Tuesday, March 18, 2014

the journey home

We awoke in a force eight.  A force four had been predicted but we instead enjoyed a six metre swell with the odd eight metre thrown in.  Talking of throwing, I reckon a good quarter of the ship's company didn't make it up and about that day, including a number who'd been complaining about the lack of a good storm!

The decks were closed, not surprising given the bow of the ship was regularly in the waves.  It made breakfast a lot of fun, in fact it made everything a lot of fun, especially as we were accompanied during this storm by between three to five Antarctic Petrels, this one snapped through a sea covered window in said storm:

I was chuffed to bits to see these birds as I'd assumed we'd missed out on them and they kept us company for very nearly four hours, splendid :)

We were supposed to land at Deception Island on the way back to Ushuaia, but the storm meant we couldn't navigate 'the bellows' a relatively narrow entrance into the active caldera.  Instead the decision was made to head early into the Drake Passage and instead to go around Cape Horn on the return.

As we approached Cape Horn however a force 12-plus was then forecast, the highest category of storm at sea, given the risks of Cape Horn and the approaching storm a further decision was made to head for the safety of the Beagle Channel, which we reached at 05:30 on the morning, fully a day before the latest we could get back.  We then waited, while the edge of the storm blew over and beyond us, for the local pilot to navigate the ship back to harbour.

I saw my last albatross of the voyage, a Black-browed Albatross:

Brown Skua flew close to the ship:

The pilot did eventually join us, hopping from his boat through the door of our ship:

And we enjoyed the various sights the Beagle Channel has to offer as we headed in:

We made harbour early and could then choose to stretch our legs, join in the various presentations or pack, I did most of these.  It was the time then to disembark for days 4 and 5 of the trip home, flights, waits, boredom and then home sweet home!!  

An amazing adventure, a magnificent landscape, South Georgia in particular together with the various days at sea with some wind and sunshine were my highlights.  I met some lovely people on board, some of whom I hope to stay friends with in the long run.

If you are a vegetarian I strongly recommend either (a) telling them you are a vegan to get a decent meal each day, or (b) be prepared to be forgotten and/or treated as second class, this was by the far my biggest complaint of the whole trip, the provision of food for vegetarians was mostly woeful and considering the expense, not acceptable.  The quality of the expedition crew however was genuinely first class and the experience will live long in my memory.  

I added 110 life species including sixty of the vary hardest to see, and I had set foot on every continent on Earth in just eighteen months.  Probably won't do another cruise though...

Antarctica - Port Lockroy

We approached Port Lockroy early in the afternoon, it's a couple of huts on a small island in a protected bay, occupied by the British late in the second World War, to thwart what was perceived as a US objective of owning the world.

It really does look small and remote:

The UK Antarctic Heritage Trust (see their blog here: http://www.ukaht.org/where-we-work/port-lockroy/blog) manages and is restoring the site, which is now protected by the current Antarctic treaty. 

Three ladies were managing the shop and properties when we arrived, they had sailed down in this small boat, again helping to set the scale:

We all visited the shops and enjoyed the penguin colony who as always were here are accompanied by Snowy Sheathbills:

Once we'd bought our souvenirs, we then were boated across to a second small island where they have breeding Antarctic Shags:

Here's a close-up:

and of course Gentoo Penguins:

Here displaying:

And feeding chicks:

We stayed a while in the harbour after the visit, it turned out as, as well as providing fresh fruit and vegetables to the team they also came aboard to make use of the shower facilities, which is a real treat for them....!   After an early dinner, they were disembarked back to the huts and we turned for the trip home.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Antarctica - Paradise Bay and Lemaire Channel

Another early morning, this one unusually so, meant I was up before the happy campers.  It really did look very cold:

The early morning sun started to lift over the mountains, creating a beautiful landscape (around 5am this):

At around 5:45 the first campers were brought back to the boat to be warmed up and generally to get themselves comfortable again:

Some were clearly happy with the whole experience, others mostly just huddled:

From Paradise Bay we weighed anchor and headed for a morning passage in the Lemaire Channel, passing another passenger ship on the way, this one a former Russian spyboat, now converted for commercial use:

As you can see there was a low cloud layer in the entrance and first part of the channel leading to a very low ceiling and silvery light:

In the channel itself we got out from under the cloud and into some spectacular scenery benefiting from the sunlight:

I think there are three or four different icebergs in front of the land-based snow dome:

and lots of icebergs and sea ice:

In the channel I noticed Kelp Gulls with an unusual pattern to their wings, subsequent research suggests this is a local form of the species:

It really was a fascinating place to visit:

We also passed the odd Weddell Seal contentedly hauled-out on the ice:

From the Lemaire channel we headed on to Port Lockeroy, passing a Humpback Whale that was idling on the surface:

And our only Crabeater Seals of the trip (there are no crabs for them to eat only krill but the early men who massacred them in huge numbers mistook the contents of their stomachs for crabs):

Antarctica - Neko Harbour

We arrived at Neko harbour which is the site of an active glacier, which regularly calves.  You can tell how high the water goes when it is displaced by the line at which the Gentoo Penguins feel it safe to nest.

The chicks in this colony were reasonably well advanced:

This one was flaked out keeping cool:

This adult breeder has a well developed chick and an egg which it is still protecting though nothing will come of it:

The harbour area itself is somewhat sheltered but with a lot of sea ice:

High up on a rock face a snow fall:

We were supposed to anchor for the night and a group of brave/(fool)hardy campers were going to spend the night camped on the snow, however the volume of sea ice and its mobility meant we had to sail on, headed instead for Paradise Bay.

On the way we got very close to a Weddell Seal on an iceberg:

The snow line on it's face makes it look crumpled: