Sunday, February 12, 2023

Elephant Island and Scotia Sea

 Thursday, February 9, 2023 – Elephant Island


Seabourn Quest steamed at 17-19 knots northeasterly from the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula 115 NM to Elephant Island.  The skies cleared after several hours, but the wind was still brisk and the seas were still 2.5 meters.  At 1630 Elephant Island showed up about 15 NM in the distance.  As we approached the eastern tip of the island numerous Fin whales were spotted, along with flocks of seabirds including Cape Petrels and groups of penguins porpoising in and out of the swells.  The area is rich in Krill.

Our Route through the Antarctic Peninsula to Elephant Island


Map of Elephant Island with Point Wild on north side

Cape Petrels off of Cape Valentine

Shackleton Memorial at Point Wild

Fin Whales off of Cape Valentine

Point Wild, Elephant Island

We passed about 4 NM abeam of Cape Valentine, avoiding reefs.  This point was the first landfall for Shackleton’s group, but it was an unsafe area with no real shelter and rockfalls down the steep slopes.  Shackleton moved to the middle of the north side and and found an area in which they could build shelters.  Their shelters were the two other lifeboats, overturned and with canvas sidewalls.  By this time it was April and winter was approaching.  The third lifeboat, “James Caird” took off for South Georgia with a crew of six and after an amazing journey three of them turned up at the Stromness whaling station on May 20, 1916.  The James Caird was recovered along with the other three crew a few days later.  After four attempts, the survivors on Elephant Island were all recovered by Shackleton five months later.


The Seabourn Quest also rounded Cape Valentine and retraced Shackleton’s route, approaching Point Wild where Shackleton set up camp.  We approached to within ½ mile and were able to see the memorial cairn set up at the site of the camp.  Landing on the island is not permitted and the site is now also a penguin colony, which was not present 110 years ago.


During the voyage to Elephant Island, retracing Shackleton’s route, we were treated to a lecture by Robert Egelstaff, the lead kayak guide, who had been on Seabourn Venture with us this past summer.  His talk, “In The Wake of Shackleton” was about how he and three others built a replica 29 years ago of the “James Caird”, the 22 foot lifeboat from the Endurance, and recreated that famous voyage from Elephant Island to South Georgia.  They named the replica “Sir Ernest Shackleton”.


Robert and his teammates took the same amount of time, 14 days, and were able to take the same number of noon sextant sights (4) as Frank Worley, the Captain of Endurance, to determine their location.  Due to weather they were unable to land in King Haakon Bay, where Shackleton and his 5 companions landed, instead finding shelter on the NE side of South Georgia.  Their replica boat is on permanent display in the UK at the Scott Polar Museum in Cambridge.


As a matter of interest, last year the wreck of Endurance was found in the Weddell Sea, only 4 miles from Frank Worley’s estimated position relying only on celestial navigation and a chronometer that had not been adjusted for 18 months.  The wreck lies more than 10,000 feet deep and is in surprisingly good shape.


Seabourn Quest departed from Point Wild on Elephant Island at 1845 and headed out across the Scotia Sea, following the general track of Shackleton more than 800 NM to South Georgia.


February 10-11, 2023 – Transiting the Scotia Sea


Midday on Feb 10 Seabourn Quest passed through a large field of tabular bergs, giving us some spectacular views, even though it was a little hazy/foggy.  The morning was spent on bio-security inspections of all outerwear going ashore on South Georgia and a mandatory bio-security briefing in preparation for the inspections by health officers from South Georgia when we arrive at Grytviken on Feb 12.  The government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands are determined to preserve the area from an ecology standpoint.  Since were here last they have eradicated rats, removed the non-native reindeer and actively look for non-native plants and remove them.  They have also established a 200 NM Marine Protected Area around the islands, strictly controlling all activity, including illegal fishing.


Tabular Berg more than 1 mile wide

Internet connectivity remains very poor, with little communication from the crew on what the real problem is, since we are quite a bit further north and it should be better than on the Antarctic peninsula where coverage was surprisingly good.


We continued with lectures on Shackleton’s voyages, on the Global Ocean, and on several attempts to cross the white continent, Antarctica.


On Feb 11, we had lectures on “What happens to Whales when they die at sea”, descriptions of both the Amundsen and Scott races to the South Pole and their respective life histories, and on Elephant Seals, which we expect to see on South Georgia.






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