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Our First Day at Sea, then Wind!

Part 2 (November 25-26, 2007)

By Kate Woodward




Pintado or Cape petrel, enjoying the "lift" created by the passage of the ship.


Dear All,

First of all, as you'll see in the "To" line, I'm sending this to myself as well as you family, as I've realized typing will work much better for me than trying to keep a hand-written journal (since sometimes I can't even read my own writing!), so don't feel I am expecting anybody to read all of it!  Some of the details that I'm putting down are really just for me--not private, but a personal aide-memoire.

My expectation was to write today's entry either tonight or tomorrow, as we were due to dock at Port Stanley (capital of the Falklands) early this morning.  In fact, Roger and I were out on deck by 6:30, as we'd heard that it was not uncommon for dolphins to accompany the boat from the natural entry to the harbor to town and we didn't want to miss that.  Having been told last night that some "weather" was expected, we put on woolly hats and gloves and our new, ship-provided parkas (in which we've written our names, to distinguish them from the other 170+ on board--not sure of our final total of passengers; it may be less than I heard earlier).  Wearing long johns under my cords, plus turtleneck, parka, etc. I was absolutely comfortable... until we decided to leave the small groups gathered at the port side and stern. No dolphins in view, and the beautiful, "lacy black and white" colored Cape petrels (also known as "pintados", since the upper side of their wings and back look as if they have been painted on) we saw in abundance yesterday were also nowhere to be seen. In the flat grey of the morning, the only birds swooping around the wake were dark brown and not very interesting to our untutored eyes. (Later: these might have been giant petrels--the males are well-known scavengers, although the females, more delicately, eat fish.)

We decided to take a turn or two around the deck, to see if anything was showing up elsewhere, and also to get some exercise. When we got near the bow, and were almost knocked over by the wind, we realized why everyone was at the other end of the boat!  Not only extremely powerful, this wind was cuttingly cold and I found myself wondering whether adding a balaclava under the hat would be enough protection against the Antarctic katabatic winds that roar down off the slopes of glaciers towards the coastline.

Soon after, we decided to come in to warm up with an early breakfast, only to hear the announcement that this morning's activities in Stanley or on other parts of the islands were cancelled, as the port was closed because of gale type winds.  That was reassuring on the one hand (that we weren't total wimps in terms of the wind we'd experienced), but disappointing, too.  However, our Captain was able to maneuver the boat gently up to the tanker (which was anchored further out) so as to be able to refuel, which required great skill in the high winds; this had been scheduled for the afternoon, so it gave us time, if indeed the wind did die down, to enter port soon after lunch, not only to go on the scheduled trips, but also to mail our postcards.

Yes, we have postcards ready to go off to all of you "children" and siblings, as this will be the only place on the cruise that we can send mail (Later: this turned out to be incorrect, with another couple of mailing opportunities occurring further south), and the Falklands stamps are supposed to be very nice--also it's unlikely that you'll get many postmarks from there!  If, however, things don't settle down by early afternoon, we'll have to give it a miss, as it's a full 2 days' journey to South Georgia, which is the highlight of the trip (surprisingly... I assumed it would be the Antarctic Peninsula, but apparently that comes second).  So by the time you get something with a Port Stanley postmark, we will probably already be back home in Thorpe.

I'm sitting in the library now, with a lifeboat right outside the window behind me, and behind that, the brilliant yellow piping and metal struts of the fuel tanker.  The boat has good stabilizers, so although it is clearly rocking, and there are beautiful whitecaps, it's comfortable and thus far almost everyone seems to be feeling pretty good.

The library, incidentally, is full of comfortable chairs, many of which are chained down in case of rougher weather--and there is a big round table on which fiendish puzzles miraculously appear, so that passers-by can try their hand at putting in a few pieces if they have time and patience.  The range of books available is impressive (even though their shelf location often bears little relation to the designation identifying each area, novels finding their way into both the History and Self-help sections), and the nature, travel, and language sections are broad in range.  There is also a collection of large print books--something for everyone.


