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Adventure Expedition to South Georgia Island The ultimate freedom to photograph wildlife and stunning scenery on your own terms.

October 3 – 31, 2020

Join me on a photographic expedition with a small group of 6 on a 60ft ocean sailing yacht. We will determine our own schedule, locations and timing and have maximum time to photograph.

Award-Winning wildlife photographer Clemens Vanderwerf

This is your chance to experience South Georgia Island as one of just 6 guests aboard a thoroughbred sailing yacht, where you will be in awe of spectacular scenery and amazing wildlife within one of the last wildernesses on earth. As a small flexible group we can tailor-make our adventures and adapt itineraries to satisfy even the most seasoned adventure traveler and photographer. A cruise to South Georgia Island to see its dazzling landscapes and plentiful wildlife should be on everyone’s “to-do” list, but this adventure simply beats them all!

An unprecedented 18 days of wildlife and landscape photography in South Georgia

We will have the opportunity to sail around the island and make landfall in the spectacular bays and inlets filled with amazing wildlife without the restrictions that come with large 100-passenger plus expedition cruise ships. We can hike up steep mountains, spend long days ashore to photograph and zodiac cruise around the beautiful bays to explore the wildlife from up close. October is a great time to see the abundant wildlife in action and watch the breeding behavior of elephant seals and penguins with a beautiful fresh backdrop of snow.

SY Spirit of Sydney at anchor

South Georgia Island boasts over 7 million penguins, 250,000 albatrosses, half of the world’s elephant seals and 95% of the world’s fur seals upon her shoreline. It’s also the world’s most important penguin and seabird breeding site with an estimated population of 30 million birds. Awe-inspiring scenery ranges from 7,000-foot mountains and mighty glaciers to deep fjords and low-lying grasslands. Its rich history includes the rusty and ghostly remains of several whaling stations and the grave of Ernest Shackleton, who made his perilous ocean crossing from Elephant Island to South Georgia a century ago. Most cruise ships visit South Georgia for a maximum of 6 days. On this expedition with Spirit of Sydney, you will spend a month on board our 60 foot yacht, sailing to and from South Georgia and spending well over 2 weeks photographing and exploring the ‘Galapagos of the Poles’. On this very personal trip, two highly experienced sailors (one captain and one crew), and myself make up the full team of nine people on board

Map of South Georgia with the places we will visit during the expedition
Spirit of Sydney in Fortuna Bay among king penguins and elephant seals
The rough coast line at the entrance of Drygalski Fjord - Hamilton Bay and the Salomon Glacier
Sailing yacht anchored at the beautiful Maiviken

We aim to visit several places of interest, and spend enough time at each one to fully appreciate what the sites have to offer in a relaxed manner. Because of the variances of the weather in this rugged environment, the schedule outlined below is what may be possible, but will almost certainly not be adhered to! This is an adventure expedition in the true sense of the word in every way.

South Georgia has a great diversity of wildlife and landscapes
Risting Glacier at the end of Drygalski Fjord

Itinerary:

Day 1: You will arrive at Mount Pleasant Airport in the Falkland Islands on October 3rd and take a 40 minute bus ride to Stanley to meet sailing yacht Spirit of Sydney and then move on board immediately. The afternoon is spent stowing personal gear, familiarizing the team with the vessel and listening to the Captain’s ‘live aboard rules’ and safety briefings.

Seabirds during the crossing from Falklands to South Georgia
Peal dolphins following the yacht

Day 2 - 5: Weather permitting, the Spirit of Sydney would leave Stanley bound for the northwest corner of South Georgia which is 750 miles away. In most cases this would be a fast downwind passage in the prevailing westerly winds. Passage time would be roughly four to five days. We will cross the Polar Front (Antarctic convergence zone) where two bodies of water meet, and the cold Antarctic water mixes with warmer water from the north creating a drop in temperatures. In this nutrient-rich water albatrosses, petrels and dolphins will keep us company during the crossing.

Once in South Georgia, we’ll spend over 2 weeks exploring the incredible bays, and taking in all the amazing scenery and wildlife. Our daily schedules will be driven by the best light for photography and we will maximize the photographic opportunities and time ashore abiding by the Guidelines for Responsible Ecotourism from the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO). We will clear customs at the old whaling station of Grytviken were we will visit the museum and other artifacts of a past era.

South Georgia has an abundance of vistas and wildlife

FACTS ABOUT SOUTH GEORGIA

South Georgia is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful and inspiring places on earth. 800 miles away from the nearest land, it’s is 165 km long and up to 35 km wide with no permanent population. Captain Cook made the first landing in 1775 and claimed the territory for Great Britain. Seal hunting began in 1786 and whaling followed in the early 1900s. The populations were decimated by the time hunting stopped in the 1960s but the seal population has rebounded remarkably with 2 million fur seals and 500,000 elephant seals now congregating on the island’s beaches. We are visiting in October because by November, it’s hard to land safely on the beaches because of the concentration of aggressive fur seals.

