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Antarctic Islands

Exploring

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

It did not seem real that we were nearly at the bottom of the world.

We stopped at what is named on the map below as Graham Land the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. We passed the Shetland Islands and many icebergs on the way. Once the ship was in the shelter of the Antarctic islands the ocean swells reduced and we were able to get some relief from the high seas we had experienced on our two day sail from Ushuaia.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The sheer beauty of our frozen world.

What an amazing day we had today. We boarded the zodiacs for our first time on land in two days and landed on the black soil beach of Aitcho Island. The island was covered in snow except for the beaches and was overrun by Penguins.

We walked the beach and then climbed the hill in the middle of the island. From the top of the hill we could see the beach we landed on and the beach on the other side of the tiny island. After a few photos we walked down the hill to the other beach. There we found many penguins, icebergs, and seals. The weather was overcast and just below freezing.

Aitcho Island Video
Was this a big penguin or what?

Once we returned from the morning excursion we had lunch and then sailed on to Yankee Harbor on Greenwich Island to spot seals.

The most spectacular sunsets I have ever seen.

What a magnificent place this was. It is a small island with most of its terrain about 4 to 6 feet above the sea. In the middle of the island were several 1,000 to 2,000 feet mountains. The island was dotted with penguins and seals. Lawrie and I walked the full length of the island which turned out to be a three mile hike. The island was surrounded by icebergs some with the most beautiful shades of icy blue.

Yankee Harbor Video 01

Once we return to the ship we set sail to our next destination and spotted a pod of Orca whales along our way. That evening we sailed for Astrolabe Island and were privilege to see one of the best sunsets I have ever seen. This time of year they start at 10:00 pm and ended at 12:00 am! We also encountered the beginning of the Antarctic pack ice. The Captain slowed the ship down and gingerly maneuvered through the ever thickening sheets of floating ice. This was really something to experience and quite unnerving.

Yankee Harbor Video 02

Thursday, November 22, 2007

This as close to pack ice you would want to be.

This morning we took the zodiac boats and circumnavigated the Astrolabe Island. The stormy weather we had been experiencing since leaving Ushuaia had finally subsided and it was very sunny this morning; it was a glorious but very cold.

As we sailed around the island we saw many penguins in the water and on the island. The penguins are amazing as they can leap out of the water up 6 foot cliffs at the shoreline. We saw pack ice from the bridge of our ship last night which was spectacular and surreal but today we got up close and personal with the pack ice in our zodiac tour of the island. It was fantastic to peer over the side of the zodiac into the blue, green, and turquoise waters filled with unworldly ice sculptures.

Astrolabe Island Video
Normally there would be no ice this time of year.

After lunch we sailed south to get in position for a landing on the Antarctic mainland. We tried to go south via one route that took us closer to the mainland but we were turned back due to the unexpected thickness of the pack ice. It is a "Shackleton" summer here this year.

Which means the weather is much colder than it normally is. The situation gets its name from Ernest Shackleton who got stuck in the Antarctic in similar conditions. This meant we had to sail south via the open sea and of course we encountered very rough seas once out there again. Mostly everyone was ill during the afternoon and evening and I stayed in my bunk glazing out of my 2 foot porthole all afternoon. I watched icebergs of all shapes, sizes, and colors go by; a very worrying experience seeing then go past your small porthole. As a berg would hit the side of the ship it would make a loud scraping sound as it dragged along the hull. I got up at 11:30 pm and went to the bridge to see were we where and found that we had arrived at our planned destination quite far south of the Shetland Islands. I went back to bed and slept well that night, cradled by pack ice, islands, and the Antarctic continent.

Friday, November 23, 2007

It is a frightening place but its beauty is aluring.

We were woken this morning to a message over the ship's intercom system announcing that another tour ship was sinking and had put its passengers overboard in life rafts and that our ship had turned north on a rescue mission to pick up the survivors! At first I could not believe what I had heard normally the message over the intercom was about some meal being served.

The ill fated Explorer. Its passengers spent a very cold night in life boats.

I got dressed and headed upstairs to the lounge were the other passengers were abuzz with the news. None of us knew much more than the message over the intercom so our imaginations ran wild. We headed in to breakfast where unsubstantiated stories ran rife. Did alien Penguins from Mars make a false May Day signal to lure us to them so they might suck out our brains? Had Russian submarines crashed into the ill fated ship? Yes we are an imaginative lot.

My brother fell deeply in love with this extreme landscape.

After breakfast we were all summoned to the lounge room and our chief guide explained the situation to us. It turns out the tour ship Explorer had struck an iceberg that morning around 2:00 am and was taking on water. The captain of the Explorer had decided to abandon ship and so the crew and passengers were all onboard life rafts floating about near the South Shetland Islands. Once the May Day call was made all of the other 15 tour ships (except one which our guide would not name but we figured out was the Polar Express) in the area turned and headed to the last know position of the Explorer.

While on our way to the disaster one of the other ships arrived and rescued everyone with no loss of life. So we turned back to our original heading to continue our trek south. This event brought home how remote and fragile we are down here in Antarctica and how self reliant we must be.

Icebergs were ever present.

The weather turned bad again this afternoon as we made our way south so we were unable to stop at our first planned destination. We continued heading south looking for better weather. We finally made it to the Gerlache Strait and turned in towards the Antarctic continent. The weather did not clear up it kept snowing all day. But, the wind did die down a little bit giving us some relief from the massive seas.

We eventually were able to land on Cuverville Island which was spectacular. The island has a main beach area where we were to land in our initial plan but because the pack ice was so thick and piled up at the main beach we landed on another smaller beach. On the island we found many penguin rookeries. The snow kept falling all the time we were on the island which made the scene very tranquil. Unbeknown to us the pack ice was congealing while we were walking the island and so when we tried to return to the ship we found our way blocked by pack ice. The crew used an empty zodiac boat to chop an opening in the ice which allowed us to return to our ship, what a great landing this was and how adventurous.

Cuverville Island Video

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