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Published: January 28th 2016
“I have often the impression that, to penguins, man is just another penguin – different, less predictable, occasionally violent, but tolerable company when he sits still and minds his own business.” Bernard Stonehouse.
The Antarctic Circle - 66°33’16”South… The line of latitude that gets at least one day of every year when the sun doesn’t set and at least one day a year when the sun doesn’t rise.
King Neptune let us sail over the Antarctic Circle into his icy realm of sea-ice that sprawled from horizon to horizon as the vessel nudged its way southward towards Marguerite Bay. Eventually the ice tangle turned to a solid barrier and we could go further. The massive ice sheet blanketing Adelaide Island lay before us but there was no way of reaching it – it was a spectacular sight!
Getting south of the Antarctic Circle is special. It’s a region of the planet few people ever get to see – it’s magnificent and grand, and fantastically empty. It can be difficult to reach these high southern latitudes - the ice dictates whether or not it’s possible. But the captain persisted and bashed his way through to Crystal Sound and to
Detaille Island. We landed on a steep, rocky, snow-free part of the island and scrambled to Base W, an abandoned British base from the 50s. The reason the Brits abandoned the base was due to it being almost inaccessible year round by ship. The base has been restored in its full 40s and 50s décor – it’s pretty much as it was in its years of operation.
Wildlife is quite sparse in these parts. However, in Lallemand Fjord, at the southern tip of Crystal Sound, we were treated to a rare glimpse of some emperor penguins standing proud on some sea ice. They are beautiful birds, and the largest of the penguins. We, of course, had our usual Gentoo and Adelie penguin fix as well as a few seal species, but the emperors were really special – and the setting was stunning!
We also had some whale snot! Wilhelmina Bay was loaded with humpback whales on the day we arrived. We took our small boats out to see several pods of these playful giants as they frolicked around us. One whale surfaced a few feet from us and covered us with spray from its giant exhale of breath.
It is exhilarating to have these gentle, forty-five ton mammals so close. The sun was shining too – and towering mountains wrapped around us. For two hours we had whales all around the Zodiacs – absolutely amazing.
We share our world with some incredible creatures.
Heading back to Ushuaia, Argentina on a tranquil Drake was a luxury. Not getting tossed about the ship and not needing to fasten things down, not staggering up the stairs and struggling to hold onto a breakfast bowl… The Drake Passage consumes a massive part of my contract down here. I spend about a quarter of my time sailing across one of the roughest bodies of water on the planet. To have a ‘Drake Lake’ now and again is rather pleasant. The ‘Drake Shake’ however, is more common – getting bashed about and watching huge waves smash into the bow.
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