With the end of the whaling industry, the stations were abandoned. Apart from a few preserved buildings such as the museum and church at Grytviken, only their decaying remains survive.

South Georgia is a British Overseas Territory. The present inhabitants are the British Government Officer, Deputy Postmaster, scientists, and support staff from the British Antarctic Survey and museum staff at Grytviken. Argentina claimed South Georgia in 1927, which contributed to the 1982 Falklands War, during which Argentine forces briefly occupied the island. Argentina continues to claim sovereignty.

Photo: The old whaling station of Grytviken

Day 5 - 6: Landfall will be in Right Whale Bay or Elsehul. If conditions are calm, this would be a place to rest our sea legs a bit after crossing the Scotia Sea. Finn whales, orcas, humpbacks, southern right whales and blue whales can be found in the nutrient-rich waters around South Georgia. We may be blessed with extended views of them on our way to the stunning backdrop of black sandy beaches, tussock covered dunes, and the snow covered mountains of the Salisbury Plains.

Photographers at work in Cooper Bay
Maiviken with view on Cumberland Bay West
Elsehul and Right Whale Bay
Light-mantled Sooty Albatros

Day 6 - 10: These days will be spent in the Bay of Islands area. At the Salisbury Plain we will enjoy sights of several hundred thousand king penguins standing shoulder to shoulder together with their precious chicks that spend over 14 months on land before they are ready to swim. Then we sail onward through the Bay of Isles and land upon Prion Island which is famous for its nesting wandering albatrosses along the boardwalks. The wandering albatross chicks will be on the nests, waiting for their parents to return home after days-long fishing trips. Even as babies, the wandering albatross chicks can be up to one meter tall! This time of year is prime time for watching the 4 ton elephant seals battling out and seeing the seal pups being born, a spectacle for everyone’s eyes and ears. Next we work our way along the coast to the gorgeous Fortuna Bay when the weather window is at its best.

King Penguins at Fortune Bay

Day 10 - 11: At Fortuna Bay, we head to Whistle Stop where Sir Ernest Shackleton stopped to listen for the sound of the worker’s whistle from the nearby whaling station during his heroic journey across South Georgia to Stromness. This was the first time in over two years that Shackleton heard a sound from the outside world after his epic Antarctic voyage set sail in the year 1916. If the weather is suitable, those who wish will disembark and trace the final 5 km of the famous Shackleton Traverse from Whistle Stop to the Stromness Whaling Station.

Fortune Bay is in the lee of South Georgia's spectacular mountains, which often provide for clear skies and calm conditions in the sheltered bay. The beaches of Fortuna Bay are busy with king penguins arriving back from their fishing expeditions to feed the chicks who patiently await the parents in the colonies on the grass covered plain.

SHACKLETON

In April 1916, Ernest Shackleton's Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition became stranded in ice on Elephant Island, some 800 miles (1,300 km) southwest of South Georgia. Shackleton and five companions set out in a small boat to summon help, and on 10 May, after an epic voyage, they landed at King Haakon Bay on South Georgia's southcoast. While three stayed at the coast, Shackleton and two others went on to cover 22 miles (35 km) over the spine of the mountainous island to reach help at Stromness whaling station. The remaining 22 members of the expedition, who had stayed on Elephant Island, were subsequently rescued. In January 1922, during a later expedition Shackleton died on board ship while moored in King Edward Cove, South Georgia. He is buried at Grytviken.

Photo: Old whaling station of Stromness

Day 11 - 14: From Fortuna Bay we pass by the Stromness Whaling Station and make our way into Cumberland Bay West where steep mountains reach above the clouds and large glaciers flow into the water. Our next stop is King Edward Point which is a short walk from Grytviken, the premier shore based whaling facility on South Georgia which was abandoned in the 60’s. The whaling station has been incorporated into the South Georgia Museum. We will check in with Customs/Immigration and pass a bio-security test. There will be time to visit the museum, post office and restored whalers church. We will also visit the hallowed location where Shackleton was laid to rest. Long walks behind the station, overland treks and kayak outings are also a possibility.

Plenty of subjects to photograph in South Georgia
Whaling station of Grytviken
Cumberland Bay West surrounded by steep snow covered mountains
Lyell Glacier front in Cumberland Bay West

Day 15 - 16: From Grytviken, we would sail to the snout of the Nordenskjold Glacier in Cumberland Bay East. Continually discharging ice into the bay, this is the largest of the glaciers on South Georgia. Later, an afternoon run down the coast brings us to Cobblers Cove, a natural harbour with a dramatic entrance. Gentoo Penguins may be nesting on the slopes above the cove, while Macaroni Penguins can be found up over a pass back to the north (an hour walk inland). We would spend the night at Cobblers Cove. It is a great place to sit with the sooty albatross, which is one of the only places in the world this can be done. This is a good storm anchorage, so it would also be used as a fall back in case of adverse weather while further down the coast.

