At Sea

Oct 23, 2017 - National Geographic Orion


We awoke to another day at sea. Now we’re out of the tropics, having crossed the Tropic of Capricorn, so no longer “rolling down to Rio”, in the well-worn mariners’ phrase, with following seas propelled by the steady north-east trades. Rather, we’re pitching into current and head-wind from the south. Before breakfast we had been joined by an albatross, identified by our naturalists as a yellow-nosed albatross of the species that breeds on the islands of Nightingale and Inaccessible in the Tristan da Cunha archipelago, midway between our current position and Cape Town in South Africa.

The albatross is an emblematic species of bird for sailors. The wandering albatross has the largest wing-span of any bird, over 360cms and weighing some 9kg, soaring and gliding majestically astern of the vessel. The yellow-nosed albatross is smaller but exhibits a similar pattern of flight. The bird takes its name in English from a corruption of the Portuguese word for pelican, Alcatraz. Their association with remote islands, their graceful and apparently effortless flight following in the wake of ships, led to the superstitious belief that they represented the reincarnated souls of drowned sailors. Ungainly on land when breeding, mortality is high in the first year but the survivors can achieve ages as high as 30 years. Unfortunately, they are very vulnerable to being caught as by-catch in long-line fisheries and their numbers are thus in serious decline.

Another rarity observed early in the evening was the spectacled petrel following in the National Geographic Orion’s wake. This was followed just ahead of dinner with a fine sunset and green lash, observed from the aft deck.

  • Send

About the Author

David Barnes

Expedition Leader

David studied history at the University of York in England and theology at the University of Wales.  Research in the field of religious history (at Cardiff) followed on naturally.  He has spent most of his professional life teaching history, most recently in adult education departments within the University of Wales where he has taught a wide variety of courses pertinent to the wider Atlantic world.  In 1988, he made his first lecture-tour of the U.S. for the English Speaking Union. He has published extensively on Welsh history and topography–his most recent book being the Companion Guide to Wales (2005)–and is a frequent contributor of articles and reviews to Welsh cultural and literary journals.  In the1990s, David was active in the field of international education, traveling worldwide and spending a year in the U.S. (in Atlanta and New York City).  He speaks English and French in addition to his native Welsh.

Get our newsletter

Join us for updates, insider reports & special offers.

Privacy Policy