Sunday, January 24, 2016

Salisbury Plain - South Georgia Island and home

January 8 – Salisbury Plain and Albatross Island

At dawn we reached our destination, which was barely visible in the mist, rain and fog. The swell was significant, and the wind was gusting to 40 knots. The Captain looked for a lee, and for a while it did not look good. Then the wind lessened and the Seabourn Quest moved closer to the Salisbury Plain and the immense King Penguin rookery, with 750,000 breeding pairs spread out over the hillsides and level ground between two glaciers. The penguins shared the beach with southern fur seals, elephant seals and opportunistic Great Petrels, Skua's, Kelp Gulls and even some Terns. Even from the ship we could hear the cries of the King Penguins, sounding like wind moaning in the rigging of a ship. The surf was too high for a safe landing, so we cruised along the shore just outside the surf line. The rain and wind made the experience cold, but visually exciting, even though photos were difficult and poor quality in the flat light and rain

Patrick headed out on the final zodiac tour

Cruising along the beach in front of the rookery

The rookery stretches for more than 1 mile

And to the top of the hills
The abundance of life also meant that we saw death and feeding as the birds and seals did what they needed to do to survive.  By 1130 all groups had had a chance to do a zodiac tour and the Seabourn Quest headed for Montevideo. The weather for at least the first 24 hours is for 4 meter seas on the beam with winds to 30 knots.

Marching into the sea
Seeming to like doing it as a group

King Penguins swimming

Petrel feasting on a fur seal pup

And arguing over a King Penguin

As we departed in the rain and wind, Miriam and I stopped for lunch at the Patio Grill, all wrapped up in blankets and the 34 degree wind whipped around the diehards like us who like the menu, the staff and the ambiance of sitting outside watching the swells pass by the ship and the water sloshing out of the pool.  The Thomas Keller burgers were good, as usual, along with a hot Gluvein wine and a warm rice pudding.

Returning to our stateroom, we both laid down for a nap and woke up barely in time to attend the final recap briefing from the expedition team before going to the Colonnade for a Tuscan buffet, joining Eva and Dave Schoonmaker.  While there we saw what will probably be our last tabular iceberg of the trip, in the distance, but nearly 5 miles long.

The Seabourn Quest continues to rock and roll as we head into a weather system with winds predicted to increase for at least 24 hours as low pressure systems sweep eastward from the Pacific Ocean through the Drake Passage and into the Atlantic. The sun is setting and we can see squall lines on the horizon as the seas continue to build from the west, rolling towards us relentlessly.  At least we no longer have blackout conditions and can leave the stateroom drapes open.

We have finished Antarctica, and it will take some time to digest what we saw. The Chilean fjords seem like a dream from the past, and we will never look at SE Alaska in quite the same way.

January 9 – At Sea

During the night we continued on a direct course for Montevideo.  The wind and seas continued unabated from the west, putting them nearly on the beam. Even a ship the size of ours, even stabilized, rocked, rolled and slammed through the the night. Morning brought partly cloudy skies and swells greater than 5 meters right on the beam.

January 10 – At Sea

Another day of heavy seas, winds and general discomfort as we slogged NW towards Montevideo. Today was the crew epicurean event on the Patio, with foods and drinks from a number of nations. We ended up eating dinner at the Patio Grill rather than changing into “elegant casual” attire. Patrick attended some of the final lectures of the cruise.

January 11 - At Sea

The weather is finally improving, with calm seas and lower winds. Packing for the trip home started. Lunch at the patio grill, a session in the bow whirlpool and the crew farewell with the last formal dinner capped off the evening. We also got a bridge tour.

January 12 – Montevideo

As the sun rose, the Seabourn Quest pulled into the breakwater protecting the harbor. Outside the breakwater was a mass of abandoned and sinking fishing vessels. The ship docked at the commercial port, just a few slips from the Zaandam, which we had last seen cruising in Antarctica several weeks ago.

Our shore excursion started with a bus tour of the city, with several photo stops. We then went slightly out of the city to the Bouza Winery for a tour, tasting and lunch, which turned into a fiasco, with slow service, not enough food and general lack of ability to handle the number of guests. Returning to the ship we gathered for final drinks and chats with our cruising friends of the last 24 days before returning to the suite to finalize packing and leave the bags outside the door.

January 13 – Buenos Aires

Due to a small cruise terminal and several ships, we left the Seabourn Quest at 0745.  We were greeted by the Captain and staff as we left, very moving.

