On the Raggy edge – South African Penguins make a splash

As we wind up in some very strange places at different times, we always try to take advantage of what’s available locally to expand our knowledge and experience, or just to have fun. We’d just disembarked in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, for the day from Black Watch (one of the Fred Olsen cruise ships on which we were guest speakers) and, as always, were keen to get away from the crowd and do our own thing. A city for us is not the most attractive of places to be marooned if you seek anything more than another cloned shopping mall. Whilst being on the Garden Route, we felt that Port Elizabeth was just that – en route to anywhere else; be it safari, vineyards or cultural experiences and our limited time precluded us from being too adventurous.

South Africa, Port Elizabeth, Gannet

We were aware that a boat with our fellow passengers was setting out from the commercial port to go ‘penguin watching’ and our immediate reaction was to avoid this and arrange our own to spend some time in Algoa Bay with the hopes of whale, dolphin or penguin sighting. Much to our dismay there was only one boat with the correct access licences to approach the penguin colonies so with much reluctance we secured the last three places (Cherrie’s sister, Lindsay, was travelling with us) on the boat, which tuned out to only have twenty spaces in total. Don’t get me wrong – Cherrie is a very hospitable and friendly person and so am I when I want to be – but if I’m intent on taking photos very few people, quite justifiably, have the inclination or patience to sit in one place indefinitely while I direct operations for my own benefit. Surprisingly, this doesn’t promote amicable relationships. So, with a face like a slapped backside I prepared myself for a tedious ‘pleasure cruise’ with the punters while Cherrie and Lindsay struck up cheerful conversations with our fellow passengers.

Cherrie: The great thing about being in a small craft, enjoying a slightly different pursuit (such as our penguin trip) is that you’re far more likely to meet up with like-minded people who share a common interest or love of life – it’s an immediate ice-breaker and the shared experience of bouncing from wave to wave on a sunny day soon had us chatting as a group – well most of us – except Geoff, who had plonked himself in the bow ahead of the wheelhouse!

I sat in front of the wheelhouse of the little ‘Orca 2’ working boat, partly to keep myself to myself, partly to sit in the sun and fresh air and make the most of the situation. As the window of the wheelhouse was open, the skipper Lloyd Edwards passed the time of day with me as we set out from the harbour into Algoa Bay. Within a few minutes we were comparing our various conservation activities and swapping stories as the little boat bounced through the waves. By the time we reached St. Croix, a small island in the bay awash with African penguins, I had a full understanding of his fight to protect the area from over-fishing and the research that his wife Dr Lorien Pichegru was undertaking to better understand behaviour and protection of the various species that teem around the islands. I also had a number of pictures of Gannets and their strenuous take-off routines across the sparkling waters of the Indian Ocean.

La Croix island, penguins 12, Port Elizabeth, South Africa
La Croix island, cormorant 3, Port Elizabeth, South Africa
La Croix island, penguin 2, Port Elizabeth, South Africa
La Croix island, penguins 8, Port Elizabeth, South Africa

Lloyd suggested that I might like to climb on the wheelhouse roof and indicated a flimsy looking cage of old pipes that should stop me from going overboard. As I had all of the camera equipment with me and the top of the boat was wagging around like a metronome, it seemed a risky business but as Lloyd was supposedly being helpful I took advantage of the offer and clambered aloft. Apparently he’s skippered the BBC ‘Wild Africa’ camera unit without loss of life so it seemed churlish to doubt the pipework and flimsy fibreglass roof I now perched upon. For the next hour or so Lloyd positioned the little boat with well-practiced ease, running in with the surf to put the bows practically onshore before we were carried back with receding waves. Being fortunate enough never to suffer from any form of motion sickness, I soon fell in sync with the movement and just concentrated on photography and Lloyd’s commentary. As a result of Lloyd’s efforts the penguin colony viewing opportunities were outstanding.

His company, Raggy Charters cover the longest distance of any ocean safari along the South African coast, lasting for 3-4 hours and covering 50km, so they’re ideal for whale watching, and other wildlife viewing. With seasonal visits from Southern right whales, humpback whales, bottle nose and indo-pacific humpback dolphins and with the largest breeding colony of African penguins in the world on their doorstep, you’re sure to enjoy your time out as much as we did. The return trip was in the company of a playful pod of dolphins, weaving around our bow wave and wake – a thrilling sight as always, just to round the trip off.

La Croix island, dolphins 11, Port Elizabeth, South Africa
La Croix island, dolphins, Port Elizabeth, South Africa

As you’d expect, when back ashore we suggested that Lloyd join us for a drink and the four of us settled into a superb seafood platter at the adjacent and really friendly Algoa Bay Yacht Club; together with plenty of wine and beer to rehydrate us after the boat trip! We just got back to Black Watch in time for departure to Reunion.

Cherrie: Lloyd and his wife are coming over to Britain this year, so we’ll meet up and I’ll be able to explain to him how Geoff is learning about being outgoing and friendly when travelling, which will really broaden his horizons and social circle!

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Cherrie's Notes

You’ll probably fly to Johannesburg as part of a South African trip or via it to Port Elizabeth for the whale, dolphin and penguin watching. See:


When there: Raggy Charters http://www.raggycharters.co.za/page/whale_watching_south_africa

Other than your normal travelling gear then a sun hat, sun block and sea-sickness tablets if you need them.

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