Antarctica

Happy World Penguin Day!

Travel Trivia Tuesday and Throwback Thursday

Combined for World Penguin Wednesday

chinstrap penguin, antarctica, Orne Harbor

I loved the Chinstrap Penguins in Antarctica.  Did you know penguins evolved to be a flightless birds?  They used to have wings to fly, rather than flippers to swim.  The fastest penguin can swim 22 mph! Continue reading “Happy World Penguin Day!”

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Antarctica

Day Sixteen, In Antarctica – Crossing the Drake Passage

The worst part of our comfortable ride came between midnight and 3 am last night. Waves slapped the side of the boat while the ship rocked above the water in a clockwise, circular fashion which made for an interesting night’s sleep, if any. But at least our items stayed in our cabinets on deck 2. Cathy and Greg had a crazy night. The lock that held their closet door closed broke open, so the doors swung freely. All the DVDs in the owner’s suite flew out of the TV cabinet and across the sitting room. I think they managed to stay in their bed, but I’m certain daylight could be seen between their bodies and mattress. And to think we had an easy crossing! We were hearing of reports of ships getting the windows of the captains bridge knocked out and of passengers being sequestered to their cabins. We dodged all of this…awesome captain!

We made up for an adventurous night, with another another slow day. We opted for a few presentations and then watched a short film about rounding Cape Horn that was very funny. Later we got hear about some of the trips to the Arctic…I’m sold on seeing the polar bears…that will have to be an adventure in the next few years.

We made it to the Beagle Channel early, so we have throttled back as we don’t disembark until tomorrow. While we have been putzing around, the Quark Team put on a live auction to raise money for penguins. There were a variety of items, but the two big tickets items were the map with our itinerary which also included some pencil sketchings by one of the team members, Colin, and the ability to captain the ship with supervision of course. Our Arkansas friends, Greg and Cathy, won the bidding. At the hands of our friends, the Sea Spirit pulled a 360 in the Beagle Channel! Not even Cheli had done that!

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We earned several certificates on our trip…..including a certificate for crossing the circle, kayaking, climbing the hill and riding a snow slide on the Antarctic Continent, and the polar plunge. The polar plunge certificate was my favorite…”In Paradise Bay on a sunny, blue sky day, a puzzled penguin audience observed Beth of questionable sanity and near to nude plunge into 2 degree Celsius Antarctic waters.”

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I’m sad to be disembarking tomorrow! We made some great new friends from around the world and enjoyed some incredible experiences, including watching dolphins jump during the captain cocktail hour and a farewell night of dancing with the expedition team. Our team leader left us with an appropriate quote, “Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take, but by the moments that take your breath away.” Antarctica is breathtaking! The end…ETB

PS…Stay tuned for Colorado hikes, a weekend in Hilton Head, and a warm climate trip to Palau and some more weekly photo challenges.

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Antarctica

Day Fifteen, In Antarctica – Crossing the Drake Passage

The port holes were closed up last night, in preparation of the crossing. The port holes weren’t closed going south, thus the crew definitely geared up for rougher weather. Though the thirty foot sea predictions turned out to be closer to 12 to 18 foot seas, whew! In the briefing this evening, we found out the captain had to change his course 100 nautical miles and travel at full throttle for us to enjoy this “improved, more comfortable” ride. I hope the trend continues as even with the change, chairs tipped over, dishes fell off the table and people tossed up and down out of their bed (glad we are on deck 2). From what I understand, our passage has been very smooth compared to other larger ships in that passed through earlier, though not smooth enough to keep the hallways free of barf bags. There were several available on deck 2…not so many on the higher decks…I suppose they were being used!

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On a different note, I have to give kudos to the chef. The food has been very good and amazingly has remained relatively fresh given it has been sitting on a ship for two weeks! The biggest challenge has been the bananas. Evidently no one on board has been eating them or one too many crates of bananas was ordered. We have had the option of banana pancakes, banana French toast, banana fosters, banana ice cream, banana bread cake, banana filled phylo dough, banana cream pie and probably a few more specialties I’m forgetting! Seriously though, the food choices have been good and plenty. I bet I’ve put on five pounds while indulging. The servers have been excellent too!

The day’s activities included reading and chatting with passengers again. Of course, many presentations were available to us as well, though we decided to pass on whales and glaciology 303. It was a very leisurely day that mostly kept us inside as the few laps we tried around deck four were difficult. While we enjoyed a sunny day, the strong wind and spray kept us from making it around the bow without having to hang onto the railing and to time the turn to keep from getting drenched.

