We take a wildlife trek along the shores of King Edward Cove in search of a Light-mantled Sooty Albatross chick
A quest to find the nest of a Light-mantled Sooty Albatross close to our anchorage in South Georgia was rewarded with a brilliant day out on the shores of King Edward Cove. Under clearing skies and with a brisk cold wind on our backs, Post Mistress Ainslie Wilson led us along the beach where we picked our way past Elephant and Fur Seals who seemed only mildly irritated that we’d turned their home into a ‘highway’.
A small colony of King Penguins then had our group mesmerised for half an hour. These comical and beautiful creatures reciprocated our inquisitiveness by marching up to our photographers and giving Jan-Eric’s telephoto lens a good pecking!
We trudged onwards and then upwards onto a small headland overlooking almost the entire length of Cumberland East Bay. As Nigel Ingram said: “I’ve seen some pretty amazing picnic spots but this takes some beating!” And there, just beneath us was a grey woolly ball of albatross topped with a set of beady eyes and the distinctive beak of this extraordinary soaring seabird.
Tucked away in a crevice in the rock face the month old chick already looked fairly large but nowhere near its fully fledged size – the adult birds, said Eef Willems, have a wingspan of 2.2m or over 7ft. After some sustenance we climbed a little higher where Ainslie knew there were two more chicks. There they were in nests clinging to a narrow shelf on the rock face. But then three more were spotted, nests unseen before by Ainslie. Sootys normally nest in isolation so this grouping excited her – she was keen to report the find to Tim and Pauline Carr who have studied the birds over many years.
Looking out over Cumberland Bay I was intrigued by three wrecked fishing vessels – what had happened? Apparently in 2002, in an attempt to shelter from a big storm they had all gone aground when they had ‘run out of chart’ as Ainslie put it. Although their charts had ‘stopped’ they didn’t and they piled ashore. Luckily no one was lost.
We returned to Grytviken on an inland route which would take us past the remains of a crashed helicopter, a rather unattractive leftover from the 1982 precursor to the Falklands War proper and the action around Grytviken which soon after led to the Argentinian surrender of the island.
By now the weather was closing in and we were pleased to get back to the yacht where one of Claire’s life-saving soups was on the table, the heating was on down below and hot showers were available. It’s at times like this that one wonders how on earth the Carrs managed in Curlew. We’re a bunch of softies by comparison but it’s a style of cruising to which one could undoubtedly become accustomed!
The world was once again put to rights around the dining table as we consumed a superb curry polished off with a brandy in the lower saloon, all of which saw us in our bunks relatively early. An 0500 start to following day would see us say goodbye to Grytviken and hello to Prion Island 50 miles to the north-west where we will be able to see the fantastic Wandering Albatross, with a wingspan of almost 12ft, the biggest span of any bird.