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

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Antarctic Journals, Chapter Twelve, Penguins and Crumpets at West Point

On Nov. 5, 1914, the Endurance arrives in Cumberland Bay on the eastern side of South Georgia Island, having left Buenos Aires eleven days prior.  Shackleton is concerned about the unusually cold and rainy weather in Argentina, fearing it might portend unfavorable ice conditions in the Weddell Sea of Antarctica.  The voyage used more fuel than planned and lumber needed for other use was burned.

The ship drops anchor near the Norwegian whaling station of Grytviken, in Cumberland Bay, and Shackleton with a few men go ashore where they are welcomed by the station manager.  In abject contrast to the stunning scenery of this mountain-ringed bay, the stench of rotting whale carcasses fills the air and the bay is red with blood.

 The Endurance at anchor at the Grytviken whaling station, South Georgia Island.  Photo by Frank Hurley of Shackleton's expedition.

The whalers confirm Shackleton’s worst fears.   The pack ice extends much farther north this season, they report. They suggest he wait in Grytviken until later in the austral summer.

Shackleton concurs and the crew settles in to wait.  The dogs are tethered on land, but away from the whale carcasses.

South Georgia Island


We visited  New Island yesterday.  Today we go to West  Point Island and Saunders Island.

Upon returning to the ship from New Island yesterday, I went straight to the gift shop and purchased a pair of waterproof gloves that I had seen earlier.  As soon as Kathy got to our cabin, she went to the gift shop and also bought a pair of gloves.   The sideways rain showed us any deficiency in our gear.

The blue parkas were great, our rain pants fine, and the muck boots wonderful--waterproof and with good traction. 

Today the weather is sunny and warm, by Falklands Islands standards, that is.   A short sail of 34 nautical miles from New Island takes us to West Point Island, where the ubiquitous Land Rovers are waiting to transport those who don’t want to walk a mile and a half to the other side of this island and the penguin rookery at Devil’s Nose.  

 The trek is uphill about 350 feet elevation and then levels out across grazing land.

On the way to the rookery with spring-flowering yellow gorse.

This island of less than five square miles is run as a sheep farm that dates from the 1860s.  As I crest the highest point of the walk, a rare bird of prey begins to track me.

It’s a Striated Caracara, a bird related to the falcon family.  These birds are very clever and we were warned to take care of our belongings because a dropped item would soon be in the beak of a caracara

I don 't know if I'm blessed or hexed having a rare Striated Caracara turn its head upside down to look at me.

Striated Caracara stalking me.


At the far side, another Rockhopper penguin rookery awaits us, but this one is entirely different than the one at New Island.   The Rockhoppers at New Island nested in rocky cliffs, whereas these Rockhoppers seemed to prefer nesting amongst the tussock grass mounds or in the open around large boulders.   We walk downhill on pathways to gulches, careful not to step on the tussock grass bunches or any mounds, lest we step on nesting penguins.

I soon learn that even walking between the bunch grass is dangerous when I look at my feet and see little crested Rockhoppers everywhere that would be impossible to see if they didn’t have those incredible yellow brow feathers and orange beaks.  They don’t move even if you are right next to them and might step on them.

Blue-backed boobies watching the Rockhopper penguins and Black-browed albatross.

Rockhoppers average a ten year life span, weight between 5 and 8 lbs., and stand 18 to 23 inches high.

They eat small fish, krill, and crustaceans.

This photo, with my boot in the picture, shows how close the penguins allow us to approach.  Once hunted for their oil, they are now protected.   Breeding pairs number into the millions.

Another view of a lower rookery, with an albatross in flight.

And right in the midst of the Rockhopper nests in the open, are black-browed albatross on nesting mounds.

The Black-browed Albatross nesting among the Rockhopper penguins.

The strikingly beautiful head of the Black-Browed albatross.

Black-browed albatross in flight.

The tussock grass grows about 6 feet high here, but is known to grow as high as 13 feet.   We are finding that there are many restoration projects underway in the islands.  Replanting of tussock grass is but one of those projects.

Kathy in the tussock grass.

We watch, photograph, try to avoid stepping on penguins, then head back to the farmhouse across the island.  We’ve been invited for tea and crumpets at the farmstead of Lily and Roddy Napier, present landlords of the island.

The farmhouse of Lily and Roddy Napier.

Land Rovers unloading blue-backed boobies.

Lily serving tea while Roddy watches.  And look at what's on the table!


I do hope Kathy doesn't have a picture of me with my mouth full, as I do of her.

Roddy tidying up.

The Napier's farmhouse where we had tea and crumpets.  Some of the buildings here are more than 125 years old.  Tourism has become another source of income.

Kathy amid the flowers.  Note the British flag flying.

Tools of the trade.

Kathy photographing the brilliant yellow gorse.

This was not a "wet" landing, but on a jetty.  The Fram is out of sight.
For this landing we are allowed to take off the life vests.

The Fram is visible outside the cove.

Mandatory muck boot sanitation after each landing.

Changing from muck boots to ship shoes.

Lining up for lunch.

My lunch almost every day.  Soup and bread.

Today, I stayed away from the desert aisle.

All of those, just for today's lunch.

No time for a nap.  Saunders Island is just 18 miles away.  Wake up!


  1. OH MY ! Blue Backed Boobies and food upon which I would gain ten pounds just looking at it .. phenomenal .. just PHENOMENAL ..

  2. How does one, I wonder, become "landlord" of an island? Seems like rather a wonderful assignment.

  3. What a breathtakingly beautiful (and fattening!) place!