Out of Stanley
08/03/2011, Eddystone Rock
Pelagic is on the move again.
We departed Stanley on Monday evening for a little trip to the islands in the north western region of the Falklands. Pebble, Carcass, Keppel, Saunders, West Point etc.. The aim of the voyage is to gather data for some trips that I hope to run in the area next summer if we are not busy with longer trips to destinations south of the Falklands. More on this later but they will be customizable five night trips with clients joining and leaving the boat by air. The trips could be a standalone trip for people already in the Falklands or as an add-on to a longer visit to the Falklands. More on that later.
Back to the present trip – We departed Stanley at 5pm and motored slowly out of the harbour as we stowed away fenders and lines and hoisted some main sail. We had already seen minke and Sei whales before we had left Port William (the sound that leads from Stanley Harbour to the ocean). We motor-sailed into a Force 4 northerly breeze until we had cleared the northern coast and could then motor directly to the west in very light and variable winds. We passed several trawlers fishing to the NW of Volunteer Point, at this time of year in that location they are probably fishing for Loligo squid.. After a beautiful sunrise we are now approaching the Eddystone Rock which lies off the northern end of Falkland Sound.
Sea Mammals Galore
08/03/2011, 51 18.46’S:059 37.31’W, On anchor at Pebble Island
We dropped anchor near Pebble Island settlement at 3pm today (Tuesday 08/03/2011). I wrote my last entry early this morning as we were approaching the Eddystone Rock in cool breeze and misty foggy conditions. Up until that point we hadn’t had a lot to look at, apart from the whales in Port William, but around the Eddystone Rock that all changed. The rock is home to a lot of shags, and a lot of sealions or fur seals, we did not pass close enough to see, as we were racing to make the last of the flood tide at the Tamar Pass. All around the rock and between it and the Tamar Pass ( a notorious pass the separates Pebble Island from West Falkland) were large quantities of birds; black browed albatross, shags, Gentoo and Magellanic penguins, shearwaters, petrels, whales and dolphins. Minke whales were spouting all around the boat and as the fog banks cleared away as we neared the Tamar we could see the spouts of much larger whales to the south in the area of White Rock Harbour.
We just caught the last of the flood tide at the Tamar Pass and went through with about 1 knot of favourable tide. Tidal currents in the pass run at 8 to 10 knots so you do not want to get it wrong! inside the pass the water was thronged with birds taking advantage of the eddies and upwellings to feed. As soon as we exited the inner pass we were joined be a large pod of Commerson’s dolphins (the ones outside had been Peel’s dolphins), these were soon joined by more of their friends and we were accompanied all the way to our anchorage by them. Inside Pebble sound the water was calm, the breeze broken and warmed by the island was warm on the skin, the sun was blazing; the Falklands was suddenly showing us its best side – blue skies, blue seas, beautiful landscape and incredible wildlife.
After anchoring we launched the zodiac and went ashore for a quick visit to Pebble Settlement to visit old friends who live there. before coming back to the boat and cooking dinner, mutton and spuds; or for the uninitiated roast lamb served with a medley of seasonable vegetables; which is being served by Paul as I finish typing this.
The photo shows just a few of the Commerson’s dolphins that were riding our bow today.
09/03/2011, 51 18.46’S:059 37.31’W, Pebble Sound
Happy birthday to Merrie 🙂 Merrie is my friend Paul’s daughter and Paul is along on this trip along with my nephew Sam. Paul’s family will fly to Pebble Island to join us on Friday and stay for the weekend.
A breezy day in Pebble Sound but our anchorage is snug. This morning was a maintenance period on the sidescan sonar system that we have brought with us. Somewhere in the harbour here of Pebble settlement is the wreck of an Argentine Pucara aircraft that was dropped into the water when it was being carried as an under-slung load by a British Chinook helicopter during a battlefield clean up sometime after the 1982 war. Something went wrong and the load was jettisoned; we given ourselves the task of finding that wreck. This afternoon with all systems checked out we searched an area of the harbour completing 7 nautical miles of imaging. The bottom of the bay is very flat and featureless but we have one very promising image that looks like the tail of a pucara sticking out of the mud. Hopefully tomorrow’s weather will be more settled and we can return to the site for some more imagine and perhaps to dive the object.
10/03/2011, Committee Bay, Keppel Island, Falkland Islands
We were up bright and early this morning to move the boat over to Pebble Island to collect Paul’s wife Sally and their children Meredith and Dean who were flying in from Stanley to join us for the weekend. Shipping was busy in Pebble sound today as the Concordia Bay was calling at Pebble Island to collect a cargo of wool and later in the day we passed another workboat belonging to Golding Island.
