"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Antarctic Journals, Chapter Thirteen, Penguins and Provisions

After a month at the Norwegian whaling station of Grytviken on South Georgia Island, Shackleton re-provisions the Endurance.  Two live pigs, destined to be food,  are aboard.  The month-long rest has rejuvenated the crew and all are ready for the upcoming adventure.

The stowaway with Mrs. Chippy.  Frank Hurley photo.
The ship’s carpenter, grouchy Harry McNish from Scotland, known by the traditional shipwright's nickname of “Chippy,” has brought along his tabby cat named “Mrs. Chippy,” though it is a male cat.  The crew is quite fond of the personable cat, whose chief delight is to walk across the top of the kennels of the half-wild sledge dogs, knowing the chained dogs cannot reach it.

Frank Hurley photo of sledge dogs aboard Endurance

Whalers report the ice conditions are still bad but Shackleton fears waiting longer would mean a complete end to the expedition and he decides to proceed.  The Endurance leaves Cumberland Bay on Dec. 5, 1914,  turns south by southeast to sail around the bottom of the island, into the Scotia Sea and thence south to the Weddell Sea of Antarctica and some of the worst ice conditions in memory.

(Frank Hurley photographs courtesy of:  South with Endurance: Shackleton's Antarctic Expedition 1914-1917
The Photographs of Frank Hurley
Book Creation Services, Ltd., London, 2001
ISBN 1-932302-04-2


I leave the Napier’s farmstead with mixed feelings.  I live in an area that many consider “out in the sticks,” yet I am nowhere near as isolated as these folks on West Point Island.  I have many questions, but with a couple hundred inquisitive blue-parka-ed tourists waiting for tea and pastries, I drink my tea, extend my thanks, and leave for the Cirkle boat.

As I walk down to the water, a few sheep top a rise and watch.  

Once we’re all back on board—remember, they check our ID barcodes as we leave and return, so they know if there’s a straggler—it’s lunch time, so we leave our shore parkas and rain pants in our cabins and head for the dining room and a buffet lunch.

Breakfast and lunch on the ship is always buffet style, with several hot entrée choices, various salads, soup, cold cuts, breads, and far too many desserts than should be placed before one fallible human.  Dinner, on the other hand, is in two seatings with assigned tables, as the number of passengers and crew is greater than the dining room’s capacity.

There are two entrée choices, a main choice and an alternative.  We must notify the dining room attendants before 3 PM if we prefer the alternative.

Only when there are late afternoon landings is there a dinner buffet. 

While we have lunch, Captain Arild Hårvik repositions the ship to Saunders Island, only 18 miles away from West Point Island.  This is the last island we will visit in the West Falklands.

Aerial view of  the Saunders Island isthmus.  The Fram drops anchor near the cove on the left side.

We wait on the ship while the program managers, lecturers, and ship’s crew leave in the Cirkle boats to find a safe landing.  I start calling them the Orange People for their red-orange parkas that make them readily recognizable for questions and assistance.

Gentoo penguins swimming ashore after feeding at sea.

Coming ashore.

Our rocky ledge landing on Saunders Island.   The orange people are stationed in various places to assist.

This landing is exciting as we step from the front of the bouncing boat onto the rock shelf, carefully walk over slippery rocks, and climb a hill to access a sandy isthmus.  There are Gentoo penguins EVERYWHERE, and, as usual, once comes to see what’s going on.

Apparently the nosiest Gentoo on the island.  Or perhaps it's his turn at guard duty.

And there he goes, back to tell his buds what's going on with those blue-backed boobies.

I walk along the beach to the low grass on the far side, then cross the isthmus to another sandy beach.  I encounter my first King Penguins on this crossing.  There aren’t many of them, but I am enthralled with their colorful plumage.

Crossing the isthmus to the far side.  Those dark areas inland are sites of Gentoo colonies.

Whale skeleton.

Adult King penguin.  They eat fish and squid, diving to depths around 300 ft.  Scientists have recorded dives to 1000 ft.

Gully and furry brown King Penguin chicks.  King penguins do not build nests, but carry a single egg on their feet, keeping it warm with a pouch of skin that folds down over the egg.

King penguin chicks in their brown woolly fur.   The chicks moult this fur at about two years of age.  Until then, they cannot go to sea and must be fed by their parents.

King penguin parent feeding chick.  King penguins are the second largest penguin.  Only the Emperor penguin is larger.  Kings are three feet tall and weigh between 24 and 35 lbs.   The plumage of an adult King penguin has four layers of feathers, for warmth or water-proofing.  There are 70 feathers per square inch on the outer plumage.

Each piece of high ground is covered with Gentoo penguins.  Penguins come and go, usually in groups, but I found this lone Gentoo running from the beach back to its colony.

I include this video because walking penguins are so much fun to watch .

The wind is blowing, whipping up sand on the exposed beach.  I head back to the landing site as my allotted time onshore is closing.

 A Magellanic penguin among Gentoos on the beach. 

Magellanic penguin.

King penguins and sea cabbage, which blooms with  bright yellow flowers.   Young King penguins have yellow ear patches that become orange when they reach adulthood.

We go ashore by boat numbers.  Kathy and I are in boat group 3, and our group is first ashore at Saunders Island because this is the third landing.  Next landing, group 4 will go first, and so on.  There are 8 boat groups with thirty-some tourists in each group.  This means the Cirkle boats are constantly shuttling people ashore and back to the ship, thus the allotted time on shore.

Falklands Steamer duck.

Once we’re all back on board, the Fram leaves for the capital city of Stanley in the East Falklands, 132 miles from here.  It’s an overnight journey, and the wind has picked up.  We’ll be in the open waters of the South Atlantic Ocean.


  1. Thank you very much for taking me along on your journey. I've been enjoying the history lesson along with the pictures and narrative of your trip. Awesome photos, as usual, Gully. What an amazing trip. What a different world!

  2. I had no idea of the different breeds of penguins .. I can only 'echo' .. "What an amazing trip" ''

  3. After seeing these photos, I can more fully appreciate the fascination with penguins. The wind sound on your video was startling! And those furry brown babes, oh my, I'll bet you wanted to stay longer.