Our evening included another game created by the staff. They were so full of energy. This time we read random facts about the expedition team such as, “I was detained at USA customs, because I was suspected of smuggling children into the country” and we had to guess who this statement belonged to. In this case, it belonged to our expedition leader, Cheli. She is a hoot…larger than life! I’m so glad she was our leader, as was the rest of the expedition team. They all loved her. Each member of the team elaborated on their stories at the end of the night. Out of thirteen answers, the winning team got four correct. Needless to say, the statements were very obscure and entertaining!

A slow day, but OK…ETB

Another favorite photo from the other day since no more nature…

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Antarctica

Day Fourteen, In Antarctica, Landing Attempts Unsuccessful…Bad Weather

I awoke at 4:45 to a rocky sea this morning and the waves aren’t very big yet! The captain is zooming! I didn’t realize the leisurely pace we were taking until now…we’ve been hauling at almost 15 knots for hours. We tried a landing at Hannah Point around 8 am, but we had sustained winds around 40-50 knots, and gusts up to 93 knots, so we had to continue on. We tried for a second landing later in the day, as the winds were supposed to die down, but our luck wasn’t any better at Yankee Harbor. It was snowing with fifty knot winds, and we couldn’t see land.

With expedition cruising as they like to call it, there is always a plan A, B, and C, so we made a final attempt to land at Aitcho Island in the South Shetland Archipelago, but again we weren’t successful, even after waiting for an hour. With consistent fifty knot winds, the ship can’t anchor and the zodiacs can’t disembark. They prefer conditions to be at worst twenty-five knots, so if conditions deteriorate while we are on land, we can get back on board.

While it was disappointing to miss a whole day of landings, we are told it common to miss at least two days, so frankly I feel fortunate for only missing one. Not to mention, we were blessed with witnessing a spectacular amount of wildlife…as I understand it, more than normal. In fact, more than one guide mentioned this has been one of their best trips in the Antarctic. Based on their reactions to the wildlife and their comments over the week, I believe it!

The slow day on the ship called for a nap, some reading (I might get my book read for Book Club now), the thought of going to the gym but skipping it, and finally a documentary movie about one of our guides who tried to kayak solo around South Georgia Island. It is called Soul of the Sea. She also wrote a book, South Solo. She planned the trip for four years, applying for applications with the English government, fundraising, and training. She allowed five weeks to complete the 500 nautical miles around the island in case of bad weather, but she had several set backs before she even got started. It is required by law to have a support vessel. One of the crew severed his finger on the Drake Passage. They had to return to the Faulkland Islands for him to go into surgery. It took two and a half weeks to find another person to join voyage, which they were about to cancel. Unfortunately for her, she didn’t make it around the island, but the journey was interesting.

Now we are preparing for a rough passage tomorrow…luckily we are in a large ship and not a 54 foot yacht like she was! We haven’t had to have anything secured in our rooms since we crossed the passage the first couple days, but tonight might be the night to start locking items down. The forecast is for thirty foot seas. I’m not sure how bad it has to get before guests are sequestered to and fed in their cabins, but we might have to say good-bye to our friends tonight and get some of our things packed while we can! Until tomorrow…ETB.

20130216-221930.jpgthe places we went

No pics from today, so just added a favorite from a few days ago…

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Antarctica

Day Thirteen – In Antarctica, Navigating Lemaire Channel, Kayaking Iceberg Alley, and Visiting Port Lockroy

After a late night of dancing with the expedition staff, we got up early as the captain timed his entry into the Lemaire Channel at around 7 am. It is a very narrow passage with several icebergs and towering islands that staff admires. It was suggested we stand on the bow of the ship as we made the passage. The glaciologist on board, Colin from Scotland, pointed out features in the ice and rocks as we passed by. The sunny weather had quickly evaporated, and the overcast skies left us chilled as we admired the surrounding land mass. Given we were preparing to paddle at Pleneau Island through iceberg alley, the staff’s favorite place, most of us kayakers left the outside deck to maintain our body temperature.

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The paddle through iceberg alley was of course, spectacular. Now on my thirteenth day, I’m running out of exciting adjectives to use to describe this region! Though a heavy cloud cover and cold, the wind was non-existent and the conditions were perfect for paddling again!! Penguins honked on the nearby island. We spotted kelp gull chicks as well as a flock of cormorants after we made our way through a flurry of brash ice. Leopard seals posed for us on the ice floes.

