Antarctica Day 6 – West Point Island

We awoke to sunshine and the west coast of the Falklands, but it was short lived as large storm clouds started to appear. To try and fit in as much as possible it was a 07:30 breakfast so that we could be off the boat by 08:30. During breakfast however we were told the wind would prevent us from the intended landing on Carcass Island so instead we’d head to West Point Island – another island in the west Falklands.

There was a short briefing to explain what we’d be doing on the island; we then had 15 minutes to get ready and get to the zodiacs. I did think I was going to go out on the first boat but my life jacket wasn’t tight enough so I ended up on the fourth boat. The sea was quite rough still and I did get quite wet every time we hit a wave, but it was only a short journey from where we’d dropped anchor.

West Point Island

The disembarking onto land was pretty easy, and it was our first time on dry(ish) land for 2014. We had to wait for another group to arrive before they’d let us walk off as a member of the crew had to lead us to where we were going. This was done at quite a slow pace but as we got closer to the group in front I joined the others so I could get to near the front of the group.

Black-browed Albatross

After about a mile we had reached the opposite side of the island and could then proceed by ourselves as long as we stayed at least 5 metres away from wildlife. The place we’d reached was a colony of black-browed albatross with rockhopper penguins mixed between them. To start with I concentrated on photographing the albatrosses as where I’d started you could get very close to them nesting, and at times they came closer so that you were no longer the required 5 metres away. Obviously the birds hadn’t been told the same as us.

Black-browed Albatross (Close-up)

Black-browed Albatross tending to it’s chick

Once done with the albatrosses I worked my way around the sodden path to where there were places to get closer to the rockhopper penguins. It was great seeing them so close and to watch them hop from rock to rock. It looked like they were having fun as they bathed in the stream and then dried themselves off. Though as the wind was so strong by this time it was surprising they needed to dry themselves at all.

Southern Rockhopper Penguin

I spent quite some time watching them go about their business, but eventually decided to go back to the albatrosses. Around the other side we went along a path to find 3 rockhopper penguins had wandered up and were within 1 metre of us. Suddenly though, the weather turned and heavy rain started to pour which within seconds had covered our lenses. I tried to continue taking pictures but the raindrops made it impossible to focus so we had to abandon any further photography and get our equipment into our bags to let them dry.

Southern Rockhopper Penguin (Close-up)

Once packed away we trekked back across the island at a quicker pace since we weren’t being led, and boarded the second zodiac heading back to the Plancius. Again it was a pretty wet crossing, even though the rain and wind had stopped by this point. When we arrived back on the boat we had to disinfect and clean our boots to avoid bringing anything onboard from the island. This should help to avoid cross contamination between Islands on future landings.

Being the first back meant we had time to back up photographs before lunch. Lunch was a buffet which made a nice change. When the carrot and ginger soup starter arrived one of them on our table accidentally knocked a bowl of it out the hands of a waitress and straight over me, drenching my base layer and trousers. The hotel manager on the ship saw it happen and provided free laundry services to get them cleaned as soon as possible. After a quick change, I went for copious amounts of pasta as I’d not really eaten much over the previous couple of days.

Saunder’s Island

Whilst in the dining room we’d weighed anchor and set off, this time in the direction of Saunder’s Island. The weather had gotten worse again so we were unsure if we’d be going on the planned excursion or not in the afternoon. With the way the weather was it meant any excursion at all was unlikely.

Port Egmont, Saunder’s Island

However the weather did improve, and although we couldn’t go to our original landing spot we did make landfall further around the island on the site of the first British colony in the Falklands, Port Egmont. This settlement was started in 1765 by Captain John Byron, around the same time as the French had settling on the Eastern Falkland Islands.

It was a rough ride to the island and for most of the time there it rained. We walked from the ruins of the old fort up to a memorial, from there to the top of the cliff and then back along the seafront. Along the way I spotted a juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron sitting on a rock; once I’d pointed it out to some people it was soon being pointed out by others for the next 20 minutes.

Juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron

The return trip by zodiac was far rougher; as it was far more dangerous now with the wind they added a second crew member to every boat so that they could pull on a rope to keep the nose up above the waves during transit. I think if the weather had been like this before anyone had set off they would have cancelled the excursion on the basis that it was too risky.

For the evening meal, as I didn’t like the starter they specially got me more of the soup from lunch. This was then followed by a very nice turkey dinner that actually included vegetables I like. The dessert was a yogurt with blackberries and a slice of kiwi. Following this we were then briefed for the next day in Port Stanley and told we’d be travelling there at full speed all night to get us there on time.

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