Tag Archives: Orca

On Tajine, travel, and the blasted blades

tajineAfter our grand entry in Essaouira (i.e. being stuck in the middle of the harbour and becoming the daily entertainment for residents and tourists alike) we soon left our embarrassment behind and met the locals on more congenial terms. While Sparrow befriended the numerous stray dogs, cats and camels on the beach (alright, she was more interested in their droppings) Pat and I were soon besieged by the vendors of the countless little stores lining the narrow alleys of the Medina. essaouira-houseI must admit, between all the bric-a-brac and the omnipresent sunburnt tourists we did feel a little bit forlorn, and where about to turn our backs to this too-busy harbour town, when the captain of the coastguard boat, our neighbour in the harbour, invited us to dinner at his place. After accepting the gracious offer we were delighted to find ourselves in an amazing traditional house with swallows winging through the open courtyard! We had a great time, a delicious dinner and as a bonus learned how to cook traditional Tajine, a great addition to our growing recipe book.

When the weather forecast predicted a few calm days we decided to head for an anchorage further south.  A local diver had confirmed that around Cape Tafelney we’d find some suitable sites for conducting some more reef life survey dives. However, once we slipped into water we soon discovered that not only was the visibility less than two meters, but we also failed to find any reef. Quite frustrated we paddled back to our boat and heaved our heavy equipment back on board.

While Pat was still in the dive gear he figured that he may as well check out the bottom of the yacht. We had been losing power under motor recently and thought there was a chance our propeller had caught one of the countless fishing nets encountered along the coast, but when Pat resurfaced from his inspection the news were much worse. For some incomprehensible reasons two of our three propeller blades had simply disappeared! Of course this does not only render the propeller close to ineffective, but also places a huge stress on the engine … alas, the first major breakdown since we left Iceland!

fossile-huntingTo get out of our gloomy mood we decided to take our dinghy for a visit ashore. The only route to land was via some big, breaking waves crashing upon the beach of a picturesque fishing village – and of course our tiny outboard was not strong enough to escape the swell! Before I knew what happened I was washed out of the dinghy and found myself flailing in the surf. Well, at least now we know that our dodgy Spanish life jacket inflates when you find yourself under water! Sparrow was likewise unimpressed by the sudden immersion, but fortunately the beach was close and soon all three of us scrambled ashore with the flooded boat in tow, earning a few funny looks from the locals. We later watched as they pulled their small fishing boats up at the same beach in a much more graceful manner … oh well.

To warm our soaked selves we went for a stroll up the hill. While I scrambled on all fours trying to follow Pat and Sparrow up the steep slopes I discovered that the whole terrain was covered in fossils. As Pat had always dreamed of discovering a dinosaur, we spent the next few hours turning every small rock upside down. Orca-swimming-awayAlthough dinosaurs were not amongst the fossilized fauna, we did find some small seashells, brachiopods and snail shells – finally some sea life despite our unsuccessful diving attempts!

After a couple of nights at this anchorage the weather turned windier. While standing on deck in the raising swell and contemplating our onward route with our broken propeller in mind, we were suddenly startled by a big blowing sound to starboard – then we could hardly believe our eyes when a big, lone male orca surfaced just meters from our boat! The closest encounter I ever had with this deadly hunter!

A very uncomfortable and bumpy night later we finally pulled up the anchor and set our sails to head further south again – next stop: Agadir.


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Summers End

The past few days in Antarctica have seen some dramatic changes. Just ten days ago we were basking in sunlight and calm days. Ever since land reared out from a turgid sea on this trip we have been accosted by strong winds, steel grey skies and a constant mix of drizzle and sleet. The penguin colonies and mires of mud and guano with only a hand full of penguins standing miserably in a pile of feather as they shed the bedraggled growth of the last year in preparation for the comming winter. The gloomy conditions are relieved by huge numbers of humpback whales congregating to mop up the last of the summers krill, and also by the fat looking leopard seals and orcas rilled to bursting on the easy snacks made from young penguins taking to the water for the first time. With season turning all around us we are also fleeing the approaching winter also and we are now bound for the North with only two more days before we leave the frozen continent to it’s seasons slumber. There are still many exciting excersions ahead but there is definitely a feeling of farewell upon us at present.

