We woke up to a windy morning as we motored our way from the good anchorage at Grave Cove to the Southwest coast of Carcass Island.
Upon arrival to the sandy beach that stretches there called Leopard Beach, the gusts climb up to over 30kn. During breakfast, we look for shelter around the area while making the decision of trying to anchor and work the zodiacs in the water or sit and wait a bit for the strongest blasts to calm down a bit. And so, after eight in the morning, with the winds blowing on the 20’s instead of 30’s, Europa drops anchor and decides to give a try to this landing site.
Several of the beautiful Commerson’s dolphins had been following us for the last bit and they were still checking our hull when the zodiacs were dropped in the water. And what a new entertaining thing for them this was! As soon as they touched the water and the outboards are started, it represented a whole new world of amusement for those small and playful dolphins.
First, the guides attempt the landfall, finding it not as wet and difficult as they previously thought, so it’s a go for all the ones up to stretch a bit their legs this morning.
The curious island’s name derives from the HMS Carcass, a sloop that arrived here in 1766 together with the frigate HMS Jason and the store ship HMS Experiment with the goal to explore the area and establish the first British settlement at the nearby Port Egmont. The HMS Carcass had also the mission to survey the waters around the island that nowadays bears her name.
The site is one of the few that has been always free of rats and cats, allowing the rich birdlife to thrive. Gentoo and Magellanic penguins welcome us ashore together with the inquisitive Blackish cinclodes. Both Magellanic and Black Oystercatchers, heaps of Upland geese, together with a few Ruddy headed, wandered the meadows above Leopard Beach. A bit further away healthy tussock grass flat areas are home to many small birds, including the endemic Falkland sniper, Finches, Siskins, Austral thrush, and Wrens, good indicators of the healthy rat-free character of the island.
The morning little hike, under small showers and windy conditions, brought us along the beach and across the peninsula that opens to the main embayment of the island, today exposed to the westerly gusts. In the background, the settlement is a handful of kilometers away and now is the home for Rob and Lorraine McGill, who have lived here for over 30 years. The first settlers though came all the way back in 1872.
Soon it was time to return on board as the Westerly wind turned to a more Southwesterly, making for a little more adventurous embarkation in the rubber boats and a wet ride back on board.
The next anchorage and landfall for the afternoon were to be on the neighbor Saunders Island, about 10nm away. Saunders is the second largest island in The Falklands and is named after the 18th-century British Admiral Sir Charles Saunders, who sailed around the world with Lord Anson in 1740. After this voyage, they recommended the establishment of a settlement here, and that’s how the first Falkland’s capital, Port Edgemont started.
The large island’s Northwest tip is crowned by the high hills of Mt. Harston, over 1420 feet in altitude, and is almost separated from the rest of the island by the narrow known as The Neck, just the place where we were heading.
The strong wind wasn’t abating and as I made my way towards the southern coasts of The Neck, a quick radio call with the locals David and Suzan made clear that we would have to go around the northwestern peninsula of the island to try to land at the northern shores of The Neck. An hour and a half later Europa was dropping anchor there and the zodiacs were readied.
A quick look from the ship revealed quite a lot of surge at the flat beach, promising an interesting landing for all. And so it was, guides and crew in dry suits helped the boats for a safe approach ashore stern to the coast. Once we set foot the locals welcome us. They had set up a mobile “shop” in the back of one of their landrovers, so after a bit of shopping and a chat with them we took off for our afternoon walk.
They care for their 5000 heads of sheep and combine farming with environmental projects, working together with the Falkland Conservation. Due to the dry weather that the region is experiencing, their next plans are to lower the number of heads to almost just 10% of what they usually have.
The wind sweeping the sandy landscape sees numerous small Gentoo colonies amongst the low hills. At the southern shores of the area stands an old trypot abandoned on the beach. These are always fascinating but serve as a stark reminder of the sealing days that greatly depleted the pinniped and penguin colonies in this area and almost elsewhere in the world.
Following the well-delimited visitor area soon we come across one of the island’s highlights. Though not so numerous here, King penguins can be seen in several places, and The Neck has been home to a small group of them for many years, and today they didn’t disappoint.
First, a group of adults in their breeding spots catch our attention straight away. But not so far from them and right at the beach, more of them can be seen. Passing by a Minke whale skeleton that has been reconstructed and lays here from many years ago, accompanied now by a dolphin one, soon we reach the penguin group. The brown, fat, and “Fluffy” chicks are there together with some of the adults. King penguins are always a real treat on a trip like ours.
A walk along the high part of the scenic beach brought us back to the landing site, where the swell and wind still looked the same as they were before, making again for a rough embarkation.
Right next to us, a group of the endemic from the Southern Patagonia area Dolphin gulls stands on the sand, flying over them a couple of Brown-hooded gulls wave us farewell together with the local Pole-Evans family.