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 Albatrosses and Afternoon Tea

Good evening everyone. It’s 7.36pm on Tuesday 12th January. I hope everyone is doing well. It has been lovely to receive many emails, especially with Christmas and New Year wishes, and I am doing my best to reply as swiftly as possible. As many of you will know, I live alone, and it is rather grand to be able to make a mug of tea and sit in front of the computer and read your emails. At the moment, it’s become my equivalent to having an evening chat in the lounge on one of our ships. It’ll come as no surprise to know that I can’t wait for the day to come when we can all meet face-to-face again. In this past week, I’ve found myself occasionally daydreaming about that first Welcome Aboard Briefing once all this is over. In the daydream I am all prepared, with the cruise being on flat calm seas with sunny skies, friendly local immigration authorities, and everything running smoothly. As I mentioned, it is a dream, but with over two million now vaccinated we can have real hope for the year ahead. In the meantime, I woke up this morning to discover my back fence had lost a battle against the wind and rot. I live in a terraced cottage and had had the southern boundary fence removed in the summer when it started to wobble violently in a slight breeze. Now the northern boundary has partly collapsed and is being held up by my neighbour’s large bush. However, I had a friendly chat with my neighbour and we’ve both decided that we’ll simply have said fence removed and then sort out a replacement in the summer. Yes, life has its frustrations at the moment, but we must all just keep going, knowing that brighter times lie ahead. Speaking of keeping going, I was delivering on Sunday evening and had the radio on in the truck, listening to Brighton playing at Newport County in the Third Round of the F.A. Cup. I punched the air in delight when we scored in the 90th minute. I was parked in a lay-by at the time, and slumped over the steering wheel when they equalised in the 96th minute. By the time the penalty shoot-out started I had unloaded the truck at the depôt and driven home. Although we were playing fourth-tier opposition, I was kneeling on my lap tray in the kitchen and praying that we would make it through to the fourth round. I didn’t realise I cared so much about the F.A. Cup! With apologies to any Welsh readers, I was relieved that we made it through. If I had been at home, and there wasn’t a pandemic, I would have gone to the match in person. I now realise that, with the extra time and penalties, I would have had to wait until 5.25am on Monday morning for the first train back towards home. Perhaps it was for the best that I couldn’t attend in person!

 

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Looking down at West Point Cove with our ship almost out of sight on a summer’s day, 12th January 2009.

 

The most recent blog was the concluding part of South Georgia. I promised I would head 800 nautical miles west and look at the Falkland Islands in this blog. One of the many delightful elements of being asked to contribute a weekly blog is that it has made me look back at old photos that I have probably not viewed since the day they were taken. I am also relieved that I kept a copy of the spreadsheet of the itineraries over the years so I can work out which day I was where. Using both resources, I have found out that my first visit to the Southern Atlantic British Overseas Territories was on Monday 12th January 2009, exactly 12 years ago as I write this. We had departed from Buenos Aires on 8th January and spent three days at sea, heading almost due south, before arriving at West Point Island in the far western part of the Falkland Islands. Stanley is located in the far eastern part of the Falkland Islands, and as-the-crow-flies, it is 125 (land) miles from Stanley to West Point. By sea, it is a great deal further. My first memory is that it was a truly glorious day when we arrived. The previous cruise, which had included Christmas and New Year, had been very difficult. We had begun in Tenerife, ending in Buenos Aires, but the air-conditioning had all-but failed whilst we were in the tropics. It is incredibly frustrating, as a Cruise Director, when you have passengers understandably upset, but there is nothing that you can do about it apart from apologise. Fortunately, experts had arrived in Montevideo to attend to the issue, and all was right again for the commencement of this cruise.

 

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An overview of the west coast of West Point Island, 12th January 2009.

 

As mentioned in the South Georgia blogs, it was quite a strange scenario for me, as I was very much second-fiddle to the Expedition Leader. After the difficulties of the previous cruise, and having never been to the Falklands before, I was more than happy to take a step back and simply be ready whenever called upon. Once all the passengers had headed ashore, the Expedition Leader, Dr Beau Riffenburgh, invited me to come ashore, and to this day I am so glad that I did. We have all seen documentaries about the Falkland Islands. The conflict of 1982 is just outside of my living memory – I doubt it had much interest to my four-year-old self – but my presumption before arriving in the Falklands was that everyone lived in Stanley and there was perhaps an occasional house elsewhere on the islands for the farmers. Whilst in many ways that is a correct assumption, at the same time, it was eye-opening for our first two ports of call in the Falklands to be West Point Island and Carcass Island. Both of them are just about as far away from Stanley as you can get, and both are inhabited by the most delightful people.

