We continued our course from Tristan da Cunha to St. Helena. Today is our last sea day before we reach the island. This morning, we awoke to the southeast trade winds, which appeared right on schedule at about 20˚S latitude. Blowing from the southeast at about 20 knots, these steady winds were the reliable force that allowed sailing ships to make the passage from Africa to South America. The northeast trade winds, which we will encounter after we visit Ascension Island, provided the force that carried sailing ships from Europe to the New World. We are continuing to use our time at sea very well with presentations on Napoleon, who spent his final years in exile on St. Helena. We are carrying Governor Nigel Phillips and his wife Emma home to the island, so our National Geographic guest lecturer Andrew Evans organized a discussion about St. Helena along with two guests who have lived on both St. Helena and the Falklands. The Governor has responsibility for three Central Atlantic islands, St. Helena, Tristan da Cunha, and Ascension, as they are all British Overseas Territories. Later in the day, Andrew continued his writing workshop, and we had a talk on island biogeography. After dinner, the staff organized a game of Pictionary to cap off the day. We are all eagerly anticipating our arrival at St. Helena tomorrow morning, our fourth island on this Atlantic transit.
It has been three days since we have seen land. The wind gods have granted us calm seas, temperatures in the mid-70s, and a deep blue ocean. There is something special about calm days at sea; a certain peace of mind tends to roll across the ship. Between lectures and meals, each of us stakes claim to a place on the ship to take in the vast ocean view–some writing, some reading, others enjoying a siesta or a long chat on the bow with another passenger. We are so far from land, but all of us settle into ordinary moments in the most extraordinary setting. As I sat on the sun deck, I began to poll my fellow passengers as they trickled by: “How would you describe the blue of the ocean right now?” Most paused, struggling to find the right descriptor. No one felt great about their answer as they listed, “So blue,” “deep blue,” “indigo blue,” “Atlantic blue?”… On days like today, the ocean is impossible to describe by characterizing the hue of blue; it is a feeling, a state of mind. As we watched the day go by, the blues changed until evening when we watched sunset. We gathered for the “green flash” as the sun dipped behind the Atlantic Ocean.
Today was a long day. Today was a challenging day. Today was a beautiful day. Today was an exhilarating day. As early as 04.00 hours, sleep was disturbed by different sounds for some of us. Out in the dark, off our portside, we saw the ship that was to supply us with the fuel required to continue our epic voyage. Within a short time, we were loosely tethered via bow and stern lines to the Edinburgh and the essential umbilical cord connected to the fuel inlet on National Geographic Explorer , which was not anchored. And so began, for our Captain, the long vigil that he would hold controlling the ship from the port bridge wing for the duration of the refueling, which ended midday. As the new day broke, we were witnesses to a beautiful sunrise over the island of Tristan da Cunha. The island rose precipitously, showing verdant lower slopes that rapidly disappeared under swirling, low clouds that shrouded the rest of the island. After an earlier than usual breakfast, we boarded Zodiacs for different shore excursions. A special mention must be made in recognition of the wonderful ABs who assisted us in and out of the boats throughout the morning. Conditions at the side gate were decidedly bumpy and challenging, but the AB’s advice and their sturdy grips helped us safely enjoy the island. It didn’t matter if we chose the volcano hike, the potato patches, the tour of the town, or simply time to wander on our own. Each option offered opportunities to enjoy a stunning morning on this remote isle, to speak to the locals, and to savor this very special place. Off in the distance, Inaccessible Island remained shrouded in clouds and was therefore truly inaccessible to us. It remained as such for the whole day. During lunch, we headed for the Island of Nightingale for a planned Zodiac cruise. Midafternoon, we boarded trusty Zodiacs with local guides to enjoy this very different island. What a wonderful experience awaited us. In the lee of the wind and the chop, we had close views of many subtropical fur seals, including some ridiculously cute and teeny tiny pups on the rocks and in the waters. Occasionally, we caught glimpses of the Tristan thrush and nightingale bunting popping out of the grasses along the coastline. The highlights may have been the northern rockhopper penguins that we observed in good numbers along the upper rocky shores, their spectacular plumes blowing in the breeze. What a wonderful experience. Other seabirds flew about the Zodiacs as we cruised along this spectacular location. All too soon, we had to return to the mother ship and head back for Tristan da Cunha to leave our guides before sunset. As we sailed across the waters, we chatted on the decks under blue skies and in balmy temperatures. We enjoyed seeing the islands covered in beautiful lenticular clouds of different sizes, shapes, and colors. At one point, Nightingale Island seemed to have many flying saucers stacked up above the tallest peaks. We plopped into bed after dinner, deeply thankful for a great day. We knew that we had really lucked out with the weather.
Today, we continued our course from South Georgia to Tristan da Cunha on our last sea day before we reach the island. The wind had veered so that it was on the bow, but the barometer continued to rise. We are looking for good weather as we visit Tristan. We continue to use our time well through presentations on the volcanic islands that we will visit in the coming weeks and the “hot spots” in the Earth’s mantle that give rise to these volcanic islands. We also enjoyed a presentation on the 135-year history of the National Geographic Society and magazine. We had a second workshop on smartphones and an introduction to Tristan da Cunha by our National Geographic guest lecturer.
Today was the second full day of our expedition, and we started activities very early to make the most of it. Right after sunrise, we boarded Zodiacs to explore a very interesting visitor site on Floreana Island. Here, a green sand beach was waiting for us. We learned about different types of sand and why the green color of this beach is so special. As we walked a little farther, we arrived at a brackish water lagoon. Flamingos are often observed here, but today was really special. We found nearly 80 flamingos feeding at the lagoon. This sighting was not only rare but also very exciting! We kept walking and arrived at a beach known as “the flour beach.” The beach has a particular type of sand that is not only white but very fine, like flour. Walking there was a pleasure. We encountered a sea turtle laying her eggs and covering them with sand. We observed diamond stingrays along the shoreline as we walked along the beach. Our next activity was an amazing deep-water snorkel. We observed many species of colorful fish along with one of the largest colonies of sea lions in the Galapagos. The afternoon was equally interesting, maybe even better! We had the opportunity to visit Post Office Bay, the location of the first mailing system on the islands. Long ago, sailors deposited their mail here, and it was collected by other ships passing through on their way back home. Nowadays, the mail system still works the same way. Postcards are dropped off and then picked up by future visitors, who follow the tradition by hand-delivering the mail once they make it home. After this exciting adventure, we enjoyed the clear and warm waters at the beach. Today was another great day in this little piece of heaven on earth.