We departed from Pebble Island about 1030am and slowly cruised across the sound then through a labyrinth of channels; Deep Channel, The Woolly Gut, Golding Channel, Rock Harbour, Anxious Passage, and Island Channel to Committee Bay at Keppel Island. We needed a flood tide to enter Rock Harbour from the east and an ebb tide to leave to the west so we anchored between October and November Islands to wait for the tide to change; we were anchored half way between the two so presumably were anchored at about midnight on the 31st October. J
The weather today wasn’t particularly nice with a light south easterly bringing rain later in the day. The south easterly wind did allow us to actually sail, rather than motor, the bulk of the journey today which was nice.
We plan to visit Keppel settlement tomorrow morning. Keppel is important historically in this region, as it was the base of the South American Missionary Society (SAMS) who were trying to civilise the Indians of Tierra Del Fuego. I am not sure who was more savage, the Indians or the missionaries, but my heart lies with the Indians. The mission base here was used to train Indians in the ways of the civilised world and teach them the word of god, but looking back you have to say that they were really used as slave labour on the farm. The Bridges family, who worked here, eventually founded a very successful satellite mission in what is now Ushuaia in Argentina and later still farmed Estancia Harberton where their descendants’ still live. Lucas Bridges wrote the standard reference work on the early history of Tierra del Fuego “The Uttermost Part of the Earth”; which is a must read for anybody interested in the area
Sand Mice and Wabbits
10/03/2011, 51 20.39’S:059 37.88’W, Richard Harbour
Happy Birthday Sean!
What a beautiful day. We spent the latter part of the morning and the early afternoon investigating the sidescan target that we found yesterday. After much investigation we decided that there is definitely something man made on the seabed but are not 100% sure that it is the aircraft that we were looking for.
After our sidescanning session we motored over and anchored in Richard Harbour for lunch. After lunch we took the zodiac for a spin and investigated the entrance to deep channel and the woolly gut before landing on Karina Kirsten Island and Bullock Island. Both of these islands are teaming with wildlife. On Karina we found a shrub then we have not seen before so we’ll need help to identify that. On Bullock Island we found “pesky widdle wabbits” and all dropped into Elmer Fud mode, it was funny at the time. We found a lot of sand mice, the skeleton of some kind of sea urchin like a fat version of American sand dollars. We picked several up but they are very fragile and none survived the zodiac ride back to the yacht. We’ll take something to pack our samples in next time!
In the footsteps of missionaries
12/03/2011, 51 20.39’S:059 37.88’W, Committee Bay, Keppel Island, Falkland Islands
We spent today wandering around Keppel Island. The day was blustery with a few showers but mostly sunny and the brisk breeze dried us out between showers. After a leisurely breakfast we had a wet ride ashore in the tender where we landed at the ruins of an old stone jetty. We were met my Mr. Arthur Nutter who is the caretaker of the island and who just happens to be here this week. We spent the rest of the morning exploring the old buildings and ruins and looking at the tree plantation, which contains many varieties of trees including several from Tierra del Fuego. We found a nice sheltered spot to eat our lunch and then walked around the shore of Committee Bay beach combing and admiring the rich birdlife.
It is a shame that such a historic site is falling into such a state of disrepair due the fact that the place in uninhabited, and for the most part unmaintained. Gorse has gone wild and is overtaking many of the buildings and remains of buildings. Mr Nutter has worked hard during his visits to hold back the decay of the buildings but can only do so much. Several visits have been made to the island by groups of volunteers from the “historic buildings committee’ and “Falkland’s Conservation’ attempting to cut back the gorse and kill other invasive plants such as calafate and thistles. But even though this work has been well intentioned the plants grow back and cover more ground each summer.
Despite the island being infested with rats the wildlife is still very rich. A large family of Commerson’s Dolphins seem to live in the bay and are constantly around the yacht. This morning I showed the Meredith and Dean how you could splash your hands in the water off the scoop at the back of the boat to call the dolphins over, much to their delight, although they were a little nervous at the dolphins coming so close to their hands. Other wildlife that we spotted today included; Upland geese, oyster catchers, night herons , kelp geese, turkey vultures, dark faced ground tyrants, finches, magellanic snipe, Antarctic terns, skuas, kelp gulls, magellanic penguins and several others. Other birdlife on the island includes; several species of penguins, variable hawks, peregrine falcons, barn owls, crested and striated caracaras, black browed albatross, as well as all the usual shore birds that are seen all around the islands.
Whale of a day
13/03/2011, 51 21.08’S:060 40.95’W, Hope Harbour, West Point Island, Falkland Islands
Committee Bay at Keppel Island seems to be a breezy place, at least it was last night, but the mud is very thick and holds an anchor well so we had a good night’s sleep despite the wind. We departed from Committee Bay at about 10am and headed north around Keppel Island then south between Keppel and Saunders Islands across Port Egmont, past the ruins of the first British settlement on the islands, established in the summer of 1764/65, past the modern day settlement through reef channel, Ranee Bay and Burnt Harbour into Byron Sound. We sailed NW up Byron Sound past Hill Cove, and Dunbar towards Carcass Island and West Point Island. We anchored for the night in Hope Harbour at West Point Settlement and went ashore for a quick visit with Michael and Jannet Clarke, who manage the island, before returning to Pelagic for dinner.
