Our expedition leader reports:
On the 12th of November 2013, around 4 am ship time (7 am UTC), mv Ortelius was just a few nautical miles away from Saunders Island, part of the South Sandwich Islands. Knowing that this remote group of islands was still entrapped in sea ice just a week before, the excitement on board was grand and everyone was up to get the first sight of these active volcanic islands.
The mv Ortelius entered Cordelia Bay, located on the East side of the island and remained drifting while the wind was gusting 50 knots. The scenery in front of us was at its wildest, with huge cloud formations of different kinds, some of them running along the slopes of the volcano, appearing like if it was erupting with fumes!
Saunders Island, South Sandwich Islands, 12 November 2013 © Delphine Aurès-Oceanwide Expeditions
The long beach was blocked with tons of sea ice pushed against the shore, rendering the sight even more dramatic. With patience as the best ally, we waited and hoped that the weather would stabilize for us to be able to drop a scout zodiac and hopefully find a part of the shoreline that would not be blocked by ice. And it worked! By 08.30 hrs., we were taking all our guests ashore at one of the remotest and most inaccessible island on Earth!
Ice-clogged Saunders Island beach with Adélie penguins, 12 November 2013 © Delphine Aurès-Oceanwide Expeditions
There, myriads of Adelie and Chinstrap penguins were busy commuting from the icy shorelines to their nests on the dark ash slopes. Cape petrels were nesting in the scree cliffs just above the landing site. Our colourful jackets were the only colors in this mesmerizing black and white landscape. Everyone was stunned by the mere fact of setting foot here… Out of 6 attempts of landings in the IAATO record history of motor vessels, only 2 had succeeded so far. It appears that we were the 3rd motor vessel in modern history to have ever managed a landing at Saunders Island!
Beside patience, luck is the second best ally of any expedition in remote polar areas… And we had the luck to find this little cove not completely blocked by ice, in order to be able to land. But it appears that we were also luckily present at the very right moment… Indeed, before the end of the landing, the swell increased and the rising tide started to move huge blocks of ice inside the cove. The last 3 zodiacs left the shore just on time, mimicking ‘little icebreakers’ to escape the cove!
After such an exceptional landing, we were offered another great experience… Navigating mv Ortelius into pack ice and in the sunshine! The sea ice was quickly spreading northwards, but the Captain skilfully navigated among the large and thick ice floes, offering us some more stunning view of Saunders Island, which was slowly but surely about to be entrapped in sea ice again! Again we felt very lucky to have reached the Sandwich Islands and landed on one of them.
Just before darkness we managed to be clear of the ice and started our long crossing towards Elephant island.
Everyone has expressed their thankful greetings to Captain Ernesto Barria and his crew. They have made possible, these incredibly beautiful landings, despite difficult conditions of strong winds, swell and ice.
During our one day in the Falklands, we landed at Carcass Island and West Point Island and were able to watch all the birdlife of the Falklands, from the endemic Cobb’s wren to the emblematic Rockhopper penguin and Black-browed albatross. Later on, in South Georgia, we succeeded to land at the 3 largest King penguin colonies, being Salisbury Plain, Gold Harbour and the ever fascinating Saint Andrews Bay, that left everyone speechless!
Expedition Leader, mv Ortelius