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Published: February 3rd 2019
This is the Bridge
On the Akademik Ioffe
After an amazing first day in Antarctica on Friday, I was looking forward to another such day on Saturday. As we had been unable to change locations overnight because of the campers, the first excursion was a little bit later. I used the extra time to go and have a look around the bridge. While up there, I saw some humpback whales off the starboard side, so I headed out to the observation deck to get some photos. Being up high, the photos turned out a bit better than the ones on the zodiac.
Soon enough it was time for the morning’s excursion at Orne Harbour. This was to be our only landing on the Antarctic continent, so I was definitely not going to miss it. I can’t remember how it happened, but it ended up that Dad and I were on separate zodiacs. My zodiac was driven by Christopher, the bird guy, and we were asking questions and so he slowed down so he could answer them. During this period, dad’s zodiac overtook us, but he didn’t notice. This will be important later.
When we arrived at the landing zone, we had to cross some treacherous rocks before
we reached the ice. The staff had carved some steps into the ice for this first section and I used them as directed by a staff member. Someone obviously thought I was going too slow and tried going around me. But that didn’t work out so well and then they realised I was walking on steps. It amazes me how little people listen at times.
Anyway, I was expecting dad to be at the landing zone, but he had gone on ahead. I had his phone in my dry-bag so I was curious as to why he’d steamed ahead with no way to take a photograph.
The walk up the hill started off with some precarious steps over slippery ice on the side of a steep slope. I struggled a bit, but one of the passengers suggested a way to step safely and I was soon moving again. I headed up the track to the first small rookery of Gentoo penguins. I paused here for a bit as one penguin chased another around and around the rookery. I found it quite amusing and could almost hear the Benny Hill theme as they chased, fell and slipped around the
I continued on and soon found myself struggling again. The ice here had rotten snow beneath the top crust and I was constantly breaking through and getting my leg buried in holes up to my thighs. I also got my walking poles stuck on a few occasions. It got worse the further I went up the hill.
Every second step I found myself breaking through the crust. In parts it was every step. So not only did I have to walk up a steep hill, but I had to do it by lifting myself out of deep holes on nearly every step. Along the way, I received plenty of conflicting advice from everyone who went past me – stay on the track where other people have walked, stay off the track on virgin ice, walk sideways, etc. I was pretty sick of the advice by the end and snapped at a few people who were just trying to help. But the simple fact was, on that ice, being a big guy with small feet was not a winning combination.
Eventually I made it to the top of the hill and found Dad there. He hadn’t
realised his zodiac had overtaken us and assumed I had landed before him and he headed up to find me and get his phone. I think the walk had been pretty hard on his knees, but he didn’t break through the ice as much as I did. I know this because there were not as many holes before me as there was after me.
To top it all off, it had taken me so long to get up that I had only ten minutes to take photos before I had to head back down. Thankfully, I got a couple of crackers including one that is probably in my top 3 of all time.
The walk down wasn’t nearly as hard. Sure, I kept falling through the ice crust all the way down, but gravity was a bit more on my side this time. I did find my boot completely stuck in a hole at one point, so needed some assistance to get out. But I made it to the bottom and hopped into the last zodiac.
I was very much glad that excursion was over. It was a relatively warm day too, so I had sweated a
lot. My t-shirt was absolutely drenched, and I needed a costume change before the afternoon’s excursion.
After lunch, dad headed back to the cabin to rest. Although his cold was much better, the morning’s excursion had really tired him. I headed back out for another zodiac cruise, this time around Charlotte Bay.
An announcement had been made earlier that they were going to have a “photography” zodiac with the onboard photographer and said those interested should line up on the other side of the gangway at the time that the zodiacs were due to leave at 4:30pm. This I did, but to my dismay, the photography boat had already left. I questioned the staff about the time, and they seemed surprised it was 4:30. I don’t understand how this happened and think it was pretty poor. If they announce it is going to be 4:30 then it should be 4:30. But apparently everyone else rushed down earlier for whatever reason.
Anyway, there were apparently enough people interested in photography to have filled 3 zodiacs so the staff told me they will organise others. Then they got me in at the front of the regular zodiac queue to
join the next one to leave. I said that I didn’t want to push in front of the other people, but they said they had already marked my name off, so I had to go. I did, but thankfully the people I had pushed in front of didn’t seem to mind as much as I did.
Charlotte Bay is much bigger than Paradise Harbour, where we went on the zodiac cruise yesterday, and it was absolutely full of humpback whales. Again, it was hard to photograph from the level of the zodiac and the autofocus settings I used on my camera meant I didn’t get many good photos of the whales. But sometimes it was best just to watch them. We had two whales dive in tandem at one point with synchronised flukes, and I was happy to just watch instead of stressing to take the photo. We also saw some more crabeater seals and some more stunning icebergs.
At one point, our zodiac driver asked if we wanted to watch the whales or head out to the arch iceberg. We said the iceberg, but it was a pointless decision. On the way to and from the iceberg
we encountered whale after whale. Even just out from the ship on our way back we encountered a few more humpbacks.
Back onboard it was time for dinner again. We have been eating very well on this ship. It may not be a cruise ship, but food is one thing that is very much cruise-like. It’s been top quality and it never seems to run out. The Russian staff are extremely efficient too, so mealtime is completely stress-free, unless you leave the table for a minute only to find your plate has been cleared away before you were finished!
After dinner I was once again in the bar processing my photos. The problem with doing it in the bar is that people like to stop and talk. Which is fine, but it did mean that even though I was hoping to get an earlier night, it took until 12:15am to process the days photos. The photos weren’t as good as the day before, so I was a little disappointed. But, the day before was just spectacular so I guess it’s unreasonable to expect to sustain that quality.
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