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Day Nine – In Antarctica, Cuverville Island and Orne Harbor

It’s my understanding humpback whales played around our ship all morning. Nicole and I slept right up until our 7:30 kayak briefing, so we missed the action…shucks. We had time for breakfast with Greg though. He and his wife Cathy are from Arkansas and own five car dealerships around the southeastern states. We had dinner with them the other night as well. They are staying in the owners suite, and he was curious to know what our cabin was like. For any boat I’ve been on, I thought our room was quite luxurious until I heard they had a spa tub, kitchenette, and large closets in their room! Anyway, they are a fun couple. Continue reading “Day Nine – In Antarctica, Cuverville Island and Orne Harbor”

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Day Eight – In Antarctica, Mikkelsen Harbor and Cierva Cove

The conditions favored kayaking this morning, so we prepared to put in for our first kayak of the trip. It took us twenty minutes to get into all our gear, and fully dressed in long underwear, ski pants, a sweater, fleece, dri suit, kayak skirts, booties, gloves, hat and life vests. We looked like astronauts. We disembarked into the zodiac which carried us and pulled the kayaks to the area where we would launch our paddle. We loaded into the kayaks off D’Hainaut Island located in Mikkelsen Harbor which indents the larger Trinity Island of the Palmer Archipelago. Continue reading “Day Eight – In Antarctica, Mikkelsen Harbor and Cierva Cove”

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Day Seven – In Antarctica, The South Shetland Archipelago

Half Moon Island

We started out the morning with 30 knot winds, gusting up to 53, so kayaking was not an option for Half Moon Island. The staff wasn’t even sure if they would be able to launch the zodiacs. We walked the deck to get a feel for the weather and with our back to the wind we were literally being pushed forward! Luckily for us, though delayed, the captain was finally able to anchor the boat, the zodiacs got launched, and we got a choppy ride to shore.

To help with the shuttling process of 100 passengers and to comply with restrictions pertaining to how many people could be on land at a time at certain sites, generally we were separated into three smaller groups the Adelie, Chinstraps, and Gentoos (types of Penguins) and the groups rotated in order of first, second and third, respectively. The Adelie’s were the first off the boat while the winds were higher, and we watched a few of them get drenched as waves crashed at the bow of their zodiacs. Nicole and I were in the Gentoo group and enjoyed much calmer seas.  We landed on the rocky beach, home to an old boat a few Chinstrap penguins.

While our yellow parkas remained dry from ocean spray, upon landing we walked through a fine mist. The lens on my camera was the only item unhappy with this weather. Otherwise, without the wind blowing, it wasn’t particularly cold. I think I was unzipping my parka, and wishing I could shed layers after walking around a bit.

Chinstrap Penguin Colony

Speaking of walking around, we followed marked paths to different penguin colonies always giving way to the penguin, of course. In certain places, two flags marked a penguin highway. All humans had to stop if penguins were in the “highway” area, as this was their path from their colony to the sea. Half Moon Island is home to a Chinstrap breeding colony. It is one of two places to view a good Chinstrap colony in the Antarctic. During breeding season, the penguins lay two eggs, and if they survive they obviously have two chicks with grey feathers.

It seemed like most of the eggs had hatched and the mothers were watching their two chicks on their rocky nests. The penguins use rocks to build there nests so that melting snow water will drain through the nests and not drown or freeze their eggs. While they waddle back and forth to retrieve rocks, they also steal from one another. Obviously, the nest building was completed several weeks ago as these chicks, I believe were a few weeks old, though it doesn’t stop the penguins from snagging another rock occasionally.

They were pretty fun to watch, and they didn’t seem to concerned with humans. In fact, many times they walked right by us; though, I suspect if we got too close to their nest, they would honk and flap their wings more often than they were currently.

While other bird predators might want to get close to the nesting area to snatch a chick, the stench of the penguin poo kept us from staying in one spot too long! Since the moms had to stay on their nests to protect their young until they grew larger, they could not wash off in the frigid water. Many had a white belly stained a reddish, brown hue. Beware of picture of a perfectly black and white penguin that is not right by the water…it has probably been photo shopped!!!

