South Georgia Island (2019)
February 8 found us sailing from Elephant Island to South Georgia Island, about 800 miles away. We were expecting this to be just a sea day since we weren’t scheduled to go ashore on South Georgia Island until the next day. But in the afternoon South Georgia Island came into view in the distance on the port side.
Although it was probably first sighted by Anthony de la Roche when his ship was blown far off course in 1675, the first landing and mapping of South Georgia Island was by the ubiquitous Captain Cook at the beginning of 1775. Landing at Possession Bay, Cook held a ceremony taking possession in the name of King George III and named the island after him “Isle of Georgia.” While mapping the east coast of the island Cook actually thought he had found the predicted great southern continent (Antarctica), but when he rounded the southeast corner and found himself heading west he discovered that it was just a large island instead. He named that corner Cape Disappointment, representing his feeling at the time, and Cape Disappointment is also where we reached South Georgia Island and turned to the north to follow its northwest coast. In the pictures above Cape Disappointment is on the left; the pictures below are from the vicinity of Cape Disappointment, if not the cape itself.
Just before we reached the island we passed the largest tabular iceberg we had seen. We were told it was some two miles long, and it certainly looked it. But we didn’t sail close to this one like we had to the earlier ones we encountered, but merely saw it in the distance.
It was a cold and windy afternoon as we sailed up the coast. The island is about 100 miles long and the mountains reach almost to 10,000 feet. The Captain tried to take us down a large fjord (probably Drygalsky Fjord), but the 80 to 100 mile winds made it impossible. Still, there was plenty to see on this island where the tall craggy mountains rise directly out of the water under the island’s own cloud cover, presenting a beautiful but forbidding countenance.
We sailed by another iceberg. It was big, but nothing like the one we saw in the distance when approaching the island. But it was very distinctive, with two tall towers reaching higher than the ship. It was interesting to see it change shape as we sailed past and the lowering sun cast dramatic shadows as we sailed by it (which actually took quite a while). Notice that as we sail by the tall squared off tower starts on our right and ends up on our left.
A lot of birds were flying around this area (very fast) and a few whales were to be seen as well.
We pulled into a bay (possibly Gold Harbor) to visit a colony of King Penguins. Bigger than the others we had seen, King penguins resemble Emperor penguins that you may have seen in movies, but aren’t as big. More than 900,000 King penguins live on South Georgia (along with more than two million Macaroni penguins) and it seemed like all of them were gathered right here (in actuality nowhere near that many). Like other penguins, they crowd the beaches looking like they are just hanging around with nothing to do. In these pictures you can also see a lot of tussock grass, which accounts for the bulk of native vegetation. There are no trees or bushes on South Georgia.
On a tiny island just offshore was a group of fur seals. It looked like a stage show being watched by a crowd of penguins.
Of course there were also penguins in the water, porpoising as usual. And Antarctic Terns were flying around, some carrying food in their beaks.
The sun was setting as we left the harbor and continued northeast. The spectacular scenery never stops in this place, and the sunset was particularly notable.
So the day ended on what turned out to be much better than the ordinary sea day we had been expecting. Apparently having little else to do while visiting Antarctica, two of the ship’s penguins were stationed on either end of the front desk. They had nametags that changed periodically, but during this period one of them had a particularly fine name tag on. We will leave you with a couple of pictures of that.