Published: December 31st 2012
December 30th 2012
We had a particularly good sleep last night, lulled by the gentle rolling of the ocean. We wake to a grey, overcast day. At breakfast, we enjoy the aerobatics of the petrels and albatrosses as they wheel and dive alongside the ship. We are clearly picking up more and more seabirds every day. And then it starts to snow outside! I ponder how interesting it is to have left the snow at home in the north and to travel so far south that it is snowing again.
The morning is spent on a couple of interesting lectures, one on penguins in all their variety, and the other on Antarctic explorer Ernest Shakleton, another name I remember from stories I read as a boy. Among his adventures was being marooned with his crew on Elephant Island, which we will see later today.
By noon we are starting to see small chunks of ice in the water, and the skies have cleared to reveal a beautiful sunny day. The captain announces that we have officially entered the Antarctic area (60th parallel), which is protected by international treaty. Not long after, Elephant Island is sighted in the distance. Violet and I bundle up and spend the next several hours outside. It is about 0°C, quite fierce in the wind but altogether pleasant in the lee. As we approach Elephant Island, the chunks of ice become larger and more fantastical, often reminiscent of birds and castles.
We reach Elephant Island about 2 pm, ahead of the original schedule. We are privileged to view this desolate location under calm blue skies, as it usually one of the stormiest areas of the planet. Our vista on this rugged, snow-covered island is spectacular. The ship is supposed to sail between Elephant Island and neighbouring Clarence Island, but there is too much ice and so the captain turns right in order to skirt the island to the west. By this time, Vi and I are on the forsicle. We admire some massive bergs in the distance, one of them a huge tabular one that you could probably land a plane on. And look! There are penguins porpoising by the ship. In the distance we spot plumes from a pod of fin whales (the second largest animal on the planet) and closer in the black-spotted fins of minke whales. We strike up a conversation with Deborah, a German now living in London UK, who has a serious camera, and we act as spotters for her. The result is some great photos that Deborah promises to share with us.
Hot tea and cookies when we go back inside. At supper we are seated with a retired German couple who are avid skiers. They know Canada well—as it relates to skiing! So yes to Whistler and Banff but not sure where Ottawa is. The evening's entertainment is a comic named Dick Hardwick, whose rapid-fire delivery of inane jokes leaves us gasping for air, we are laughing so hard. After the show, Vi and I stroll on the outside deck for a while, admiring the shapes of the icebergs. Look, there's a swan, a skidoo, Mickey Mouse on a sleigh! It's still light out when we hit the hay about 11:30.