OTL29-15 Trip Log | Bouvet Island, Ascension - Cape Verde
30.06.2015 by Oceanwide Expeditions Triplog
This morning started with high temperatures and some light drizzle outside. We were close to Ascension Island, which was ahead of us, hiding in the morning mist. Suddenly the mist disappeared in a matter of minutes and the island was right in front of us. We had some wildlife around the ship: Flying fish in/over the water, Bulwer's Petrels, Brown Boobies, Sooty Terns and Black (White-capped noddies) in the air.
After breakfast and customs formalities we were able to leave Ortelius. There was some swell at sea, but it did not prevent us from going ashore.
Passengers leaving the ship in Cape Verde disembarked first and cleared immigration with their luggage – it was quite an exciting final zodiac ride and a challenge to step from the zodiac onto the pier at Ascension without getting wet! The rest of us were all on shore by 12.15 pm and had an hour to wander around Georgetown centre, which consisted of a few colonial buildings and a pretty church, with donkeys wandering around on the cricket pitch, and lines of verandah-ed bungalows. The local guides with transportation soon met us (in the car-park next to the 20-mile-an-hour speed limit!), and we drove first to the big colony of nesting Sooty terns via the American Wideawake Airbase. It was hot. The terns were nesting on the arid lava fields not far from the shore. After a short walk we were able to observe the terns from fairly close, ensuring not to disturb them or change their behaviour. The colony site, with hundreds of birds on the surface of the lava, was very impressive. Our next destination was Green Mountain – a tall mountain in the east part of the island covered with tropical vegetation. We drove almost to the top of the mountain on very narrow, steep roads with numerous turns. On the mountain it was another world - very different from the lower-elevated, arid parts of the island. Here it was much cooler. Low clouds covered the top of the mountain, continually blowing through. Lush vegetation full of brightly-coloured flowers surrounded our rustic unpaved road. We continued on foot from the location of the former Green Mountain settlement/farm to the old fortress near the mountain crest, which overlooked an area on Ascension designed for water-collecting. It was pleasantly cool and we spent some time there, taking photos and enjoying beautiful views of the island. Soon we were back in the cars and heading to our next destination – another historical stop where a battery once stood, still containing old cannons, located just above Georgetown. After that we were driven back into town to do a little exploring and maybe to visit the museum (partially set within another fort) or hang out with ‘locals’ in a bar. There was also a zodiac shuttle available to a small, but very beautiful beach for anybody who wanted to go for a swim. The time passed quickly and those of us who had chosen to stay on the ship to Cape Verde went back to Ortelius for dinner. However, our adventures were not over yet. After dinner it was decided that despite a bit of swell, we could go ahead with the evening excursion to see Green turtles preparing their nests and maybe laying their eggs on the beach after darkness had fallen. 13 intrepid Ortelians were soon back in zodiacs for another ride to shore through waves and swell in complete darkness! It was a short walk to the “turtle” beach. The turtle-viewing was well -organized by local guides. We met up with some of our departing companions at their hotel, then walked together (using flashlights and feeling our way carefully) to the gathering point. Then it was up to the turtles! We were extremely lucky to see hatchlings emerging and scrambling towards the open ocean AND to watch a large female making a nest in the sand in which to lay her eggs. Maybe our colleagues in ‘Hotel Obsidian’ got to see the egg-laying itself; we returned on board around 11 pm, thoroughly contented with our day. Some of us, who had chosen to stay onboard Ortelius for the evening, were able to watch Common dolphins hunting Flying fish in the ship’s spotlight! After everyone was back and the zodiacs were safely stowed, we headed to the bar for a nightcap (Rolando had kept open especially) and the ship started her journey towards Cape Verde. It had been a long and very enjoyable day on Ascension Island and we were looking forward to a late breakfast in the morning…
The morning started too early, if that is possible. The previous day and especially the evening was packed with activities and excitement, and probably all guests were still dreaming of cute baby turtles when they were called for breakfast. The tagboard outside the dining room looked sad and forlorn, with 30 numbers removed from it; we have left some good friends behind (intentionally!) on Ascension Island…
The morning was taken up with finding a "not very hot" spot to stay in, as with Ortelius' progress north, the temperatures are only increasing - with the coolest parts of the day just below 30°C. On the positive side, the seas were gentle and by this time everyone was a seasoned sailor (veterans should not get seasick, at least not in public).