After some minor confusion outside the terminal getting into our private van to the hotel, we entered the lobby of the Park Hyatt about 0830 and then had to wait until 1000 for a room, as there were an equal number of guests checking out to get on the ship for the next voyage. Relaxing on the terrace over coffee we phoned Carlos Ormachea and arranged to meet for dinner. The rest of the day was spent walking in the Recoleta area of the city, visiting the impressive cemetery, churches and then lunch at a German themed restaurant.

Meeting Carlos at 2000, we headed to an Argentine beef restaurant just a few blocks from the hotel and gorged on three different kinds of beef while catching up on 29 years. Returning to the hotel, we sat on the terrace and sipped single malt whiskey and coffee before calling it a night at 1230 am.

Sloan Fellow Classmate Carlos Ormachea with Miriam & Patrick

January 14, Buenos Aires

After a leisurely breakfast on the terrace of the Duhua Palace (Park Hyatt), we headed to the Estancia Santa Susanna for a day with the Gauchos and another beef extravaganza. Returning to the hotel we found the “Sorrento” Mediterranean Bistro for a light seafood dinner before a nightcap on the terrace of the hotel.

January 15 – Buenos Aires to Dallas

After another lazy morning, a brief tour of the area, we had lunch at a local sandwich shop and then to the airport. The check-in process was slow, but we got to the lounge, found a power outlet that worked and then boarded our American Airlines flight to Dallas.  The 777, while old, was adequate and the crew provided a loaner charger for our iPads. The service was great!

January 16 – Dallas to Vancouver

Our flight landed just as US Customs was opening at 0500.  We did not have to claim our bags; they were transferred directly to the Vancouver flight.  Finding a lounge close to our gate, we were able to use the showers and relax until our flight was called at 0900.  The flight was on-time and uneventful, as was the customs and immigration procedures in Vancouver.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Grytviken South Georgia Island - Part 2 - The Whaling Station

The whaling station has been closed for 50 years, and is rusting away, except for the museum, church, graveyard and the British Antarctic Survey station on King Edward Point.  Nonetheless, a rich photo opportunity.  We did not know it, but due to weather, this was our last day ashore south of the Antarctic Convergence Zone.

Shipwrecks on the terminal moraine

The rugged coast at the entrance to Grytviken
The graveyard is well maintained,

Many of the buildings have been torn down due to asbestos contamination, but many of the skeleton structures remain.  The remains of various boats and ships are rusting or rotting away.

Part of the pile of chains used to haul the whale carcasses ashore

Boiler tubes to render the blubber into oil

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Storage for the whale oil

The Lutheran Church and Museum.

A few whaling ships remain

Grytviken - South Georgia Island - Part 1

Part 1 - The Wildlife

January 7 – Grytviken – South Georgia Island

Shortly after dawn the Seabourn Quest approached Grytviken.  The terminal moraines of several glaciers were littered with the wrecks of vessels, looking like large rocks on the barely visible shallows. 

Seabourn Quest anchored near King Edward Point, the site of part of the British Antarctic Survey and the former whaling processing station of Grytviken. The station was in active operation until December 1966.  The brisk winds caused the kayaking tours to be cancelled, but the zodiac trips ashore went as scheduled.

The weather was variable, with everything from sun to rain and then some snow,  We visited Shakleton’s gravesite, toured the whaling station, church, museum, post office and walked among the fur and elephant seals while watching the King Penguins wander around.  

Grytviken was a rich photo environment, with the rust tones, the seals, penguins and green tussock grass.  Some of the station has been torn down because of asbestos contamination. Several old whaling vessels are rusting away on the shoreline and will probable be gone in a few years as they collapse into rust.

The first post is some of the wildlife we saw in Grytviken.

Approaching Grytviken from the sea

Miriam with King Penguins

The King Penguins keep cool by standing in water

Sharing the tussock grass with seals

Or just wandering around alone

The King Penguins seem somber

And waiting for their ship to comein.

Totally unconcerned by our presence

The fur seals generally ignored us

But showed teeth every once in a while

The tussock grass makes a good pillow

But apparently ditches work just as well

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The sea lions were having mock battles in the shallows

But for the pups, sleeping on the beach was just fine

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The old machinery makes a great playground

The old ships make a great backdrop

Some of the scientists came on board for lectures about their research and life at Grytviken.  Many of them joined us for dinner, which was apparently better than their standard fare at the station, since they only get fresh supplies every six weeks or so.  They consider themselves fortunate, since their compatriots on the Antarctic continent only get supplied once a year.