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Paradise Harbor

Today we had a glorious day in Antarctica with blue skies and white ice cradled in a mirror like sea that reflected  the peaks surrounding Paradise Harbor. The bay was filled with sea ice and I spent hours weaving in and out of the dense ice flows and circling the chunks of ice to view the lounging leopard seals that seemed to be parked on every second flat piece of ice. The glacier in Skontorp Cove was shedding ice regularly in spectacular crashes that sent chunks of ice the size of houses rolling into the calm seas and breaking the mirrored surface in rolling waves that spread out to us just in time to awake us from the awed stupor that witnessing the birth of bergs imparts. The highlight of the day though, was certainly a pod of Orca that slipped through the still waters of the Errera Channel and casually inspected the zodiac before swimming beneath and disappearing with the sure certainty that we were not food. Another fantastic day!

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White Christmas

It has been a few days since I last wrote which has been packed with Christmas festivity, icy fun and wildlife frenzy. In the days before the holiday we were treated to the most spectacular Orca experience I have ever witnessed. We were watching a pod of six Orcas attack a Minke Whale when the whales were distracted by a passing chinstrap penguin … a morsel which was clearly too tasty to pass up not (not to mention easier to tackle than a whale!). We were then treated to a spectacular 30 minute show as the pod of Orcas proceeded to train the young calf in their midst how to persecute a penguin. The penguin, clearly somewhat disturbed by the sudden turn of fortune, rapidly made for our ship which was the closest approximation to shelter … what unfolded was a spectacular game of chase the penguin as the killers used team work to corral the bird between the adult members, but always with the calf in the middle of the throng to observe. While, they clipped the penguin several times, it really appeared that the intent was never to actually catch it, and indeed for the penguin lovers out there, you’ll be relieved to hear that ultimately the poor penguin escaped … short of breath but apparently none the worse for wear.

We spent Christmas day in the South Shetland Islands with much Christmas cheer, though it’s always a little hard being away from family and loved ones at these moments. The jagged mountains and precipitous ice cliffs take on a slightly sinister aspect at times and it is possible to feel truly isolated in this icy continent. But then again, the sun might suddenly find a gap in the clouds and an ominous grey landscape can be instantly transformed into the most uplifting and awe-inspiring setting on the planet. Throw in a few humpback whales, some seals lounging on the ice and penguins porpoising through the water … and the doubts are dispelled.

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Seal Attack

It’s been a busy couple of days in Antarctica with no time to blog! Yesterday we sailed away from the storm at Deception Island and into the sunshine and calm seas of the Antarctic Peninsula. Ice all around and seals lying like lumps of lard on every available space. Orcas were circling the seals and krill were swarming.

The ice stopped us from reaching our destination but provided the opportunity to cruise in some spectacular scenery … soon the zodiacs were launched and we were walking amidst the penguins and zipping in amongst the ice flows to see the seals. Crabeater seals yawned and blinked at the strange intrusion but the most excitement came from a lounging leopard seal I spotted. I pulled the zodiac up to the ice and watched with awe as the powerful beast examined the strange sight of a fully laden zodiac eyeballing it from a distance of five meters across the ice … and then decided to take a closer look.

In fact, the beast charged across until it was a mere meter away before the ice gave way and deposited the animal (in a rather ungraceful manner) in the water …but not before the seal bumped it’s head on the side of the boat! Pandemonium ensues with screaming passengers and people jumping onto the floor of the boat. Meanwhile the leopard seal circled underneath, nudged the side of the boat and then worked out we weren’t worth the effort. Five minuted later she gracefully leapt from the water and resumed her slumber on the same chunk of ice … back on the boat hearts still thumped and the grins were spread from ear to ear.

Then back to the mother ship, some spectacular whale sightings with humpbacks feeding off the bow of the ship and thumping their huge tails in a spray of spume against the backdrop of the snowy peaks of the peninsula.

A quick cruise to the next landing, and an impromptu decision to camp on the continent for the night saw us scrambling to get all our gear ready, and ultimately saw me leading a group of thirty nervous passengers on their first night on the ice. Portal Point offered panoramic views of the icy waters and was a wonderful place to sleep under the stars with a light flurry of snow settling on the slumbering shapes of the shore party. There is certainly no better bedroom than Antarctica!

Right now we have completed another day of landing in scenery that is staggering even after years of working in Antarctica, and are now heading into the Drake Passage and back to Ushuaia. The seas are calm and the whole ship is partying. It’s always a little sad to leave the ice .. but then again, I’ll be back in a few days!!

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