Thursday, June 9, 2011

Luderitz Boat Trip

When we last left our two swash-buckling adventurers they had secured a place aboard a Namibian research vessel headed towards penguin-filled islands and a packet of seasickness pills. Let’s see how they fared...

On Wednesday morning we arrived at 8 am at the Ministry of Fisheries office in Luderitz. The staff needed to fill more than two dozen large jugs with petrol before we left on the resupply trip to Possession Island, so while we waited we joined a few women as they went out to take water samples in the local harbor. When fisheries scientists do this in Alaska they usually wear Xtratufs and a hoodie. Heck, when any one in Alaska just watches this done they are usually wearing Xtratufs and a hoodie. In Namibia it’s a whole different ball game. People here dress up much more than people in the States, even just for going to work. One of the women wore a beautiful silver dress complete with complicated pleats and puffed shoulders. Back home, the dress was more appropriate for going to the opera, but here she didn’t even bat an eye when dipping a small net into the ocean to test for plankton levels. The other women weren’t as fancily dressed, though their delicate shoes and gleaming white jackets would not have lasted long in the Aleutians. They were fun to chat with about the town and the local oyster and lobster fisheries.

Within a few hours it was just like being back at home—on a large boat headed into the wind over a cold ocean. Jeanette couldn’t help but reminisce about her days as an observer, and I felt like I should have a microphone with me to ask questions of everyone on board. The boat sailed fairly close to shore and we had a unique perspective on the forbidden diamond zone. From our ship we could see the massive building used to sort diamonds from dirt and the remains of yet another diamond ghost town. It seemed almost contradictory to watch seals and dolphins leap into the air and swim past our ship, R/V !Anichab, while staring into a stark desert landscape.
Stark Desert Landscape

Stark Desert Landscape continued (although this one also has a shipwreck in it)
Our first stop was Pomona Island. The biologists on board the boat needed to check out a shipwreck on the tiny, uninhabited island. A small boat belonging to the diamond industry went aground a few years ago, and the company was busy dismantling it for parts. The biologists wanted to make sure they weren’t working near any bird breeding colonies. Either the work on the wrecked boat had already scared them away or they no longer nested there. When we landed there was nary a bird in sight.

That night we anchored up near Possession Island. Jeanette and I slept on the boat, which mercifully rocked much less in the calm harbor. Possession Island is about three kilometers long and is the largest island off of Namibia’s coast. It’s staffed year round with biologists who monitor the local penguin, seagull, gannet, oyster catcher, and cormorant colonies. People do one year shifts on the island with only a few weeks of leave, but they have nice houses with electricity, satellite TV, phones, and internet. We disembarked from the large ship again in a small rubber boat that we call a zodiac and they call a rubber duck. And awaiting us, right on shore, were penguins!

Possession Island Penguins!!!

The biologist explained that the penguins live in three distinct colonies, though to me they just look like three different dirt patches with groups of penguins. He said that they always know to come back to the same place, though they sometimes hang out with the other penguins in the water. Their main predators are the colony of fur seals that live on the far end of the island. Apparently some of the seal pups learn to hunt the penguins at an early age. If a seal starts feeding primarily on penguins then the biologists have to shoot it so that it doesn’t decimate the small penguin population. The seal population is very healthy. The island itself is flat with small bushes used by penguins as nests, piles of rock, and tons of bird poop. Germans used to hunt seals on the island, and they built a small network of tracks for carting about the seal carcasses on mini railcars. These remain along with a small cemetery.

After leaving Possession Island we headed back to Luderitz. We decided not to join the crew for the two day trip up to Mercury Island and back. As much as I love penguins and watching the scenery, I still feel like the world is moving around me and we’ve been back on land for hours! Also, for the first time ever, we actually made plans and have booked a campsite in advance. We are both quite grateful to everyone at the ministry who let us tag along and to Julius the cook who made us special non-meat food. (Namibians really, really like to eat meat at every meal, it seems.) So now, back on land and onto the seas of sand!     


  1. We just went to Sea World yesterday and saw tons of penguins too. We had a blast, and I hope you do too!


    P.S. you guys are really lucky to have seen the lion! I wish I were you.

    P.P.S. Jacob sends his love instead of a message, and I send both.

  2. I just read your posts aloud to Gobi and Aloo. Gobi was quite upset at first that you love penguins so much, but I explained to him that you probably loved brown house cats just as much, and that you would have been just as excited to take a boat trip out to see cuddly house cats, but that just wasn't an option in Namibia. Aloo didn't care as much; she was too busy practicing her pronking.

  3. Again, I'm so fucking jealous that you two visited Possesion island. But it is good that you did and reported about it. Love the picture.
    I enjoyed the evening in The Raft very much, I hope we can reprise this somewhere in the exciting world someday, or many days.
    Happy travel, John and Gonnie.

  4. It is so cool that you (asked and) got to take the boat trip out to an island off the tourist circuit. How awesome! And to see the penguins just doing their thing---how incredible!
    Your trip is so amazing. Hope the rest of it goes so well!
    (And I love Emma's message above....) :)
    Smooches Pookie and Anne!