For the passengers of the Sea Spirit, New Year’s Eve Day in South Georgia will probably go down in history as the most memorable New Year’s Eve Day of all time. Where does one even begin this epic tale? It was probably one of the most amazing days of my life.
It began with a cold, cloudy morning. After being ferried onto shore via zodiac (we were getting pretty efficient at it by that point) we began trekking through the most aggressive group of fur seals we would encounter on the entire trip. The hike began through tussock grass, which grows in clumps surrounded by trenches, concealing the seals all over the place. Staff members had to be stationed to constantly fend off several adolescent males who were very difficult to discourage in their attacks in order for us to pass through. Suddenly, Michael The Ornithologist, experiencing a fragment of questionable logic, decided that the Alaskan kids were surely suitable to lead the entire group through the maze of snarling animals, and left Devin and I in charge of everyone! Luckily nobody got bitten, although Devin came mighty close. We continued up to a plateau where we observed a colony of Gentoo penguins, climbed a mountain, and got dive bombed by giant petrels.
Gentoo penguin colony!
Pure class. Josh was laughing at me for taking a selfie, but little did he know, he was included!
Once we were back onboard, Alex (the youngest expedition leader) called an emergency meeting with the young Australians and myself. He had been put in charge of the New Year’s Eve party that night, and overwhelmed with the responsibility, handed it over to us. Having been on a ship for a week, we were ready for a party, and began devising a whole range of fliers, catchy phrases, and trip-related humor to entice potential guests to attend our ironically beach-themed party. Some of the more entertaining incentives advertised were a rock-paper-scissors competition and costume contest, a “guaranteed year change”, the promise that the party would be “slightly more fun than being charged by a fur seal”, and Verity’s famously confusing declaration that it was “gonna go off like a frog in a sock”. Promising a “kriller time”, we posted an obnoxiously large amount of homemade fliers over nearly every possible interior surface of the ship, making it impossible to remain unaware of the party’s existence. We then considered our duty done, hoped that someone would show up besides ourselves, and prepared ourselves for the next landing. Which was epic.
That day, we were able to land at St. Andrew’s Bay. The sun shone. A vast glacier loomed in front of jagged snow-capped peaks. Penguins lined the beach. We hiked. Baby fur seals frolicked in the grass. An elephant seal winked at me. But then we crested the top of the hill, and here words fail me. There were just that many penguins. It was UNBELIEVABLE. King penguins as far as the eye could see! The sound was deafening, the smell overwhelming, the sight beyond comprehension. These effects combined, we were just stunned. We just stared, listened, smelled, totally speechless. It was the most impressive wildlife spectacle I can imagine exists anywhere on the planet.
These guys were pretty interested in my gear.
A giant petrel wandered close!
After that, our New Year’s Eve party couldn’t be anything but a raging success. People went all out, even with the limited options in the beachwear department. Josh, for example, sported one of the SOLAS life jackets supplied in every cabin, complete with a light that illuminated upon contact with water… and alcohol, it turned out. While I can’t say how pleased the staff were about this, the life jacket ended up with the words “SAFETY F.T.W.” written across it, and many people found great amusement in pouring their drinks on Josh to see the light flash. In addition, most of us ended up getting sparkly tinsel superglued into our hair, and some of us got homemade sharpie tattoos representing our home countries or states. We danced late into the night, parents and all, as the Sea Spirit sailed along the coast of South Georgia. And although we couldn’t really promise the popularity of the rock-paper-scissors tournament, the guaranteed year change truly was successful.