“If you were to take a giant carving knife, slice along beneath one of the highest mountain ridges of Switzerland, just where the huge glaciers tumble into the valley below, and then drop your slice of mountain, dripping with sugar-icing, into the sea, I think you would get a fair idea of the place” - Niall Rankin, 1946
Stranded shipwreck at Ocean Harbour
Imperial Shag or Blue-Eyed Shag nesting
Three penguin species of South Georgia: Macaroni, King and Gentoo
Drifting iceberg along the South Georgia coast
King penguins at the beach in Gold Harbour

Day 17 - 19: Weather and surf conditions permitting, we would attempt the beach landing at Saint Andrews Bay a few hours steaming from Cobblers Cove. Behind the beach is the world’s largest rookery of king penguins on the Island. In order reach the main part of the colony we would have to trek to the snout of a glacier in order to cross the river flowing from it down to the sea. It is a spectacular wildlife venue on a fine day. Further south along the coast lies Gold Harbour which is one of the most spectacular scenic anchorages on the island. Again the landing is on an open shoreline (weather dependent and if successful) we would spend the day on the beach. Both Saint Andrews Bay and Gold Harbour offer the possibility of viewing harems of elephant seals with the competing bulls. If you haven’t had the overwhelming feeling that you are walking within a wildlife documentary by now, our days ashore here will surely convince you. South Georgia has the highest bio-mass of animals on Earth and Saint Andrews Bay is the most concentrated area of this phenomenon within South Georgia.

Saint Andrews Bay is one of the most spectacular landing sites in South Georgia

Day 20 - 22: These days will be spent on the south west side of the island, where we have the opportunity to pass by large icebergs and a rugged mountainous coastline. We will visit the macaroni penguin colony in Cooper Bay and sail into the famous Drygalski Fjord with high mountains on either side guiding us to the Risting Glacier at the end of the fjord where the water color is azure blue. We will spend the night at anchor in Larsen Harbour, a sheltered side arm of the Drygalski Fjord. This is a great place to put the kayaks into the water and peddle around looking for seals and South Georgia pintail ducks along the shore line.

Salisbury Plain in the Bay of Isles
Wandering Albatros chick at Prion Island

Days 23 - 27: About this time we would need to be on standby for the return to Stanley in the Falkland Islands. By day 23, if there is a favorable weather window (considering the return is against the prevailing wind) we would be obliged to take the opportunity, in order to make sure that we arrive on time to make the flight on Saturday, with at least a day to spare. We will undoubtedly begin to see the first signs of the infamous fur seals swimming southward along the boat – the captain’s first signal to head back to the Falklands. Nearly hunted to local extinction in the late 19th century, they now migrate to South Georgia in numbers nearing 5 million. In the following weeks, these fur seals will land upon South Georgia’s shores forming a formidable barrier that nearly halts all landings along her coastline.

Fur seals and elephant seals are abundant in South Georgia
Entrance to Drygalski Fjord
Drygalski Fjord and the Risting Glacier

Day 28: Passage back to Stanley, arriving no later than the night of day 28. We plan to take the flight the day after disembarkation, heading out from Mount Pleasant Airport back to Punta Arenas with a direct connection to Santiago, Chile on Saturday October 31.

ABOUT …. SPIRIT OF SYDNEY

Spirit of Sydney, an icon of Australian yachting, was originally designed and built for the 1986 BOC single handed around the world race by America’s Cup winner Ben Lexcen. Spirit is an ocean greyhound with real sailing ability and thoroughbred performance, and has been sailing the Southern Ocean and plying Antarctic waters every summer since 1994, having made over 60 trips to various parts of Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic. Spirit is a tough, heavily constructed 60 foot aluminium yacht with 6 watertight compartments and an over built sailing rig ready for the southern ocean.

