Christmas aboard the Ocean Endeavour

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It was a funny time Christmas on board. Anyone doing this trip (especially solo) had to be aware that they were skipping Christmas with family, or not Christian / religious etc. The staff planned competitions (decorate your door, poetry and songs), but there were also options for those who wished to opt-out. So it was well done, as everything was well done on the trip!

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Unfortunately forgot to take a picture of our own door?!?! ah well, we didn’t win anyway ;) the guy (George Curran) who did the really excellent portraits won… here’s one he did of me. I quite like it :)

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I did enter the poem/song competition, and, whilst a finalist, the best definitely won (rudolf the red nose reindeer, but all about the crew etc.)

Twas the night before Christmas,
And all through the hull,
Not a creature was stirring,
Not even a gull,

The adults were nestled all snug in their beds,
while visions of fur seals ran through their heads,
and away on the deck I heard such a clatter,
I ran to the porthole to see what was the matter

The moonlight glistened on the crests of the waves,
and cast a strange light ‘oer penguins watery graves
When all at once I thought I heard hoofprints,
Was it reindeer I said?
Surely not, they’re all dead*.

The reindeer being dead refers to South Georgia, where reindeer had been introduced (for meat), and recently eradicated by (NZ) helicopter pilots who shot the lot.

Dinner was fantastic as ever, turkey, ham, more brussel sprouts than could shake a stick at.. honestly, I think I gained a good 5-10 kg on this trip! (more to come on food later). Pictured below is Cat and Mel – mother and daughter, of Welsh extraction and great fun. They’d actually done the penultimate trip to ours, but enjoyed it so much that they decided to stay on for South Georgia!! Really great fun to be around. We did make other friends on board, hard not to, but unfortunately didn’t take many pictures. Pictured with me is Colin, a brother of one of the staff (Adrian, the ornithologist in residence), also great fun. I do wish I’d taken pictures of Alex and Clare two brits on the trip, but was too interested in chatting than taking pics. Hey ho, hopefully catch up with them again in London sometime.

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Type D Orca on the way to Elephant Island

Please note, not all of these pictures were taken by me. There were a lot of really excellent photographers on the trip, and some of them very kindly shared their best photos. Where possible I have attributed the picture taker, if it wasn’t me or Maaike.

I don’t know much about Orca, except that they’re not whales but actually a dolphin. Anyway, Type D are apparently the rarest, and we had the most exceptional viewing of them while en route over very calm seas to Elephant Island. Did I mention yet how lucky we were with the weather? ;)

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Those pictures were all mine, but, like I said, other passengers with better skills, and often better hardware also shared their pictures. These next pictures all came from a passenger called “Rick”, and this one is probably my favourite, here uploaded in full res.

Type D orca - Rick

And these are some more of his pictures.

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It was amazing, about 70 odd Orca, in about 5 family groups they think. Only the 17th “confirmed? sighting ever. We were with them for, oh, an hour or so. It was a magic part of the trip, everyone was buzzing for days after. Many thanks to Rick for sharing his most excellent photographs.

Quite the Christmas present!

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South Georgia – Day 3 – Gold Harbour, Cooper Bay & Drygalski Fjord

Please note, not all of these pictures were taken by me. There were a lot of really excellent photographers on the trip, and some of them very kindly shared their best photos. Where possible I have attributed the picture taker, if it wasn’t me or Maaike.

“Gold Harbour offers a beautiful vista, with the beach backed by an amphitheatre of hanging glaciers, vertical cliffs, and the snow-covered peaks of Mt. Paterson. With 25,000 breeding pairs of king penguins, this site is home to an abundance of wildlife, including both seabirds and seals.” (description from our trip handbook.. I’ve been cheating and using excerpts ;) )

Stunning place Gold Harbour, hanging glacier just falling off into the ocean constantly.

leapoard sealice fallship

It’s not the clearest, but you can also see a leopard seal munching the remains of a king penguin there. The skua?! was annoying the leopard seal too.. lucky he didn’t get munched also!

Then time for lunch, while we moved to Cooper Bay

“Cooper Bay is home to South Georgia’s largest chinstrap penguin colony, and also offers nesting ground for gentoo, macaroni and king penguins. The landscape has been sculpted from rock and ice over the last 5,500 years of glacial retreat, and is now a relative oasis of greenery in comparison to with the Antarctic-like scenery of nearby Cape Disappointment.”

Picture taken by "cassidy"Simon Bottomley - Cooper skua & penguinSimon Bottomley - Cooper 35 - Macaroni PenguinsSimon Bottomley - CooperSimon Bottomley - Cooper 17Simon Bottomley - Cooper Bay - Humpback whaleelephant seal laughing (photo by Maaike)more scratchy

Finally we cruised through Drygalski Fjord before leaving South Georgia. It was one of the few times we didn’t have perfect weather, so we couldn’t really see the sides of the fjord. We did see the massive glacier as it retreated up (and in so doing creating) the fjord.

Simon Bottomley  - Team Photo

Certainly South Georgia was a highlight of the trip, a wonderful place to experience. The wildlife abundant, the sights majestic, a wild place. Hearing the stories of the whalers, glimpsing into their hard and bloody existence, yip, quite the trip, and not even in Antarctica yet :)

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South Georgia – Day 2 – Stromness & St. Andrews

Please note, not all of these pictures were taken by me. There were a lot of really excellent photographers on the trip, and some of them very kindly shared their best photos. Where possible I have attributed the picture taker, if it wasn’t me or Maaike.

