Days 3 and 4 - All At Sea

January 19, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

On the third day I woke early, had breakfast, paid my bill at the B&B and headed off in a cab. I was meeting up with Jim and Peter, together with the rest of the core staff of the Quark expedition team of the Sea Spirit, in a cafe on San Martin (the main drag of Ushuaia). Of course, I would have to get lost on the street, going east instead of west. My sense of direction is bad enough in the northern hemisphere without having it all turned upside down in the southern hemisphere! It was interesting to observe, through the sweat pouring down my face after lugging my gear right across town having lost my bearings, during those first 5 minutes that I met the core staff of the Sea Spirit in a cafe, was their desire to find fast and unhindered WIFI before having to get back to the ship and prepare for the next round of passengers. Being out of contact with loved ones and the rest of the world for 10 days with only satellite connection to the internet of all things does play on people. Everyone was furtively downloading, answering emails quickly, and catching up on news local to them. The internet of all things has become so integral to us now (watching The Walking Dead and having read The Bone Clocks makes this observation quite interesting; to me at least). Jim, Peter and I made our excuses and we headed off to dump my gear on the ship before getting lunch.  

2014-11-18 12.39.122014-11-18 12.39.12

Peter and Jim download emails and other files for reading later on. Satellite Internet is uber expensive on board the ship. 

I was granted permission to board the ship early, before any of the other passengers. Jim gave me my boarding pass, I went through "customs" on the pier, observing the "Brits Out" mural that flanked the gates to the pier, and we walked up the gangway of the Sea Spirit. This allowed me to drop off my bags and freed myself for the rest of the day to hang out with Jim and Peter, grab some lunch get ready for the excitement. It was great to see Jim and Peter, have a coffee and catch up on the happenings of their first trip of the season. Jim was regaling tales of Antarctic Petrels and Snow Petrels buzzing around the ship and Snow Petrels flying around Peter's head as he was driving his Zodiac through the packed ice. (Remember this sentence for later.) I couldn't wait.

We had to get back to the ship for a certain time and I met with some other crew. I was sharing a 3-berth cabin with two other guys I had  never met before. Luckily for all of us, we got on well and they were to help make the trip very memorable. Damian Caniglia, a photographer from Australia, was just as mad as me in not bothering with sleep and getting up for dawn most mornings. We were delayed leaving the quay due to having to load more fuel than expected. This meant waiting for more fuel trucks to arrive. However, just before dusk, we were on our way. I was hoping to be able to see some of the sights of the Beagle Channel before we departed, but it was not to be. By the time dawn would break, we would be leaving the sight of Tierra del Fuego behind and making our way towards Las Malvinas/Falkland Islands. 

2014-11-18 15.34.342014-11-18 15.34.34 Waiting to leave, looking towards the bow of the Sea Spirit from Deck 2.

Kelp and Dolphin Gulls, with a Southern Giant PetrelKelp and Dolphin Gulls, with a Southern Giant Petrel Finally, the engines start. Kelp and Dolphins Gulls, as well as Southern Giant Petrels, come in for a gander at what is stirred up by the engine wash.

I woke to a pleasant first morning after a decent night's sleep and there were plenty of birds about. I was on deck before 6am, relishing the prospect of albatrosses, petrels, shearwaters and blubber. We were fortunate that the weather was at our back and was not too rough. A 2 metre swell and a favourable wind pushed us onwards and were fortunate to see Northern and Southern Royal Albatross, Black-browed Albatross, Grey-headed Albatross, Northern and Southern Giant Petrel, Thin-billed Prion, Southern Fulmar, Cape Petrel, Great, and Sooty Shearwaters, Wilson's and and White-chinned Petrels, Common Diving Petrel and Magellanic Penguins on our first day at sea. Chilean and Brown Skuas flew around the ship, as did a couple of Snowy Sheathbills while we were still in sight of land. All very surreal. We were fortunate to witness a small pod of six Peale's Dolphin and a small group of 4 Long-finned Pilot Whales.

Imperial ShagImperial Shag Imperial Shags in flight.

Black-browed AlbatrossBlack-browed Albatross Black-browed Albatross.

Southern Royal AlbatrossSouthern Royal Albatross Southern Royal Albatross.

Southern Royal AlbatrossSouthern Royal Albatross Southern Royal Albatross.

Southern Royal AlbatrossSouthern Royal Albatross Southern Royal Albatross.

Wandering AlbatrossWandering Albatross

Wandering Albatross (note the black edging to the tale and slight "gilling" around the neck).

Southern Giant PetrelSouthern Giant Petrel Southern Giant Petrel. 

Southern Giant Petrel feeding flockSouthern Giant Petrel feeding flock Giant Petrel feeding flock in the wake of the ship, with a couple of Cape Petrel and a Black-browed Albatross lurking.

Northern Giant PetrelNorthern Giant Petrel Northern Giant Petrel (note the dark-tipped bill).

Southern FulmarSouthern Fulmar Southern Fulmar - one of the most beautiful seabirds seen during the entire trip.

Cape PetrelCape Petrel Cape Petrel (Pintado).

Snowy SheathbillSnowy Sheathbill Snowy Sheathbill in just looks wrong!

It was an incredible first day at sea, with thousands of Cape Petrel, Black-browed Albatross and Giant Petrels. Everywhere I looked, there were seabirds. It was a magical christening and introduction to the Southern Ocean. It was strange, yet comforting, to see three species here that I can see most autumns off the south and west coasts of Ireland - Sooty and Great Shearwaters, and Wilson's Storm Petrel. These species breed in these waters and spend the non-breeding part of the year flying around the Atlantic Ocean looking for food, even up around by the Irish coast. Incredible. The day was topped off with what would become a daily occurrence...a few well-earned Beagle ales. Bed by 10pm and the alarm set again for 5am. Who needs sleep!?!?! That can be taken when I get back to civilisation. Las Malvinas/Falkland Islands awaited us the following morning. 

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