Spirit of Sydney regularly supports expeditions in all parts of Antarctica with groups such as documentary makers from Discovery Channel’s Globetrekker, or scientists from Australian Antarctic Division, (albatross research) Oregon State University Marine mammals Institute (tagging humpback Whales ) ,University of British Columbia, (Orca study), as well as television documentaries, like Animal Planet’s Steve Irwin “The Croc Hunter”, or “2 Below Zero” where Spirit of Sydney delivered 4.5 tons of equipment from Hobart to Commonwealth Bay for a 12 month winter-over near Mawson’s Hut. Other expeditions have included, National Geographic photographers, mountaineers, dry suit divers and kayaking expeditions including Andrew McCauley’s epic sea kayaking expedition in Antarctica. Thirteen school children from Geelong Grammar sailed aboard Spirit of Sydney for a very memorable expedition, sailing, kayaking and ski touring the peninsula. Spirit of Sydney has also sailed to Macquarie Island, Ross Sea, Weddell Sea, South Georgia Island and to the Magnetic South Pole. Spirit has been meticulously maintained and refitted, so that she has evolved on a yearly basis. For example, in 2002 Spirit had a major refit which included a new engine, new mainsail, installation of a Plexiglas cockpit dodger and other work. In 2004, Spirit sailed to Buenos-Aires for another full refit, gaining at that time a new saloon and navigation area, central heating, a hot water system and a custom water maker designed specifically for Antarctic waters. During the winter of 2006 2008 2010, 2012 and 2014, 2016, and 2019 Spirit was again refitted, carefully surveyed and much preventative maintenance carried out.

TRIP INFORMATION

Fitness levels

A moment of reflection on the beauty and peace of South Georgia Island

These trips are designed for fit, agile and active people who have adventurous and positive outlooks. Participation is the key to enjoyment. No sailing experience is required. There is no age limit as we have had fit and active people of all ages, even a 77 year old sea kayaker who was out paddling almost every day!

Medical

All expeditioners will need to have a medical before departure as we are operating in a remote area, and its best for all concerned to have no surprises. It is required to get EMERGENCY MEDICAL and EVACUATION INSURANCE with a minimum coverage of $500,000 in case an unfortunate event occurs during the trip. Emergency evacuation and medical care can be very costly and difficult to coordinate in international locations, especially as remote as South Georgia and Antarctica.

Captain Darrel Day at the wheel sailing in South Georgia

What’s Included Aboard?

Once you step aboard Spirit of Sydney all food, drinks (including local beer and Argentine wine), port fees, South Georgia Island permits, and IAATO passenger fees are supplied. You need only bring some US dollars for buying souvenirs at the Gritvyken base we will visit and for gratuities. You may also wish to bring a bottle of whiskey etc. for nightcaps. Kayak rental is included and 4 kayaks are carried aboard, although more can be provided by arrangement. What’s not included: Personal clothing and equipment, travel insurance, medical emergency and evacuation insurance, entry visa for Argentina (if needed), hotel and meals in Stanley, travel to and from Falkland Islands, iridium communications while on board, cost of medicals, and dry suits for kayaking.

Sea Kayaking

As many of the locations in South Georgia are exposed to the elements, the use of kayaks will be limited on this particular voyage. If weather allows we will only be able to use the kayaks in a few sheltered locations.

Included: Boreal Design kayaks, paddles with pogies, spray deck, pump, and lifejacket. We also have hand held VHFs, 2 hand held GPS. Drysuits are mandatory for safe kayaking – you may bring your own, or rent from us for the duration of the trip.

Trip format

If you’ve been on luxury charters in the Caribbean or Mediterranean before…. FORGET IT! This is a real ‘hands on’ expedition and everyone will need to be active in making the trip work. All tasks aboard are shared including: sailing, helming, anchoring, even cooking and domestic duties….. You can always opt for the barbecue! Our aim is to take like-minded people on an experience of a lifetime and the expedition will work best if everyone is prepared to lend a hand and be a part of the crew. When you steer the yacht across the Scotia Sea and return to the Falkland Islands, you will have a real sense of achievement knowing you have been a part of a small team that has not just ‘been to South Georgia’, but you actually did it with your own hands!

Photo credit: Gerhard Hüdepohl - atacamaphoto.com

Spirit of Sydney has ‘state of the art’ weather and communications systems. Individual email accounts are provided for guests and daily uploads are possible via the Iridium satellite phone network. She is also equipped with Xaxero’s Sky-Eye System for real time satellite image downloads of weather systems which can be cross referenced with weather information from the Global Marine Network.

Trip cost US$12,950.00

Due to the forward planning necessary and seasonal nature of expeditions, a deposit of 25% is due upon booking with 3 instalments for full payment. Upon booking, you will be provided with a charter agreement, medical forms, gear lists, waiver form, risk management documents and further information to help plan your trip. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions or would just like additional details. Please note that the terms of the Charter Agreement provides for full refunds in the unlikely event that we do not proceed with the trip.

Are you interested in this expedition, drop us a line:

Contact:

Clemens Vanderwerf @ cvanderwerf@me.com or +1 954 608 8704

Darrel Day @ darrel@spiritofsydney.co or +1 (406) 390-0674 or +54 (911) 2258-5439 or Anita Speier @ anita@spiritofsydney.co or +54 (911) 6227-2697

More information: www.spiritofsydney.co

All wildlife and landscape photographs are taken during October/November in South Georgia Island and are copyright of Clemens Vanderwerf.

www.clemensvanderwerf.com