Antarctic Voyage – Next Stop, the Polar Circle

Find Days 1 – 3 here: We’re Going South Baby, WAY South!
Find Days 4 – 5 here: Along The Great White Peninsula

Day 6 – Antarctic Peninsula

Overnight the weather had changed and on awakening we found it had begun to snow. While we’d loved the clear days, it just hadn’t felt like Antarctic until now.

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We set out across the bay to an Argentinian base called Almirante Brown where some of us docked and the others cruised around the harbour in Zodiacs looking at the scenery and the natural colours in the rocks…

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As we moved through the water we could see the snow slowing beginning to freeze the water. We were told the process starts with a type of ice called ‘grease ice’, which gives the ocean a strange greasy look, then moves on through several more stages before the bay freezes over.

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It would have taken hours, so no chance of us being iced in. After 45 minutes of cruising through the icebergs we were dropped off at the jetty.

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We walked across the new snow to the base, stepping carefully so as not to slip into the sea…

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…and up the hill behind it where a pinnacle of rock provided a great, albeit foggy view.

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There’s only one real way down from the pinnacle: on your backside skidding down a previously rendered track. I shot down the first part but there was an older guy in front of me who was struggling to get going. I couldn’t stop in time and careened off the side of him to slide sideways down the rest of the hill. Awesome! If there had been more time, many of us would have climbed up and gone again.

Then we were back on the ship and heading out along the beautiful Lemaire channel, with great icy mountains and glaciers along both sides. Whales have now become a common sight and penguins are just everywhere. Icebergs larger than previously seen dot the waters, the very occasional one having a leopard seal napping on it. We came out into a bay known as The Iceberg Graveyard, full of huge icebergs some twice the size of the ship or larger.

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Our next stop was Booth Island. We land and see our fourth variety of penguin, the Adelie along with their tracks in the fresh snow.

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We then climbed a hill to get awesome views in all directions, but because of the low clouds only the base of several rocky spires could be seen.

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We couldn’t resist sliding down the hill before being whisked back to the ship. That evening the boat made its way down the peninsula in hope of crossing the polar circle. According to the captain, it depended on the weather and sea conditions if we were to cross.  We all went to bed hoping the conditions would be right.

Day 7 – Antarctic Polar Circle

The polar circles are defined by the sun. In winter, Antarctica is a sunless icy land, while in summer there is 24-hour sunshine.

Today the battery of my fairly new camera refused to charge, evidently affected by the atmospheric cold.  Thankfully one of my shipmates had a spare he could lend me. So, while I wasn’t using my own camera, all of the shots are my own.

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It was snowing when we were roused for breakfast and the seas were rather rough. At breakfast we watched the largest iceberg we’ve seen float past. It was massive, the part we could see above water was the size of a city block and perhaps 100m tall. Under the water, we’re told it’s 7 times larger.

Then just after breakfast, we gathered in the observation lounge and with a glass of champagne to celebrate the crossing of the polar circle. We had only a single landfall below the circle. Two hours later we entered a bay where the water was significantly calmer. After another 30 minutes we boarded the Zodiacs and make our way around icebergs to land at Detaille Island, site of a former English research base.

The snow was thick on the ground and there were two different kinds of seals just languishing on icebergs – the Crabeater Seal and the Weddell Seal. They peer up as we go by but we don’t interest them so they go back to their napping. On the island is the hut where the researchers lived and we were able to go inside. It’s fairly roomy and once housed 8 scientists comfortably.

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After our time on the island we were taken on a cruise through the icebergs to get a little closer to the napping seals.

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Then back onboard the Plansius we set off again, beginning the long journey back along the peninsula.

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Mid afternoon, after we cross the polar circle again, we came across a large pod of Orca hunting. We circled them for about an hour, trying to determine what they were doing. The pod was about 10 animals strong and had a huge male with them. We were told they were killing an Arnoux Beaked Whale by trying to drown it  They did this by lying on top of it to prevent it getting to the surface. Once they considered it dead, they began tearing into it. It’s nasty, but it’s nature. This kind of action takes documentary makers 10 years to find, and we were lucky to chance upon it. Pictures don’t give it justice, however.

Next, The Journey Back To Civilisation.

The Antarctic Wanderer

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