It wasn’t supposed to be a long sail today, but we were on the Ocean Tramp for seven hours. Again, time passes so quickly here at the end of the world that it didn’t seem that long. About halfway through our travels for the day, it started to snow. Big, fat wet flakes that actually accumulated on deck a bit. I’m not sure why I found this so fascinating, but I did. For whatever reason, I didn’t think it snowed on the ocean. Actually, this phenomenon has never crossed my mind until I saw it.
We sailed into Yankee Harbour on Greenwich Island, another of the South Shetland Islands. Before we even anchored, you could see tons of movement on the shore and the cliffs.
It was thousands and thousands of Gentoo (and some Chinstrap) penguins. These are the little Mexican penguins in ‘Happy Feet” (which we watched). We were crazed. I was on the first of two Zodiac trips to shore, There were penguins everywhere, making Chewbacca noises, waddling, sliding, swimming, tripping and projectile pooping (especially hilarious).
Annie motioned me over to see what she was seeing, and the level of delirium went in to the stratosphere. Babies. There were dozens of moms and dads sitting on chicks of all ages, keeping them warm. I have never seen anything quite so cute. Some of the babies were only days old. We stood there long enough to see moms feeding chicks and adults stealing rocks from other nests. I took dozens of pictures, which increased to hundreds over the next few days. The rule is that you don’t get closer than 5 feet from the penguins, but they came much closer to us. They had zero fear of us. There are many advantages to seeng Antarctica from a 66-foot sailboat rather than from a giant cruise ship, but this is probably the biggest one. The penguins didn’t care at all that 11 of us were walking around (mostly) quietly. They just did their penguin thing. I’m sure there’s a lesson here that if you just do your own thing and don’t get all up in other people’s (penguins’) business, we can all get along, but I’ll let it go.
There were also a couple of piles of elephant seals hanging around. Gigantic blubbery blobs of fat, dreamy-eyed, adorable puppy-faced sea mammals. They kind of foreshadowed what we would feel like in a couple of hours, after eating Miguel’s Shepard’s Pie. We eat incredibly well on the Ocean Tramp. There are always hot meals, French Press coffee with breakfast, and snacks and mid-morning, mid-afternoon, and right before dinner.
Laura also makes sure there’s a learning element to every day. We watch documentaries and get presentations. This night, Bertrand (guest scientist) told us about his research and what he hopes to find when he figures out if whales have a sense of smell or taste. We are excited to help science get done. Some of us have recurring jobs when Bertrand does his experiments. Mine is to photograph whale tails and help spot the different groups of whales. it’s great fun. This from the girl who cross listed college courses to avoid science classes at IU. A strange new world. I love it.