Saturday, November 28, 2009

Something to chew on

We all like sitting back and chewing the fat, well in English we use the term when you just want to relax and have a think about things.

South Georgia with all its animals certainly have lots of time and also things to think about as well.......who would make a nice mating partner ?, who's getting in my territory ?, where's dinner coming from today ?, aaaaand who are those pesky humans that keep on coming and staring at us all day, and run around on those noisy rubber boats ?

Well Xplore and the team certainly saw a different side of something to chew on. The first experience was after the team had made a shore landing and we all went for a hike, weather being reasonable and we all wanted to stretch the legs, we left our zodiac on a relatively open and empty part of the pebbled shores within the middle harbor of Prince Olav.

On return an hour or so later, with lots of images in our minds and cameras we found two male fur seals sitting either side of the Zodiac there on the beach where we left it, only problem was that one side of the Zodiac was deflated (the same as how I felt when seeing it) with a bit of careful negotiation with the two fur seal boys we gingerly launched the Zodiac and returned to Xplore to find out how bad the "deflation" was.

After an inspection once we had the Zodiac back on deck we found that one of the fur seals had sunk one of their large upper jaw teeth into the back end of the dinghy, Serge and I dismantled the engine and heavy items and brought the rather flat tail end of the zodiac into the warmth of the companion way where we set about repairing the damage, a bit of hot air from a hair dryer, some alcohol to clean the area, repair patches and glue and within an hour is was all back like new.

In all of my time in the south I have never heard of a fur seal attacking a zodiac, Leopard seals do this quite often, but fur seals no ! we continued out travels around the island with a new wave of caution for beach landings.

Time moves on, and the spectacular sights of South Georgia captured everyone, until............, what not again !

One of the very special locations on South Georgia is a place called Gold Harbor, you may not become rich there but you will with experience, its a location that just has the right mix of everything, a hanging glacier perched on a rocky cliff, terminal lagoon to the left and an beach area which has one of the largest colonies of King Penguins, not just thousands but hundreds of thousands. Mixed amounts these beautiful birds is a whole range of other critters, Albatross, Giant petrels, Fur seals and this year we have a rather astonishing number of Elephant seals, males, babies and females all trying to have a happy and peaceful summer's holiday. Reminds me of one of those classic black and white movies of an English beach resorts where there is an air of freedom, some pomp and ceremony, and on the fringes there are the louts with their bad behavior and boozing sun baking and scantily cladded girl friends, there is sure to be some tears before bead time !.

After dropping anchor in the cove it wasn't long before we had the majority of the team that wanted to go a shore and explore, the light was great and the temperature nice, we headed in with a small shore break and I landed them all in the normal spot in the northern end where its calmer. I had circled a couple of times to see how the waves were running, and also noted a lot of Bull Elephant seal males on the beach and cruising the waters, all seeing who was going to get the best outt of those cute girlies that were baking on the beach.

After three or four hours I get a call on the VHF that the shore party was ready to be picked up, happy laughs of some of the wonders that they had seen it was time to return to Xplore for drinks and nibbles. On with my dry suite I headed into the beach to pick up the team. In the same spot the swell had eased a bit, but the activity late in the day was getting a bit more serious as the Elephant seal boys were obviously getting desperate as to who was going to be their girl for the night.

A fast surf in on a wave and turn around, the team all jumped into the Zodiac at lightning speed so that we could get back out of the surf fast without all getting soaked, we all were looking toward to Xplore when within 10 seconds of leaving the beach the whole zodiac physically was shoved to the left, it felt like I had just driven the boat straight into a huge rock, a bit like when you drive dodgem cars at the side shows and no one gives a dam about the damage !! ca boom.

I was certainly startled and looked to the right hand side and saw close to us the hind part of a male elephant seal as he dove below the waters, he surfaced again and had one of those startled looks about him like a punched drunk boxer, what the hell happened there, you could see the expression on his face (he probably said the same about the look on my face as I certainly didn't know what the heck had happened)

Whilst all of this was happening I still managed to keep the revs on the motor, but within a moment I could feel the side of the Zodiac that I was sitting on went totally flat, oooooh Sh.....t, I think we have a problem. I quickly asked all the team in the boat to shift over to the other side and we roared back to Xplore as fast as we could. As soon as we came along side everyone started to climb onboard, but now that the zodiac was stopped I felt the water level changing at an alarming rate, I was sinking, double Sh.....t.

Quick guys, we have to get the Zodiac back on deck other wise we are going to loose it and sink the motor as well. What a team ! for the next crazy five minutes we pulled , pushed and winched the zodiac on deck, full of water, torn apart but the motor was fine, and most importantly was all of us were as well.

It didn't take genius to work out what had happened, we had either been attacked or we hit the Elephant seal whilst he was under water, it was good to look back though and know that we didn't hit him with the propeller as it was the starboard side of our boat which took the brunt of the shock. But his reaction had torn a 1 meter long tear along the side of the Zodiac with ragged vertical rips along the way, Elephant seals have claws on their flippers which they use in fighting and even with human strength I cant tear the material that these Zodiacs are made of.

The next morning at dawn a familiar cruise ship the Hansiatic that I know also arrived at Gold Harbor, I spoke with the expedition leader to tell him about the fisty activity in the normal landing spot and explained what had happened to us the day before. Fletch is a great guy who has years of experience down in the south, he also was surprised to hear the news, but he also asked if we needed any help to repair our Zodiac. I explained that we had looked at it and it was a serious repair, but if within their ships crew they had someone who had lots of experience in inflatable repairs, then a second opinion was appreciated.

20 minutes later one of the ships big industrial Zodiacs pulls along side with the Chief Mate and Bosun of the Hansiatic, and we scratched our heads as to the damage to our now very sad looking Zodiac. Bit it was very plain to see for everyone that this was a shore based repair job. We parted company, the Hansiatic was heading for Antarctica later in the day, luckily their shore landings went fine, and for us we had our second Zodiac to inflate and prepare for duty.

So with another range of different experiences, I will chew on this experience and have a very different regard to Fur and Elephant seals in the future.


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