Day 6 – 13th Dec
Happy Birthday dad. (Shane’s).
A thick blanket of snow had covered the ship from bow to stern during the night and it continued to snow this morning. We certainly have seen all seasons in the few short days that we have been here.
This morning we arrived at Paradise Bay. (not that we could see too much through the snow). Venturing out into a white winter-land making our first steps on the Antarctic continent was very special (up until now we had landed on islands).
The snow was settling on the water as we loaded into zodiacs and kayaks, it was like a thick soup of sludge as we scuffled our way through. We landed at the Argentine base, Almirante Brown. The orange buildings were covered in snow and it was difficult to walk. All this snow was quite a novelty so we built snowmen and had snowball fights.
Back in the zodiacs we cruised ice platforms for Blue-eyed Cormorants and ventured fairly close to a glacier.
Large chunks of blue ice seemed to defy gravity on the massive glacier edge. One came tumbling down with another piece plummeting upwards to the surface. It was wild, beautiful and breathe taking.
Peppered in snowflakes we returned to the warmth of our ship.
After lunch we set sail for Doumer Island. Across the Gerlache Strait, the sun came out and shone on the mountain range of the Antarctic Peninsula while the sea was dotted with bits of ice and whitecaps blown by the wind. We entered the narrow winding waterways of the Neumeyer channel while the wind howled through the channel with high glaciated peaks and ice-cliffs on both sides.
Our afternoon landing was at a Gentoo colony near the end of the Peltier Channel on Doumer Island. It was a little challenging from the ship, getting in and out of the zodiacs with the swell and wind, but we all managed just fine. We landed in a small cove; the wind screamed down from the hummocks, it had a nice icy touch to it too.
It was an intriguing roam amongst the colony, with a variety of species, Gentoo being the main population along with the odd Chinstrap and our first sighting of an Adelie, all wandering and tobogganing about. Skuas kept a good watch over the colony for a chance of a quick feed.
Day 7 – 14th Dec
We awoke this morning with sunlight highlighting massive glacier cliffs and shiny icebergs in the ice of Neko Harbour.
Known for the volatility of its glaciers, we witnessed the menacing rumble of a few tumbling avalanches.
We sat quietly watching the very seductive body language of the Gentoo village. Double eggs were tenderly rearranged, couples necked like swans and others trumpeted for the sheer sake of it. We were both excited to see so many Gentoo eggs.
Back on board the ship we had a wonderful afternoon whale watching in the Gerlache Strait. We sighted Minki whales from afar and then the marvel of the day were two Humpback whales right alongside the ship. The captain stopped the ship and the whales hung around for about half an hour. One time the enthusiastic were covered in krill spray encrusted faces from hanging over the side of the ship. As the whales moved from one side of the ship to the other, the paparazzi were in hot pursuit despite the slippery snow covered decks. Certainly the highlight of the day.
Today is the centenary of Roald Amundsen reaching the South Pole. To celebrate this occasion we had hot chocolate fortified with peppermint liquor and a cake on the bow of the ship in the freezing cold with the ship slowly pitching and dipping in its dance with the sea.
A late afternoon zodiac trip at the Melchiors was an opportunity to examine the sphinx/rubber duck shaped iceberg and come up close and personal with some Chinstrap penguins. All around the light reflected on the mountains.
Day 8 – 15th Dec
Happy Birthday mum. (Nicola’s)
We awoke early to enjoy the beauty of Cierva Cove. There was a steely grey sky that added to the texture and ambiance of the place. Cierva Cove was calm and picturesque filled with brash ice and gently rocking icebergs.
The Argentinian base of Primavera stood out with its neat collection of orange and black buildings on the rock slabs, surrounded by high cliffs.
We hopped into the zodiacs and spent time exploring the cove – glorious icebergs, seeing the odd Gentoo penguin porpoising through the water. The silvery grey backdrop enhanced the blues in the bergs.
We came across a very relaxed Leopard seal laying on a small ice throne, with his companions a skua and kelp gull. The leopard seal looked quite content, as you would after a meal of penguin! He yawned continuously showing us all his pearly white teeth and gapping jaw.
