Part I: Antarctic Peninsula
We started our journey from Punta Arenas in southernmost Chile. One of the very special things about our trip is that we actually get to fly over the Drake Passage, missing out on 2 days of what very often is a rough and boring crossing. Given that we have a long cruise back from South Georgia, this is quite a bonus as it gives us 2 extra days of the expedition. But first the preparation...
All of our shore gear (jackets, pants, gloves etc) must be carefully cleaned before we get on the plane. Antarctica is a pristine and protected environment so any dirt, grass seeds or organisms need to be removed. We are provided with some very glamorous gumboots to wear on the expedition as well, and then proceed to the "weigh in"! What?! Here we discover (I guess it must have been in the fine print) a 20kg luggage allowance on the flight! Hmm fortunately we were not too much over... We are required to wear all of our shore gear on the plane as we will be getting straight onto the boat via zodiac on arrival. Needless to say some of our excess baggage was stowed in pockets...
Our 2.5 hour flight is uneventful, and we land safely on the gravel runway at Frei station, where we walk to the bay past the main part of the station, with Russia on one side and Chile on the other. Our ship awaits and it's a short zodiac ride across. She is a beautiful vessel, brand new (this is her first season) and very well equipped. We go through the requisite safety briefings in the afternoon and set sail for Antarctic peninsula.
Our vessel, the mighty Magellan Explorer
First trip ashore, the 7th continent
We crossed overnight from the South Shetlands to the Antarctic peninsula. Having left the curtains open we awake to the slow passing icebergs. The weather is cloudy but clears later on to a stunning sunny day, zero degrees and very little wind. Went up to the bridge around 6:30am and stayed until we dropped anchor at Brown Bluff (46m depth) 63 degrees South. We take Zodiacs ashore and set foot on the 7th continent for the first time! We take a walk along the pebbly beach and here we have our first encounter with the very cute and curious Gentoo penguins. There are some Adelie penguins here as well. We see fledgling chicks learning to swim along with moulting adults. In the water there are Leopard and Waddell seals, the former do like to snack on penguin chicks. The chicks are curious and they have no land predators but it's a different matter in the water. We must not approach within 5m of the penguins but if you stay still long enough, they come and check you out anyway. We walked a short distance up the glacier to admire the view and peace-out then back to the boat.
Over lunch we cruise past a massive tabular glaciers which have broken off from the ice shelf.
In the afternoon we head around the Trinity peninsula to Gourdin island and take Zodiac trip around the island. Here we see sleepy Weddell seals on the shore as well as some chinstrap penguins. We are confronted with the gruesome sight of a Leopard seal eating a penguin - hint, they dont use a knife and fork... We cruise around some spectacular tabular glaciers, the colours in the water are amazing.
Some excitement over dinner as we cruised past a stray 3m dinghy with red chaps. The captain was consulted and the ship turned around to pick it up. It has been reported missing by a yacht based in Ushuaia, where we will finish our trip. It will be returned to them, no doubt in exchange for some beverages!
Humpback whales in beautiful Charlotte Bay
Our ship continues cruising south along the western side of the Antarctic peninsula, heading into Charlotte Bay in the morning. We are so lucky with the weather again, its a sunny day, 4 degrees C, no wind, glassy waters. We head up to the bridge again, you can tell we are boaties as we end up spending a lot of time here! Its a bonus in the morning as the expedition staff are usually here discussing the plans for the day so we get a heads-up on what to expect. It's too deep to anchor here so the captain will turn off engines and drift. We take a Zodiac cruise to see the humpback whales, there are several pods, including a mother and juvenile that got very close to us. Again we must keep a certain distance and be careful not to spook the animals. The juvenile was very curious and were "spy-hopping" (sticking their head vertically out of the water) and we saw lots of flukes but no big broaches. Stunning weather, water still, reflections, lots of floating ice bricks or "brash ice". There are a number of citizen science projects on board - good shots of whale flukes can be uploaded to a site called "happywhale" where they can be identified and tracked.
In the afternoon we went further south along the Antarctic peninsula to Cuverville Island.
Here we had a Zodiac trip ashore and a walk along a rocky shoreline watching the Gentoo Penguins. They are just so funny and full of character. Here we see the young chicks waiting for their parents to return with food. There were often several chicks chasing an adult until they gave up and fed them. Usually only one of the pursuing chicks actually belonged to the adult, who kept running until the random chicks gave up and there was only once chick left. They assume this chick is theirs and feed it, the chase also helps to condition the chicks.
On the way back to the boat we have a Zodiac cruise around the icebergs. A Leopard seal has already punctured one of the zodiacs and one seems to have taken a liking to us and is chasing us!
Taking the plunge...
After we get back its time for the Polar Plunge, @ 64 degrees South this is our farthest point south. I didn’t want to not do it, if you know what I mean. Sea water freezes at -1.8C so the actual temperature was slightly warmer than that. You have a waist strap attached to you and they make sure you get into and out of the water quickly. It seriously takes your breath away, I was hyperventilating and it took ages for my feet to get warm. A shot of vodka when you get out and then into the sauna to recover. Watching a video afterwards I could not help notice that David and Kuba, who were "helping" us get in and out of the water, were having a good laugh!
Stay tuned as we head to the South Shetlands and Elephant Island...
Lynda is slowly getting used to the transition from working to not working and racing to cruising.