Antarctica – Days 8-12

March 7, 2019, Trip: Antarctica
View: Antarctica galleries

March 7th, 2019

This morning’s GPS Position:  64°49.2’S / 065°32.4’W     Air Temp: 1°C Sea Temp: -1°C

Thursday morning, we awoke to cloudy skies again but no fog.  After a 7:15 wake up call, followed by breakfast, we were heading out at 8:30 for a landing on Damoy Point.  There are less ice bergs today but no less impressive.  This one we saw from our cabin window that morning.

There were lots of glaciated mountains.  On the island, there were Gentoo penguins at the landing site as well as a few other spots.

This is a Skua – they like to eat penguins!

Several chicks

I don’t care what you say, I’m going to flap my wings till I fly!

This little one is molting

We joined in a 3 km snow shoe hike up a ridge to where an air strip used to be.

There is a summer British research station in the bay also surrounded by Gentoo Penguins and the views at the top of the hike were plentiful.  

On the other side of the Point was an abandoned British hut that you could take a peek inside of and as well as a closed up Argentinian hut.

It began to snow a bit near the end of the hike as we wandered past colonies of Gentoos enroute to the landing spot to return to the ship.

Before lunch we passed through the Neumayer Channel with amazing views of glacier covered peaks.

After lunch we had our actual continental landing at Neko Harbour. There were many gentoos here as well as a sleeping weddell seal very close to the landing site.

So we had to work our way around the seal quietly and then through the penguins giving them “right of way”

to take a 2 km round trip hike up to an amazing viewpoint of a huge glacier. Enroute we encountered a fur seal resting in the snow off the trail.  

This was a great place to get a photo of us on the actual continent of Antarctica.  We heard a great deal of calving and saw the aftermath.  There are just too many glaciers to be able to watch them all at the same time.

 

Back at the landing site, we saw two kelp gulls

the fur seal had made his way down to the beach:

and the weddell seal had awoken:

At tonight’s recap, one of the guides, Martin, gave us a short talk about the birds we’d seen; apparently there were sixteen different types and he ranked the top ten in his opinion, for us.

In reverse order they were: (where we do not have our own shot, we have inserted one of the crew’s)

  • The Antarctic tern
  • The Antarctic Cormorant – known as the blue eyed shag
  • Giant Petrol
  • South Polar Skua
  • Adélie Penguin
  • Chinstrap Penguin
  • Gentoo Penguin
  • Wilson Storm Petrol – this bird likes to “walk” on the water
  • Snowy sheath bill
  • Snow petrol

This morning’s GPS Position:  62°45.1’S / 059°53.6’W         Air Temp: 0°C Sea Temp: -1°C

On Friday, we had our last excursion – our ninth landing on Half Moon Island in the South Shetlands just north of the Antarctic Peninsula.  It was a cloudy day again but no precipitation.  We are noticing fewer ice bergs as we are so far north of the polar circle.

This island contained 100’s of fur seals,

1000’s of chinstrap penguins,

a few gentoos

and to our pleasant surprise, four young elephant seals!

We could wander the island with the red poles placed by the guides and again, allowing the wildlife the right of way.

There were spectacular views of the glaciers on Livingston and Greenwich Islands.

Walking back to the landing site, there was a curious slightly aggressive seal “attacking” people as they walked pass but quickly backing off if they acted accordingly; we were told to make ourselves “big” if a fur seal approached us by standing tall and raising our arms and not to run. We watched a few people do this (one ran though and the seal did follow for a bit) and when we got close Doug had a go.

This was a 3.5 hour landing (one  of the longest) and we had time to walk the entire island.  Before boarding the zodiac to return, we were all asked to step into the water to clean our boots as best as we could since this island did not have much snow so we were walking on mud, rocks and through pink penguin poop!  By the time we boarded the zodiacs,  there was quite an icy feeling wind and it was time to get our sea legs working again.

After a one o’clock lunch we were advised that the weather forecast for our northbound sealing across the Drake was going to rough and it was suggested we get the patches/drugs as needed.  We got ours for sure before beginning to sail the Drake Passage.

At 3:00 we listened to a talk about the geology of the continent which included showing how South America, Africa, Australia and Antarctic were at one time all connected before separating due to tectonic plate movement.

At 4:30 the talk was about plants on the continent of which there are only two kinds (and NO trees):  Antarctic hair grass and pearlwort.

There are however, plenty of lichens and some mosses that can hibernate for 1500 years in the frozen ground.

Facts about lichen:

  • Formed from two organisms: algae and fungus to create the structure.  And sometimes there is a yeast joined into that. 
  • Lichen help scientists monitor air quality as they will not thrive in polluted conditions.
  • Lichen can grow on rocks, tree trunks, leather, shells of living animals and even plastic.