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But the real draw to this area, as the name suggests, are the icebergs. Icebergs of all shapes and sizes with arches and caves and blue streaks of fresh water that had refrozen within the snow crystals of the ice reflected in the tranquil water. The icebergs collect in the shallow waters here, become trapped, and eventually decompose. It becomes their graveyard…definitely a unique cemetery!

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After a beautiful morning kayak, we visited Port Lockroy. This outing was a three part tour. Due to the small landing sites, we were split into three groups with separate, simultaneous outings in the area. Our group started at Jougla Island where we visited another Gentoo penguin colony, saw lots of whale bones, and a few nesting cormorants.

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Aside from the first landing, this was one of the few times the kayakers had time to just sit and observe the penguins. They build their nests with rocks so when the snow melts, the eggs won’t be flooded with cold, melt water. I watched a penguin hop down the rocks, select a pebble, labor back to its nest, and deposit its prize at least four times in a row. I’m not sure why it really needed rocks now as it’s chicks were born, but I admired its diligence.

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I also watched penguins fight with each other, moms feed their chicks, and others protect their nests from the Snowy Sheathbill. I’m told the Sheathbill simply eats the penguin poo (gross), so I’m not sure why the penguins felt so obliged to chase it away. Any less poo would certainly decrease the stench!

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After inspecting Jougla Island, we took a zodiac tour around the bay. Fortunately for us there was a very playful leopard seal that circled our dinghy and tried hauling out of the water onto a very ornate, yet steep iceberg. A pleasure to watch, yet quite difficult to get many good photos. As kayakers, this was our first attempt to shoot wildlife while sharing a boat with several others, so for fun we took a picture of the yellow parkas we were issued, with the seal’s head poking in between because that’s what we felt like we were shooting most of the time!

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After our zodiac ride, we visited Port Lockroy which was the first base built by the British. The area was discovered by the French in 1904. Whalers operated on the island until the 1930’s, and the British Base A was built during WWII to monitor activity through the Drake Passage as well as to strengthen claim to Antarctica. Argentina’s way to strengthen claim to Antarctica was to send a pregnant lady to the area and have the first baby born on Antartica soil. England’s way was to establish a post office. The post cards we sent from Detaille Island will come to Port Lockroy, and then to the Falklands, and then to the UK. We actually saw the ship they will be carried on today! But I digress, due to weather, the English could not monitor the passage well. They also tried and failed at some botany studies and meteorology. Port Lockroy is calmer than most other areas of the Antarctic, thus the meteorological studies were not representative. As such, Port Lockroy was closed in 1962.

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In the 1990’s, England was pressured by the Antarctic Treaty to restore the buildings that were in shambles or to remove them. They opted to restore its historical value. There are currently four people working for the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust at the base. While most of their time is spent working on the history, they do some scientific studies on the penguins. They have separated the island and don’t allow visitors to one area of the island. It seems there is no ill effect of visitors on penguins. Currently, there are 798 chicks and 101 eggs. At this time of year, the 101 eggs either won’t hatch or the likelihood of these late births surviving will be low.

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Port Lockroy is the busiest place in the Antarctic and receives nearly 15,000 visitors a season. They are up to 10,772 passengers so far this year. When they close up for the winter, they leave everything unlocked in case travelers need something. Currently, the buildings include a small museum and an impressive gift shop given its remote location. The sales from the gift shop items all went to restoring the buildings.

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The evening ended with a BBQ on the deck. I failed to mention that the sun did poke through the clouds this afternoon, thus it was much warmer than this morning, though I could have handled having dinner inside. We certainly didn’t linger at the dinner table tonight, not even long enough to hear of the gloomy weather forecast ahead. Our Canadian friends informed us that lots of wind was coming. We will try for one to two landings tomorrow, but we are trying to flee the area as well, and perhaps get ahead of the thirty foot waves coming to the Drake Passage. It might be an interesting crossing! Well, our trip has been remarkable up to this point, so no complaints even if we are saddled with a few days of bad weather. ETB

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Antarctica

Day Twelve – In Antarctica, Polar Plunging in Paradise Bay and Kayaking with the Humpbacks in Neko Harbour

We took in spectacular scenery under clear skies while motoring north to Paradise Bay where we finally got to participate in our polar plunge. 48 out of 114 passengers jumped off the zodiac into the 2° Celcius waters. I’m glad we waited until today, as it was glorious. Sunny and calm, the water like glass…the only ripples interfering with mirror image reflections of the surrounding peaks and glaciers were those created from the plunges!

