I went on anchor watch at 0600 the ship was shrouded in mist, icebergs just visible drifting past the bay. Snow was falling, bringing that characteristic hush. We made an early start, ashore by 0800 onto the steep stony beach. Europa was a mere sketch in the fog.
The island has several protected areas, places where chinstrap breed. They like the rocky heights and return home every season to moult and breed. Like all penguins, the colony has a preferred route to the sea, the ‘highway’ along which the commuters march in long lines. On Half Moon, the permitted route skirts one cliff height, clambers down the other side and over another beach, before climbing again to another beloved spot. Humans must stop to allow penguins crossing if they are on their way to fish.
Almost all the penguins here are chinstraps. We did see one lonely Macaroni sporting his yellow head feathers but he seems to have hidden away in every picture I captured. It is unusual to see them in Antarctica, rather than South Georgia, but this is one a couple which regularly visits at Half Moon. The fur seals were less shy, playing games with us as we trudged through the snow. At least one of our number had been unnerved by an assertive seal at Yankee Harbour and so our walk was punctuated by seals growling and humans crying ‘boo!’. I think the seals enjoyed it most.
Rotting whaling boats lay in the snow on the beach. Everywhere you go, you see such remains. At Yankee Harbour, for instance, there is an old seal trypot, the cauldron where they were boiled down for their blubber. In 1820, the sealers killed 300,000 animals at Yankee. That’s at one place, in one season; an indiscriminate slaughter heedless of the future. Despite their undeniable attractiveness in photos, these remains are an elegiac reminder of what was here just 200 years ago.
By 0940 the fog was lifting a little and we returned to Europa. This was one of the very few days it actually snowed while we were in Antarctica and by lunchtime it had stopped.
We set sail for Barnard’s Point on the south coast of Livingstone. Jordi was keen to land, not least because Europa has never made it. Sadly, 2016 was not to be the exception. When we got there, a strong swell was running and the wind had picked up to over 30 knots. The captain decided it was not a good place to anchor and we trimmed our course southwest, leaving the rocks and ice undisturbed.