11th December: South Sandwich Islands


Sailing through the night towards Zavadovski Island – an erupting volcano on the northern edge of the uninhabited South Sandwich Islands. We are picking our way through fields of hidden icebergs. All the lights are out on the bridge and the only illumination comes from the arrays of blinking buttons, radar-screens, GPS monitors. Outside two powerful searchlights beam out through the fog. Trained on a small patch of ocean in front of the ship like a ballerina’s follow spot, they create an expectant circle of immanent ice. All that appears, occasionally gliding through the beam, is one of the huge wandering albatross, shining impossibly white against the black rolling sea. The air begins to lighten and the yellow blips on the radar screen show various huge bergs passing nearby, but still unseen in the fog. A fin-whale blows a jet out of the swell and rolls lazily forward as it dives away from the ship. Finally a bigger lump picked out in the ghostly yellow radar takes shape as Zavodovski itself. Hidden behind the fog, we can smell its fumes blowing in the air. In the light of dawn, we can see the nearer icebergs begin to be populated with the black dots of penguins – suburbs of the millions of ‘Chinstraps’ inhabiting the geothermically ice-free island and adding to its smell. Finally, we can just about make out the black coast at ‘Noxious Bluff’ – but the smoking mountain stays hidden in its clouds.

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