Sailing between Subantarctic islands means spending quite a bit of time At Sea. During my 12 days on the Professor Khromov we spent 3 full days and 7 nights at sea, crossing between islands. Once I remembered to take sea- sickness pills regularly, it was a fascinating part of the journey. Following are journal extracts and pictures from the days spent at sea crossing the southern latitudes.
En route to Macquarie Island
9AM Today is our first full day At Sea, and it’s shaping up to be a real experience of ocean sailing. The overnight crossings to The Snares and then to the Auckland Islands were pretty rough, with lots of bumping into door frames and groping for handholds. But by daybreak things had usually calmed down (because we were anchored in harbor) and we could get off the ship to explore the islands. Today, as the ship rolls and heaves from side to side we’re told to stay in our bunks for our own safety – but that can’t be described as comfortable. Having been pitched from one end of the bunk to the other all night I’m keen to stretch my legs. We’re pushing against the prevailing winds and currents, heading south by south west with a strong cold front passing over and around us. The front should clear by this afternoon, and despite sailing against the currents we’ll reach Macquarie Island early tomorrow morning. Over the loudspeakers our expedition leader is keeping us updated on the weather and reminding us ‘One hand for yourself, one for the ship at all times!’ Of course, the serious birders aren’t paying much attention to that and they’re out on deck with cameras poised to capture the multitudes of sea birds following the ship. I ventured out on deck briefly, what an amazing sight – wide swells whipped by freezing winds, gliding albatross tracing the waves curve. Heading back to the relative safety of my cabin the ship’s doctor chuckles when she passes me in the hallway, commenting on the calculating way I’m scoping for the next handhold. What else can you do but laugh?
11:30AM Getting better at moving about the ship now, I head up to the bridge. It’s an awesome sight. Ship’s prow ploughing through the waves, spray flying. There’s so many birds to be seen out here, 3 or 4 species of albatross and various petrels. Storm petrels, tiny little birds, dark charcoal grey and black shoot around the ship, popping up from behind waves and darting though the air like swallows. Today the ship is sailing to the east of the Macquarie Trench, with 4.5km of water beneath us.
Our route and location is shown on a screen in the ship’s library, which doubles as tea station, computer charging point and bar. It’s where to go when you need to warm up after bird watching in the sleet and charge your camera for the next shoot. There were a couple of lectures scheduled for today but they had to be canceled, the ship is pitching too much for it to be safe down in the lower 200 level lecture room.
2.30PM We’ve passed the cold front, the sun is shining, waves rolling smoothly blue. On course for Macquarie Is. Went back up to the bridge before lunch and out on deck after, so many albatross. Royal, White capped, Gibson’s. Petrels too – Cape, Storm, was that a Kerguelen? Beautiful out on deck, swirling cloud formations behind us with the front passing. Had a realisation of where I am when looking to the sun moving across the sky. It’ll set into and then rise from the ocean. This trip is the first time I’ve been far enough out to sea to have no land visible in any direction, and the thought of such deep waters below and long distances between land masses is awe-inspiring.
En route to Campbell Island
What a difference a change in direction makes, helped by a break in the weather. As we head north-east from Macquarie Island the ship is surging ahead with the prevailing winds and currents under clear skies. Spent quite a while on deck last night watching the clouds fade and change, sunsets last a long time out here.
Two of our guides gave fascinating lectures today, Tui spoke about her work studying and Two of our guides gave fascinating lectures today, Tui spoke about her work studying and photographing penguins and albatross all around the Subantarctic, and Alex filled us in on the megaherbs and human history of Campbell Island. It’s been a good day to catch up on photo filing, naps and journal entries, with the ship gently rolling instead of pitching. I even ventured out into the prow for the first time, awesome vantage point for bird watching. This evening Campbell Island can be seen on the horizon, a vague hummock in dusky haze. Looking forward to the next two days.
En route for Port of Bluff
We’re still lucky with the weather, and still following the prevailing current north east to Stewart Island, then Port of Bluff. Attended another intriguing lecture from Tui about penguins, I never knew they were the only animal to have fluorescent pigments. Guide Katja gave a great talk about her career in Antarctica, and Rodney Russ talked about his other interests beside the Subantarctic – including riding ski mobiles across Siberia. Between talks today was another day exploring the ship, bird spotting from different vantage points and watching the sky and water change with the light.
10PM Anchored in the lee of Stewart Island, we’re surrounded by dozens of albatross, petrels, gulls – all sitting on the gentle waters like a big flock of ducks. Mixed species preening each other, bobbing about. The birders and scientists are surprised, this kind of cross-species canoodling is unusual. A strange sight to see birds that have been following us on the wing for miles across wide ocean, gliding and soaring through turbulent air now plumped down on a low swell like a bunch of seagulls who’ve heard a packet of chips opening. Today’s bird list included 9 albatross: Gibson’s, Wandering, Southern Royal, Northern Royal, Campbell, Black browed, Shy, Salvin’s and Buller’s, and plenty of petrels. We’ll be docking in Port of Bluff first thing tomorrow, then back to the real world. Wonder how long it’ll be before I get my land legs back?