Pearls Around the White Continent Part III: Intruders in the Realm of the Sea Lions
In this installment, documentary filmmakers Deborah Shapiro and Rolf Bjelke continue their 22,500-nautical-mile circumnavigation of the Southern Ocean. Sailing the 40-foot steel ketch Northern Light in the Roaring 40s, Furious 50s, and Screaming 60s, Deborah and Rolf explore the beautiful and far-flung subantarctic islands strung like pearls around the bottom of our planet. Click here for previous installments.
Our permit time is up before we get to see Campbell Island, and we decide to apply to visit next summer. On the end of a cold front, we set sail for our off-season quarters in Nelson, New Zealand, where we spend the winter months staying in shape and installing an electric anchor windlass. Rolf feels this is a safety issue. When we bought our second manual windlass, we didn't realize that the manufacturer had changed the gear ratio.
"With this one, you can't pump up the anchor when the water's more than 45 feet deep," Rolf says. "Imagine if I got injured and couldn't work on deck."
To Everything There Is a Season
To visit New Zealand's subantarctic islands, one of many permit requirements is that the hull be "certified clean of any marine organisms." The country's Department of Conservation doesn't want us transporting such exotics as the invasive Undaria pinnatifida seaweed or sea squirts from mainland New Zealand to the islands. After a thorough cleaning, the hull is checked and approved by D.O.C. personnel. We paint on a couple of layers of anti-fouling and head south.
On Day 11, we sight the entrance to Port Ross, the big bay at the northern tip of Auckland Island, and beat our way in to one of last summer's favorite anchorages. The anchor chain streams out, and because it'll be so easy to retrieve, we let out every inch we have, then settle back to take in the gorgeous rata forests and listen to the call of the bell birds. Arrival is always sweet.
Luckily, we were here last season, because its fabulous weather isn't to be repeated. Instead, we get a wet and windy visit. "Most shocking January weather I can remember," as the head of sea-lion studies on Enderby puts it. We're glad to know where the safest anchorages are-the few spots on the south coast of Auckland Island, where there's low land surrounding small coves-because we stay in them, spending our time babysitting the boat and watching for an opportunity to skip over to Campbell Island. An appropriate weather window starts forming. Although we usually wait for bad weather to pass before departing, this time we decide to leave in gale-force wind. It's northwesterly, so we'll fly downwind with it.
Nicer weather catches up with us halfway across the 150-mile passage. A high-pressure cell settles in. And so do the albatross. Never have we seen so many! Royals, black-browed, mollymawks-five, six, seven at a time fly around us. And when we all become becalmed, they paddle over to us, chattering to each other, and courting-snapping their beaks together to make a hollow, clapping sound.
Campbell Island is a special place. Rain falls 89 percent of the time; 280 days per year, the wind reaches gale force or more. Gusts over 50 knots occur on 100 days of the year and can reach hurricane force. Just off the island, a 75-foot wave has been recorded. Generally speaking, the weather and swell disallow visits to the island's western side. On the chart, two inlets on the east coast look like they can offer shelter. We hope for good holding.