By 10:30 Adam, our local Mythological God of Geology - and soon to be of the Oceans as well - offered a lecture on ‘Birds – A Geological Perspective’. Bob threatened to retaliate by preparing a talk on geology from the birds’ point of view; we will have to wait and see if it was a joke…Anyhow, Adam used fossil finds to talk about the evolution of the bird, indeed presenting a rather different slant on the subject than generally given by biologists/naturalists. Meanwhile, in the real world, some interesting species were spotted from the bridge by Christian (who was half-melting, and hiding behind a pile of water bottles!). Some passengers were brave enough to be outside on deck, but we really are entering an area of great heat today. The beautiful White-tailed tropicbird, the Long-tailed jaeger and several terns (most likely Arctic) were seen. Both the jaeger and the terns were travelling North in the middle of these oceans, as they migrate every year from the arctic tundra where they nest to the SW Atlantic (jaeger) and Antarctica itself (tern), to find food and a suitable climate. These pelagic animals "feel" the magnetic field of our planet with an array of sensors in the backs of their eyes – a discovery made quite recently. After lunch, a documentary on coffee was shown (while most people were drinking tea and nibbling melted chocolate biscuits from the bar), and later on another Trivia Contest took place. Queen Victoria has now stepped down from her pedestal and regularly joins a team, leaving the running of the sessions in Lee’s capable hands. Once the dust of the battlefield has settled, the victors will be awarded with exclusive key-rings. Recap included Jan's classic weather forecast and ship's progress, Adam with the geology of Ascension and Bob with turtles, turtles and more turtles - animals that grow quickly to avoid being eaten, but have a marginal survival rate during the early part of their lives (only 0.1 – 1% making it through the first week at sea).
There was a mysterious sign-up sheet at reception for those who were interested in participating in tomorrow’s ‘Cross the Equator’ proceedings…and it was publicly announced that they would receive free laundry afterwards, which was a touch worrying.
Dinner was served at 7 pm and then a comedy chosen by the Supreme (and therefore Unquestionable) Motion Picture Triumvirate was projected in the ‘cool and cozy’ cinema: A Million Ways to Die in the Wild West.
Today dawned fractionally cooler, but only fractionally! We are lying in until 8 am now, until we hear Hotel Manager Robert announce that the doors are open for breakfast. Jan is giving us a well-earned vacation from wake-up calls. The morning lecture today was delivered by Victoria, her subject being ‘Charles Darwin & his Dangerous Idea’. Of course Darwin visited three of the places on our itinerary also - St Helena, Ascension Island and Cape Verde - on his famous voyage of the Beagle under Captain Fitzroy. Although it was in the Galapagos Islands in particular that his thoughts on ‘natural selection’, the ‘survival of the fittest’ and ‘evolution’ began (all entirely new concepts), he wrote some memorable descriptions of the places we have visited, especially in terms of landscape and geology.
The remainder of the morning was given over to gazing out at the ocean and thinking about what it must have been like to be stuck ‘in the doldrums’ in the age of sail; or to admiring the spick-and-span reception area, which Robert and Dejan seem to have tidied and spring-cleaned to within an inch of its life! Doesn’t look right somehow… After lunch (chicken burritos) and a little siesta it was time for today’s documentary, which was the counterpart to the popular Spy in the Huddle, this time Spy on the Ice and about getting up close and intimate with Polar bears; again, some fantastic photography.
After that there was a degree of nervous waiting. Before crossing the Equator, we were expecting a visit from Neptune and his consort, but the timing of these things is never certain.
At around 5 pm ship’s time, Neptune and his followers boarded Ortelius and paraded through the ship in an alarming show of power – his retinue consisting of a couple of pirates and a ferocious-looking mermaid. His Royal Highness ended up on the foredeck, where the Master of Ceremonies announced that we were gathered to make sure that we were allowed to cross the Equator. This was only permitted if all on board were pure of mind and body. This meant that all ‘pollywogs’ had to be cleansed by the Barber and the Doctor.