Today was a bumper day for whale spotting. We saw whales all around for the whole day, mostly Minkes but some Sei too. Dolphins escorted the boat for most of the day, Commerson’s and Peal’s taking turns to provide the escort. There were lots of birds around the boat all day too, innumerable shags, black browed albatross, and penguins from their rookeries on Keppel and Saunders Island as well as mainland West Falkland.
Tomorrow we plan on a quick visit to a black browed albatross rookery on West Point Island before dropping Sally, Meredith and Dean at Carcass Island for their flight back to Stanley. Paul, Sam and I will then sail Pelagic back to Stanley.
14/03/2011, 51 12.11’S:060 07.36’W, North of West Falkland
We had an early (ish) start this morning and were ashore before 9am so that we would have time to visit a Black Browed albatross colony on West Point Island before leaving for Carcass Island as we had to have Sally, Meredith and Dean there in time to catch their flight back to Stanley.
We motored ashore in the tender and were met my Michael who offered to drive us over to the albatross colony, a kind offer that we gratefully accepted as we were quite short on time and driving there would give us a little more time. The albatross chicks are a few weeks away from fledging and leaving the nest and are a messy mixture of down and feathers. The cute balls of fluff of earlier in the season are currently the “ugly ducklings’ of the albatross world but will soon have their flight feathers and will be soaring in freedom over the waves. There is a well-trodden path through the tussac grass around the perimeter of the colony as the island often has visits from the smaller “expedition’ style cruise ships. The albatross share their colony with Rockhopper penguins also looking very scruffy as they go through their moult. Screeching Johnny Rooks (Striated caracaras) hover around the colony looking for dropped food morsels and week or sick birds to feed on.
After visiting the albatross we lifted the anchor and motored the five miles over to Carcass Island, the home of Rob and Lorraine McGill, to drop off Sally and the children. Carcass Island has an airstrip so visitors can fly in and out on the Islander aircraft of FIGAS (the Falkland Islands Government Air Service); which is a kind of air taxi service that operates around the islands. Paul, Sam and myself are now approaching Pebble island on our way back to Stanley. We are expecting a slow trip with light to moderate head winds (the story of this trip so far, but the high pressure that had brought those winds has also brought some nice weather too) and hope to arrive around or just after midday on Tuesday. Then it’s back to work and also a dentist appoint for me; which also set a deadline on when we had to back in Stanley.
We were discussing this morning how those of us lucky enough to live in these islands take a lot of wildlife for granted. Just as we stood on the beach this morning we could see five or six species of ducks, two species of penguin, cormorants, turkey vultures, Johnny rooks, siskins, finches, long tailed meadowlarks just to name a few off the top of my head. At sea there are whales and dolphins Ð I guess we are lucky and that is why I find it hard to write this blog as choosing what to include from all that “normal’ stuff that we see and do takes a bit of thinking about.
16/03/2011, 51 41.54’S:057 49.20’W, Stanley
Good sailing on the trip back meant that we arrived back in Stanley at about 9am on Tuesday morning. We had a steady breeze in the 15 to 20 knot range and averaged 7.5 knots for the trip back which is not bad going for a vessel of this size. The wind was from the NNE so we were sailing very close to the wind for the first sector but once past the Eddystone Rock and Cape Bougainville were able to bear away a bit when the sailing came fast, smooth and quiet.
Life goes on in the ocean 24 hours a day even if you can’t see it, one of the beautiful things about sailing in these waters on a nice night is what you can hear; birds calling, the occasional startled squawk from an albatross surprised by the stealthy approach of the yacht, the breathing and splashing of dolphins as they take turns to ride the bow wave, and the deep rumbling breathing of the bigger whales. Occasionally you see a glowing green dolphin as is swims through a patch of phosphorescence.
On this particular evening scene was lit by a quarter moon so the shape of the land to the south could be seen as well as the occasionally whale spout when it was caught in the moonbeam. The high cloud to the far north was very brightly illuminated, presumably, by the Illex squid fishing fleet jigging up thousands of tonnes of the little creatures for the Asian markets. Ahead of us to the east was another fishing fleet this time trawlers fishing for Loligo squid for the European market.
One wonders exactly what part of the food chain is being affected by the removal of so much biomass? The squid eat something and something eats the squid and if a significant quantity of the squid is removed each season something must be filling the void; I wonder what that is?
The image with this entry shows part of the Loligo fishing fleet displayed on our chart plotting software as they fish NW of Volunteer Point.