 

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A Southern Rockhopper penguin makes their feelings known to a Black-browed albatross on West Point Island, 12th January 2009.

 

 The ship anchored in the sheltered bay, and we used the Zodiacs to land on West Point’s northeast facing beach. Roddy & Lily Napier were on hand to welcome us to their island of over 5½ square miles. It was Roddy’s great-uncle, Arthur Felton, who established the sheep farm on West Point Island in 1879. Whilst the sheep were charming, the main reasons for visiting West Point were to view the flora and fauna of this beautiful island, and indulge in the legendary hospitality. With walking poles at the ready, the passengers set off to the western coast of the island, which is home to the highest sea cliffs in the entire Falklands archipelago. They rise to 1,250ft, but most enchantingly they provide a home to both Black-browed albatrosses and Southern Rockhopper penguins. Having never been this far south, up until this point, I had no idea that albatrosses and penguins would share accommodation. By the time I arrived ashore, the passengers were already starting to return from the nesting areas, and so I was offered a lift in Roddy’s land rover to reach the other side. A bumpy ride ensued, but it was well worth it. I could have happily spent hours there. To see these relatively small penguins vying for space with these massive birds was both endearing and amusing. I couldn’t help but think that, at any moment, a frustrated albatross could simply pick up an annoying penguin and hurl it away. However, even though there were clearly disagreements going on, they all seemed to live happily together. My appreciation of the brilliance of penguins was also heightened when I realised just how far above sea level we were. Whilst the albatrosses could simply glide in and out of the nesting area, it must have taken an eternity for the penguins to waddle up and down to the sea. Maybe the albatrosses appreciated the effort that the penguins had gone to, and were therefore happy to share the nesting area.

 

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The fabulous afternoon tea at the farmhouse on West Point Island, 12th January 2009.

 

The weather was absolutely stunning, and I chose to walk back to the farmhouse. Lily Napier, along with a couple of helpers, had been steadily preparing the legendary hospitality, and they had all been busily baking to prepare a feast of afternoon tea treats for our passengers. After three days at sea heading south, it felt utterly joyous to land in this small corner of Britishness and sit on the grass underneath the flagpole (proudly flying the Union Jack), with the warmth of the sun on your face, eating a freshly baked scone, and realising you were nearly 7,000 nautical miles from home.

 

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A Magellanic penguin looks out from its burrow beneath tree roots on Carcass Island, 13th January 2009

 

That night, we moved a mere six nautical miles so that we were anchored off Carcass Island to begin Zodiac operations the next day. The weather was a stark contrast to the day before. The Zodiacs had to deploy radar reflectors so that they could be guided in the right direction through the mist. Once again, I was delighted to have the opportunity to go ashore once all the passengers had taken their turn to disembark in the Zodiacs. I readily admit to having some nerves about going ashore somewhere that has the name “Carcass”. I wondered if there was something sinister I didn’t know about the place which had heralded such a name. I was therefore relieved to discover that the name was attributed to the island because it was first surveyed by HMS Carcass in 1766. On West Point Island we had enjoyed seeing the Southern Rockhopper penguins on their nests. Today, we also had Southern Rockhopper penguins, but the main species we encountered were the charming Magellanic penguins. Whilst vastly different in appearance to the Southern Rockhopper, the other noticeable difference was that they nested in burrows. Wherever you spotted a hole in the ground, you would invariably see a small eye looking out at you. Given that, you won’t be surprised to learn that Carcass Island has no cats or rats. There were some occasional fences around the penguin burrows (nothing that would stop the penguins going back and forth though). I asked one of the Expedition Team why there were fences there, thinking that the answer would be to stop people accidentally walking on them. The answer was that the fences were there to stop the sheep from injuring themselves by getting their legs caught in the burrows. I hadn’t thought of that.

 

 

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Me presenting the owner of Carcass Island, Rob McGill, with the ship’s plaque. 13th January 2009

 

As was rapidly becoming a welcome tradition, a delightful afternoon tea spread was laid out in the community hall (which served every purpose you can think of) for our delight. Even though it was a morning visit, the passengers still happily tucked in. I felt it would be rude not to join them. Other birds that we saw on our visit to Carcass Island included Falkland steamer ducks, ruddy-headed geese, a few Gentoo penguins, striated caracaras, blackish cinclodes, Cobb’s wrens, white-bridled finches and plenty of shite-hawks. All too soon it was time to head down to the landing beach and sit on one of the trusty black chairs and have our boots scrubbed before boarding the Zodiacs and returning to the ship. Our two days in the western part of West Falkland – an area completely bypassed by the 1982 conflict – had certainly made me appreciate that there is much to see, enjoy and explore in this remote corner of the globe. Stanley seems like a buzzing metropolis in comparison.

