Exploring Antarctica

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December 30th 2019
Published: December 30th 2019
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My perfect shotMy perfect shotMy perfect shot

A flock of Black Petrels
An incredibly calm morning sailing ever so slowly in and around Charlotte Bay on the Antarctic Peninsula. About 5 or 6 pods of hump backed whales were visible feeding around the ship. We witnessed them making bubble curtains where they swim in a tight circle releasing air bubbles which traps the krill and then they scoop it up and eat it. Circles are left on the surface of the water. The whales make a growly type of noise and then a short high pitched squeal they when they surface.

We passed many medium sized iceberg sculptures with different formations on them formed by wind and sea. I got a great photo of a flock of petrels flying around an iceberg and into an ice cave. Flat topped ones are called tabular icebergs as they have broken off an ice sheet and are often very large. One that we passed was estimated to be 2kms across. Irregular ones have usually calved from a glacier. The unusual sight of a 40ft rolling iceberg stunned us. As I watched, it slowly started to roll, then back, then towards the ship again. Suddenly a huge piece broke off from underneath surfacing in a burst of bubbles at which point the main berg rolled completely over. It was an awesome sight. Underneath you could see the honeycombing of the ice as it was melting.

Our experts told us that the ice sheets are melting from below by warmer sea water and from above by radiation.

On top of one huge iceberg were about 20 penguins. We had no idea how they got up there but our wildlife expert described how they use their beaks and feet to scramble up rocks and ice.

We sailed slowly through Wilhelmina Bay towards Cuverville Island to look at the penguin colony there. What we did see was a pretty nice expedition ship and realised that the red objects we could see on land were actually people from the ship, not penguins. When we looked through Ian’s new binoculars we could see millions of penguins. You couldn’t see them with the naked eye being small gentoos. The only indication they were there was the guano stains on the rocks.

We had a fun dinner that night with some very nice people we have met. Susie and Bernard live in France about an hour south of Paris, Barb and John come from Ohio and Pauline and Eric spend half the year in a town just north of Vancouver and the other half in a small fishing village on the Mexican Pacific Coast. Barb wanted a penguin as a mascot but the shop didn’t have any so she got the cabin steward to make her one out of towels. We called it the gender neutral name of Pat. She carries Pat around in her bag.

On Saturday morning, 28th, we picked up 8 people from the USA Palmer Station in the morning. In exchange for having a nice fresh meal and a swim in the spa they gave a couple of talks on the research they do there. It was quite dramatic later in the day when their zodiac came to retrieve them.

We sailed on hoping to get through the very narrow Lemaire Channel.

This was a bit hopeful I think as we could see lots of sea ice ahead. In front of us was another small ship, a converted tug complete with a helicopter to ferry passengers to the peninsula plateau to go snowboarding!

We followed it very slowly as it lead
More whalesMore whalesMore whales

They seemed to be in groups of three
the way. Unfortunately neither of us could make it as our way was blocked by a huge iceberg. There had also just been an ice avalanche so that made it worse. We haven’t seen a glacier calve but have heard the huge crashing noise it makes.

We turned back through the Gerlache Strait which is between two large islands, Brabant and Anvers, and the Peninsula, and headed on to Paradise Bay where the Argentinian and Chilean Stations are. It is so called because there used to be lots of seals here. The Chilean Station is surrounded by a large Gentoo penguin colony. It must smell something terrible as penguins are very smelly.

Sailing slowly around looking at the foreshore we were conscious of being surrounded by 1000ft high snow-capped mountains with the sun glinting on them. The temperature was 2 degrees, up from the 0 degrees when we first arrived.

We’ve tried to be good with our exercise, 2 miles is 7 times around the Promenade deck and we always use the stairs. On the first day of the cruise we went to the gym and I did a stretch class but we’ve been too busy since then.

Our expedition team are on the bridge giving a commentary when we’re cruising around and giving talks on sea days. We’ve learned about early explorers, penguins and the data on how the climate is changing and affecting the continent.

The weather has been absolutely perfect, calm seas and sunny skies, temperature outside about 0 - 2 degrees C. We headed back through the Drake Passage a bit earlier then scheduled as the we’re trying to get in between two weather systems. So far so good but I think it may get a bit a bit rougher as the second one catches up with us.

We have had an absolutely amazing 4 days which will stay with us forever.

Additional photos below
Photos: 23, Displayed: 23


On the fore deck early in the morningOn the fore deck early in the morning
On the fore deck early in the morning

All rugged up in our best Antarctic gear
The LegendThe Legend
The Legend

A former tug done up to take passengers to heli snow board up on the plateau
Leading the way to the Lemaire channelLeading the way to the Lemaire channel
Leading the way to the Lemaire channel

Unfortunately we didn't make it. You can see why.
The Palmer Station visitors leavingThe Palmer Station visitors leaving
The Palmer Station visitors leaving

All done up in survival suits
A photo of the mapA photo of the map
A photo of the map

Blue marks our route. Anvers and Brabant Islands on left, Gerlache Strait between them and the mainland peninsula.

1st January 2020

Stunning scenery. What an amazing place to visit.

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