Some lichen we actually found on the rocks during our walks:

At five o’clock, a game of Pub Trivia took place.  We formed into teams of 4 to 6 players and we were quizzed on things we learned over the course of the expedition. There were a total of 40 questions.  We teamed up with an Aussie couple, Darryl and Deb and a British couple, Mike and Sarah and managed to get 26 questions correct.  The winning team answered 30 questions right and was given a bottle as a prize.

This morning’s GPS Position:  59°29.5’S / 060°06.5’W    Air Temp: +3°C Sea Temp: +1°C

On Saturday, at sea, we had a late wake up call at 7:45 followed by 8:00 breakfast followed by a talk about Women in Antarctica at 11:15.  It was thought back in the exploration era that women would not like the continent as “there were no shops or hairdressers”!  In 1960 Janet Thomson wanted to join an expedition and finally in 1983 she was able to join an research cruise which crossed the Polar Circle.  We were told about both Shackleton and Scot’s wives and how they supported their explorer husbands; the former stayed behind the scenes and stood by her man while the latter was involved in fund raising and went to New Zealand with her husband and then did a lecture circuit.

The Drake Shake showed itself on Saturday:

 

Shortly after that lecture, Fran began to feel queasy.  She had no appetite and did not finish her lunch.  Today due to the sea, we had a plated lunch to minimize the walking about.

Fran stuck it out through the 3:00 talk on diving in Antarctica but later went back to the room to lie down and was ill a few times.

Hour glass dolphins were spotted near the ship

while she want to the room to lay down.  There was another lecture at 4:30 which Fran did not attend and Doug only stayed for a small part. Doug felt a bit queasy but never got sick.

Doug did go to the daily recap on his own and when went to dinner, he asked that our dinner be brought to the room.  Doug managed to eat his but Fran couldn’t.  She did eat some dry cookies and crackers so that if she did get sick about, she would not be dry retching.  (sorry we know it isn’t a pretty subject).  We were told the next night, that things in the dining room got quite exciting with shifting chairs and rolling items on the tables that last evening.

The night was pretty rolling but we did manage to get some sleep.

This morning’s GPS Position:  55°59.0’S / 064°15.8’W        Air Temp: +6°C Sea Temp: +6°C

Sunday Fran went for brekkie but didn’t stay long.  Doug brought her some toast and tea and she skipped lunch which was plated again although it was much calmer by the time it was served.

Lectures were given today on Shackleton and whaling in South Georgia of which Doug attended only the latter as he’d read a book about the former.  The sun came out around noon and the seas began to settle.

We were given envelope for tipping the staff this morning as well as surveys to complete and later given our on board account for payment.

At 3:00 was the final talk about Ushuaia and by this time it was calm and Fran felt up to some fresh air on the deck and to sit in on the talk.  The sun came out and the sailing was calm and gentle the rest of the way to Ushuaia.

At 4:30 they asked all passengers in groups to return their boots before a 6:15 Captain’s Cocktail Hour.  He thanked us all for choosing Oceanwide Expeditions and appreciated our flexibility with the changes that had to be made to make the journey safe and as varied as possible.

Our expedition leader gave a final recap, presenting all the expedition crew and we showed our appreciation with applause.  The expedition crew:

A wonderful recap slideshow was shown and they did a good job of including photos of everyone.

Our final dinner was served at 7 where the “Hotel Manager” introduced all the housekeeping and restaurant staff.  There are several people behind the scenes we never saw on our journey, like the kitchen and laundry room staff.

Dinner with our new Aussie friends, Deb & Darryl, Brit friends, Mike & Sarah and our American friends, Elizabeth & Eric

During dinner, the “pilot” needed to help the ship maneuver to the pier in Ushuaia was picked up part way down the Beagle Channel of a small boat.  Here’s the boat leaving the Plancius as viewd through the dining room window:

After dinner we were able to use the ship’s laptops in the library to copy the slideshow as a keepsake.

We apparently arrived at the pier around midnight while we were all asleep and our final wake up call came at 7:00 on Monday, the 11th.  We were asked to breakfast at 7:30 and to leave our checked luggage outside our rooms before eating.

After breakfast we said goodbye to our shipmates, grabbed our luggage off the pier and walked to Tigger.

It was a once in a lifetime trip that we will never forget.  The scenery, the wildlife, the crew and their knowledge and created the magical experiences we had.  While we did not have a great deal of sunny, blue sky weather, it was never unbearable (our warm borrowed gear helped a lot in that regard although temperatures hovered around freezing as we’d expected) and made for memories we’ll long remember.

This is the map of our actual route out of Ushuaia, Argentina, across the Drake Passage as given to us on our Trip Log of the journey by the expedition company.

 

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