South Georgia adventure finishes on a high note ay Prion Island and with high seas on the way back to the Falklands
The cruising season south has come to an end and Ashley Perrin of Antarctic Ice Pilot has arrived back in the Falklands after piloting/guiding a month long cruise to South Georgia. Ithaka a Nordhavn 63 will head for Valdivia for the winter via the Straits of Magellan and the Chilean Canals.
The focus of the trip to South Georgia was for the clients to explore one of the world’s most spectacular wildlife destinations. South Georgia is a glaciated island 850 miles WSW of the Falkland Islands in the Scotia Sea and is the breeding ground for many of the southern ocean species. With more than 3 million Antarctic fur seals (98% of the global population) and 400,000 southern elephant seals (over 50% of the global population) breeding and molting the beaches can be overwhelming at peak breeding season. The island is home to four species of penguins – more than 450,000 pairs of King penguins, 105,000 pairs Gentoo’s, 13,400 pairs of chinstraps and more than million pairs of Macaroni’s. The Wandering, Black Browed, Grey-headed and Light-mantled Albatross breed on the island and visitors have the unique experience of being able to land on Prion Island where the Wandering albatross sit atop their nests within arm’s length of visitors. Since 1984 their population has declined by 30% to only 1,553 pairs nesting each year.
The non-native Norwegian rats brought by whaling ships have hopefully been eradicated after a record breaking effort by South Georgia Heritage Trust. The rats and reindeer had a devastating effect on the islands ecosystem. The rats feed on bird eggs and chicks and the 20 reindeer introduced between 1911 and 1925 became over 3,000. The reindeer over grazed and trampled spreading nonnative meadow grass they were hunted and eradicated by the Sami tribesman brought from Norway in 2014. The results of the rat and reindeer eradication are patently obvious with burnet and tussac thriving in what was previously over grazed areas. The endemic South Georgia Pipit (3000 pairs) are also doing very well in their new rat free environment. When Ashley lived at South Georgia she never saw a Pipit but on this visit eight were spotted over the course of the cruise in the different baited areas.
The transit to Grytviken South Georgia from Stanley Falklands took five days with the prevailing wind and circumpolar current. Ithaka enjoyed sites from St Andrews Bay to Elsehul over two weeks before taking six days to return to Stanley while avoiding two deep depressions. The williwaws were recorded at 74 knots while at anchor in Right Whale Bay and both Right Whale and St Andrews Bay delivered a constant 50 knots of offshore winds.
South Georgia did not disappoint the owners of Ithaka and provided a challenging cruising ground that at times required some self-sufficiency when dealing with limited system failures. The morning of departure from Elsehul to Stanley the hills around the anchorage had a dusting of snow signaling a change in the seasons and a gentle reminder that it was time to head north to warmer climates.