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DAY 1 PORT STANLEY ON FALKLAND ISLANDS. EMBARK OCEAN ALBATROS AND DEPARTURE TOWARDS SOUTH GEORGIA
Port Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands, is a quaint and very British outpost in the south Atlantic. The town is walkable, with colorful houses and cozy pubs lining the streets. You will possibly encounter the endemic flightless steamer duck in the harbour, as well as the delicate dolphin gull. Fur seals are often trying to occupy our landing pier.
Our new expedition vessel Ocean Albatros is anchored in the harbour, and you will embark the ship by Zodiac tender boats by mid-afternoon. After being shown to your stateroom you will be given the mandatory safety briefing, while the captain gets ready to steer out into the South Atlantic Ocean.
DAY 2-3 AT SEA APPROACHING SOUTH GEORGIA. LECTURES BY OUR QUALIFIED EXPEDITION TEAM
Heading due east, we will be followed by numerous black-browed albatrosses as well as other seabirds. We will probably also come across both Peale’s dolphin and Commerson’s dolphin. We will pass Shag Rock on our way to South Georgia where huge swarms of seabirds feed in between large flocks of fur seals.
DAY 4-6 SOUTH GEORGIA, WILDLIFE PARADISE OF THE SOUTH ATLANTIC
South Georgia has a dramatic setting with glacier-clad rugged mountains. Lying in the Southern Ocean south of the Antarctic convergence, the cold sea is booming with life. The island, often referred to as “The Galapagos of the Poles”, can only be reached by ship. There is no permanent human settlement, but seabirds and seals breed in the millions. The difficulty of getting there and the restrictions to protect the environment, makes South Georgia one of the least-visited tourist destinations in the world. Today the island has been largely left to recover from human over-exploration, resulting in dramatic increases in the number of whales, seals as well as penguin and seabird populations. The itinerary and activities over the next couple of days are largely dependent on the weather and the sea.
We will have a chance to visit Salisbury Plain, home to one of the largest king penguin colonies on the island, estimated between 250,000 and 5,000,000. At this time of the year the beaches will also be crowded with plenty of young and very curious fur seals as well as southern elephant seals.
Another possible landing site, we hope to visit, is Prion Island, a reserve for the wandering albatrosses. The site is closed until the end of January to protect the breeding birds. This is one of the few sites to observe these gentle creatures with the largest wingspan of any bird in the world. Gentoo penguins, giant petrels and Antarctic prions also breed on the island.
The British administration at Grytviken, a former Norwegian whaling station, is also worth a visit. The famed British explorer Ernest Shackleton died in Grytviken on his second visit, and is buried south of the station. The endemic South Georgia pipits and South Georgia pintails may be seen around the buildings.
DAY 7-10 AT SEA TOWARDS TRISTAN DA CUNHA ARCHIPELAGO
Setting a north-westerly course we soon reach warmer waters as well as westerly winds, giving us a proper push towards the archipelago of Tristan da Cunha. The sea can be rough, but the unique backward sloping bow of Ocean Albatros and her efficient stabilizers reduces vibration and slamming against the waves. En route to the next remote islands, you will have plenty of time to edit your photos of the wildlife and stunning landscapes. Our onboard photographer will offer you help, tips and tricks to improve your picture telling skills. Or you can attend qualified lectures on geology, meteorology, birdlife, marine mammals as well as the history on exploration of the Southern Ocean. From upper decks you can study the albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters taking advantage of the dynamic soaring from lee to windward of the ship.
DAY 11 GOUGH ISLAND. ZODIAC CRUISES AND CIRCUMNAVIGATING THE ISLAND
The rough and remote volcanic island of Gough rises out of the horizon. With 2600 kilometers to Cape of Good Hope, the nearest mainland in Africa, we are now truly in the middle of the South Atlantic. It is not permitted to land on Gough Island, a strictly protected nature reserve, only inhabited be few weather station personnel. The island’s entire coastline consists of steep lava cliffs often several hundred meters high, which we will carefully approach from the leeward side, hoping to make Zodiac cruises as close to the shore as the sea allows. Gough Island is famous for its rich birdlife housing, including the Tristan albatross, Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross and the Atlantic petrel.
DAY 12-13 TRISTAN DA CUNHA, INACCESSIBLE AND NIGHTINGALE ISLANDS. ZODIAC LANDINGS
We have two full days to explore the unique and isolated northern islands of the archipelago, Tristan, Inaccessible and Nightingale and to find the best places to go ashore. Our first call will be at Tristan da Cunha, the main island. Less than 250 hardy folks earn their living mainly from fishing, all based in the only settlement, Edinburgh of the Seven Seas. As always on expedition voyages like ours, we are visitors at the mercy of wind and swell, and with no proper pier at “The Settlement”, successful landing craves a bit of luck.
The active volcano Queen Mary’s Peak looms more than 2000 meter above sea level, making it an important landmark for former sailors. It had a major eruption from 1961 to 1962, forcing all inhabitants to flee to nearby Gough Island for shelter. Besides visiting the small town, we hope to spot some of the endemic birds breeding in the archipelago, for example the northern rockhopper penguin. This penguin has long golden tassels off the crest and is the only penguin on the island group. One of the most exciting tubenoses in the South Atlantic, the sooty albatross is breeding in good numbers on Tristan, as well as several species of smaller petrels such as soft-plumages petrel. Also of interest is the endemic Tristan thrush and the flightless Gough moorhen, which has been introduced to Tristan.
