FROM 2-14. Cape Town-Kerguelens

Correction to my last

Muggins aka Dozy Old Fart got it wrong – my French is way far from perfect. The next ship arrives here in March, (mars, not mardi…) so the envelopes will not leave until then and you won't get them until April. Also, I do not want to impose on the generosity of Son Eminence le Maitre de Poste so no more addresses after today please. I have two more envelopes above the list already received so first come…

Wonderful day today shuttling researchers in and out of the remote outpost stations around the hundred or so islands in the Baie du Morbihan. We called at Haute, St.Malo, Mayes, Guillou and Verte and on the way back to Port aux Francais, passed the wreck of a previous ship, which is actually marked on my chart. At Guillou, we were about 15 miles from Mt Ross, the highest point on the island. Lots of photos. Stark volcanic landscape, eroded by water freezing in the cracks and breaking off the outer layers, exposing the strata and blurring the crystalline rock forms down the millions of years. Also huge runoffs after the rain and occasional snow. Penguins, seals and dolphins (type to follow – I will ask later, but blunt nosed with white sides). My Gold Collared albatross was probably an immature Snowy and I am extremely doubtful that my 'Amsterdam' was indeed such – more likely a juvenile Snowy, NZ or Tristan. There are people here who really know about these things. Projects today – the effect of introduced species, rabbits, cats, rats and sheep; Blue Petrels and their environment and reproductive cycles; invasive species – aphids and other insects, which are all vectors for viruses; the effects of atmospheric pollution – several others but that's the sort of thing. They stay out in the field for three to ten days in insulated cabins, but they are all rigged and equipped to walk and to survive for longer if the weather changes. L'Adventure is an 80 ton barge about the size of one a half tennis courts with two big diesels and hydraulic propellors on stocks that can be turned so no need for rudders, and they can be raised out of the water. The barge just drives up to a beach or a rocky headland. parks its square flat nose against the solid earth and Frank, the skipper, holds it there with his engines as the teams transfer their equipment and themselves. No fuss, all done with cool competence and flair. The people – carefully selected volunteers – all with personality, verve, knowledge and dedication. Some students doing field projects – what an opportunity!

Wind gradually rising all day – averaging 45 kt on the way back. Now seems to be abating. The wind and the defined static lenticular clouds and the flying cascades of spray added to the stark landscape but I will never be able to see these islands as the desolate spot the early explorers and pioneers described – it has life, bleak beauty, rapid change from glorious to menacing in minutes. A character of its very own. A real privilege to be here and to see it all and to take part.

When we arrived back in Port aux Francais, we were greeted by Mme Deschamps, the Chef du District. She came down to the quay in the wind and rain specially to meet us and then took us to her house for coffee. Tomorrow she will stamp our passports.

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