Mina2 Visits God’s Own Country
Position: 52:06.08S 060:49.78W
Date: 4 December 2011
Yesterday, Linda, John and I had what we all agreed was one of the most memorable days of our lives. The previous afternoon we had arrived at the remote farm of Port Stephens, owned by Peter and Ann Robertson to whom we had been introduced by Argentine friends.
After the constant high winds, squally leaden skies and freezing temperatures of the previous week, spring had sprung. We were now in a high pressure system: the skies had cleared, the sun was out and there was, blissfully and extraordinarily, no wind. We scraped the thermals off our bodies (we had been wearing them day and night for the previous ten days). Having anchored off the jetty and recommissioned the dinghy for the first time since Buenos Aires (it had been deflated and lashed to the foredeck) we went ashore to have tea with Ann and Peter. We were the first yacht to visit in a couple of years.
Peter, originally from New Zealand, has farmed sheep in Canada, then Patagonia, before settling in Port Stephens more than 50 years ago. Ann, an Argentine from Buenos Aires joined Peter 40 years ago. Apart from the absolutely stunning location of the farm, overlooking a large almost landlocked bay fringed with hills, one of the attractions of Port Stephens is its complete isolation. The farm is enormous – 50,000 acres rearing sheep for their wool, but also some dairy cattle and beef cattle. The whole lot is looked after by Peter and Ann, and their son Paul who we had met in Stanley. Their nearest neighbours live 40 miles away down a pot-holed gravel road. It would take them a round trip of three hours by Land Rover to borrow a cup of sugar. The road was only built a few years ago. Before then it would take them five or six hours to visit their neighbours by horse, and their supplies were brought in by ship every month or two. Their electricity is wind generated (so no shortage then) and their water comes from a spring.
As we had sailed overnight to get here, we went back to the boat for an early dinner and bed. Early yesterday morning, I awoke in this perfect bay to another beautiful, almost cloudless day. Beside Mina2, swinging to her anchor on the glass like water, were a variety of ducks and geese, then out of the clear water popped the head of a Gentoo penguin, which looked at me and then porpoised away. Different.
Later in the morning we took Mina2 to the other side of the bay and took the dinghy ashore to go for a long walk over a saddle in the hills. Verging on the hot (I should think it was in the 20's) we were almost in our shirt sleeves. The views from the top of the saddle down the rocky coast of West Falkland were unbelievable. The now still sea was a startling deep blue and in the shallows of the bays the water turned to turquoise lapping at the snow white sandy beaches. We crested a rise and there, clinging to the steep hillside was a large colony of cute little Rockhopper penguins sitting on their eggs. Absolutely magical. We continued walking down to the sea and round a headland to a sandy isthmus where there was a colony of literally thousands of Gentoo penguins with cattle grazing nearby. You could see the penguins through the small waves lapping the beach, streaking through the water at incredible speeds before launching themselves onto the beach with an ungainly thump and a bump and then a waddle back to their nest to feed a chick or two. All the penguins were sitting on their little conical nests made from sand and stones, all of them exactly one penguin peck away from each other. Some were sitting on an egg or two, but most had one or two tiny little chicks nestling on their feet. As humans are not predators - well not here and not now - they were unfazed as we approached. We quietly sat down almost amongst them and just watched their comical interaction with each other and their chicks. The whole thing was utterly and totally ... well, words can't really describe it.
In the evening we returned to the settlement and tied up alongside the jetty. Ann and Peter joined us for dinner on the boat after another hard day’s work gathering the sheep for shearing. It must be an incredibly hard life working such an enormous farm with such limited human resources and in such isolation. They have to be Jacks of all trades. If something goes wrong, they can’t just call the maintenance man - it could be weeks or months before he would turn up – they just have to fix the problem themselves, one way or another. They riveted us with stories of what this isolated life was like, but our overwhelming impression was that of contentment. As Peter said at the end of the evening “We are lucky enough to live in God’s own country”. We have been greatly privileged to visit this country, albeit just for a couple of days.
This morning we were due to head off for New Island, our final destination in these wonderful islands. I was awoken by an insistent but faint hammering on my cabin door. I opened the door to find Able Seadog Snoopy in a state of excitement. He had been pawing over the charts looking at our impending passage from Port Stephens to New Island and had discovered that on the way we were to pass between the West Falkland mainland and Sea Dog Island (52 deg 00.3S, 061 deg 05.8W – go on – look it up on Google Earth). How many Seadogs would be there? Could we go ashore? Would they be Ordinary Seadogs or would they be important Able Seadogs like him, long in tooth and claw? Would they have a supply of Winalot? (we’re running a bit short). Would it be too windy for him to go on deck and have a look through the binoculars? (Snoopy has been forbidden to go on deck in winds over 35 knots for fear that he be beaten to death by his own ears). I told the old fella to calm down – yes, we would be passing the island. Yes, there may be Seadogs there but, no, none as important as him. I told him that, sadly no, we wouldn’t be able to land but yes, he would be able to go out on deck and look through the binoculars as no wind was forecast and we would be motoring.
And motor we did. Like we have done most of the way round the Falklands in truth. Either we’ve been holed up due to gale force winds, or the winds have been from the wrong direction, i.e. bang on the nose or, in the last day, no wind at all. But, as Linda says, it is soupy thick with wildlife which makes up for the fact that we are on the Motor Vessel Mina2.