First of all, our captain welcomed Neptune and his wife. Then, oh foolishness! – Expedition Leader Jan tried to BRIBE Neptune with a bottle of bubbly to enable both trusty shellbacks and miserable pollywogs to pass without atoning for our crimes. Neptune took the bottle, but insisted on holding his court session as well. Neither crew member nor passenger was spared the ordeal of trial and sentence (always ‘guilty’). Dragged away by Neptune’s minions, they had to pay for their crimes (which were manifold and hilariously listed by Hotel Manager Robert, who was for some reason dressed in a toga).
There were four stages to the punishment: first came the ritual visit to Barber Bob, who with manic smile on his face, and much wielding of enormous scissors, ended the treatment by liberally splashing a revolting chocolatey gunge all over the offending individual; then came the ritual visit to Doctor Dejan (with stethoscope, face mask and HUGE KNIFE), from which the poor criminal emerged covered in blood (aka: berry sauce); thirdly the guilty one was hurled into a shower and pummelled by Neptune’s fierce jets of seawater; finally, emerging clean and wholesome and mighty confused, the miserable pollywog kissed a beautiful fish from Ascension Island proffered by Mermaid Victoria; a sip of a poisonous-looking fluid – and the ceremony was complete. The yells of hatred from the mob, the screams of the victims, the thundering voice of Neptune, the submissive silence of his queen, the brutality of the pirates – all of these were totally shocking. But at last the deed was done – Ortelius was cleansed and Neptune munificently granted us permission to pass through his dominion unscathed. For which many thanks.
For all participants the most important thing was a REAL shower before heading up to the bar for a celebratory drink. And shortly before 7 pm we heard three blasts from the ship’s horn, signifying that we had crossed the Equator. Now we are in the northern hemisphere!
After all that excitement (and lamb for dinner - many of us could not bear to look a fish in the face again) most people got an early night, first visiting the Ortelius cinema to watch Inception. A group of hardy staff and passengers sat outside on Deck 7 under the starry skies enjoying a chat and a bottle; a good time was had by all.
There was no hurry this morning, after yesterday’s excitement and trauma. We emerged from our cabins when the mood took us and settled down for a quiet (hot!) morning at sea, still in the doldrums, with very little breeze. Today’s temperatures were to be the hottest yet. A group of the curious and the open-minded tore themselves away from their book, Kindle, needlework, laps round the deck, bridge watch, sleep, etc. and joined Victoria in the Lecture Room for her talk: ‘A Miscellany of Mermaids’, which claimed to be‘a historical account of their origins, an examination of the evidence for their existence, their appearance in literature/art and some natural history’. There is no doubt that many individuals over time believe they have encountered a mermaid. So what should we think? Well, although no conclusive evidence has ever been produced by modern standards, we know more about the surface of the Moon and Mars than we do about the depths of the oceans…After this we resumed our leisurely morning routines (editing photos is a useful activity at this stage in the trip), sipped a coffee or tea (preferably iced), sat out on deck and tried to remember what it felt like when we were circumnavigating Bouvet Island – COLD!
Lunch was welcome as always. We are coming towards the end of the delicious Ascension Island bananas that we welcomed on board a few days ago – small and sweet. The early-afternoon documentary, chosen by Jan and Dmitri was entitled ‘The Origin of Water’, which seems most appropriate to our situation and an intriguing subject. Around tea time the hard-core trivia folk met again for a clash of wits in a round of Team Trivia, led by Lee. Three more key-rings were handed out to the victorious at recap – a new combination of winners again. Recap also included some information about seaweed from Bob, some turtle film from Adam and images of our Equator ceremony from Christian – extremely amusing, now that the horror is beginning to fade away.
It was salmon for dinner and the heat did not seem to prevent the usual lively conversation. Whatever the weather, meal-times are accompanied by a lot of talk and appreciation of food and wine! The day ended with the award-winning Woody Allen film Blue Jasmine, which was gripping, but rather sad. So we dropped in on Rolando at the bar to comfort ourselves, then headed for bed and a good night’s sleep.
