Alone at Sea with my Albatross

One of the truly large and magnificent birds on this planet is the Albatross. At 3.5 metres the great Wandering Albatross has the largest wingspan of not only any Albatross but of any bird on this wonderful  planet we call Earth.

From what I have observed Albatross are surprisingly not the best fishers. They are very buoyant birds and I have noticed that they struggle to dive under water for food. I suspect that they mainly rely on covering vast distances with their supreme flying skills to locate food already floating on the surface.      

Most winters I am privileged to observe just a few Albatross which venture this far north and I am always thrilled to see one in my waters. When I do see an Albatross I cannot contain my excitement and I reach for the microphone and radio fellow crabber Steve Duffy to tell him the news.  Once the weather begins to warm up in early spring my Albatross will return south and again confidently brave the elements of cold and gales of the Great Southern Ocean thousands of kilometres to the south.  

Albatross are at home in the Great Southern Ocean where they are the absolute masters of sustained flight. Once airborne, Albatross do not need to persistently use power mode of wing flapping, rather banking high into the wind, using the energy of the wing to gain height, followed by long shallow gravity pulling dives, making incredible speed, and then banking high into the wind again to continually repeat this rhythm. All this time their amazingly long wings are actively and uniquely locked into soaring position by elite bones enabling Albatross to generate effortless and endless flight energy from the lightest of winds. In a stiff 20 knot plus breeze they are a sheer joy to observe as they effortlessly cover enormous amounts of sky in no more time than the blink of an eye.  Most of the other sea birds have similar skills, the Shearwaters in particular are extremely good at this, nevertheless the Albatross is the grand master.  I have witnessed a Wandering Albatross fly at least 1.5 nautical miles downwind and towards me with one long straight glide, skilfully defying logic by skimming the surface of the ocean, never a wing beat, riding no more than the invisible updraft of a long ocean swell. I thought to myself ‘wow, no other bird could have achieved that distance on such a lazy ocean swell’.

Recently I observed an Albatross short jibe back and forth over the wave tops, never a power stroke, making a least 18 knots of ground speed into a breeze so light it would not have blown a match out, I just could not take my eyes off this bird as it passed me and quickly disappeared into the distance seemingly achieving the impossible working into near nothing of wind...just amazing. A stall speed slow enough to hang on a lazy rolling ocean swell or bank high into a stiff breeze and generate unbelievable speed, all without a wing beat, the Albatross has what it takes to surely be crowned the grand champion  of sustained flight. To me their soaring flight is the most graceful of all sea birds and as I watch them I become absolutely memorised as they will display an all inspiring and absolute polished flying as in gliding performance which leaves no doubt  that Albatross with their magnificently long wings are the true masters of harnessing the power of the wind for continuous and effortless flight.

 

Most years I see quite a number of different Albatross however Wandering Albatross are rare this far north and I may only see one about every six or seven years.  It is believed by seafarers from be gone days that Albatross carry the soul of lost seamen. 

Only the larger Albatross like the Wandering Albatross were grand enough to be crowned with such a noble and significant name as ‘Albatross’, smaller Albatross like the Black-browed and Yellow-nosed were and still are sometimes called Mollymawk.

Some years ago we sadly lost a spanner crabber off Mooloolaba. On my very next trip out to sea, realizing that I was working in the area of ocean  which he disappeared from I started thinking about the fact that I was only a few minutes away at the time, if only I’d know that he was in the water the thought of which was distressing me a little. At this same moment a justly beautiful and predominantly white Wandering Albatross, a massive bird with a three and a half metre wingspan which is the greatest wingspan of any bird on this planet, approached low on the water from the south. This most impressive Albatross gained height as it approached me and completed a part circle above me as if to say “do not worry I have your friend”. The magnificent bird then peeled away, never flapping a wing, continued to gain altitude and disappeared high in the sky on a south east course out to sea.  II’m not superstitious however I did have goose bumps and I also experienced a sensation of emotional relief, almost like I had been touched by something I could not explain. Sure it was just a coincidence..........................  

Richard Freeman

Framed Prints of Albatross.

 


 

 


 

 

High on Cape Horn now stands a wonderful seven metre high Memorial depicting a marvellous Albatross cut out. A nearby plaque has inscribed the following words:

I, the albatross that awaits for you at the end of the world...

I, the forgotten soul of the sailors lost that crossed Cape Horn from all the seas of the world.

But die they did not
in the fierce waves,
for today towards eternity
in my wings they soar
                                   in the last crevice
                                  of the Antarctic winds

                               Sara Vial
                                Dec – 1992

 

 

Alone at Sea with Humpback Whales.

Alone at sea with Sharks.

Alone at Sea with my Dolphins.

The Wreck of the ‘’SS Dickey”.

Alone at Sea with my Gannets.

Alone at Sea with my Fairy Prions.

Alone at Sea with my Albatross.

Alone at Sea with Jellies and Stingers.

Alone at Sea with my Giant Petrels.

Alone at Sea with my Storm Petrels.

Alone at Sea with my Terns.

Alone at Sea with Jaegers and Skuas.

Alone at Sea with the Shearwaters.

My 5.6 metre Shark Cat.

Weather at Sea.