South Georgia. We started dealing with the island’s infamous weather but pulled up a zodiac cruise at Right Whale Bay and later on a landing at Rosita Harbour.
Late last night Europa arrived at the stunning Right Whale Bay, in the northwest area of the island. But it was not until we woke up when in the daylight the site revealed its rough beauty.
Wide open valleys tucked amongst high alpine scenery, large sandy beaches, the lower slopes covered in a green carpet of tussock grass, and an unbelievable amount of wildlife everywhere we look. The unstable weather and gusting winds, integral parts of those remote lands, collaborate also to give an unforgettable first sight of South Georgia.
Sure a similar landscape to the one that almost 250 years ago saw Captain Cook when he brought his ship Resolution to chart the island. Finding cold waters, stormy seas, large swells, wind rainy weather, and treacherous conditions His comments about South Georgia are of the following sort: “exceeding the wretchedness both of Tierra del Fuego and Staten Island, which places till I saw this I thought might vie with any of the works of providence”.
A unique place in the Antarctic system, dramatic and spectacular. A scene worth enjoying from the ship’s decks, but in a break from the strong winds, why not launch the zodiacs and cruise along the crowded beach?
Right Whale Bay is one of the many sites closed to landings this season due to the Avian flu, but the views from the boats as they drive and drift along the beach are a good match with a landfall.
The ever-present Fur seals literally fill all the available space at the shoreline. Solitary large males take the first line about the breaking are off then swell; they have lost bloody battles with other males or wait for their chance with the many females that just arrived to give birth.
On the second line up the beach are the lucky and strongest males who are building their harems. Little newborns are also elsewhere in between them. Up the higher slopes and at a larger distance from the shore lay tired males, resting and recovering from fights and gaining strength to seek another opportunity to join the chaotic beach and wrestle their way to the females.
Mingled with them, countless King Penguins walk around or swim in the swell back and forth their main rookery that climbs up the tussock grass slopes. Numerous Elephant seals pile here and there amidst the rest. Over our heads and in the water, Northern and Southern giant petrels, skuas, and Kelp gulls patrol the bay in search of dead animals, remains of births, or anything they can find.
Starting under clearing skies and calm conditions, the cruises ended up in rain, sleet, and rising winds. We just got the best out of the relatively good meteorology for the day before the conditions turn around. Not a great surprise but nevertheless a good introduction to the weather in South Georgia, where these radical changes are frequent.
Europa soon moves towards Rosita Harbour, right at the northwest entrance of the more open Bay of Isles, where we have a good chance for an afternoon walk ashore. Furthermore, the bay offers a relatively good anchorage for the ship, and having a look at the forecast for the upcoming weather, we really need a place like that to spend the night and probably tomorrow as well. Prevision of steady westerly 40kn along South Georgia coasts can easily translate into much stronger gusts.
But this afternoon Rosita welcomed us with easing winds and calmer seas, giving us a chance to go ashore. If the island gives you an opportunity, you better take it straight away. And so we did. Soon we discover that all along the stretch of the beach Fur seals thrive in great numbers. The place is crowded, but wait a second, what about this corner over there? there’s a wide enough gap to actually set foot ashore and walk around.
There the zodiacs disembark us, surrounded by aggressive males that want to hold their ground, and a bit further away the calmer harems. As usual, the bachelors guard the shoreline expectant for more females to come. Others want to enlarge their harems. They all want to mate. Afterwards, they will swim to Antarctica leaving the mothers behind to take care of their pups for 3 to 4 months. Now they are all in an astonishing display along the beach.
Once we dealt our sinuous way around them, the steep terrain up the hills and mountains gave us the pleasure of a bit of a hike after the last week sailing the ship from the Falkland Islands. Low clouds veil the high alpine landscape, but down the valleys to the sea, the visibility is good enough to give us a good idea of the island’s landscapes from vantage points inland.
Walking on a route that brought us to follow valleys and ending up on the even more crowded neighboring beach, we reach the landing site just in time to return on board for dinner, and again not much later the wind blows funneling along the mountain saddles and valleys to the sea. So far the anchor holds, but numbers in the anemometer rising to the range of the 30kn and indicating stronger gusts make us sure that later on, in the forecasted increasing blasts, Europa will sure have to drift and face the storm out of the relatively confined Rosita, in the waters of the wide Bay of Isles.