Pearls Around the White Continent Part II: Great Expectations Meet Southern Ocean Realities
In Part II of this five-part series, the sailors on Northern Light, circumnavigating the Southern Ocean, make landfall first at remote Macquarie Island, with its king penguins, molting elephant seals, and a handful of scientists happy for the human company. Click here for Part I.
The wind and swell diminish. I radio the ranger, who says, "It's not a problem if you want to come ashore again." We pull out the dinghy, reinflate it, put on the outboard, and back in we go. The sun peeks between clouds, and we wander around for an hour, looking at the utterly magnificent kings, a smattering of gentoo penguins, some giant petrels, skuas, and more piles of elephant seals.
At the end of our wander, we visit the station for a "cuppa" and a chat with scientists and station staff. Everyone's so interesting. The big news is a pest-eradication project. In their wake, sealers left behind cats, rabbits, rats, and mice. Millions are now being spent to rid the island of the nonindigenous species, thereby giving the flora and fauna a chance to recover.
Relishing the Present
Too soon, it's time for us to return to Northern Light, pack things again, and eat dinner. With everything shipshape and a cup of tea in hand, Rolf gazes out a porthole toward the south. Only 10 nautical miles in that direction lies a colony of 20,000 kings. A little farther are colonies of endemic royal penguins and rockhopper penguins. But our one-day extension is up. We won't get to see them.
It's too bad, but we're not disappointed. Intentionally, neither of us has cultivated major expectations for visits to any of the islands ringing Antarctica. Weather and wind, as well as the state of the boat and our health, will ultimately determine how many islands we sight and how many we visit. We feel lucky to have been ashore on Macca.
Under sail, the little to be seen of the island disappears quickly into the cold mist. While Rolf trims and I set the wind steering, an albatross circles Northern Light three times, then flies off in the direction of Auckland Island, our next landfall. The majestic wanderer is a reminder that wilderness experiences await us all of the way there.
In an upcoming issue of CW, read more about the epic voyage of Deborah Shapiro and Rolf Bjelke to the Southern Ocean as they sail to the Auckland Islands and to Campbell Island and have close encounters of the animal kind. You can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.