46°25'S, 51°53'E - Crozet, touch and go

Saturday 15th of October - brief stop in Crozet. 
After lunch, we all go to the bridge to discover the first land we could see since we left Reunion Island: East Island, and Possession Island, the biggest of all 5 Crozet volcanic islands  (145 km2). The Crozet archipelago, discovered by a French expedition in 1772 by Marion Dufresne, hosts a permanent base, Alfred Faure, built in 1963 in order to establish long-term scientific studies. Let's point out that Crozet is very important for birds species; it's the island of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands with the highest bird biomass (60 tons per km2). The archipelago is also comprised of Pigs' Island, Penguins' Island and Apostle Islets. The weather is quite nice, but some clouds and fog prevent us from seeing parts of both islands. Everybody's on the bridge, or at the bow of the boat to enjoy the breathtaking landscapes, which break the monotony of the everyday life on the Marion Dufresne. The coasts are ragged and it's beautiful. As we approach Possession Island, we can see new species of birds, like kelp gulls, terns and Crozet shags endemic from the archipelago on the Prince Edward and Marion Islands (we can thus only see them here, which makes the observations even more interesting). Other birds fly past: light-mantled sooty albatrosses, cape petrels, diving petrels, prions, Northern giant petrels, grey-headed albatrosses, wandering albatrosses... We now follow the coast of Possession Island and we can see the snow-covered mounts of the island (1050 m is the height of the Mont Marion-Dufresne, the highest point of the island), the base, a crater. We watch a few waterfalls looking like they're flowing upwards because of the wind! Then, the first penguin colonies appear; we can see them kinda well with our binoculars, especially the king penguins' colonies. There also are some crested penguins' and shags' colonies, but they are a bit harder to see from that far. The song of the sooty albatrosses that nest in the cliffs in front of us sound like a rattle, which gets clearer and clearer. We get close to Baie du Marin. The boat drops anchor and the zodiac is lowered to the water with the second-in-command and one of the lieutenants on board. They load luggage on board and drop them off on the island with Pierre (the port operation manager). We can see the tractor going down to the beach, it'll be used to take the luggage to base. Few inhabitants of the base come host the people who are going to join them. On the beach, we can see with our bins huge bulls (breeding male elephant seals) watching their harem and walking clumsily on land. From where we stand it already is impressive, so I can't imagine the feeling one must have when being closer to those animals! The zodiac comes back with the post office manager who will stamp the leters posted on board. The doctor of the Marion Dufresne also does get to go on land to meet his colleague on base. Two other people go to the island to service the tide-recording station. Then, finally, after another round of luggage, it's time to for our 6 « Crozet friends » to set foot on their rock: Franck (we're losing one more member of our little « Chizé family », now it's only Max, Thibaut and I left), Paul (The Urchin is his nickname because he stepped on a urchin in the harbor in Reunion Island because he was trying to get back his camera case that had fallen in the water...!), Gildas (from the lab in Strasbourg, who will work on king penguins) who are all over-wintering, and Yves Cherel (researcher in Chizé), François (researcher in Strasbourg) and Paul (Phd student from Chizé as well, he'll work on killer whales) who will do part of the summer campain. They climb down the ladder to get on the zodiac, attached by a harness. Fortunately for them, the swell isn't very developed, which makes things so much easier. Apparently, it is really rare to have such good conditions in this site! We say and wave goodbye, the zodiac moves away, we follow it with the bins when we're not taking photos. We can't see them get on land 'cause some big rocks are in the way but we can only imagine how happy they are. Plus the guys of the base give them a warm welcome: men wear tux and ladies wear nice dresses to celebrate the moment. We wish them all good luck, good over-wintering period (or summer campain), and good speed! And we hope to receive news from them soon, and see them back in France when they are back. Soon after, the zodiac comes back and takes onboard an oceanographer who needs to take water sample in the bay. In the meantime, we finished taking photos of the island and the base from every possible angle and of the birds flying past, close to us. A few curious king penguins come take a look at us, and they sometimes appear close to the boat; it' s the first time for us we see those birds in real life! Our heart misses a beat when we see our friends go, but we also feel impatient to finally get our turn (but well, it won't be much longer now, since we should be in Kerguelen in about 4 days), a mix of pride to have come that far already (and especially because we're realizing what is gonna happen to us when seeing the others leave) and a bit of frustration to not have been able to get on this wonderful island, even quickly. At the end of the day, the only regret we have is to not have seen the killer whales inhabiting Crozet's waters.4.30 am, we're leaving. For a while, we follow East Island, which summits are hidden in thick clouds. A few rainbows appear on our way as well. The passengers all stay on the port side to take their last photos before resuming their experiments and activities. Soon enough, there's no more land in sight; the next step will be « the one »: Kerguelen! Tonight, we all go to bed early to recover for our emotions, tired because of yesterday's party to say goodbye to our friends and because of the fact that we spent all afternoun in the cold (3-4°C but with a cold wind that didn't help us warming up), but with beautiful memories on our minds.


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Arrival in Crozet - Possession Island

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Arrival in Crozet - Baie du Marin

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Crozet - Base Alfred Faure

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Crozet - East Island

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Arrival in Crozet - disembarkation of our colleagues

Crozet touch and go Marion Dufresne Baie du Marin seabirds

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