Saturday 21 November, 10.20am, on the way to Antarctica
St Andrews Bay is one of the places where they filmed Life In The Freezer
, the Attenborough thing. You can see why when you get there, because it's incredible – it’s the largest king penguin colony on South Georgia, and they’re just everywhere, over every ridge and as far as the eye can see. You keep walking, thinking you’ve seen them all, and then you round another corner and they’re just laid out in front of you all the way to the horizon.
It was a lovely landing, most of which I spent wandering around on my own. Hung out watching the elephant seals for a bit too, which was interesting – Dan, the videographer, had a bit of a near miss when one beachmaster decided he wasn’t too keen on Dan being so close to his harem, and lunged at him a little. Dan quite sensibly took to his heels. And I got to see something else, too – at Fortuna Bay, I had missed the reindeer, because they’d gone before my Zodiac got to the beach (I’m a bit useless about being first to go, but honestly, our cabin is next to the gangway and you see people through the portholes queuing in their waterproofs and lifejackets even when Woody hasn’t guaranteed the excursion
yet. Calm yourselves, people, honestly). As I meandered back to the beach at St Andrews, however, I came across a little group of South Georgian reindeer casually grazing on a little plain. It was fantastic, because as lovely as the penguins and seals are – and they are pretty lovely – it’s always exciting to see something new. The reindeer were introduced from Norway at the beginning of the 20th century, and have flourished - there are two herds on the island but they are separated by glaciers, and so will never meet. How sad.
Oh, and as I was watching them, Jamie came up behind me with the immortal line, "Oh deer." Sometimes, even the stoutest of crushes wavers.
The following day, we had planned to go to Gold Harbour, but the conditions just weren’t on our side for once. Can’t complain too much, I suppose, since we were damn lucky most of the time, and fortunately our team rallied and rearranged things so that instead we doubled back on
ourselves and went to a small bay that Jamie knew called Coral Cove. Woody suggested we call it Jamie’s Beach instead. I think Coral Cove is probably fine though. It was really pretty there, all these gorgeous snowy hills and little streams and things, with a variety of fur and elephants seals littering the path and looking just irritated enough to make it interesting. Nobody wants to do an Arturro, after all.
I’m told I missed an epic snowball fight at Coral Cove, but being my usual clumsy ass self, I slipped in the snow at one point and ricked my ankle, and after that I was kind of not really in the mood, so I took myself off to the beach with a woman called Trish to go and look at the elephant seals. Trish is an odd fish – I like her, but I’m also a bit wary of her, because most of the time she’s lovely and then every now and again she’ll come out with something quite unexpected. I think it’s the way she says it, she has quite a blunt manner, and I don’t think she means to be harsh, but she does throw me a bit sometimes. Still, her company is perfectly enjoyable, and I was pleased to see her.
I was sad to miss the snowball fight, but in the end it didn’t really matter, because when we got back, we were told to gather ourselves for a barbecue. Clearly, this is madness, because it’s
freezing outside, but because the ship was anchored in Cumberland Bay, the wind was pretty minimal, and it’s not actually that cold outside, it’s mostly windchill. Since I’m always warm anyway, I just threw on a fleece and my gloves and I was perfectly toasty. Nobody believed me, and was insisting that I should go put more layers on because I’d be complaining I was cold soon enough, but I was completely fine. Anyway, they were serving mulled wine, what more could you need? Combine that with the BBQ sausages and silly hats they made us wear, and it was almost like being back home at the Christmas Market, which Andrea and I reminisced about for a while. She is from Stafford, but lived in Manchester for fourteen years before going travelling, so is intimately familiar with all things Mancunian. It was my sad duty to tell her that Giant Climbing Over The Town Hall Santa has been removed these past couple of years and has been replaced by that bastion of taste and sense, Duck Santa. (Yes, he really does look like a duck.)
We took so long taking pics of each other that all our food had more or less gone cold by the time we sat down to eat it, but it was still delicious – swordfish and sausages and potato salad and all manner of yumminess. There’s really nothing quite like scoffing freshly grilled meat and glühwein whilst chattering to your new group of best friends, with a view of a pink and purple sunset over pristine white mountains and the Nordenskjold Glacier. Truly, it was one of our best nights on board, and this is a gang who managed to make hours of entertainment from the airmail stamps in the bar, so we don’t even need that much to enjoy ourselves anyway.
After the barbie was finished, and we had, ah, liberated a few cans of beer for later, we went back inside to the bar to commence our usual evening’s festivities. For once it wasn’t just our little group propping up the bar, there were about fifteen or so of us and it was great. Brett Jarrett, our resident artist, very kindly gave us an ice cube tray full of watercolour paints, and drew a couple of sketches for us to drunkenly colour in. Our finished works were, ah, interesting, to say the least, and somehow I don’t think we’ll be winning any prizes for them, but
the dedication was certainly there. I only painted my hand brown to make an elephant seal’s nose. Andrea painted her lips blue to make its eye. That’s that true artistic temperament coming out, you see. (By the way, I forget at which point we decided to paint with body parts instead of brushes, but that’s glühwein for you.) The next morning, when I came upstairs with Justin, the pictures were still there, propped up in pride of place on Brett’s easel. They’re still hanging around the bar now – I find it oddly touching that no-one’s thrown them away. They are two truly terrible pieces of art, but represent one truly terrific night, so I hope they survive the rest of the trip. I might pinch one for a very personalised souvenir.