The "long" view of the 4000-volume library, which also extends cross-wise across the ship at a right angle.


There were however, several empty places at the Captain's welcome banquet last night--2 tables worth, actually, so I'm afraid some people missed an outstanding meal.  After a lunch of scrumptious split pea and sausage soup, followed by pork tenderloin fanned out around delicious homemade mashed potatoes with crispy fried onions (not battered, just cooked till crispy and sweet), with sugar-free raspberry jello (definitely not the straight out of the packet kind--opaque because of real raspberry juices) with a scoop of vanilla frozen yogurt, we felt we had already had a feast.

In fact, because the dinner was scheduled to start at 8, and we'd spent a couple of hours on deck bird-watching--and had a thrilling half hour of whale-spotting--at one point there were four fin whales (size, up to 85 feet long) "blowing" and rising practically under the bows, we went in for a cup of tea and were snagged by the exquisite tiny open-faced sandwiches (about 2"X2"-I just had to try one with a large slice of rare roast beef twisted up to fit on the little slice of bread with a slice of sweet pickle under it) and tiny (truly tiny!) little tea cakes--I succumbed to a 2" in diameter fruit tartlet with fresh blueberries and strawberries--sorry I'm spending so much time on the food, but we are still not used to having everything so universally delicious.

For the evening gala, we got into our "best"--following the suggestion of the cruise director, Jannie, who is South African, that if we had one tighter outfit and one looser one, to wear the tight one at the beginning of the trip!

A champagne reception to "meet" the Captain and ship's officers showed me how even gentle swells, when trying to stand chatting with people while holding a flute of champagne, without spilling it on anyone or bumping one's nose on it while trying to maneuver it to one's mouth when the boat suddenly rocked, can be challenging.

 In fact, when we sat down with a group of acquaintances to chat more comfortably, the waitress who came to refill our glasses gave Roger a fizzy shower when one of these "falling aways" of the deck occurred--not a spectacular "rocking", but effective, if one's not quite ready for it!

Dinner was a fabulous affair, with about 6 courses, and although I forewent the soup (not sure if one can use that in the past tense), I couldn't resist the lobster tail appetizer, delicious Caesar salad (one of the best I've ever had anywhere, with the addition of toasty lardons of bacon as well as croutons), then perfectly cooked tournedos au poivre, followed by an individual walnut-caramel souffle with a subtle rum sauce.  We forgot to say that we wanted the lemon sorbet palate cleanser, so missed that, and Roger enjoyed the asparagus soup with a swirl of Pernod cream in it as did several others. I will try to make this the last culinary valedictory!

Besides the bird-watching (fabulously introduced yesterday morning, when we were steaming from the Beagle Channel, at the very south of Tierra del Fuego, to the open sea, by the Uruguayan ornithologist, Patricia Silva--a charming woman whose accent and occasionally ungrammatical English still allowed completely enthusiastic and comprehensible communication), we had some "housekeeping" details to take care of yesterday, starting with the opportunity to make a parka exchange before putting one's name in it, since when we sent in our measurements for the ones awaiting us in our cabin on arrival, we had not necessarily put on all the layers one might need to use in Antarctica.  I was among those who had not done so, but decided that even though there was not a lot of air space between layers when I got zipped up, it still ought to be okay, so I was able to join the "boot queue" immediately. The ship has 200 pairs of "Wellies" to lend to passengers as we'll all need to wear them on South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula, since the Zodiacs, which will transport us from the ship to shore, will not actually pull up on the beach, so we'll be making "wet landings".  When I saw one lady at the front of the line coming out with flowered boots, I thought how nice--but most of them (probably left behind by previous passengers, who brought their own, but left them on the ship because of their weight and size when going home) are pretty standard dark blue or green, and we were directed 5 at a time into an empty cabin with benches where we could put on our multiple types of socks, in order to try on various pairs of boots, as most of us had no idea what size we would need with so many layers.  The naturalists were on hand bringing pair after pair of wellies from the cabin/storeroom next door, and are very good sports to be so hands-on with everything.

