The day began with views of sea birds and open ocean. The National Geographic Explorer sailed all day, headed for the Falklands Islands. We all spent the day watching albatross and other sea birds dance on the wind. There were presentations and time to catch up on editing photos. By the end of the day we were anchored off the coast of Bleaker Island.
After lunch we navigated to Rabida Island, where jumped in the ocean to snorkel with sea lions and many colorful fish. Our journey closed with a relaxing sunset walk along the red sandy beach. We have had an amazing first full day of exploration aboard National Geographic Endeavour II . We cannot wait to continue exploring the islands and keep collecting memories for the rest of our lives. Today we have started exploring the islands, visiting Seymour. Here we hiked inland and spotted many sea birds like swallow tailed gulls, frigate birds, blue-footed boobies, and Nazca bobbies. We saw many different behaviors; frigate birds courting and dancing, blue-footed boobies flying and eating from the ocean. Meanwhile, female sea lions were all over the shore resting next to their pups.
Waking up early to smooth seas and blue skies helps to create a sense of excitement for the next stage of our expedition, our adventures towards the Falkland Islands. Many of us have spent the morning capturing photos of albatrosses and other seabirds from the stern of the ship. The milder conditions and sunny weather are a welcome treat for spending time in the company of these majestic ocean faring species. With presentations by James Hyde on “Biomimicry” and Elise Lockton on the “Race to the Pole,” we enjoyed a relaxing morning in the comfort of the Ice Lounge with coffee, tea, and good company. In the afternoon a few more of us were on edge as we joined the photo team in the Ice Lounge for the expedition Photo Critique. A little roasting does nobody any harm, and it was full of fun and laughter all around, whist also being a valuable lesson in the art of photography from some of the best in their field. This sunny evening, we arrived at Blanco Bay on the approach to Stanley, the capital of the Falklands. Our ship was accompanied by a small group of Commerson’s dolphins, identified by their distinctive black and white markings. Everyone is excited to meet more of the wild inhabitants of this remote South American archipelago.
On this foggy, rainy, and quite breezy morning (to put it mildly!) we arrived into Elshul at the very northwestern tip of South Georgia. Elshul (Norwegian for Else Cove) dates to 1905, when the first whalers re-discovered the bay; it is first thought to have been found in the 1780s by an early sealing captain, who it was initially named after, Paddock Cove! Through the fog, the rain, and the abundance of sea spray, we were treated to glimpses of grey-headed albatrosses nesting up high on the steep tussock covered slopes, and black-browed albatrosses gliding effortlessly though the strengthening winds entering the bay. Other birds included the king penguins, gentoos, brown skuas, giant petrels, snowy sheathbills and Antarctic prions, a paradise for us birders. Don’t forget about the amazing kelp forests right below our Zodiacs; this mysterious world will always let our imaginations run wild. Cruising past the shoreline, the more eagle-eyed of us discovered a stunning blonde adult male fur seal, the first we have seen on our adventures. It’s true when they say ‘always expect the unexpected,’ and this is especially correct when travelling into wild and remote places just like South Georgia. The remainder of our day was spent at sea with presentations by Emily Newton on the fisheries of South Georgia; David Cothran on South Georgia’s fascinating geological history; and Steve Morello with photography at home.
Sea days are normally a time of rest, with late breakfasts and leisurely days dotted with presentations and catching up on sleep. This morning, however, would be the exception to the rule. At five o’clock in the morning, the announcement from the loudspeakers in our cabins beckoned us to the deck. To ease into the day after such an early wakeup, there was plenty of coffee, croissants, muffins, and other delectable treats to eat. But the main goal was to be on deck, and to gaze out past the stern, waiting for the sun to rise. This was not just any sunrise; this was to be a rare event indeed – a total eclipse of the sun. It was to begin just before dawn, and as the sun rose over the horizon, the moon would have begun its task of obscuring the sun and giving us a view of a lifetime. We were ready, our solar glasses in hand, cameras dangling around our necks, hoping for the magical moment to inspire us with awe. Some had made the journey to this remote area of the world as much to see this celestial event as the wildlife and ice of Antarctica. Alas, try as we did, we were under the hand of nature, and a thick layer of fog. It was a chance we took, for as frustrating as it is, no one has control of the weather. We had sailed so many miles, but today nature reminded us that she makes the ultimate decision of what happens and when. Even still, we stood on the deck, praying for a small miracle, praying for the fog to lift for just a few minutes. Miracles, however, are rare; and prayers go unanswered. Today, the warmth of our spirits was not enough to burn away the fog. For a few short moments, spirits heightened, for the fog could not prevent the shadow of the eclipse from darkening the sky and returning the light of day back into the darkness of night. As we gave in to the inevitable fact that the eclipse had come and gone, we slowly returned to our cabins. We had not succeeded, but we had not failed. If we have learned anything from the polar explorers who journeyed on these waters before us, success is not in the achievement of a specific goal, it is in the journey we undertake to get there. This morning would not be a blank page in our journals, just one with a different narrative than we had thought. So, we continued. Good food and conversation would fill our day, programs by our naturalist staff would give us knowledge, rest would finally be something we could devote time to. Our expedition has not yet ended. There are birds to see, whales to marvel at, and the Falkland Islands to explore. We had a good day, and we are ready for more.