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All the jumpers formed a line on the lower deck in their bathing suits, bath robes, and slippers while the supporters stood on deck three. The staff tied a rope around our waist in order not to lose us, and on the count of three we jumped (or dove) into the icy water. I tried a jackknife with the goal of splashing the staff as they are a rowdy group, though I don’t think I succeeded. Nicole did a back dive.

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After our polar plunge, we cruised farther north to Neko Harbour where we got back in our kayaks. Once again, the water was as smooth as silk. We couldn’t have had better conditions. The sun shined. The surrounding peaks and ice once again reflected in the placid waters. The setting was magnificent.

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We paddled toward the brash ice and found some more humpback whales, five to be exact. One whale came to visit the group. It surfaced right next to the zodiac and then submerged beneath the kayaks. Three others were just resting on the the surface, so we just sat there and watched them for a while as they blew, trumpeted very loudly, and occasionally waved their long pectoral fin! It is great fun to watch and wonder what they are going to do next! They never fail to surprise…you think they will surface one place and they pop up some place else. You think they will stay put and suddenly they dive for krill. I suppose that is why despite this being the third time we’ve kayaked with the whales, the intrigue and awe hasn’t dwindled. Part of the fun is to stop and look at all the other kayakers just staring at the ocean surface waiting in silence to see what is going to happen next! Even Dave paddled the zodiac instead starting the engine to keep the silence.

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After some time with the whales, we enjoyed the seals next, a Weddell and Crabeaters to be exact. It was our first spotting of Crabeaters on the trip, and they are the most plentiful pinniped species in the world, so it is funny that it took us so long to see them given all the other wildlife we’ve seen. Their name is also curious, given their major prey is krill, not crab!

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After playing in the harbor for an hour and a half, we took the opportunity to go ashore, as this was our second landing on the Antarctic continent as opposed to an outlying island. As kayakers, we only had 45 minutes on the continent, so we had to use our time wisely. We quickly stripped out of our life vest, booties, and dry suit; stepped into our commissioned rubber boots; stopped to admire some more Gentoo penguins that have the white patch on their head and an orange beak; and then ventured toward the 1,000 meter hill. We were told we would need to hurry if we wanted to make it to the top to slide down, so Nicole and I virtually sprinted up this ice/snow hill. I’m not sure “sprint” is the proper word to define our slippery trek up the hill in rubber boots, but we did make it to the top out of breath, but with plenty of time to spare! From the top, we slid down the snowy hill on rears, leaning slightly back, raising our feet slightly off the ground, and only braking with our hands at the end, spraying snow up all around us. What fun!

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20130214-155025.jpgphotos of Nicole and I sliding taken by expedition staff

Back on board, the fun continued as the humpbacks started breaching! I’m sick to say I missed this (though I did see some photos later). I went outside in a light jacket after the announcement and waited several minutes until I couldn’t stand the cold anymore. As soon as I walked inside, they breached again. The recap of the day started, and they breached again. A lot of passengers were fortunate enough to witness the delight, but I was not one of them.

We finished the night with a scavenger hunt. We had to find several answers about the ship and crew and we ended the night with final jeopardy of sorts – 3 tasks. We had to draw a picture of our favorite staff member, write a limerick, and dress a member of our team up like a Neptune’s queen to parade around the room. Nicole and I teamed up with Peter, Bev, Marion, and Harvey. My mother won’t believe this, but I think Marion may be more competitive than me! She really got into the games and made me smile! Nicole was our queen, and she had five minutes to reappear in an outfit which came from Marion and Harvey’s room. It included a robe, a life vest, a kayak skirt and more. While her costume didn’t win, our limerick written in three minutes did:

There once was a ship named Sea Spirit
And none of the competition was near it
She sailed south of the circle
While others were fearful
And kissing the fish means you cleared it

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Overall, however, our cumulative points didn’t win a prize of immeasurable value, but it was entertaining to try, even though I can’t say I stayed for the whole game. I got slightly distracted by another amazing natural event. The sun was setting at the bow of the boat while the full moon was shining at the stern! It was the first time it was even clear enough for us to see the sun set and what a treat to see the sky illuminate orange as the sun sank below the horizon at the same time the full moon shined bright above the pink tinted, snow covered peaks. Certainly a once in a lifetime moment! ETB

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