 

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His Excellency Alan Huckle exchanges plaques with Captain Frank Allica in Stanley, 6th February 2009

 

And so on to Stanley. I’m conscious that I’m starting to run out of space, so I’ll just tell a couple of stories that tickled me. On Friday 6th February 2009, we visited Stanley for the second time in our Antarctica season. I was honoured that the Governor of the Falkland Islands accepted my invitation to visit the ship, along with his wife and daughter. I decided to introduce him by his full name and title, “Her Britannic Majesty’s Governor of the Falkland Islands and Commissioner for South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, His Excellency Alan Huckle”. Immediately prior to serving in the Falkland Islands, Alan had been the Governor of the Caribbean territory of Anguilla (2004-2006). Quite the contrast! However, immediately prior to being appointed in Anguilla, Alan had been Commissioner of the British Indian Ocean Territory and Commissioner of British Antarctic Territory (2001-2004).

 

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 The Governor of the Falkland Islands with his official transport


Part of my reason for inviting the Governor was that I had hoped that he might arrive at the ship in the famous London taxi that is his official transport. Sadly, this wasn’t the case. The London taxi was provided to the Governor because, when he is wearing his official feathered hat, the roof of the taxi is high enough that he can wear it whilst inside. I mentioned to him that I had hoped we would see his taxi, and he was apologetic that the occasion was not one that merited it. I can’t remember if it was him personally, but someone then told me a couple of anecdotes about the taxi that have stuck with me. Firstly, the Governor had noted that the taxi was ageing quite rapidly, and spare parts for a London taxi are not easily found in Stanley. Of particular concern was the worsening condition of the brakes. The Governor reported this issue and was told that a team would come from the military base to have a look. The team came whilst the Governor was at work, and left a message to say they had done all they could. The Governor, whose residence has a sloping driveway that joins the main road opposite a grass bank that leads straight to the sea, returned home and was puzzled. There was no sign of any work having been done to the car. He called the military base and asked what they had done. The reply came that the team who had been sent had decided that there was nothing they could do about the taxi, so instead they had moved the lamppost that was opposite the Governor’s driveway, so that if the taxi rolled down the driveway it would hit the lamppost rather than continue rolling over the grass and into the sea! I can only imagine the Governor’s response.

 

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 HRH The Princess Royal visiting Stanley in 2015.

 

The other story related to the visit of HRH The Princess Royal to Stanley. As you can imagine, the official taxi was brought out for such an occasion. Apparently, the custom is that a junior member serving at the military base is awarded the role of driver when the taxi is pressed into use. The young man had spent a couple of days polishing the taxi to perfection, and had taken the taxi for a spin to make sure he knew the route. This included climbing a couple of fairly steep hills within Stanley, and he’d been advised to have a decent amount of speed in order to tackle the hill and not to stop part way. The day came and the driver and taxi were impeccably turned out. The Governor and the Princess sat in the back of the taxi, whilst a large official black land rover went ahead of them. All was going well. Then they came to one of the aforementioned hills. The black land rover was being driven by a member of the special forces who was not particularly acquainted with the roads of Stanley. As they climbed the hill, they came by a lady who was about to cross the road. Wishing to be polite, the black land rover came to a halt and the driver waved the grateful lady across. The partition screen was closed in the following taxi, and the young driver let out an expletive-ridden burst, along the lines of, “for heaven’s sake don’t stop now, I’ll never get the thing started again!” The young driver thought that, with the partition closed, he was simply saying said colourful words to himself. What he hadn’t realised was that the vehicle was an original London taxi, and that the intercom was switched on to the passengers in the back. The Governor turned a bright shade of crimson, and, I was told, the Princess did her best to conceal her amusement. Eventually, both vehicles made it to their destination. As the Princess alighted from the taxi, I am told that she turned to the young driver and said something along the lines of, “Thank you for the interesting commentary”, and pointed out that she had three brothers and a naval father so she might have heard such terminology before. I wish I could have seen the driver’s face! On that note, I’ll say goodnight. Whilst writing this, I have had Benny Andersson’s album “Piano” in the background. There are only four ABBA tracks (that I know of) on the album, with the others being self-penned piano pieces. It is beautiful to listen to and I strongly recommend it. I just thought I’d throw that in there as a final thought!

 

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A striated caracara on Carcass Island, 13th January 2009.

 

  
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