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Tag Archives: Cape Petrel
Winds of yesterday
We are now making for Cape Horn, a name synonymous with mighty pounding ocean hungry for the lives of unwary sailors. Thousands of mariners have lost their lives to the cold waters of the horn as the struggled to skirt the craggy finger of the South American continent and make passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. Today, however, we are gliding upon a silken sea with a lazy breeze that lacks the strength to raise foam from peaks of the gentle swell rolling in from the west. The birds have adopted the languor of their wind gods and sullenly flap about the boat or sit on the surface of the water as if reminiscing about stormy seas and the embrace of mightier winds within their outstretched wings.
The Horn should be in sight by lunch and we will peer towards the rocky outcrop that has marked so much maritime misery and read the inscription that is dedicated to lost sailors:
I am the Albatross that waits for you,
At the end of the Earth.
I am the forgotten soul of the deceased sailor,
Who crossed Cape Horn,
From all the seas of the world.
But they did not die in the furious waves.
Today they fly in my wings to eternity,
In the last trough of the Antarctic winds.
Sara Vial (Translated from the original Spanish)
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The birds that make the wind blow (R.C. Murphy)
We are now half way across the Drake Passage with our bow pointed towards the Lemaire Channel which is much further south than we normally aim for the start of a trip. Very much looking forward to getting in amongst the serious ice right at the beginning of the trip!
But right now we are gently rolling in languid seas with an escort of albatross soaring around the ship. Wandering albatross with their wingspan of over three meters surround us and display their plumage like badges of rank denoting their age. Some birds still present the dark cap and brown plumage of juveniles, some have discarded the brown feather but retain the collar that proclaims them as sub-adults, some hold the black and white plumage of breeding adults and a few proudly display the broad expanse of white wings that marks them as mature adults approaching the full 50 years of their lifespan. Amidst these colossal ocean wanderers are a host of other albatross including black browed, grey headed and light mantled sooty albatross, as well as smaller ocean birds like the Wilson’s storm petrel, cape petrel, Antarctic prion and the slender billed prion.
It’s a vast ocean but it is hard to feel lonely when surrounded by such splendid companions.
Contrasts and Carnage
Today we spent the day in the Antarctic Sound with a spectacular sunrise heralding a clear morning that seemed to erase the memory of the furious winds we were battling yesterday. The crisp brown rocks of Brown Bluff stood starkly on a field of white snow and glaciers and beckoned us to touch ground again finally after three days at sea with wind and waves preventing us from reaching any landings.
Once onshore, we were greeted by hordes of Adelie penguins with a good number of Gentoo penguins thrown in for good measure. After walking around the colony for a few minutes we were greeted with the sight of the first chicks of the season. Of course everyone love the cute chicks peeking out from the nests and receiving their regular dose of regurgitated krill from their parents …but even more exciting is the fact that we were seeing the next generation of leopard seal food!
Prowling around the beach were at least three leopard seals waiting for the chance to pounce on an unwary penguin. One study has shown that just two leopard seals can consume as many as 15.000 penguins over a 15 month period! At Brown bluff we saw these statistics heading toward fruition with at least two separate penguin kills observed – watching a seal thrashing a penguin on the surface to remove the delicate flesh from the unpalatable skin and feathers is not everyone’s cup of tea but it is certainly thrilling to watch the drama of life in Antarctica play out to the ultimate (and bloody) end. Even more surprising was the chance to watch a full grown leopard seal devour a young weddell seal that was about half the length of the predator. More carnage again but the feast was attended by clouds of cape petrels and Wilson’s storm petrels picking up the scraps – the ecological system here is all interconnected and while one feels compelled to barrack for the underdog, the penguins are certainly a serious part of the life cycle of all the other animals that make up the system.
A glorious morning onshore was followed by raising winds and swell that drove us out of any further landings, but after several hours on shore watching nature in its most raw form there were no complaints from anyone. It’s a land of contrasts and occasional carnage but one thing is certain – Antarctica never fails to deliver excitement!
Towards the ice
This morning I awoke early to feel the swell of the Drake Passage tossing my body around the bed and various loose items around my cabin. I must be on my way to Antarctica!
After a quick tidy up of my various scattered belongings however, I took the time to take in the splendour of being on the southern seas – rolling waves crested by white caps, wind-whipped foam lining the deep blue water … and of course the birds. While sailing all summer up the Norwegian coast in our own little yacht accompanied by northern fulmars, puffins, guillemots, gannets, razorbills and various gulls it’s easy to forget just how numerous the sea birds of the Southern Ocean are.
In Norwegian waters there is generally one or two birds in sight of the ship … Strolling on the pitching deck this morning I was greeted by clouds of seabirds trailing after the ship like a wheeling cloud of moths over a flame. Wandering albatross, giant petrels, pintados, storm petrels, southern fulmars, black-browed albatross and more all formed a soaring entourage to herald our passage towards the southern continent. In an ocean that stretched around the globe it’s hard to feel alone.
Bits and birds
Another Drake passage with a long swell setting the boat to a slow swinging roll. The wind is quite and the birds are drifting long behind the boat as if drawn to this small speck of steel adrift in the endless ocean. We have Royal and Wandering albatross that ghost in occasionally to inspect and a cloud of black browed albatross, giant petrels and cape petrels that seem loath to stray far from our wake. We also spotted a spectacled porpoise today which is a rare sight in the Southern Ocean (I say “we” because I missed it ..damn). Otherwise it is plain sailing with Antarctica at the bow… hoping to reach land by tomorrow afternoon!
Monday 22 November
Another sea day, but today the ship pushed over the Antarctic convergence and entered the waters of Antarctica. It is a phenomenal change with the temperature dropping from 7 degree to 1 degree in a matter of 5 miles and a sudden shift in birdlife. This morning I spent an hour on the back deck watching the albatross wheel in my wake. This afternoon there are no albatross in sight and we areinstead surrounded by cape petrels and small prions that are buzzing around the boat and dipping between the crests of the wave. A lovely part of the ocean but I’m constantly scanning the horizon for our first iceberg and the rocks of Antarctcia … it is still a long wait.
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