Into the Ice – The Antarctic Peninsula

After South Georgia we had a two day sail over to the Antarctic Peninsula, punctuated by icebergs, whales and an amazing abundance of seabirds. The icebergs in particular were spectacular.

We cruised past an iceberg so large it has a name. It’s called C28B and broke off the Larsen Ice Shelf and it was over 17 miles long! We spent an hour and a half sailing past it! Close enough to see the caves and defects along its length. The weather was misty too so the iceberg really did loom out of the mist.

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We passed the South Orkneys and visited Elephant Island, where Ernest Shackleton left 22 of his men over winter under the care of Frank Wild after their ship, The Endurance, sank. It was a truly bleak place, constantly battered by the elements and the beach where they sheltered was barely above sea level. It was hard to imagine how humans could survive for over 100 days in that place.

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A beachmaster Fur Seal guards our kit (and our path to the zodiacs…)

We crossed latitude 60.5 degrees South and were officially in Antarctica – what an exciting announcement to wake up to! This was my 7th continent and my 60th country visited!

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Possibly the angriest Chinstrap Penguin in the whole world
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A beautiful Adélie heads to the sea to fish for his/her hungry chick
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A Gentoo came to check me out and photobombed the Adélies I was trying to photograph
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Adélie are hilarious creatures, they don’t want to be first in the water so they all just pile in at once in a huge cascade

One of our landings was going to be super slippery as we had a decent snowstorm so we spent 90 minutes cruising in the zodiacs instead. Turned out to be a perfect decision as we ended up surrounded by feeding Humpback Whales! Some of the time a group of four of them was employing a technique called Bubble Netting so we could spot them coming up to the surface as the water would go green and then erupt with bubbles followed by giant gaping mouths!

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Bubble-netting with two big humpback mouths on the left of the image

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That afternoon we made a landing next to a Gentoo penguin colony that also had a steep snow-covered hill next to it. I hiked up to the top and found a quiet place to sit and survey icescape – glaciers and snowcapped peaks all round. And the quiet was profound. Jonathan was at the top and we spoke a little about his Whale Shark Project in Galapagos.

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That night, our second in Antarctica, we arrived at Damoy Point and the ship anchored in a nice sheltered location while 40 of us got off laden with tents and sleeping bags to go camping on the ice!! It was a really exciting experience and made even more special by the sun setting late – 10:30pm and it not actually getting dark. I helped a few groups pitch their tents and then hiked off over the snow to visit a Gentoo colony. I found a comfy rock and lay down watching Gentoo TV for over an hour and a half. It was like a sitcom – so much drama. I got to know the different little characters and particularly enjoyed watching a boy penguin courting a girl penguin by going to enormous lengths to bring her pebbles to help make a nest. She turned her back on his efforts for a while at one point and I really felt sorry for the little guy who looked dejected bigtime. It’s hilarious how we anthropomorphize everything but it’s hard not to when you see his little head go down.

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I managed to get a photo of an iceberg nudging the back of the ship! I thought I was seeing things.

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That was probably my favourite day of the trip.

The next day we headed South, to our furthest point – Petermann Island at latitude 65.11. Here there is a lee shoreline which collects icebergs and doesn’t let them leave – the wind then sculpts them into interesting shapes.

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The bluest ice I’ve ever seen. Mesmerising
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A Leopard Seal giving us a good sniff as we went by in the zodiac

I was one of the few people that made it off the zodiac onto the island before we found out that the ship was being hammered by wind and had begun to drag anchor (very dangerous as there were rocks behind her). We had to make a dash to get back and as my boat reached the jetty of the ship we were told that she was dragging anchor again and needed to reposition, so we moved aside and watched the Expedition sail on up the channel! We didn’t know how long before we could get on and we were utterly drenched. I was sitting at the front of the zodiac which even needed sand ballast to hold the front down in the strong winds. We finally made it back to the ship after about an hour and I went straight into the sauna once I had hung up my sodden clothes.

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A Weddell Seal lounging on the ice

To reach Petermann Island we sailed through the Lemaire Channel, which at some points is less than 500m wide and has mountains on either side soaring to over a kilometre high. It was a gorgeous view and we were served hot chocolate with kahlua and cream to keep us all warm!

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There was quite a buzz on board after the dramatic end to the landing at Petermann and it was nice to be warm inside able to watch our return journey through the Lemaire Channel filled with icebergs and with high winds and a rough sea it made a very interesting contrast with earlier.

