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Published: December 30th 2016
The Kappa, Gamma, Lambda Dilemma…
“Why then do we feel this strange attraction for these polar regions, a feeling so powerful and lasting, that when we return home we forget the mental and physical hardships, and want nothing more to return to them? Why are we so susceptible to the charm of these landscapes when they are so empty and terrifying?” Jean-Baptiste Charcot , Towards the South Pole aboard the Francais.
The Ocean Endeavour has taken me on three short, nine-day trips to the Antarctic Peninsula and back and has ventured into some incredible territory … It is always a bonus to go somewhere relatively unexplored – the rewards are many and the sights are awe inspiring and emotional.
We saw a few emperor penguins in the depths of Wilhelmina Bay and some big pods of killer whales in the Gerlache Strait. But the most memorable marine mammal experience I had was with the minke whale in Cierva Cove! It wouldn’t leave the Zodiacs alone. Minkes are typically not that curious or playful at all, but this adult minke kept swimming underneath the Zodiacs. It was truly wonderful to be this close to these krill-eating giants.
A close second to this amazing encounter was the chance sighting of a lone, type-D killer whale in the Drake Passage. The elusive type-Ds have had only 20 documented sightings in the world! Very rare indeed!
Other highlights included visiting some areas for the first time… The Melchior Maze:
Lurking in the heart of Dallman Bay are the Melchior Islands, an igneous labyrinth of rocky outcrops and islets, all named after the letters of the Greek Alphabet. We dropped the Zodiacs to explore the channels and waterways of this remarkable island group. The abandoned Argentine base on Kappa Island was weird. The lichens clinging to the towering cliffs on Gamma Island was the biggest and densest ‘forest’ I’ve ever seen south of the 60th
parallel. Eta Island was snow-covered yet Rho and Sigma were windswept and bare… Amazing little archipelago… Useful Island:
An exposed rock in the middle of the Gerlache Strait surrounded by reefs and shallows, teeming with Gentoo penguins. It was ‘Useful’ because the whalers used this island to watch for whales - the dark side of the Antarctic history. Paulet Island:
After many failed attempts over the seasons at trying to get to
this island we finally made it. Usually icebound and windy, Paulet opened up to us and welcomed us with snow flurries and a hundred thousand Adelie penguins. The Flides Strait:
A narrow waterway between King George Island and Nelson Island in the almost perpetually gloomy South Shetland Islands. I have never seen so many spikes, pillars and rocks poking out of the sea before… Many underwater hazards awaited us as we carefully explored this volcanic madness. Yankee Harbour:
A gravel beach in Antarctica! Who knew… This place would be epic under dark skies but miserable in the rain – it was spectacular under a sunny sky… Santa on the Zodiac:
Not a place… On Christmas Day morning as we explored the shore of Kinnes Cove, Santa pulled up in a Zodiac to give us all hot chocolate. I didn’t know he came to these here parts?
We are beings that can have an emotional connection with nature - this is an amazing part of the world… I will continue to have salt crusted eyebrows for the next few weeks as I crash and bump through the seemingly endless storms that hammer the Southern Ocean…
Checking the Ice
Rebecca and I go to check out Ice conditions
will share the beginning of the new year with following seas and 11ft wingspans…
All the best for 2017.
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