I should say, that, before the trip Val said “Any day you can get off the ship is a good day”. We were able to get off the ship every day, and land at most places we wanted to (everything except Elephant Island). This is unusual, so, if you do take a cruise, don’t come crying to me if you get off the boat a lot less than we did ;). Also, I’ve probably messed up the ordering of at least a few of these pictures… still, most of them are attributed to the correct place.

Anyway, onwards, the second day we started at Stromness. This is another whaling station and also the place where Shackleton arrived after having crossed the seas from Elephant Island, and then crossing South Georgia itself (never been done before, the crossing only repeated a handful of times).

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One can only imagine the relief it must have been for Shackleton and co to have heard the whaling bell and descended down the waterfall to the safety of the whaling station.

It was also weird, to then, after our few hours on shore (and then a cruise around in a zodiac) to go back on board for yet another delicious buffet lunch. The juxtaposition of the luxury we were in to the harsh harsh times those explorers were in.. couldn’t have been more polar ;)


While lunch was being had, the boat was moved around to St. Andrews, Largest King Penguin colony on South Georgia, Antarctic fur seals and the largest beach used by southern elephant seals on South Georgia. It’s quite a site, 200,000 penguins all on a beach.

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The Kings were moulting, from their juvenile state to adult, and looked in quite the state of disrepair, like they were half dressed. They’re not waterproof while moulting either, so can’t get food, it’s not a very happy time for a penguin.

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South Georgia – Day 1

Please note, not all of these pictures were taken by me. There were a lot of really excellent photographers on the trip, and some of them very kindly shared their best photos. Where possible I have attributed the picture taker, if it wasn’t me or Maaike.

South Georgia Landings

2 days cruising to South Georgia. 2 days of very calm waters – this was to be a hallmark of our trip – practically flat calm (relatively speaking) everywhere we went.

We passed by Shag Rocks on the way, an isolated set of six prominent, jagged peaked islands which are approximately 150 million years old. They’re home to, thousands of blue- eyed shags along with various other sea bird species. On some trips they don’t even bother as the visibility etc. just isn’t good enough.

Shag Rocks

Then onwards to South Georgia. Along the way our days were filled with lectures, and a mandatory briefing on cleaning & sterilising our gear. You have to ensure (as far as possible) that all contaminants are removed before arrival on shore. This also means between sites even on the same island on the same day. Them’s the rules. We also took on an observer from the South Georgia Government (Simon – great guy) who was observing the practices on board.

First stop – Grytviken. It lies within King Edward Cove, a sheltered harbour tucked along the western shore of Cumberland East Bay. Originally established as a whaling station in 1904, Grytviken is currently home to South Georgia’s Government Officers, along with British Antarctic Survey (BAS) personnel who manage the museum, gift shop & post office. It’s also where Ernest Shackleton is buried. One of the staff members was Jonathan Shackleton, a cousin of Ernest Shackletons.. he gave lots of talks and family history along the way, including words by the grave. If you haven’t read any histories of the Shackleton trip, I suggest picking one up on The Endurance trip, heck of a story.

Anyway, some pictures.
Maaike and I with whiskeyAlbotross in flight06-DSC_0101technically on his left hand sideFur Sealshedding kingpiper at GrytvikenBack of Shackletons headstoneGrytvikenElephant seal at GrytvikenGrytviken churchGrytvikenGrytvikenGrytviken churchGrytviken - Simon Bottomley - Elephant Seal (pup)Grytviken - Simon Bottomley - Elephant Seal DetailGrytviken - Simon Bottomley - Antarctic Tern

The church was quite the institution, creating a sense of community. There was a library there, and most meetings / performances etc. would all be held there.

GrytvikenGrytviken library

There was also an excellent little museum (and staff who gave a run down on the workings of the whaling station). The boat here is a replica of the one Tom Creen used to sail Shackleton & Co across the seas from Elephant Island to South Georgia. Also a good place to send postcards.

postyTom Creens boat

The scale of the slaughter in these places was immense. Rivers of blood, the smell must have been insane. Want to know what one of the biggest selling items in the on-site shop was?! …. cologne. Not because the men wanted to smell nice for eachother, but because alcohol was banned and they could get a little bit out of the cologne. Good times.

In the afternoon we cruised around to Godthul. Godthul is situated 9km east of Cumberland Bay on the eastern shores of Barff Peninsula. There was a hiking option, which Maaike and I joined, so had a very nice hike across South Georgia to Godthul.

Walk to GodthulWalk to GodthulWalk to GodthulWalk to GodthulWalk to Godthul

We were encouraged to walk single file where possible, I think to minimise the impact on the moss (grows very very slowly). I thought you’d be better off spreading out rather than really killing one area, but anyway. You can still see the tracks that the reindeer (all exterminated now) made, and those were from years ago. In fact, South Georgia is a pest-eradication exemplar. They’ve nuked the reindeer, and now have (using NZ heli pilots) dropped rat bait everywhere and they think that they have killed off those too.. time will tell.

Anyway, great intro to South Georgia..

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