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Cruising Ocean Harbour and St. Andrews Bay

Departure from South Georgia towards Antarctica

South Georgia is a quite serious playground. Famous for its moody weather, sometimes calm, often raging with forceful winds and big swells. Not many of its bays offer a proper anchorage where to brave the storms. 

To plan activities is to play a strategy game where we move around always checking and changing schedules and activities depending on wind directions and the physical characteristics of the coast. Where the blows will strike harder, where they will funnel through mountain saddles, where they will shoot down the many glaciers that cover the island. 

Anchor or drift? Weather window long enough to get off the ship and run the zodiacs or for a long landing?

Today the weather helped us on the plans laid out a couple of days ago. Also, it tells us about the good chance we have to leave South Georgia in the evening and sail the fair winds to clear up the island and head towards Antarctica.

The windy night and deteriorating weather as the day passed yesterday had become a sunny bright morning at the sheltered bay of Ocean Harbour. There the anchor gets down just clear of the large Giant kelp forest that fills up the cove.

Along the large sandy beach in front of us, Fur and Elephant seals thrive and scattered small remains of an old whaling station lay ashore.

Ocean Harbour was home too for a quite large scale sealing operation before the whaling era, a solitary Tripod where their blubber was rendered into oil lay at the intertidal zone as a witness of those times. 

Near the Eastern shores of the bay, a significant feature of the harbor can be found. The silent and slowly deteriorating hull of a majestic bark, the Bayard wreck. 

On the 6th of June of the year 1911, this ship that was used as a coal storage for the whaling station, broke her moorings in a storm and drifted across the bay until she ran aground on the rocks next to the beach. 

Many efforts were made to save her, but she could never be re-floated again. Since then, her iron-rusted hull lays here listing to port.

The very same year, the Europa was launched. A place with a sort of connection between those two beautiful barks. One reached her end, the other started her long career that started lighting the way in the river Elbe to become the Ocean Wanderer that she is considered nowadays.

A landing at Ocean Harbour is not permitted this season. But an enjoyable cruise is also worth in this picturesque bay.

Zodiacs first check the Bayard shipwreck dealing with the kelp that surrounds her. Tussock grass covers her decks and Shags nest aboard. Then we drive along the beach where fur seals build their harems, females give birth and big males fight. Elephant seals lay down more quietly moulting their fur. 

In the background, some rusty remains left behind from the whaling station. The bulk of the station that operated here was moved to Stromness when in 1920 the company owing them decided to merge both facilities. 

Ocean Harbour counted by then with modern equipment, being one of the pioneers in applying the regulations in favor of using the whole of the catch to extract oil, not just the blubber.

While cruising around, a look at the sky we can see just some high thin clouds entangling in the clear skies, Cirrostratus that create a halo around the sun, indicating the presence of hexagonal tiny ice crystals in the atmosphere that diffract the light in that way. Forecasting a change in the good weather we enjoyed this morning.

Back on board, the anchor is pulled up and we move to our next and last destination on the island, St. Andrews Bay.

This large open stretch of swell-battered sandy beach is home to the largest King penguin rookery on the island.

Mount King, Vogel Peak, Smoky Wall, and Mount Patterson (all part of the large Allardyce mountain Range) give context to the scenery. The large Buxton and Cook glaciers frame a large outwash flat, broken here and there by the mounds of their old moraines. The whole of it is teeming with wildlife. The penguin colony counts about 200,000 pairs and their chicks.

The site is closed to walk on it, but a zodiac cruise gives a really good idea of the dimensions of the colony, plus the hundreds of Fur and Elephant seals that breed and moult in the area. 

On top of it, there’s always the excitement of cruising along a beach that is constantly hit by swell and surge. Waves breakers that penguins seem to enjoy on their travels back and forth between land and sea. A quite overwhelming and unique experience before embarking on a ship that has been readied to sail again.

The last rides back to the ship are done in increasing winds and rising sea conditions, as a band of low menacing clouds approaches over the seas behind us. Above our heads, shaped like a saucer, lenticular clouds form in the high atmosphere indicating strong winds and moist air that rose over turbulences created by uplifting air along the high mountains of the island.

The window of opportunity to visit St. Andrews and the areas around was closing up. Sun halo, lenticulars, and a frontal passage loaded with low clouds sweeping the waters from the north, talk about a weather change and the possibilities of wind and precipitation.

Stepping back on board we find a deck with safety lines and nets rigged, aloft the Topsails are unfurled, in the bowsprit fore Top Man Staysail and Inner jib are prepared to be set.

And so, under a wind starting to blow shifting between a Northerly and a Northwesterly, the anchor is heaved and Europa does the maneuver to get off the hook and head towards the sea all under sail, under the attentive look and direction of our experienced Mate. Not much later we found ourselves sailing again on a strong NNW-ly up to 30kn, which at dinner time increases further to the 40s kn, as we make good use of it doing about 8kn on an East-southeast course.

Behind we gradually leave the fascinating South Georgia. Its mountain peaks and glaciers fade away in the dimming light of the evening. Icebergs loom here and there on our course to the next phase of our trip, the treacherous waters of the Scotia Sea and the rocky and icy Antarctic coasts.

We look behind waving goodbye to the island, wishing her a quick recovery from the HPAI illness that so greatly is affecting its unique habitats and wildlife.

Now we are ready for the new adventures to come at sea.

Geschreven door:
Jordi Plana Morales | Expedition Leader

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