After zodiacing for almost 3 hours we headed back to the ship.
A short distance further to the East was our next destination. Hydrurga Rocks lay nestled to the east of Two Hummock Island which was unfortunately obscured by cloud. Chinstrap penguins paraded amongst the rocks, crowing and generally being busy around reproductive tasks.
Weddell seals with their curled whiskers scratched in the snow.
A flock of Snowy Sheathbills wandered amongst the rocks. We waited patiently to see a chinstrap stand up and show us their egg. After waiting some time we were lucky enough to catch a good glimpse of an egg.
Day 9 – 16th Dec
This morning we awoke extra early to see the ship sail through Neptune’s Bellows at Deception Island. Unfortunately it was raining and blowing 50 knot winds so we didn’t see too much.
This is what it would have looked like on a good day.
This is one of the few calderas in the world where it is possible to do this and experience the combined magic of fire and ice in Antarctica as it is an active volcano. Due to the prevailing winds our morning landing at Whalers Bay was cancelled, the gusts inside the caldera were very strong reaching 50+ knots at times. The bridge was closed for the exit from the caldera so that the captain could concentrate. We came to anchor in a protected spot so that the ship could be prepared for the storm we were to experience in the next 2 days. So kayaks and zodiacs were stowed lashed down and our cabins were arranged so that nothing could fall and get damaged or heaven forbid hit one of us during the dreaded crossing.
Doctor Lesley handed out the Phenergan and then we had an easy few hours before the roller coaster began. I honestly don’t think Disney could dream up a ride like we were about to experience.
By late afternoon the Drake was giving us its all, the sea was covered with long streaks of white foam; everywhere the edges of the wave crests were blown into froth. Waves pounded the bridge windows and the bow plummeted into deep blue. By then Shane and I had put ourselves to bed. I will also add that on the first day Shane ensured that he told the doctor that Nicola gets sea sick, Shane ended up being worse than me. Doctor Lesley suggested that Nicola get a good night’s sleep by having a jab in her butt, however 1 jab and 3 Phenergan later, Nicola was still awake to experience the horrors that the night would bring.
Day 10 – 17th Dec
During the night Shane awoke to feeling s of weightlessness as the ship dived into seemingly never ending crevasses and then being crushed back into the mattress as we smashed into and rose quickly to the crest of the next wave, with thoughts of ‘The perfect storm’ Shane drifted back to a restless sleep. After a very rough night of 50+ knot winds and a Force 10 storm (Force 12 is a hurricane) we awoke to take more tablets and go back to bed. We were told that through the night the ship was sailing at less than 1 knot which means we were not really going anywhere. The ship was also quite often at a pitch of 45 degrees. Not much else to say really, but we have got video footage of the 9 metre waves. We have now crossed sixty degrees south, leaving Antarctica in our wake.
I blame Shane totally for the weather on our return journey as he whistled quite a few times during our expedition and apparently whistling is bad luck.
Day 11 – 18th Dec
This morning the sea had calmed down considerably for our sail to the infamous Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America. This would be our third sailing to Cape Horn but only our second sighting as one was during the night. It was another over cast day with sea mist but we were still able to get quite a good sighting.
Today was the day to sort out our ship accounts and pack our bags as we sailed into the calm Beagle Channel. A Minke whale just breached off the port side of the ship, but no-one got pictures as it disappeared as quickly as it appeared, I’m sure no-one on board has moved that quickly for the past two days.
Day 12 – 19th Dec
So looking back at our expedition, we didn’t get to sleep on the ice and the weather wasn’t too good but were we disappointed? Not at all. It was the most amazing thing that either of us has done. In fact the bad weather enhanced our expedition with the many experiences from snow and ice, blustering freezing winds to calm seas and sun. Despite our trip back across the Drake, we have already decided that we will return in February 2013 and do the Falkland Islands and South Georgia.
We arrived back in Ushuaia this morning and once through immigration and customs hailed a taxi and returned to the Hostal del Bosque. This will be our home for the next 6 days until our next adventure begins. It will be nice to have our feet on solid ground again.