We are rolling a little bit more today, though nothing too difficult to bear. In an excess of enthusiasm, Bob and Victoria took every book in the bar library off the shelves and re-catalogued it (thus making manoeuvring to and from the coffee machine something of a challenge for passengers); novels were available to take home, so now everyone has a book to read on the plane! Afterwards, the library shelves looked wonderfully neat and tidy, though by then most people were either sitting outside on deck to catch the breeze or had gone to Jan’s lecture on ‘The Polar Lights’. This is not the best part of the world from which to see either Northern or Southern Lights, but at least we now know a bit more about them for when we do hit lucky.
We stopped for a spot of engine servicing around lunch-time and were relieved to be under way again after about 40 minutes. We even saw some other boats today, presumably fishing vessels sharing the open ocean with us.
After a pasta and ice cream lunch some of us settled down to watch the epic Interstellar in the Movie Theatre/Lecture Room, with a break in the middle to aid concentration. For others it was siesta time. Strolling the deck (or lounging on a bench) continued to be a popular activity – there is quite a breeze today, so it’s pleasant to be able to get some exercise whilst on the lookout for Flying fish.
Recap and briefing time came round again at 6.30 pm. Jan was bombarded with questions about Cape Verde, the answers to which he will give us at tomorrow’s recap! Victoria quoted Darwin’s first impressions of Ascension Island and then gave us a skeletal outline of Cape Verde’s history – first discovered as long ago as 1456 and then settled by the Portuguese a few years later.
The Family was tonight’s movie, described by Jan as ‘dark humour’. We gained an hour tonight (only to lose it again on the way home for many of us), so plenty of time to enjoy the balmy tropical evening on deck or stay up late reading one of Ortelius’ novels in bed…
And so we come to the last full day of our long voyage. Robert asked us to hand in our passports after breakfast, ready for examination by the immigration officers tomorrow – let’s hope we get another interesting stamp! Bob offered us something different at 10.30 am. Instead of a lecture, he gave a recitation of Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner, illustrated by Gustave Doré’s famous engravings. Looking around the Lecture Room it was clear that most members of the audience were captivated and enthralled by this strange, nightmarish account by a cursed mariner of one of the strangest voyages ever…The Ancient Mariner too sailed in both icy and tropical waters as we have done on this trip, which somehow made us feel drawn into – almost part of – Coleridge’s great poem. It was pizza for lunch – everybody’s favourite. Afterwards came the painful part of the trip – settling our accounts with Robert and Dejan, though as it’s only for a week this time, the shock wasn’t so bad.
Jan put on Part II of Spy on the Ice after we’d all paid up, as a reward. And later in the afternoon Adam brought our lecture series to a close by talking about his own research – ‘Meteorite impacting shaped the Earth’. Interesting stuff and even more so to hear such theories as these from someone so closely involved with the subject. Look out for Adam’s articles in scientific publications. Jan gathered us together at 6 pm to toast the trip, to brief us about tomorrow’s disembarkation plans and to give us some information about Cape Verde; we also received certificates of the voyage, signed by himself and the captain – something to hang on the study wall maybe. Alas, although the plan was to eat our last meal al fresco (which would have been very pleasant), there was a bit too much wind and so we reluctantly stayed indoors to dine – it wouldn’t do to litter the deck (and ocean) with food and paper napkins and this way our hair stayed looking nice! The evening was devoted to packing and the exchange of email addresses; and then to bed and to sleep for our last night (at least until our next trip) on Ortelius.
And so we reached the end of our voyage. We disembarked after breakfast and most of us enjoyed the rest of the day exploring locally in the tropical sun. In the evening we headed for the airport and (after a long series of long flights for many) home at last. We have each other’s email addresses, our photos and our memories to remind us of this epic journey from Ushuaia to Cabo Verde – and maybe we will meet again someday.
Total distance sailed on this voyage: 1440 nautical miles
On behalf of Oceanwide Expeditions, Captain Tuomo Leskinenand the Officers, all Crew, Expedition Team and Hotel Team, it has been a pleasure travelling with you!