So once we were "hosed and shod", we went to the afore-mentioned Patricia's wonderful presentation on "Seabirds of the Southern Ocean" and we saw once again the amazing map of the globe shown with Antarctica in the middle--one can travel by water all the way around the globe at that end, which explains how some of the storms become so dramatic...they don't hit anything to slow them down.  If one looks at the Arctic in the same way, one "runs into" the UK, Finland, Europe, Russia, Alaska and Canada en route, which really "breaks up" the weather at that end of the globe.



Anyone for bridge?  Note chains on chairs--even after 2 weeks, we were still trying to move them further than they would go! Through the windows, you can see one of the orange, covered lifeboats.


Roger and I decided to skip the video documentary "The Falklands War--A Military History", to read and write our postcards so they'd be ready for mailing on landing.  After lunching in the formal dining room at a table by the window, with flowers, crystal, and anything we wanted to drink immediately available and at no extra charge (unless we wanted "premium" brands of liquor), we walked six times quickly around the deck as penance, then got ready for bird-watching, which became a whale watch as well.  For the latter, the captain slowly and skillfully turned the boat so we approached the pod at a very gentle pace and then he held us steady as we "oohed" and "ahed" just as if we were watching a fireworks display--seeing those sprays bursting into the air indicating a whale surfacing was even more exciting!

I'm going to include here one of several whale photos taken by fellow traveller Richard Foinette, even though this may not be the right kind of whale (ie one taken later in the trip), as I had no success at all trying to capture any of the ones we saw on film.  Thank you so much, Richard, for sharing these!



At 5, after our very restrained "tea", we had an introduction to the Falklands, including what we could expect to see, and how the tenders would transport us to and from the ship (the only place where these will be usable, so we had the possibility of not wearing rubber boots if the weather seemed kindly).  Roger and I decided to take the "Wand Tour", which is actually a 2-hour walk with an audio "wand" which gives one control over what one sees in the town of Stanley and at what pace, hoping that we would not have torrential rain, which might make us wish we'd taken one of the tours in a vehicle (one option was a trip to a sheep farm, another to a distant cove with a penguin sanctuary, and a third was to have a champagne limousine ride, wherever on the island one wanted to go that had paved roads--but that required 6 people, and although we have met some very nice folk, it seemed like the sort of thing to do with old friends rather than new ones)--all of these tours are included in the trip, which is very nice.  

Of course, at this point we may not be able to do any of them, if the wind doesn't diminish, but just as the captain showed flexibility, diverting the ship to keep the whales in sight yesterday, we have to be prepared for other "happenings" which may cause changes of plans.  We'll have to wait and see.

Because of the morning activities being cancelled, the photographic expert gave the first of two lectures on "Photography in a Hostile Climate" this morning at 9.  At breakfast, we discovered that 1 "already friend" and a couple at the table where we sat were bridge players, so they have been playing bride with Roger since the end of that first activity (which was incredibly helpful--and would be even more so if I'd thought to bring the manual for Roger's old camera--he smartly brought along the one for his new one--but our lecturer said he'd be happy to help individuals, and since the one I'm using is a Nikon Coolpix, I'm sure he ought to be able to fill me in on what I need to do).

Another "Enrichment Lecture" has just been announced on the PA system--meeting in 5 minutes in the lounge (that has comfortable armchairs that are chained in place against bad weather, as well as "directors chairs" which are set up for these gatherings and which can be put away for dancing in the evening to a live quartet or if things get rough).  It will be given by a woman who is one of the two cetologists, so I'll finish now and send you all big hugs.



The smoking room, next door.  It is so dark because of accumulated smoke (just kidding!--but it was so smoky that I didn't take time to adjust the camera, as I wanted to get out asap!)




Kate, and the same from the card-room from Roger. See the photo above of where he enjoyed bridge with an interesting mix of nationalities.




From Buenos Aires to Tierra del Fuego (Part 1)

Our First Day at Sea, then Wind! (Part 2)



© 2008 Kate Woodward

PROMETHEUS, Internet Bulletin - News, Politics, Art and Science. Nr. 129, March 2008