” It was a real rush of excitement having these large seals swim right up to you at full speed then suddenly stop, turn upside down whilst baring their teeth and then dash off only to come back again and again. It was the Antarctic equivalent of running around the garden playing with a pack of excited puppy dogs!”
– Sir Peter Blake
- Location: Trinity Island
- Latitude: 63.54S
- Longitude: 60.46W
- Wind: Northeast of 15 knots
- Sea state: Slight roll at anchor
- Air temp: 2 deg C
- Sea temp: 0 deg C
- Barometer: 988 mbs and steady
- Conditions: Snow easing
- Visibility: Poor but improving
1200 hrs: The dawn brought the realisation that the Antarctic summer is perhaps drawing to a close. Seamaster was covered in snow, piled deep in places, with the chimney from the big diesel heater, poking up above the pilot-house, being one of the few items still clear. We lit the heater this morning, even though the interior wasn’t particularly cold. But with the snow thick on all the windows, it was like being in a snow cave – with wood trim. The saloon became really warm and dry in less than an hour, and now that Ollie and Marc have been at work with the snow shovels and fire hose, much of the upper works is clear again, and the weak sunlight is once again enough to hold the temperature at a comfortable level.
We are still at Trinity Island, and will possibly be here for another day or two while we wait for conditions to improve enough for us to get further north to the South Shetland Islands. But there are worse places to be.
A large leopard seal cruised by just after breakfast and a group of crabeater seals also came and checked us out. There were whales blowing in the harbour nearby overnight, and we plan to take the zodiac inflatable on a reconnoitre of the whole area later this afternoon to see what other life is here.
So today has been a make-an-mend day, including a good tidy-up and making sure that all items are secure for what will likely be rougher passages ahead.
Don is in the galley for lunch – it looks like a stew but just might be a very thick soup. It includes the remains of the roasted legs of lamb from last night’s dinner, which was an ”Ollie at his best” banquet. When served with thick slices of fresh bread (we bake several loaves every day) it will make a very “warming and sustaining” lunch!
I am on dinner duty again tonight – probably to everyone’s alarm – and have a stew planned, along with a plum crumble. The crumble is in the oven ready to go, but I am going to wait and see how much of the luncheon stew/soup is left over before I begin preparing the main course.
When approaching this island harbour yesterday afternoon, after our experiences with the humpback whales, the conditions worsened. The wind increased to 30 knots, the chop built, and the visibility reduced to only a few hundred metres with fine snow particles filling the air.
We have not been here before, and the only available chart is of tiny scale. Some of this chart has blank sections – where there are no depths or dangers known for the logical reason that no-one has “sounded” there before.
So, it was all hands on deck as land appeared less than a mile away and we began to identify some of the exposed rocks that sit across the entrance. Luckily the GPS (satellite positioning system) and the electronic charts lined up with the actual geography, so the entry went well. But where to anchor?
We headed for the windward side of the harbour – where we thought we might find a shallow area. The wind and sea eased away but the snow increased as we nosed in under some ice cliffs and let go the anchor in approx 55 metres of water.
What would the bottom be like? Would it be good holding for the anchor, or just bare rock that would have us skidding across the bay?
We let out 140 metres of heavy chain – backed Seamaster down and the anchor held immediately. We went astern on both engines and the anchor didn’t budge. We think the bottom might be firm clay, giving a very good grip indeed. And one of the advantages of anchoring in deep water is that the weight of chain hanging down through such a depth acts very much like a dampening spring. When the gusts of snow laden wind came whistling off the ice overnight, Seamaster lay very snugly with no jerking around at all.
We carry 200 metres of heavy duty chain on the main 257 kg anchor, so 55 metres of water posed no problem this time. However, it does take a while for our big Russian-built anchor winch to haul it all back up when it comes time to depart.
Andy has spent a considerable amount of time with the fur seals recently. His latest escapade was filming Janot in shallow water back at Murray Harbour, where the seals became very intrigued by the divers.
Andy isn’t just a cameraman with little care for what goes on around him, he is involved with a passion, which is the only way to be if you want to be “the best”.
He has spent a lot of time researching Antarctic fur seals.
“You may recall from Seamaster Log no. 76, Peter wrote a little about the Antarctic Fur Seal and as we travel northwards up the Peninsula we are moving further into the southern edge of their ranges and are now encountering them in increasing numbers. At this time of year, the serious and aggressive business of breeding is over and they are now well fed and in a playful mood as they enjoy the calm of the brief Antarctic autumn before winter arrives. We commonly find them on the rocks in groups of 10 or so, the males lolloping around, “oop-oop-ing” and engaging in running skirmishes and play fights.
To the early explorers they were known as “Sea Bears” and looking at the way they lumber about on land and with their “teddy bear” faces it is easy to see why. But, as Dan, Marc and I found out whilst on a filming trip ashore, they are also as aggressive and unpredictable on land as any bear!
We took a trip onto a small rocky island were a group of 8 were dozing under the grey afternoon sky. Within moments of landing they were up like guard dogs baring their teeth and snarling; on a couple of occasions Marc’s presentation to camera was interrupted by a sudden charge! However, from a safe distance we managed to capture some fantastic footage… but the real challenge now would be to see how they would react to us if we tried to film them in the water. After many hours spent in the cold Antarctic Ocean, trying in vain to get close enough to these elusive seals, our luck changed.
Yesterday, director Dan, armed with the “topside” Digital Betacam camera and myself with the equivalent underwater version teamed up with Janot who was in full snorkel mode. The plan was to try and swim with a group that we had spotted close to Seamaster’s anchorage and get some film of Janot with the seals. It was a grey and snowy afternoon, as Alistair guided the Zodiac in towards the rocks where the seals were hanging out. We were greeted with mild suspicion and agitation but from a safe distance Janot and I slipped into the icy water and swam into chest deep water. The seals in the water were wary at first, eyeing us with surprise from behind submerged rocks and occasionally swimming a little closer, curiosity getting the better of them. As their confidence in us grew they started swimming closer, eyeballing us from every angle… if the crabeater seals are calm and gentle swimmers, then fur seals are jet propelled and impossibly agile… I found my self “swinging” the camera around at high speed just to keep them in frame.
As both seals and humans relaxed a real party developed. The seals seemed to love it when Janot copied some of their moves; spinning on his back or hanging upside down with his fins in the air… but he had to concede the “leaping clear out of the water” part of the game! It was a real rush of excitement having these large seals swim right up to you at full speed then suddenly stop, turn upside down whilst baring their teeth and then dash off only to come back again and again. It was the Antarctic equivalent of running around the garden playing with a pack of excited puppy dogs!
We filmed almost an hour of footage of this remarkable meeting – two species curious enough to want to spend a little time together. A hundred years ago fur seals were hunted to near extinction for their beautiful pelts – that was then, we know better now. Today they are thriving and their numbers are growing stronger every year. Yesterday they let us share a bit of their habitat. It’s a shame not all species can be so generous.”
For more info on my work, please visit www.andymcleod.com
1500 hrs: The snow has stopped altogether – it’s now raining instead. But this doesn’t mean we stop exploring. Our Musto survival suits are perfect for these conditions. The black zodiac inflatable dinghy awaits.
Best wishes from all onboard.