We did see a few porpoising penguins as well, but given the young age of the chicks, most of the Chinstrap penguins were near their colonies. We were also able to spot a few Gentoo penguins, though we will be visiting large Gentoo colonies further south, so we expect to see many more, also with their chicks.

From Penguins to Shore Birds

Several shore birds soared overhead and a few landed nearby, including a cormorant, a Great Skua that was picking on an unlucky penguin, a Kelp Gull, a Snowy Sheathbill, and an Antarctic Tern to name a few, but admittedly, I was more taken by the birds who have evolved to not fly! I’m told being in the Gentoo group, we arrived too late to see some seals…maybe next time!

Whalers Bay on Deception Island

The wind continued to blow for the afternoon, so kayaking was cancelled for the day, but it didn’t keep us from joining the land-dwellers, also known as the “Beautiful People” in yellow jackets according to our kayak leader Val.  Whalers Bay on Deception Island is home to a deserted whaling station and the caldera of an active volcano. With remnants of boats scattered across volcanic rock and fog hanging overhead, it looked like a scene in a horror film.  The scene was so eerie!

Whaling Station

Glaciers towered behind the whaling station which operated from 1906 to 1931 and was once home to approximately 200 hundred men and 13 factory ships. The station did not process whale blubber, this was completed on the ship, but instead it boiled the whale carcasses to extract additional oil which was stored in large iron tanks. It was abandoned when it was no longer economical and when the whale supply was exhausted.

In the 1940’s and 1950’s, both the British and the Chileans established scientific bases (including an airstrip and hanger by the Chileans) on the island, but they were destroyed by volcanic activity in the 1960’s as was the island’s cemetery. In addition, a portion of the side of one cliff has fallen away, now called Neptune’s Window.  After checking out an old row boat, digging up six inches of volcanic ash to feel 90 degree water rush into our hands, and inspecting some whale bones, we hiked up to the “window” to see the bay on the other side. We also got a good view of the town, old metal shacks, and scattered wooden debris.

On our way back down, we had to stop an enjoy the tiny bit of green, mossy growth on a rock before we wandered through the entire town. We passed by the rusted tanks tagged with graffiti as well as the boilers on our way to some living quarters.

We splashed through some melting glacial water on our way past two graves, the British Scientific station house and the Chilean aircraft hanger, before following the shore back to admire a lovely female, leopard seal resting on land and a handful of penguins! Our two stops today were so different from each other…one nature galore, the other nature deprived…but both very interesting.

Entertainment on Sea Spirit

Our evening included a quiz of random questions by the staff…Val led the event. Our Team Deceptors, which included our Canadian friends, got five out of twelve! Not so bad, as the highest score was eight! It has been great fun so far. The staff has been fantastic…very knowledgeable and very entertaining…until tomorrow. ETB

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Day Six – On the Way to Antarctica, Continuing Across the Drake Passage

Bird and Iceberg Spotting

While we weren’t in lectures which filled almost the whole day, we enjoyed some bird, whale, and iceberg spotting! The birds included fifty or more Cape Petrels that followed our boat all day, a Southern Giant Petrel, an Arctic Skua, and a Wandering Albatross. The Cape Petrels were pretty…black head and necks with upper wings speckled white and black. And of course, the Giant Petrel and Albatross were quite large. We saw the spray from three whales, but they were too far away to identify. Based on the shape of the blow and the depth of the waters, we suspect they were Fin whales. Our first iceberg spotting was just before 10 at night as we are finally getting close to land after two days of crossing the channel. Everyone that was in the bar ran to the port side of the boat to get a glimpse of the iceberg through the shroud of fog. We are traveling at about 10.2 knots, we’ve had a smooth crossing, and expect to be landing tomorrow! Continue reading “Day Six – On the Way to Antarctica, Continuing Across the Drake Passage”

Day Five – On the Way to Antarctica – Crossing the Drake Passage

Despite not sleeping all night, somehow I got some shut eye in the morning as I didn’t wake up until 8:45…breakfast started at 8. Luckily, the meals are sort of come and go style. We ended up chatting with some of the staff for a bit and missed the sea bird briefing, but an activity is planned for almost every hour of the 577 nautical miles across the Drake Passage, so we didn’t feel like we were missing much! Besides the staff is awesome! Continue reading “Day Five – On the Way to Antarctica – Crossing the Drake Passage”