While we slept, the ship made its way to Right Whale Bay. However, the waters were too rough for our planned zodiac excursion that morning and the Captain had repositioned us. Oddly, we noticed another ship sharing the more protected bay where we had anchored. In fact, it looked to me like I could see a yellow rectangle shape on its hull, indicating it might be a National Geographic ship. I do have pretty fair long vision.
In this new, more protected bay, our group was to be first off the ship for an early morning excursion…7.30am. Ugh. And of course, we didn’t dare drink coffee or tea to wake us up, because…well…the no toilet issue. It was very blustery and cold and much of the excursion was in the shadows of the surrounding cliffs. At some point I remember vaguely seeing a zodiac head for the other ship, which also seemed a bit odd.
This was to be a short excursion, about 45 minutes, not including loading and unloading the zodiac. We wove around the coastline observing seals and those funny Rockhopper penguins. One group was crowded onto a very rocky and steep space. They seemed to mistakenly think they could hold on to the steep surface indefinitely. However, the relentless force of gravity dragged their feathered friends above them steadily downward forcing the lowest ones lower and lower. One by one the lowest penguin would lose his grip and, like a child with no fear and no grace, would fall into the water. Getting back up was equally tricky and they had to swim around to a less steep edge and scramble up that way. But, really, what does a penguin have to do all day, but play on steep cliffs and fish and swim?? Jump? Why not! We all laughed at their antics, and it took our minds off the cold for a bit.
And then it snowed.
After the allotted time for the excursion there came a call over the driver’s two way radio (are they still called ‘two-way’ if they are being used by 10?). ‘All zodiacs, do not come back to marina, repeat, do not return to marina’.
Huh? We had noticed the wind and waves had picked up a bit where we were, but apparently the wind had shifted direction and was slapping the ship around too much for the zodiacs to safely dock and unload the passengers. The Captain had determined the ship needed to reposition. So, basically, we were told to play amongst ourselves a while so the ship could reposition. The theme from Gilligan’s Island was playing in my head…’Five passengers set sail that day, For a three hour tour, a three hour tour….’
And of course a series of years on a deserted island ensued.
Our driver was calm and experienced, explaining this sort of thing happened occasionally. We, and a few other zodiacs, set off to find some albatrosses. They were also reasonably entertaining, their giant feet running and slapping the water as they took off and landed. Our Naturalist/Driver was a ‘bird guy’ and he was particularly excited to see Sooty Albatrosses, his favourites. But we were cold, and wet. My fingerless gloves had let me down badly at this stage, so I just removed them and shoved them into my pockets. By the end of another hour, you could hear the distinct lack of enthusiasm in everyone’s voices and perhaps a small edge of anxiety. Finally, we got the all clear that the ship had repositioned and it was now safe to board. Fortunately, having been the first to leave, we were also the first to return to the marina. Everyone was in agreement, it had been a challenging couple of hours. Not like Shackleton’s voyage, but nevertheless…tea, coffee and French pastries were needed!
Once everyone was back on board there came an announcement, the Captain requested the presence of everyone in the theatre on deck 4 after lunch. Again, an odd little thing, but we all complied. Once assembled in the theatre, Captain Marchesseau began explaining a few things. While it was true that the excursion at Right Whale Bay had to be cancelled due to the obvious reason of rough weather, there were a few other things that had not been so evident. The reason we had travelled all night from the southern part of South Georgia Island to this more northern area had been to meet the National Geographic ship we had seen in the distance that morning. And the compelling reason we needed to meet them was to transfer a passenger that was ill. Oh.
The Captain hastened to say the passenger was not ill with COVID-19. He assured us a number of times the problem with the passenger was nothing of this nature. Having witnessed the Captain in numerous situations by this point in the trip, we were inclined to believe him. Wanting to protect the passenger’s privacy we were never to learn what the problem had been. However, by luck, and our Captain’s quick thinking, the remainder of our trip was saved. You see, we had all been required to have a five page health document signed by our GP and submitted before the trip, saying that we were in good health. This was because, once the trip had begun, there was no way to get someone ill off the ship. That is, unless your quick thinking Captain recalls a sister ship in the region and he can negotiate a transfer. The Nat Geo ship had facility on board to accommodate the patient, and the hospital in Stanley, The Falklands, had agreed they could take them on as well. The Nat Geo ship had a three day trip to the Falklands to deposit the patient. Otherwise our ship would have had to turn around and take them ourselves. And if that had happened, that is where our trip would have finished because there was simply no time to get to South Africa from the Falklands. No air strips, no other hospitals, this was the only choice. As the captain rightly said, “I would have done this for any one of you, and this person deserved no less.”
Twice in one day we were all feeling like we’d been lucky once again. How long could this last?