28 Feb 2010
|We arrived at Westpoint Island just before our 7:00 AM breakfast time. We still had time to eat leisurely before heading to our cabin to dress for our first excursion. We put on our expedition gear (rain pants, heavy parka, zodiac life vests, wool sox, hiking boots, and overboots) in addition to our normal outfits. For me, everything fit just right and I felt ready to go. I had been a little worried that my hiking boots might be too big for my overboots, but they fit just right. The combination also proved very easy to walk in.
At the appointed time we were instructed to proceed to the aft of deck 3. There they checked to make sure we were properly outfitted and then allowed us to proceed. We had to sign off the ship by turning over our unique tag on a board by the exit. That way the crew has a visual check of how many are off the ship and hopefully won’t leave anyone on the beach. They told a story of almost doing that one time. They said that a husband had turned over his wife’s tag assuming that she was on board and had forgotten to do it. Luckily a birder with binoculars happened to spot her on the beach jumping up and down and waiving her arms. True or false, the story gets the point across.
Our ship has a platform on the stern like a diving platform on a yacht. It makes it much easier to enter and exit the zodiacs. For our first attempt, we were anchored in a quiet cove and the seas were very calm. No one had any problems that I saw. In addition we landed on a concrete ramp at the only farm on the island. We just stepped out into about 3 inches of water. We were introduced to the family that lives there.
Then most of us walked up over a 300+ foot hill to an area on the other side of the island. We were headed to a colony of nesting Albatross and a few Rockhopper Penguins. We were told that it was a 35 minute walk, but I think that was the time for teenagers and not for senior citizens. A few passengers took advantage of the family’s offer of a lift in the family Range Rover. The rest of us struggled over at our own pace.
The colony was perched on the side of a hill at the top of the cliffs. There was a large rocky wash that gave rough access to the beach below and next to that was a large area filled with very large tufts of grass. Some of the tufts were taller than I am. A very high percentage of the birds that we saw were chicks in the process of molting prior to learning how to fly. Some of the chicks were nested among the exposed rocks, but a great many chicks were hidden among the tufts of grass. I found it very interesting to observe an Albatross trying to land next to its chick. It seemed to crash into a tuft or a rock and kind of stagger on until stopped. Then it would hop along to its final destination. It was also strange to think of how many chicks there were and wonder how a parent could pick out its own child.
After taking dozens of photos, it was time to return. We had to struggle back uphill for a while, but it seemed to be easier going. Then it was almost flat until a final climb to the ridge line. I started out following one of the leaders, but soon was in the lead. There were tracks going off in all sorts of directions, but I held to what looked like the strongest track. Everyone followed and we got back to the farmhouse OK, but I think I did not take the shortest possible route. No one complained afterwards, so I guess I did OK.
The lady of the house had fixed an English Tea for us. We had tea or coffee and plate after plate of sweets. Be mindful that this place is several days travel from the nearest town. She couldn’t go down to the store to buy this stuff; she had to make it all from scratch. It was all wicked good.
The trip back to the ship was done very smoothly. These seamen are very experienced in herding seniors. We are required to take off our overboots outside and leave them in a locker assigned to us. Then we can come inside and turn over our tag to indicate that we are back on board. At this point we got a hot, wet towel to freshen up with and a cup of bullion to refresh our strength. Finally we had about a half hour to relax before lunch. Again we chose to skip a main course and just have the appetizer, soup, salad and dessert. There is a whole dessert buffet and it is hard to stop at one or two.
While we ate, the crew moved the ship 17 miles to Saunders Island. As soon as we were finished eating we dressed in our expedition gear and queued for the zodiacs. This anchorage was more exposed and the sea had a little swell. It was still pretty easy getting into the zodiac, but we had to land on the beach with waves coming in constantly. I would say we stepped into about 8 inches of water and had to wade about 20 feet to shore. Fortunately all my gear worked and I did not get wet. Evelyn told me later that she got water inside her overboots and into her shoes. She had to hike with wet feet.
This time our walk was shorter and the hill was not as high. There were Gentoo penguins all around us on the beach and on the walk. We even saw a small colony of King Penguins. To me they look just like the Emperor Penguins in “The March of the Penguins” movie. The other side of the island had a long beach. We walked way down to the end to look for Magellianic Penguins, but when I saw them I didn’t recognize that they were not Gentoos. I also saw lots of Rockhopper penguins. While we were walking down the beach the wind began to pick up and blow a little sand in our direction. By the time we returned, the wind was blowing very strongly and picking up lots of sand. It seemed quite like walking into a sand storm. Some people elected to walk backwards. It was hard going until we were able to get off the beach.
The extra wind made the return zodiac ride rather exciting. We had to wade out into about 14 inches of water – at least 2 inches over my boot height. Fortunately my rain pants kept the water out of my boots. Then on the ride back the swells were making it pretty exciting and many times the waves broke over the bow and sprayed us all. We all got quite soaked on the outside. I don’t know how others made out, but my clothes were dry once I got the rain gear off. Again we were greeted with a hot towel, but this time we had hot chocolate with a splash of liquor. That tasted very good.
This evening we had the Captain’s Welcome Cocktail Reception – dress was cocktail attire. We were in trouble again. The literature that we received seemed to indicate that all dress was casual. Therefore I didn’t bring a jacket [which takes up lots of space] or tie. Therefore I just wore the best dress shirt and pants that I did bring. I think most people packed like we did. I don’t think we stood out as improperly dressed, but who knows. The Captain’s Welcome Dinner followed. That was no different than any other dinner unless you were one of the chosen few to be invited to sit at the Captain’s table.