Ellen MacArthur leaves the UK on Monday for a eight-week albatross study trip to South Georgia

Ellen MacArthur will be leaving the UK this Monday, 12 December to start her voyage to South Georgia. The purpose of the eight-week trip is to undertake a birdlife survey alongside biologist Sally Poncet and Ellen hopes this work will help highlight the plight of the albatross.

“I first met Sally in the Falkland Islands when I stopped there in March 2004 on the delivery trip from Sydney to New York. It was the first part of training for the record on B&Q which finished at the beginning of this year. Sally struck me as an incredible person, who was very dedicated to her work. During the solo part of the delivery trip I read the report on the albatross that she had compiled over previous years. I was shocked to see that due to long-line fishing 19 of the 21 species of albatross are in danger of extinction, the birds which accompany sailors like myself through the Southern Seas.

I was inspired not only by Sally’s work to raise awareness, but also by her knowledge of the incredible island on which these studies are based; South Georgia. I waited until after the record attempt on B&Q to get in touch, after which I met up with Sally in Europe to discuss plans for this winter. This trip into the Southern Ocean is something I have dreamed of since I first sailed there in 1999. It is a wonderful, wild unique place, so full of nature and history. One of the few real isolated places on earth which are left. Though one of the closest Southern Ocean islands to civilization, the island of South Georgia has only two permanent inhabitants, no airport and can only be reached by boat. It is 100 miles long, and has huge mountains which which rise dramatically from the sea to over 3000m – just awe inspiring. My ambition with this journey is to try to capture the magic of this place, and to see for myself what really lies there whilst spending some time with these magnificent birds.”

Currently two albatross species are critically endangered, seven are endangered and 10 species listed as vulnerable. Sally has been undertaking birdlife surveys in this region for over 30 years and during this winter’s survey, Sally and Ellen will spend time on South Georgia and Albatross Island. Ellen will fly to the Falkland Islands then join the sailing yacht ‘Tara’, formerly Sir Peter Blake’s yacht, and sail 800 miles from the Falklands to South Georgia which will take about 10 days before transferring to the ‘Golden Fleece’. So, once again, Ellen is likely to be spending Christmas Day at sea before landing at Albatross Island for a two-week survey.

South Georgia is some 170 km long and varying from 2 to 40 km wide. Two mountain ranges provide its spine, rising to 2,934 metres at Mount Paget’s peak. Huge glaciers, ice caps and snowfields cover about 75 per cent of the island in the summer (November to January) and in winter (July to September) a snow blanket reaches the sea.