Julia and I out in the snow

At night we anchored in Paradise Bay, another famous area in the polar community. It was a lovely quiet night and then in the morning we moved around to visit Neko Harbour, with active glaciers. I sat just above the tsunami line (where the snow stopped on the beach) with an Aussie called Mark, who I had agreed to join in a Polar Plunge. As the last passengers were getting ready to go back to the boat, Mark and I, joined by Kate and Sarah, were stripping off ready to run into the Antarctic water for a plunge! We did it and it was really fun but my feet went numb immediately and I managed to get frost nip on one of my toes!

In the afternoon we were able to visit Port Lockroy the site of a British Antarctic Base known as Base A since WWII, and the site of a Post Office… which is how Britain laid claim to territories. I posted a few postcards from the end of the world – I wonder how long before they arrive!!

Just across the bay from Port Lockroy is a colony of Gentoos and Shags along with a reassembled whale skeleton.

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A whale skeleton (mainly Sei and Humpback bones probably)
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A Gentoo Penguin stood on a whale vertebra (a second later he fell off, but this photo is nicer!)

After dinner we had a costume party and I was drinking gin and tonics with glacier ice. Interestingly the ice doesn’t melt like normal ice at all and we found we could use it again and again. That night we began the journey across the Drake Passage and found a very calm rocking and rolling, unlike the much-feared Drake Shake which we expected.

We did get hit by a storm but the worst of it only lasted about 4 hours overnight and it meant that we could experience the Drake Passage in its notorious form. Glasses were smashing in the bar and all sorts. I ended up falling into a huge Leopard Seal photo on the wall as I was walking back down to my cabin for bed. Laying in bed was like being on a fairground ride with all the rocking and rolling!

In the afternoon of the next day we rounded Cape Horn – what an experience! We had seen a documentary about the perilous conditions for the sailors that undertook that journey (much more dangerous travelling East to West, against the current, unlike us). Then about three hours after going round the Horn we entered the Beagle Channel and anchored for most of the evening before picking up a pilot to guide the captain (totally not necessary, but law) to the harbour at Ushuaia.

Cape Horn, less than three nautical miles to the North

For our last evening we had a nice farewell drink with the captain and Jonathan then we watched Blaise rocking the Polar Bear Bar until late. He played Iris by the Goo Goo Dolls for me and it was great.

It was incredibly difficult to say goodbye to the wonderful people I was with, staff and passengers. But it was nice to give lots of genuine hugs.

I am really keen to go back and work on the MS Expedition so I’ve been getting some guidance from different members of staff on what skills I should develop. Watch this space I suppose!

I walked up to my hostel, Hostel Antarctica, to drop off my bags and get on the WiFi, and then I walked around the shops in the centre. I bumped into a few fellow passengers throughout the day and I went for lunch with Boat Ma and Pa and Randale the bartender.

It was a lovely treat! I had some delicious wine and a tasty steak with a few sweet potato fries and some salad. Then I had to sort out a dilemma I had been dealing with. I was struggling for space in my backpack, bigtime. So I went back up to my hostel and brought back socks, a t-shirt, leggings and a coat for Randale to take back to the Expedition and put in the charity box. We then went to towards the dock to see where the new passengers were gathering to board and we said goodbye to Gerard once more.

Then I went shopping with Boat Ma and Pa to buy a thin lightweight rain jacket to replace the coat I donated to charity (but taking up less space!).

We then said goodbye and I packed them off in a taxi to their spa hotel and I went to a cafe. At 6pm I went down to the dock to wave goodbye to the MS Expedition and watch her sail down the channel until she was a speck on the horizon. Then I visited the artisan’s market before popping back to the hostel.

I sent a message to Jen to see if she was free for dinner and we agreed to meet at Moustaccios Restaurant at 8:30pm after I had repacked my reduced load of clothing. It fits!!!!

I arrived at the restaurant and Jen had ordered a lovely bottle of Sav Blanc and we ordered four appetizers to share for dinner. We had calamari, mussels with cheese and potato, king crab empanadas and Patagonian lamb prosciutto. All delicious. We ordered a bottle of Lopez Malbec and talked until they closed the restaurant and kicked us out.

I headed back to the hostel and double-checked that I set my alarm so I could eat breakfast and then walk to the bus station.

And now I head North.

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