Published: March 12th 2010January 20th 2010
05:30 - the view from our porthole
the pack-ice is closing in, this is as far south as we can go
“how can it get better than this?” - that was the question posed at the end of the last blog. The answer - add blue skies.
In the early morning we awake to find ourselves surrounded by icebergs with thick pack-ice ahead, this is as far south as we can go. The clouds are breaking up and the sun is sneaking through to illuminate individual mountain peaks and icebergs making them glow and stand out from the surrounding landscape. We're still in the Weddell Sea, in the channel between James Ross Island and Snow Hill Island - Nordenskjold's home for 2 winters and sure enough we sail past his hut. Both islands are surrounded by fast-ice so as we pick our way between the ice-bergs, all eyes are scanning for emperor penguins on an outing from the Snow Hill Colony. Soon we are homing in on a group of 3 juveniles photogenically perched right on the edge of the ice. They put on an excellent show for the next ½ hr including lots of vocalising when an adelie penguin tries to join them. Then its time for breakfast - yes all this happened before breakfast.
As the clouds continue
to break up it turns into a glorious, warm, sunny day. I spend the whole day hanging over the bow of the ship watching icebergs and ice-floes sailing past - we are surrounded by them and in the sunshine they are even bluer than ever and you can see them disappear away down into the depths of the ocean changing colour as they go. Just when you think its safe to go inside for a warm drink some more amazing shapes appear on the horizon and “I'll just stay to see these ones” turns into several hours.
At Vega Island (where Nordenskjold's Snow Hill group and Hope Bay group bumped into each other) the captain parks the ship in the edge of the fast-ice and we go for a hike across the solid ice. We only walk for a mile but it takes us ages as we keep sinking into the deep snow - if you step into the footprint of the person in front you just don't expect they ground to give way. Once you have sunk into the snow it can be pretty tricky to extricate yourself, not helped by all the giggling and laughing. Several welly
boots have to be dug out while the owner hops around on the snow. Its great fun and you start to appreciate what those early explorers went through dragging their sleds behind them for mile after mile - Nordenskjold and the Snow Hill group regularly went on 600m mile outings!!. We sneak up on a crabeater and Weddell seal dozing in the sun, neither seems bothered by our presence and after a quick look they go back to dozing. Its a wonderful expedition and a totally different experience to our other wildlife watching landings.
After more sunbathing on the bow we reach the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. We are trying to squeeze through the narrow Fridtjof Sound, with the Tabarin Peninsula on one side and Andersson and Jonasson Island on the other, but its full of enormous tabular icebergs. At times it looks like we are on a collision course and there is no way though but somehow we sneak through. The skies are clear blue and cloudless but strange white fluffy clouds are racing fast over the islands following their every contour, they are definitely going up and over and down the other side - its difficult
about 10 months old apparently. They still have some of their silver-grey, fluffy, chick down feathers and havn't developed their colourful adult plumage yet.
to describe but amazing to watch.
Once past the islands we enter the Antarctic Sound, where we are supposed to be landing at Brown Bluff but we sail on by. There has been a last minute change of plan and we are heading for the Argentine research station at Hope Bay - sound familiar? Yes its where 3 members of Nordenskjold's expedition overwintered, we have now visited all 3 overwintering sites and seen all 3 huts. It feels like we have thoroughly explored this small section of the Weddell Sea and done justice to Nordenskjold.
Esperanza (Hope Bay) Station is like a tiny village, people live here year round, not just the scientists but their families and children as well. However, the humans are easily outnumbered by the Adelie and Gentoo penguins. For us its another landing on the actual continent of Antarctica and one where we can send postcards back home and buy our 'I've stood on Antarctica' T-shirts - despite our last minute visit they have laid on tea and cakes and provide a guided tour. They too are enjoying the clear, sunny day - “its not often like this” we are told and as if
its the grey blob behind the orange tents of a research party.
to prove the point and emphasise how privileged we have been the mist starts rolling in and by the time we're back in the zodiacs you cant see the ship.
So that's the end of another prefect day in Antarctica - I just cant write it any briefer or thin the photos down further, its just all too wonderful.
There are more photos below