We continue the short distance to Inaccessible Island. We have applied for access to this nature reserve and will be accompanied by a certified guide from Tristan. Our hope is to spot the endemic Inaccessible Island rail, word’s smallest flightless bird, breeding only here with up to 5,000 pairs. Northern rockhoppers are also a likely sight.
Before heading north again, we will do a ship’s cruise along the colorful volcanic cliffs of Nightingale.
DAY 14-17 AT SEA TOWARDS SAINT HELENA
Humpback whales are now quite common and back in the open ocean, we can hopefully also enjoy the view of large numbers of seabirds. Dolphins indigenous to this region often follow our ship, and we should be on the lookout for spinner, Clymene and Fraser’s dolphins.
We expect to pass the Tropic of Capricorn in the afternoon of day 15. It is the southernmost latitude where the Sun can be seen directly overhead, but in April this has no implication for us, as the Sun is to the north, straight above the Equator. More importantly, this means we are out of the westerlies and into the southeasterly trade winds, hopefully pushing our stern for most of the remaining journey. With Saint Helena as our next call!
DAY 18-19 SAINT HELENA. ZODIAC LANDINGS IN JAMESTOWN
With a wind perpetually blowing from the southeast, Saint Helena’s only port is of course located on the northwest coast. While Ocean Albatros anchors off the tiny port, we will utilize the ship’s Zodiac fleet to land at the beaches below Jamestown, the main town of the island.
Saint Helena is a tropical island situated about 2,000 km from the nearest African coast. The island is together with Tristan da Cunha and Ascension Island a member of British Overseas Territory with Jamestown as the islands’ cultural capital.
We will take a walk up through the quant and tiny town, located in the steep-sided James Valley. Most buildings are kept in the classic architectural style dating back to 18th century, when the island was administered by British East India Company. Saint Helena is famous for being the final and very remote prison for the exiled Napoleon Bonaparte. He stayed in Longwood House outside of Jamestown from 1815 until his death in 1821. We will visit his residence and conduct several other walks in the countryside. Those who feel energetic might want to climb Jacob’s ladder, a century old staircase rising almost 200 meters up the side of James Valley above the town.
The natural habitats on the island have been severely changed by the introduction of cattle, sheep, rats as well as a large number of plants. Nevertheless, the island has still around 400 endemic plant species found nowhere else in the world. It may be possible to locate the Sankt Helena plover, the only endemic bird on the island, they happen to be dwindling in numbers.
On our second day at Helena, we aim for an excursion to the central part of the island and, if swell allows, take a Zodiac cruise along the coast.
DAY 20-21 AT SEA TOWARDS ASCENSION ISLAND
On our route further north into tropical seas, we will pass over the volcanic spreading zone of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, some three kilometers below us. We can possibly spot more species of frigatebirds, noddies and boobies as we get closer to our next destination.
DAY 22-23 ASCENSION ISLAND. BEACH LANDING BY ZODIAC CLOSE TO GEORGETOWN.
The barren volcanic island of Ascension is the northernmost of the three islands in the British Overseas Territory. The whitewashed naval barracks, fortifications and only vaguely hidden cannons, indicates that the capital settlement of Georgetown has been a British stronghold for centuries. The town is located – as we are now used to – on the leeward northwest coast. Ocean Albatros casts anchor in Clarence Bay and we make a Zodiac landing on the white beaches close to Georgetown.
With no commercial flights or steamers into Ascension, we are likely to be the only visitors. A stroll through town, a hike into the volcanic landscapes along the coast and possibly a Zodiac cruise, will gives us glimpses of this out worldly island. Despite the introductions of sheep, goats, cows and cats amongst others, the island is still an important habitat to a number of seabirds such as red-billed tropicbird, Ascension frigatebird (an endemic breeder), and black noddy. The tropical sooty tern breeds here in vast numbers, estimated sometimes upwards of 1 million birds. After cats were eradicated from the islands in 2009, Ascension frigatebird has returned to breed on the main island.
Having two days at Ascension, allow us an evening excursion to one of the beaches famous for nesting green sea turtles, which come here in thousands each year.
DAY 24-27 AT SEA TOWARDS CAPE VERDE – AND CROSSING EQUATOR
By all likelihood we will cross the Equator at noon on day 25, Tuesday, April 11. We are in the area called the doldrums where the northern and southern trade winds converge and where light winds prevail.
Approaching Cap Verde, we will spend some time on deck to maximize our chances of spotting seabirds that are difficult to find anywhere else: such as Fea’s petrel, Cape Verde shearwater, Boyd’s shearwater and Bulwer’s petrel as well as brown booby. There should also be good chances of seeing Atlantic dolphin, pantropical spotted dolphins, and short-finned pilot whales.
DAY 28 CAPE VERDE ISLAND. AT QUAY IN PORTO PRAIA. DISEMBARKATION AND HOMEBOUND FLIGHT
Cape Verde, or the official name, República de Cabo Verde, is a group of ten volcanic islands with a Portuguese speaking population of half a million people. The islands were discovered by Portuguese navigators, and they played a central role in the era of the Atlantic slave-trade. Cape Verde received its independence from Portugal in 1975.
Like the other isolated Atlantic islands, we have visited on this journey, these islands are home to a number of endemic species of birds, plants and even reptiles. Within reach of Porto Praia, it should be possible to encounter breeding red-billed tropicbirds on the local Praia cliffs. The endemic Cape Verde Swift is also likely to be observed as well as the lago sparrow.
Ocean Albatros will be alongside in Porto Praia by mid-morning on Friday, April 14. After four weeks on board, it's time to say a heartfelt farewell to Ocean Albatros's faithful crew, and get ready for the homebound flight.