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West Point Island & Grave Cove

Sunshine and good weather welcome us to West Point Island in the morning and Grave Cove in the afternoon, before the meteorological conditions turn.

Starting in the early hours of the day from New Island, the morning finds us steering in the relatively strong winds through narrow and tidal dependent passages to drop anchor at Hope Harbour. Once there and thanks to the good shelter offered by the small bay, the seas are flat and the wind calms down. These conditions plus the blue skies anticipate a great day of landings and excursions.

Right in front of the ship, we could see the little settlement owned by the Napier family since 1959. But due to their advanced age, they leased the island and the farm to a new couple that now takes care of the place, balancing farming and nature conservation.
They both greeted us ashore before we all started our way, an easy 2 km walk over grazed grassy slopes. In the end, crossing to the Eastern coast of the island a spectacular cliff with the appealing name of “Devil’s Nose” is crowned by a large Black-browed albatross colony mixed up, as it usually happens here, with a Rockhopper penguin rookery.

Avian flu dangers make for extra biosecurity measures in many of the landing sites privately owned, before stepping into the proximity of the birds. There, wooden and metal poles make a basic fence marking the maximum approach distance we can have to their nests, and indeed it was surprisingly close to them where we could all stand in silence and enjoy the doings of the abundant birdlife. They nest in the clearings amongst the high tussock grass, now sitting on their eggs and having their own private quarrels for the available space.

A short extension of the walk brought us to the edge of the yellow lichen-covered rocks of another scenic viewpoint of Devil’s Nose.
Several of the beautiful Black-browed albatrosses perch their nests here, while below our feet ferocious swell crashed against the rocks. The scene is astounding, and the good weather helps all of us to greatly enjoy this spot, which is home to over 2000 pairs of Black-browed albatrosses plus about 500 couples of Rockhopper penguins.

Time flew away fast and soon we realized it was time to make the way back to the settlement jetty to be picked up and get back on board.

Lying just barely a couple of miles away is Grave Cove, where we are heading during lunch for a planned afternoon activity ashore.

Now we land on the main West Island. So far we have been setting foot over smaller islets and islands. All of them put together in the whole archipelago count over 700. 15km away from the disembarkation beach is the farm of the landowners. They man the area putting lots of effort into Nature Conservation but combining it with a rational use of the land, where 3500 sheep graze. Marie and her family, French by birth but now considered basically locals, live here and work in the area. She and her son welcomed us and walked around the whole area with us during the time spent ashore. Starting from the so-called Grave Cove (denomination derived from the 13 sealers buried here during a sealing era in the 18-hundreds) an easy stroll along pastures spotted by Upland geese, some Ruddy-headed, Crested ducks, and Spectacled teals, brings us to the largest Gentoo penguin rookery in the islands counting about 5000 pairs. They stretch over a large area in small groups. Luckily we just came here when the eggs just started to hatch. Some still incubate their eggs, others are proud parents of one or two chicks.

Skuas and Caracaras know it too and patrol the area tirelessly in search of either.

A bit further a wonderful long sand beach is located. The gate for the penguins to get into the sea or come back home. Many are busy there jumping in and out of the breaking swells of the turquoise waters.

And is not just them enjoying this beach, they share it with numerous Commerson’s dolphins that swim around amused as well by the good surfing conditions.

After yet another great afternoon ashore, it was time to get back on board. Before our evening meal, the locals that have embarked with us, presented an interesting and informative talk about the Islands and how it is to live and work the land here.

Out on deck, we could feel the wind picking up, scattered showers passing by and the clouds rolling over the mountains. In the bridge the barometer drops. Sure tomorrow will not be sunny and flat calm like the weather we had so far for the last couple of days.

Anyway, there’s a plan to try to accomplish and despite the forecasted strong winds we will try to get to Carcass Island to attempt there a morning landing.

Written by:
Jordi Plana Morales | Expedition Leader

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