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Published: December 29th 2009
[youtube=UNZK266IIvQ] The day of reckoning! Would we make it onto land? Or would we be denied again?! So an early start was on the cards to see if we could capture an Antarctic sunrise and to check the weather out! We stepped out onto deck around 0445 to be greeted with a perfect start. The ship was sailing through a channel, coasting on iceberg filled still waters, the backdrop of ice covered mountains either side of the channel was accompanied by the morning sun reaching over the mountain peaks filtering a soft red glow over the sky, clouds, ice and water. As the waters were so calm it provided a good opportunity to view the abundance of wildlife active. Albatrosses, Terns and other bird life flew through the channel, searching for food and some deciding to follow the ships progress while regularly circling her.
Scores of penguins swam in their unique manner in a typically regimental fashion. Seals loafed on icebergs and whales surfaced, interrupting the early morning silence with the now familiar sound of these gentle giants clearing their air ways. Then returning back into the red tinged water, trailing and extending their tails into the fresh morning air.
All around us, where ever we looked there was some kind of activity. A morning fit to knock all others into touch!
Although it was a perfect start weather wise, things in Antarctica change very quickly, as was demonstrated the previous day. With a few hours until the scheduled landing anything could happen, so the anticipation grows!
The ship left the Gerlache Strait and headed to Paradise Harbor, todays landing site.
While the ship downed anchor it was easy to see why our destination had been named so. It seems every twist, turn and corner on the Antarctic Peninsula opens out into another espace of jaw dropping scenery that extends beyond the horizon.
It was a great relief when it was announced when the landings would commence - the weather had held out! After a short Zodiac ride, the dinghy moored at the site of a Chilean research centre. After clambering up the concrete set of steps I walked onto Antarctic soil. With the backdrop of an ice-filled natural harbour sheltered from the elements by means of a labyrinth of rugged peaks. An Adiele penguin rookery metres from my feet I had made it onto the seventh continent, the 'White Continent', and also my seventh continent.
While in the rookery the penguins were very inquisitive, they wandered around their territory, waddling across my path seemingly uninhibited by our presence. Continuing in their daily routine, squawking, flapping wings and shaking tails, it was a warm morning leading to some of the penguins loafing around, others chose to crash out motionless on the limited paths of the science centre basking in the height of the antarctic summer.
After we completed our landing it was time to head back to the ship by means of the Zodiac's . As we neared the ship a Minke whale was spotted by the driver as it swam under the Zodiac in front. He shut the engine off and let the dinghy drift as we all studied the water around the boat hoping that the whale would surface. After a few moments of anticipation the now familiar arched back gracefully gliding just metres behind the Zodiac, close enough to see the lines on its face. A completely surreal sight.
The ship set sail and we arrived at the North entrance of the Lemaire channel. Unfortunately the narrow channel contained too much ice and so we weren't able to pass through. But we were close enough to peer down the 1.7 mile long channel with its high steep mountain sides draped in snow, which has now become another common sight in this wondrous continent.
It was at this point at 16:22 that we made our furthest point South. 65'01” South. One thousand one hundred and seventeen miles north of the south pole.
The ship made a slight diversion to its course to attempt to pass through the Neumayer Channel. As the ship edged to the channel mouth eying up a possible course through the ice the winds picked up blowing cloud cover in from the mountains circling the channel. The change was quite dramatic as we kissed goodbye to the picture perfect blue skies of the morning. Once again the white continent demonstrated how unpredictable it is, how conditions can change instantly, drumming up the immense power, energy and diversity that it commands. The bitter cold winds raged head on as the ship sailed through the channel. Not as narrow as the Lemaire, the Neumayer channel provided a good substitute. The bitter cold of the afternoon gales couldn't tear us away from the front deck as we observed the ships path through the icebergs. With our fingers and toes ready to drop off we sat down on deck, using the shelter of a foot high lip at the edge of deck as a wind break. We continued defiantly to see the ship all the way through the channel. But still Antarctica amazed with stunning scenery, majestic ice formations but also leaving us breathless from its immense capabilities of producing so much power in what seemed like a blink of an eye.
While spending the rest of evening / night warming back up to body temperature (I'm not joking - perished!) the day had left us quite speechless.
It ended with whales off the stern of the ship at around 2230 while we headed back to the cabin, still light enough to see the spectacle, still cold and still amazed.
Full Photos on Flickr
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