Carly Simon's 1971 song “Anticipation” came to mind as we left the South Orkney Islands and traveled for a day and a half toward the second phase of this journey in the Southern Ocean. What would we find on this far off mountainous island called South Georgia? What would the weather be like? Would the stories of high winds, rough seas, and difficult to approach beaches restrict the locations we could access and hamper our hoped-for activities?
Early this morning the rugged coastline of the eastern end of South Georgia was visible below the low clouds shrouding much of the higher peaks. The plan was to arrive at a large open bay called St. Andrews soon after the sun rose. An early breakfast would allow us to get ashore for a longer period. Besides the overcast skies, the weather was not a problem, especially because the sea conditions were near perfect with only a light wind. So, people trickled to Base Camp after finishing breakfast and were transferred to the beach.
Excitement was somewhat overwhelming as guests stepped foot onto South Georgia for the first time. Elephant seals lay on the beach like snoozing giant slugs. Scattered amongst them were Antarctic fur seals varying in size since males are much larger than females. Naturalist staff onshore led small groups down the beach to an area where the main group of king penguin chicks were nesting. What a morning!!
Then enroute to our afternoon destination, the Bridge officers spotted whales spouting in the distance. We then slowly approached the area and some 10-12 humpback whales seemed to be feeding. Groups of 2 and 3 whales surfaced in close repetition at various distances from the ship. In conjunction with the whales, there were large numbers of prion seabirds also feeding but at the surface. All around the ship there was activity - a very unexpected event enroute to the afternoon location.
At Cooper Bay, the ship anchored out of the wind blowing around the eastern end of the main island so we could get out in boats for a cruise along the shoreline. At one small channel along the rocky coast, there was a landing place for macaroni penguins to land on a beach and then make their way up a steep cliff to their nesting colony. All along the shore we could see jousting fur seals and resting elephant seals. Gentoo and king penguins were also coming and going. The wildlife was activity was endless.
But the day was not finished and after dinner we cruised to the end of Drygalski Fjord to view a tidewater glacier as well as the steep rock cliffs which lined the entire shores of the fjord. This was quite the finale satisfying the heightened anticipation of our first experiences at South Georgia. There certainly was more to come.