Well, today has been nothing short of fantastic!
Last night we caught our first glimpse of Antarctica at about 9.30 pm and at a ten oâ€™clock position off our bow. We could see a range of white mountains in the distance which got progressively closer as we sailed south. This morning we awoke to having Antarctica all around us. I looked out my cabin window at 5.30 am to see icebergs and the ice covered mountains of the Antarctic mainland.
Our real day began at 7.30 am with breakfast and because we were in smooth Antarctic waters, there were a large number of people in the dining room and everyone seemed to have a healthy appetite. The excitement began at 8.30 am as we boarded our zodiacs for a morning landing and cruising program. We had a briefing yesterday on how to dress for the zodiacs and the boarding / unloading procedures. Here we all were dressed up in multiple layers, waterproof pants and jackets, life vests, hats and cameras, ready to go.
Our first stop was at a landing site on Booth Island – a rugged, Y-shaped island, 5 miles long and rising to 980 m, off the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsular in the northeastern part of the Wilhelm Archipelago. It is located at 65.08Â° S 64.0Â° W. This was the island on which Charcot – the leader of the French Antarctic Expedition in the ship FranÃ§ais wintered in 1904.
The island has a Gentoo penguin colony and after a short zodiac ride, we wandered around for about two hours taking pictures of these interesting birds. At this time of year, their chicks are about half grown, so one parent sits with them on their nest of stones while the other fishes for food.
We had a bonus on this visit. On the hill, was a solitary Emperor Penguin. These are big birds – about 1 metre high, and this one was obviously lost. It had started to moult and it was sitting on the island waiting for its new feathers to appear. These birds are normally found much further south, so to see one here was a complete surprise.
After time ashore, we went for a zodiac cruise for another hour and a half amongst the icebergs. There are a lot of large glaciers that reach the shore in this area so there are many large icebergs that have calved. They were fascinating – all shapes and sizes. Some looked like castles, others like mushrooms and some had large arches. It is impossible to describe them adequately using words. I must have taken 200 photos today. The sightseeing and photography was helped a lot by the weather. The temperature today was about 5 degrees and it was a clear sky with lots of sun.
When we came back to the ship for lunch, we were in for another surprise. The crew had organized a full blown barbeque on the aft deck. This was surreal. Here we were sailing between icebergs and having a full BBQ lunch, sitting outside and listening to the music of the Beach Boys! What a wonderful day! Iâ€™m sure that you think that I must have rocks in my head to be suggesting that we could be doing this in Antarctica, but I have the photos to prove it.
In the afternoon, we visited the Ukrainian scientific station (Vernadsky Base) at Galandiz Island. This used to be the British Base called Faraday but it was sold to the Ukrainians in the 1990â€™s. They are continuing the atmospheric research started by the British. This was the base that first discovered the hole in the Ozone layer. We had a tour through the facility and then visited the bar and mess area of the base. I sent a couple of letters home and have no idea as to when they might arrive. Apparently, they are sent to the Falkland Islands on the next passing ship and from there to London. The British post office then sends them to their addresses destination.
On the same island is a small hut that was once a British base and is now an historical site – Wordie House. It was last used in the 1950â€™s and has been maintained in the same way that it was left.
The last part of our day was another zodiac cruise to see some more icebergs. We finally got back to the ship at about 7.00 pm just in time to change and get ready for dinner. It is now 9.50 pm and full sunshine. Across the channel, I can see our sister ship – Akademic IIoffe – which is on a different cruise but coincidentally in the same place for the night.
One of the risks of this trip is wanting to stay up late to make sure that you donâ€™t miss anything. Iâ€™m in great danger of that myself, so I intend to publish this to my website and then have a quick look around from the upper deck before going to bed and getting ready for another exciting day tomorrow.